Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What Drew Demands: A Q&A with Drew Geraci

I first discovered Drew Geraci's work as a comic artist. I fell in love with his ability to ink a page and make a penciller's work even more... well... more true to the penciller's vision. It reminded me a lot of what a good editor does for a book. So, imagine my surprise when it turned out he's also a gifted storyteller as a writer. A writer of what, you ask. I'll let him tell you himself in this special interview with the man himself. 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

The Demands Book Two: B-Sides, available exclusively on Amazon, kindle and paperback.

It’s my second prose novel in The Demands series. The series is named after a fictional band from the Pittsburgh area. The Demands unknowingly perform at bars owned by the Russian Mob and, through a series of mishaps, have become entrenched in a situation that endangers the band members’ lives.

These aren’t Kung Fu superheroes, they’re just ordinary musicians who have high aspirations to bring back the aggro hard guitar power chord sound to the mainstream, which has currently surrendered to pre-packaged, committee-authored, formulaic pop songs.

In Book Two, which takes place two months after Book One, the band has split up, as each individual member has had a different reaction to this nightmarish shared experience of barely escaping the mob. Some members stay, some leave, but the founder and guitarist Laney Kilburn (the main character) wants to carry on. She’s almost 23 and at that age, has that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitude.

Convinced the mob has fled after a federal clampdown, this new version of The Demands works hard to build back their following. But there’s a power vacuum in the mob that will create new problems for the band. They personally knew some of the incarcerated mobsters and the FBI has taken an interest in them, particularly Laney, so the band is stuck between both sides. They stay together because at present, there doesn’t seem to be much choice in the matter. But Laney is determined not to let these outside forces dictate her life, but knows it will take time and test her willpower and stamina.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

Risk-taking. Abandoning the safe paths in life, making sacrifices and taking risks.
Ambition- The band members’ rule is that they have to quit their day jobs and eke out a living solely based on music. They have a major downgrade in their lifestyle but want to build it up by being a national band, against all odds. You’ll find that even members in the mob have their own personal ambitions for power plays.

Guilt – Guilt over some of the compromises that the band members don’t see coming. Guilt over friendships that are either diminished or lost entirely due to this single-minded drive to be the best band in the world. Guilt over ‘deal with the devil’ situations. I grew up Catholic. Say no more.

Personal agendas – Each member has their own reason for joining. Laney has been an outsider ‘weird’ girl all her life so she want to be somebody through her love for rock n’ roll. Another member just likes to party. Another is the eldest of the herd, 35, which, in national rock act terms, is downright ancient. It’s his one last shot at greatness.

What would be your dream project?

A TV show based on The Demands book series. Long-form like Sopranos or Breaking Bad. That kind of edge. Not The Monkees, although I have a soft spot for them since I was a child.

It would contain lots of material I’ve barely explored in my current and upcoming novels that can be expanded. Lots of grist for the mill. I have many large and small plot points I can continuously unravel. Since I first came up with the concept, one idea would lead to another. In my mind, it’s like the old “choose your own ending” books in my mind. But each book will have a different ending that leaves Easter eggs to follow in the next volume. I have a ton of notes, enough for at least four more novels and I may not stop there. So I could easily whip out some TV episodes if needed (TV/Movie execs –I’m here in Atlanta, where everything is being filmed so hit me on the cell!)

If you have a former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

I’d probably go back to The Demands Book One, where I leaned a bit too much on exposition, telling the readers the events, rather than having them unfold with integrated dialogue. Many have told me that it’s still a good read with some harsh zingers in the conversations and situations, but some chapters I wrote like a court reporter. I’ve corrected that first-author clumsiness in Book Two. For a while I wanted to meddle in fixing Book One, but my editor tells me to press on, or I’d be spinning my wheels and obsess over things that will never be perfection in my mind.

What inspires you to write?

I’ve always wanted to write, but I think I finally found the concept that made me to commit to it: The germ of the idea for The Demands was my frustration that rock music was rapidly fading from the mainstream once conglomerates cracked the code on what music will sell the most. Beautiful people singing other’s songs assembled by committee. Simple repetitive songs that creates the earworm that everybody can remember, like it or not. When the boy bands and Britney Spears came on the scene I thought it would be a passing phase, but here we are, fifteen years later and we get Katy Perry and more of the same.

And a large part of it is therapy for me, plus my love for loud, rock music. I’ve been writing and drawing my own comics since I was seven, but as time passed, I focused on the art aspect, being a freelancer for DC and Marvel comics. I continued writing here and there for myself, other than how-to articles for Sketch Magazine. But until now, I was dissatisfied with my attempts of science fiction and the like. I wanted to start with a clean slate and keep my stories Earth-bound. At this point, I’m compelled to write.

In the mid-2000s there was an explosion of great Grrl! Bands like the Dollyrots, Sahara Hotnights, The Fondas and more I thought were really going to bring back the garage guitar-oriented music to the mainstream. Sadly that was not to be. Similarly, there were a lot of great, loud Swedish rock bands that I thought would create a Swedish Invasion. But no, again. That’s pretty much how I came up with the misfits that populate The Demands’ line-up. A group of aspiring rock musicians who have the conceit of youth to think they will be the second coming of rock and roll. There will be some triumphs and some huge mistakes. Being a successful rock a band in 2016 is nigh-impossible. First, due to the internet and Youtube, the global competition is harder before. Second, good rock music isn’t sanitized for your protection. In the 1990s, you had acts like Marilyn Manson horrifying the parents but spoke to the misfits who were too shy but needed that aggro outlet.

Back to what inspires me: I may see or hear a turn of phrase that triggers something in me, and I’ll springboard from that to a place that my imagination takes me, lots of times good, lots of times evil, because it makes for good fiction.

Or I’ll study people. I may be sitting at a coffee shop, watching a person alone reading a paper, and build an entire background around him, and add some dark aspects or personality quirks, without saying word one to him. I spent my whole life daydreaming. At 50, I think I know how to channel that daydreaming into solid stories.
Also, it’s good to small talk with strangers and find out what they do for a living. It often gives you ammo for a scene in a book. If not immediately, I write it down, and save it for future volumes. I learned how a paramedic would handle a heroin overdose by speaking to a paramedic. Better than Google. But it doesn’t always work. Some people have lived boring lives, and even that could be used, in contrast to any madness I come up in my books.

Sometimes I just daydream while waiting in a line, slip to my writing-mode. I come up with the way to for a reason a character would have done this one thing while standing in line at the post office. It passes the time.

Lots of disturbing and/or amusing things I’ve personally experienced or witnessed first-hand.  I’ll add my slant.

Also - I am fascinated with the trajectory of rock bands. Example: A lead singer goes solo. Sometimes the band gets a bigger audience with the new singer, sometimes the singer excels on his own and his old bandmates either flounder or break up.
Like comic books, pop and rock music has been a passion that I’ve followed and absorbed, much more than TV or movies for whatever reason. Once I was headed towards puberty, I’d listen closer to songs that most people simply enjoy on the surface, whether it be hard rock songs, happy songs, sad songs, love songs, party songs. You’re a musician so you know where I’m coming from. I also read a lot of rock bios, music mags and watching many rockumentaries, growing up and retain most of it and sometimes I’ll think: “If this person took a different path, would he or she be better off, or worse?”

As for the mob stuff, I added that to give the book series a fresh spin. Not just a ‘battle of the bands’ story that’s been played to death, but actually dealing with death. I’ve absorbed crime fiction and, again, my imagination brings about horrifying things that even freak me out. The cringe factor, parts I write, then say: “Maybe I’ll delete this” – THEN I realize I got a reaction out of myself. I’ve got some dark shit in my noggin.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Songwriters more than anything. I’m far more influenced by song lyrics that touch me deeply because the get my mind working. Sort of a sports drink of ideas. Some songs are heartbreaking, but vague enough that that prompt me to make up a scene that springs to mind. Not the ‘storytelling songs” that were big in the 1970s, because that’s pointless and would be lazy writing on my part.

There is a song by Neil Finn that has a beautiful arrangement and the lyrics have a sense of longing that’s not fully articulated on purpose. Its’ written in vague, broad terms, but upon listening, I created a part Laney’s background in Book One.  I’m probably misinterpreting the song entirely, but it doesn’t matter. It got me thinking in broad strokes, how to springboard new ideas. And I absolutely love wordplay of rock songs, the better songs. Not the preachy ones but the ones that strike a chord in me but maybe not to others.

Also, the humble beginnings of successful bands fascinate me the most. I have no interest in rehashing someone else’s life story, but I can imagine what I would do in their situations, or how another person would

Where would you rank writing on the “Is it an art or it is a science” continuum?

I strongly believe that it is 50/50. It always starts as a hobby. But when you choose the path to make it a career, that’s when the science kicks in. You suck at the beginning, then as time passes, and you begin observing things around you, you build up a storage of material.

Many of the situations in Book One are ones that I personally experienced or witnessed or overheard and I have a strong memory that goes back decades. So I fill the story with fiction that I think readers would find entertaining, so it’s not a dry recollection of events. Every so often, if you keep at writing, you reach new plateaus and it gives you confidence to carry on.


If you have the initiative or interest in writing, that’s where the art comes in, whether it’s crappy art or not. But the science kicks in when you take it seriously and reverse-engineer what things entertain you and distill the aspects you feel fit your style the best. In doing this science, you have to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

A major threshold/plateau is self-editing. You may have scene or a line that you are completely, absolutely 100% in love with, but may have to be delete if you are honest with yourself and assess that it really doesn’t fit. That is a major breakthrough because many new writers fall in love with every word and excuse the cumbersome parts as “my style” when you haven’t even established what your style is yet.

  1. Delete it if it doesn’t ring true or
  2. It detracts from the story too much. Think of it as a family member who tries to relate a story and digresses to areas that really don’t finish the story.
  3. You have to make your writing not read like its’ only writing. You have to draw the reader into your world. Right what you love, but remember to be clear enough that a stranger would be compelled to continue reading.
  4. You cannot count for an honest appraisal of your work from your friends and family because they will tell you everything you do is great, of course. You have to craft a story strong enough to make a total stranger part with their money and their time, considering the countless entertainment options out there.

And that’s that.

Any other projects you would like to plug?

Well, any minute now, The Demands Book Two: B-Sides will be available for pre-order on Amazon and available to order a few weeks after.

Once Book Two is out, I will be making an audio book of Book One. I’ve made a connection with a terrific voice-over talent. He sent me a sample of the first chapter, and after multiple hearings over the course of a month, I decided I liked what I heard. The last few times I heard it, I pretended that I was listening to someone else’s book, to experience what an impartial stranger would hear. That will be coming out a few months after Book Two. My initial game plan is to release an audio book while the previous one is still in Kindle/print. When Book Three is out, Book Two will be an audio book. Only because it’s a new venture and doing both at the same time could very easily screw up if I publish one that is not the last version. At time goes on, the latest book will be available with the audio book.

Also, since I come from a 20-year career as a comic book career, I still want to play in the sandbox by publishing a short story based on The Demands Book Series. This short story will be all-new, essential reading for people who enjoy my book series. It’s a standalone chapter that will later be reprinted in the following prose book in the back. But again, the comic will be a year before the next year, so if you enjoy the series and want an extra chapter, the comic book will fill that void.

I’m planning on a short story in comic book form for an anthology, most likely Neo-Charton, a revival of a comic company that ceased publication in the early 1980s.

It will be a chapter solely based on Laney, the lead character and leader of The Demands. The story will read independent of the prose book series and will fit anywhere in the book series continuity.

A teaser chapter at www.drewgeraciauthor.com

I’m also doing plenty of art commissions just to keep my hand in it. I won’t ever allow my art skills to atrophy.

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