Lisa: I’m so pleased to have author Soren Summers joining us today. It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a huge fan of the Vertex series, and with the release of book three, Paragon, I wanted to invite Soren to chat about not only the series but a bit about himself as well.
So, welcome Soren, it’s great to have you here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell readers a little something about your background and when/how your creative writing inspiration struck?
Soren: Thanks for having me! I always get a little excited being on this side of the table for interviews since I’m so used to asking the questions myself. I used to work in lifestyle journalism and public relations, which had very little to do with my current occupation as an author. I’ve always been a fan of horror and sci-fi in general though, whether in television, comics, or video games, and I suppose on some level I knew that I wanted to create something of my own someday. And one day, when I was taking out the garbage, I took a look at the dumpster and thought “Wow, you could fit a few dead bodies in there.” That’s how the idea for Monster was born.
Lisa: This series isn’t your mom’s brand of Harlequin romance, that’s for sure. Who and what do you credit for inspiring your love of sci-fi and horror and zombies, oh my? And tell readers how you’d describe the relationship between Jarod Samuels and Gabriel Anderson.
Soren: Nearly all of the love I have for sci-fi comes from the X-Men comics, where weird people with weird powers do their best to live modern lives. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Vertex anomalies are based off of mutants, actually. As for horror, I’m a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his universe. It’s a constant struggle naming a dead racist as an inspiration, but I’m working to get past that. I don’t celebrate Lovecraft’s hateful rhetoric, but I do acknowledge that he’s perhaps the single most influential force on contemporary horror of any form. And for zombie love, readers have pointed out how the series can remind them of Shaun of the Dead, something that you’ve mentioned yourself, actually! One even went so far as to describe the Vertex books as rom-zom-coms – romantic zombie comedies, the exact phrase used to describe the film. That’s high praise, if you ask me.
Lisa: When it came time to design the covers, how did you go about deciding on the look and feel you wanted for them? And what ultimately made putting Jarod on the cover the right choice?
Soren: I wanted to go with something distinctive and sinister, with a style that I could easily replicate. Full disclosure, I currently do all of my own covers, which definitely played heavily on why I went the direction I did. It also helped that the model on the cover has enough head shots to create a trilogy’s worth of designs. They’re easily achievable by anyone with any degree of skill in graphic design, though they might be the kind of thing my actual designer friends would skewer me for making. Still, I haven’t had any complaints, and I did get a comment asking if I had an illustrator draw the covers, which is a massive compliment considering they’re just stock photos run through a bunch of filters.
As for the man on the cover, I initially went with a model I thought could passably represent any of a number of male characters from Monster, but over time I realized that he does somewhat resemble the book’s description of Jarod. It wasn’t a conscious decision to put Jarod on the cover in that sense, but I’m glad it worked out in the end.
Lisa: As the series progresses, the cover model’s image goes through a transformation, the shadow darker and there being, overall, a more menacing quality to his face. First, how is the shadow itself symbolic? And how does the shadow progressively darkening over the course of the three books play into the story?
Soren: I have to confess that it’s a stylistic choice, a motif that carries over even to the cover of Smolder, which isn’t directly related to the events of the Vertex series. In a way it was an attempt at branding, at synergizing the look so that readers can take a single glance and immediately recognize a book as one of mine from the cover alone.
Conveniently, the shadow does indicate other things on a narrative level, specifically, the slow, creeping dread of the overarching story. There’s still humor, here and there, which I somehow can’t avoid writing into my books, but things get bleaker as the books progress. There’s less hope on the horizon, the body count rises, and the clock to eventual death keeps on ticking. Our boys find pockets of joy wherever they can, but life in a world where Vertex exists simply isn’t going to be smooth sailing.
I also wanted the model to look more subhuman on the third cover, which makes sense given the title. The black fluid could be taken as a reference to the stuff that makes Paragon what it is, or could simply be interpreted as a tear. Part of it is that the original photo for the third cover also has the model half-smiling, and I remember thinking what a hassle it was to have to smother the smiling half of his face in shadow. You might say that the tear was me literally trying to give him something to cry about.
Lisa: When will Paragon be out in print?
Soren: The paperback edition of Paragon will be out in a few weeks’ time. I course all of my print books through CreateSpace, and sometimes it takes a while for proofs to arrive in the mail. Ideally I’d have the Kindle and print versions out at the same time, but I have to confess that I’m not quite at that level of preparedness just yet.
Lisa: When you set out to write this series, did you have it mapped out start to finish before you began Monster? Or are you more of a pantser?
Soren: I’m a massive plotter! And weirdly I had book two written before book one. Somehow I managed to tie their stories together, which is how we ended up on this gory ride. I definitely have an idea of how the overall series arc should look, and I do have documents detailing the events from book to book. But while I’m a plotter, through and through, sometimes stuff comes creeping out of the woodwork and it’s too good not to include.
Lisa: How much did the storyline evolve as you got deeper into the writing of the books? Did it stay close to your original vision, or did unplanned twists pop up and surprise you?
Soren: There were times when I would come up with additional twists as I went further into writing each book, but I try to have my outlines ironclad before I start these days, so it doesn’t happen quite as often anymore. I think it comes with experience as well, and I try to have a similar amount of parallel plot threads and reversals in each installment. Earlier on a lot of these ideas blindsided me and necessitated going back through the draft and rewriting certain scenes to accommodate, but for the latest book, Paragon, I had everything laid out from the beginning.
I’m definitely still open to receiving more ideas from the ethers and working them in if they’re good enough, but for the most part I’d like to avoid heavy rewrites as much as possible. For example, Robbie and his accompanying plot didn’t even exist in the very first version of Monster. Teddy was a pleasant surprise, though, and once he showed up in my head I did absolutely all I could to move things around and work him into the story.
Lisa: Do you have a favorite scene from the series, one that you recall being really fun to write? If so, what makes it a stand out for you?
Soren: Without spoiling anything, Jarod and Gabriel’s very first encounter with an anomaly, hands down. I’m a huge fan of pretty much any media involving telekinesis, and being able to play with that ability within the scene was extremely liberating, I suppose because it’ll be the closest I’ll ever have to possessing that superpower in real life.
Lisa: What can you tell us about Jonathan Hargrove without spoiling him for folks who haven’t read the books yet?
Soren: I think the best way to describe the CEO of Vertex is that he’s charming, enigmatic, and exceedingly beautiful. From all appearances he’s an upstanding citizen, his family having contributed to the growth of the city of Pleasance across generations. Above all else his most distinctive quality might be his essence of timelessness. His clothing appears to be selected from a strange spectrum of fashions across history, for example, and it isn’t easy to guess at his age. He also has no qualms patiently working on long-term projects, such as those involving monitoring and nurturing younger test subjects as they grow into adolescence. In that sense, at least, Jonathan Hargrove seems to have all the time in the world.
Lisa: Would you care to share an excerpt with us? (whichever book you’d like to share from is great with me!)
Soren: Here’s the first scene of Monster’s eighth chapter, something I hope is representative of what readers can expect from my books.
Sweat drips down the back of Jarod’s neck as he dashes through the hallways on level twelve. The muscles in his legs burn, a reminder that he needs to be more vigilant about training, especially in preparation for situations like this.
He skids to a stop outside the open door of 12D and steps through warily. The garbagemen are arranged in a loose semicircle, their hands hovering over their harnesses. Their bodies are all turned towards a spectacle in the center of the room.
A lab tech is on the floor, clutching at his wrist and kicking his legs as he drags himself into a corner. His face is wracked with pain, his hand twisted so badly that his palm faces the wrong direction. His eyes flit across each garbageman’s face as if beseeching their aid. His mouth gapes but he doesn’t speak, either from the pain or from fear. Lopez nods to the tech reassuringly and presses a finger to his lips. Jarod knows that look. Stay down, stay quiet. Don’t draw more attention to yourself.
Standing above the tech is a man dressed in a hospital gown, the papery material of it scarcely covering his body. He appears to be in his thirties, and he looks normal apart from the glossy sheen of sweat coating his skin. That and how part of his head is shaved, exposing a hideous, still-fresh zigzag of sutures running over his scalp. It’s that test subject, the one that tried to run, the one that Gabriel tackled.
He gibbers indistinctly, backing up against the wheeled gurney in the center of the room. Jarod notices the nylon straps running across the gurney. Their ends are frayed, as if they’ve been ripped or torn apart. The man with the shaved head couldn’t have done that with his bare hands. Those straps can resist thousands of pounds of force.
There are no bruises on the man’s wrists or ankles, and Jarod’s heart sinks when he starts scrolling through the short list of methods he may have used to escape his restraints. He begins to reach for his holster, blinking hard to dispel the images forming in his mind, those of a man, and a wall, and the hole that goes through them both.
“They put something in my head,” the shaved man says. He retreats further and bumps up against the gurney, its wheels squeaking as it totters across the floor. The man winces, perhaps from the lingering pain of his procedure. His bared teeth and red-rimmed eyes remind Jarod of a wild animal backed into a corner, one that has nowhere left to run, and one that’s prepared to fight to the death.
“They put something in my head.” The test subject’s eyes dart around the room and they settle on the tools spread over the instrument table by the gurney. He picks up a scalpel. A sequence of clicks taps out through the room, the sound of a half-dozen gun holsters being unclasped, followed by the low hum of someone’s stun baton. Slowly, Jarod draws his own gun and levels it at the man’s chest. There’s a first time for everything.
“Need to dig it out,” the shaved man says. “Got to dig it out.” He presses the scalpel against his temple, and the low groan he makes through his gritted teeth builds into a yowl when he starts to draw blood.
“I’m going to need you to stop that,” Lopez calls out. “Or we’ll shoot.”
“I need to dig it out,” the man screams, the blood dripping down his face mingling with tears and sweat. Huge, wild eyes search the room, and Jarod’s chest fills with dread when they fall on him. “Help me. You help me dig it out.”
“You will stop immediately, or we will take action,” Britta says.
“No,” the man says. “I’m done listening to you bastards. I’m done.” Equipment around the laboratory begins to rattle, machines beeping in syncopated chaos, tweezers and pincers and scalpels rattling against trays and basins. Jarod’s heart pounds in his ears.
The rattling stops. He points at Jarod. “Help me,” he says, like he’s giving an order, and the man lunges at him, scalpel in hand. “Help me,” he says again, louder this time, and more forceful, and flecks of spittle fly in the air, too close to Jarod’s face. His finger closes in on the trigger, and the man lifts the scalpel. Jarod’s vision goes red. It’s too late.
A bang goes off. Jarod blinks, his body jerking as a reflex, and something warm spatters his cheek. The test subject’s face is screwed up, going from fear to confusion, and then serenity. Blood and brain matter spill from a hole in the side of his head. He looks directly into Jarod’s eyes. The scalpel clatters as it hits the ground.
“Much better,” the man says, his lips curving into the echo of a smile. The shaved man’s eyes glaze over and he slumps to the floor. Jarod blinks, then gasps, suddenly remembering how to breathe.
“Thanks,” he says to no one in particular, to his unknown rescuer. In a cracked and quivering voice, someone answers.
Sickness fills Jarod’s stomach and his breath leaves him once again. It was Gabriel. Gabriel saved him. Jarod turns slowly, chancing a glance at his face. Gabriel is shaking, his face sheet-white, eyes wet, the gun still pointed where the test subject was standing.
Lopez walks over and fishes the firearm out of Gabriel’s hands. The kid raises them, palms out, and the look he gives Lopez is grateful, and maybe even imploring, as if it’s asking for both approval and forgiveness.
Jarod’s throat goes dry. Gabriel’s expression is shifting from disbelief to confusion. His face says it all. Did he really just kill someone? Was it the right thing to do?
“You did good, kid,” Lopez says, emptying the chamber before handing the gun back. “You be sure to reload that.”
Good old Lopez. Something about him is comforting, like a blanket. Maybe it’s his smile, which makes his face wrinkle up like a prune, his black, beady eyes shining out of the creases like a pair of olives. As one of the oldest garbagemen, Oscar Lopez is the most amiable of the veterans, and something of a father figure to the younger grays. He and Britta are like the department’s twin lamps, one brightening with his personality, and the other with leadership and embroidery. But for now Britta’s face is dour, a waxen mask. When she speaks, her voice is just as solemn.
“You acted correctly,” she says, placing one huge hand lightly over the span of Gabriel’s shoulders. “The subject was dangerous and would have put more lives at risk.” Her eyes move pointedly over Jarod as she turns away, then barks orders to the rest of the grays. “You will bring the injured for medical attention.” She points to another garbageman. “You will contact the Freezer.”
Gabriel’s eyes dart around to the faces of the other garbagemen, as if his mind has only just returned to the room. Jarod watches him, the droplets of blood on his cheek beginning to cool and crust. For everyone else, it’s business as usual. The grays slide back into regular office activity, the drone of everyday employment, as regular and everyday as working around a dead body can be. A garbageman escorts the whimpering lab tech out of the room. Someone mentions filing an incident report.
The test subject bleeds out onto the floor. Jarod stares, half-expecting something telling to fall out of the side of his head, like a ruined microchip, a mess of wires, anything. The poor sap might have been talking crazy, but Jarod scrunches his eyes shut because he knows that there was truth to his blabbering. Vertex stuck something in that man’s head. It’s less alarming that he hadn’t tried to claw it out with his fingernails from the very beginning.
The man’s blood is still drying in streaks against Jarod’s skin. He cringes at the sensation, patting his harness for the bottle of sanitation gel. Gabriel is staring at the corpse as well, the sweat on his face and neck staining through his collar. Jarod hates that he doesn’t know what to do. There’s no greeting card to congratulate or console someone on their first kill. There’s nothing he can think to say that could possibly makes things better.
Gabriel turns his eyes up. They’re clouded and wet, but he knows better than to let his tears break in front of the other garbagemen. He bites on the swelling of his lower lip, hard enough that Jarod thinks it might bleed. Gabriel looks down at his hands, curling and uncurling his fingers, then wiping his palms on the lap of his pants. They leave wet marks in the gray fabric.
Jarod has to do something. Anything. Get the kid some fresh air, take him somewhere cooler. He takes Gabriel by the upper arm and pulls gently, his touch light enough to handle a wounded bird. If the look on Gabriel’s face says anything, it’s that something inside him broke today. Jarod just isn’t sure how broken, and whether it would ever be put back together again.
“Let’s go for a cigarette,” Jarod says.
Gabriel just stares ahead, his feet listlessly tracing Jarod’s steps. “I don’t smoke,” he says, his voice tinny and hollow.
Half-seriously, Jarod says: “Now might be a good time to start.”
Lisa: Okay, let’s do a couple questions for fun now.
Superhero or Supervillain: which would you rather be, and why?
Soren: Villain. I get easily bored, so much that I occasionally find ways to engineer conflict in my personal life. Perhaps I’m better off sparing my loved ones by taking out my aggression on innocent civilians instead.
Lisa: What would you want your super power to be?
Soren: Telekinesis, hands down! Moving things with my mind, and the gift of flight, plus the freedom to be even lazier than I already am? Gimme!
Lisa: If James Corden invited you to Carpool Karaoke with him, what song would you sing?
Soren: This is terribly clichéd but since it fits the current narrative of my existence and my vocal range, I’m gonna go with “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables.
Lisa: If you sat down to write your autobiography today, what would the title of the book be?
Soren: Train Wrecks and Dumpster Fires: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
Lisa: Thanks so much for taking the time to be here with us today, Soren. It’s been a pleasure! Would you tell us where we can find you on the internet?
After 15 years spent working in lifestyle journalism and public relations Soren Summers decided it was time to stop selling other people’s stories and start telling his own. He’s obsessed with writing about ordinary people struggling against overwhelming supernatural odds. Soren is based in Southern California, where he is currently growing both his written body of work and his hair.
Soren loves video games, staying home on the weekends, and geeky guys. He’s great with animals and has a soft spot for cats, dogs, and geeky guys. His favorite edibles are pizza, coffee, and geeky guys. His favorite shows are RuPaul’s Drag Race, Better Off Ted, and anything that has geeky guys in it. His friends say that he has a one-track mind, but they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Join Soren’s mailing list to receive a free novella and alerts on his new releases: SorenSummers.com/free
The sighting of the second flare has kindled new hope in what’s left of humanity. Perhaps there are other survivors outside the Hive. Maybe it’s the military, finally come to save Pleasance from the horrors of Paragon. But neither flares nor optimism can erase the colony’s bleak realities.
Supplies are dwindling. Food is low, medication running out, and the garden won’t ever grow enough to feed the Hive. And there’s the small matter of the water from the river drying up. The Hive needs a miracle, and fast.
With Gabriel Anderson at his side, Jarod Samuels seeks out the source of the flare and an antidote for the Hive’s plight. But some mysteries are best left unsolved, some secrets left undiscovered – especially when the answers hide deep in the heart of the colossus.
This romantic horror story is approximately 61,000 words in length.
Win a signed copy of Monster, the first book in the Vertex trilogy, along with a limited edition signed copy of Siren, its companion novella. Siren is not normally available in paperback, and this is your chance to score a rare copy. Giveaway is open to participants in the US only.*
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