Today we have an interview with Dave Terruso, author of Alter Ego: The Other Me.
Terruso has also provided a free prequel to Alter Ego called The Blink.
You are strongly encouraged to buy Alter Ego through the affiliate link here: Alter Ego: The Other Me: The Alter Ego Series: Issue 1 of 2
Questions about Writing
Is writing your full time job? Do you also consider it a passion?
Terruso: Writing is my full-time job, but sadly not writing novels. I’m a marketing copywriter in my 9 to 5; I write every kind of advertising content imaginable.
Creative writing is definitely my passion. It’s my reason for existing. I wrote my first short story when I was 10 and I’ve been writing constantly since. Novels, screenplays, plays, songs, sketch comedy, stand up comedy. I’m always writing. It’s how I breathe. It gives me fulfillment and purpose, and it makes me genuinely happy to do. When people say, “I hate writing, I love having written,” I feel so bad for those people. Even when writing is super hard, I love it, and I can’t imagine dedicating my life to a craft that I didn’t enjoy immensely.
Amanja: I love hearing that passion from writers. I think you can definitely see a difference in the end product of someone who loved writing the book verses someone who felt like it was a chore.
What is your schedule for writing like? How much time does it take to write say 1 chapter?
T: I try to devote 3 hours a night to writing, 4-5 nights a week. Hopefully I have one weekend day to devote to it (that’d be one of the 5 days). I’m a pretty slow writer. I do a lot of research. I spend usually 9 months or so outlining the novel, mostly in my mind. I watch the movie of the book in my mind over and over and over every day. I rewind it and fix stuff. I replay it. When the scene in the movie is as good as I think it can be, I write down the important bits, and then I play the next scene in my mind. It doesn’t necessarily happen in order. But by the time I type the first page, I’ve “finished” the book in my mind. It changes some as I write, but not that much. So writing an actual chapter will take a week or two, but that’s because I’ve done all the character and plot work ahead of time.
How much planning goes in to writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?
T: Oops, I accidentally answered this in my last answer. I can say that I’ve written two short stories for The Alter Ego Series that I call Tangent Tales, and since they’re short and not plot-heavy, I decided to try writing them without any heavy outlining. Just a couple weeks of scribbling down ideas. It was scary to try, but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t do it for a whole novel, it would lead to plot holes, but for these pieces it was fun and kept things exciting. But not outlining really slowed down how long the actual writing took because I got stuck a lot. Not that I don’t get stuck during the novel writing. I do. A lot. Being stuck is always an opportunity to make the story significantly better, so even though it can be frustrating, it’s always worthwhile.
A: I see a lot of authors saying that they just “let the words flow out” seemingly as through an unstructured muse. It’s refreshing to have someone admit to heavy planning and outlining. I know, my personal style involves a lot of organization so I can relate.
How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?
T: I’ve been handing people my novels since I was 11, and have been a comedian since I was 24, so I’ve developed a very thick skin. Comedy is great for that because the response happens in real time. I started out very fragile, and a bad critique could wreck me, but now I crave critique, the more scathing the better. Praise is great fuel to keep going, but I need to know what’s not working so I can improve it.
Last year, I went to the Small Press Expo and went to a Kickstarter seminar. The woman who ran the seminar used to be an editor at DC. I showed her a sample page from Issue 1, and she made a sour face and gave me a very harsh but incredibly constructive note. I felt like I was gonna puke. I was a mess all day.
Because I knew she was right. She had articulated something I’d sensed about the format but lacked the formal comics training to realize how egregious it was. It was something I’d planned to improve, but after her note I knew I had to excise it entirely. So I went home and rewrote the panel description for all of Issue 1, and did the same with all of Issue 2. It was 5 months of work, but it made the issues so so much better. I wrote that editor a Thank You email and sent her Issue 1.
A: I would imagine that many authors couldn’t handle a heckling very well! It can be so difficult to take those notes and put them to use but most people aren’t saying something negative without any reasoning behind it.
Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?
T: My main tip is the obvious one: write constantly. My first published novel was my seventh novel. By the time I got published, my process was refined and my voice was distinct. Those are two of the most important skills for an author to have, and there is absolutely no other way to develop them than to write and write and write.
Another tip is to ask yourself, in every scene, “Is this interesting to anyone but me?” It’s a hard question to know the answer to, but over time you develop an aesthetic that you confirm by having people read it and seeing where they get bored. Suffice it to say, if the answer is “no,” stop right there and find a way to make the scene interesting, or cut it out.
A: That’s very good advice. I think I suffer from that a lot, something that I find absolutely hilarious doesn’t seem to strike the room the same way. Knowing the audience and understanding that not everything is for everyone goes a long way.
Questions about Reading
Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?
T: Yeah, a good author must be a prolific reader. There is no way around that. No one would ever try to be a musician or a singer and not listen to an awful lot of music. You have to read a ton, and read outside of what you love, because each genre and category holds its own strengths. Read nonfiction too.
How do you find time to read?
T: Finding time to read is hard. I work a 40-hour week, I do proofreading as a side job, up until this year I was a professional stand up comic on the side, and I’m always writing. I tend to only read novels in between writing novels, it’s just too much mental strain to do both at once (even just the eye strain gets to me). I’ll read a short story here and there, maybe a comic book. I rarely read more than an hour a day. It stinks. When I become a full-time author one day, I’ll read way more.
Does reading give you inspiration for writing? If so what books have inspired you?
T: Reading and watching movies always inspires me. Usually the inspiration comes in the form of this question: “What have I never seen done in this genre?” The clearest example of this is reading Stephen King’s The Dead Zone on a work trip a decade ago. While reading it, I thought, “there are lots of stories where someone has an accident and it unlocks psychic powers in them. I’ve never seen a story where someone already was psychic and the accident stripped that power away.” And that became the plot of Lost Touch, my second published novel.
A: That sounds really interesting! I’m going to have to check that out. Here’s an affiliate link for anyone else who might be interesting in picking up a copy:
Lost Touch: An Amateur Detective Murder Mystery
Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?
T: I don’t know many obscure authors because usually I have to be turned on to an author or book by a friend. So while he’s not under-read, I will say a criminally underrated author is Richard Matheson. I Am Legend is my favorite novel of all time. It doesn’t get enough respect as the masterpiece that it is.
What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?
T: Flowers for Algernon holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first novel I ever read where I realized as I read it that it was an allegory. I didn’t even know that term yet. But once I understood that you could write an entire secret story and bury it under the story people were reading, my writing changed forever. That revelation was like a creative eruption in my mind.
Questions about Your Book
How much of yourself is in the protagonist?
T: Club is very much me. He’s exactly how I’d be if I didn’t have a good family around me and lots of supportive friends—I’m lucky to have both in spades. I always write about very lonely people, but loneliness is more my state of mind than my circumstances. My protagonists are usually thinly veiled versions of me, and most of the entertainment in the story comes from me answering the question, “What would I actually do if I were in a detective story?” The answer is always kinda funny because I’m a bumbling goofball.
A: Hey, write what you know!
What personal experience did you draw on when writing your book?
T: My books always draw on the moment in my life that I’m in when I’m composing the story. Alter Ego has a lot to do with me wanting to get married and start a family. And it’s a very expansive story (there will be 8 issues and probably 4 tangent tales), so this one draws on the entirety of my life to some degree.
You deal with issues in this book that many would consider not politically correct. To the point that you put a bit of a disclaimer at the front of the book. Did you have to do many rewrites when walking the line of the relationship between Chris and the underage Annie?
T: I didn’t do rewrites, but I changed one crucial moment. Originally when Club finds Annie sleeping in his bed, she was half naked. I changed that to just her pants being off. I have a very good reason for this scene to be in there. It’s not exploitation, it’s one of many clues to the connection between Annie and Club, and of the mystery of what’s really going on in this story (and what The Blink really is). As for the disclaimer, I decided to add that after my own girlfriend read the first two issues and was freaked out by the Club-Annie relationship. I ended up revealing the twist to her just so she knew I wasn’t a creep. When people find out the twist, it’s actually a really wholesome thing, ironically. That twist won’t be revealed until the 4th Issue. I hope people stay with it long enough to get there.
The nature of their interaction came from the two relationships I had while writing the first four issues. Both women were much younger than me (34/26 for the first one, 35/25 in the second one) and in both cases our relationship was a bizarre mix of boyfriend/girlfriend and father/daughter. It was fascinating (and awful) and I knew it would be a very compelling dynamic in the story. Also, I like to give my protagonist a problem they will have the hardest time with based on who they are. Club is someone who only cares about the well-being of children. So for him to have these strange feelings for Annie is the ultimate test of the thing that he cares about the most in life.
A: I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds and I think their relationship is compelling! I also think it’s honest, authors may be tempted to shy away from the experiences they’ve had that they look back on less favorably but it’s far braver (and more interesting) to take them and analyze them and turn them into the story.
How closely did you work with illustrator Nick DeStefano? Did he have any creative control or was he more of a way to put your vision on paper?
T: Nick and I have worked very closely on this for five years now. We’ve never met in person and have only talked on the phone twice. It’s all been through email. But it works so well. He’s a really detail-oriented artist, and that is super important for this story where almost every page has a visual clue.
Nick has a lot of input on the composition of the images, and a lot of leeway with character design and background design. I write very detailed panel descriptions because the images are things that, for the most part, aren’t spelled out in the text, so I have to write them myself. And most things have to be as I’ve written them because of the mysteries being hinted at in the images. But beyond that, Nick can do what he feels works best visually. Sometimes he’ll reverse the composition or use a different angle. All that is fair game. I trust his instinct and try to go with what he suggests whenever it won’t bump up against the story.
Sometimes even a mistake becomes an improvement. For Club’s car, I put in the description that he drives a DeSoto (it’s a later version of the car Superman has over his head on the cover of Action Comics #1, or at least that’s what people think the car model is), but that it would just look like a modern Honda but be called DeSoto as a nod to Superman. Nick missed the part about it being a modern car, and drew an actual DeSoto. When I saw it, at first I was like “that won’t work,” but when I thought about it, I realized thematically it made the story stronger. Club is someone who can’t let go of his past, so him driving this classic car that his dad got from his dad is a perfect visual depiction of that character trait. So I rewrote that detail in the story, and it actually provided a big plot point in the climax of Issue 2.
What drew me to Nick’s work was how great he is at drawing facial expressions. There are complicated emotions going on here, and those nuances are very important. This isn’t a story about superheroes, it’s a story about human relationships, and Nick gets that.
A: That’s incredible, that you found someone whose style compliments yours so well.
Can you give the readers a hint for any sort of easter eggs or clues they likely missed in the pages of Alter Ego?
T: There are SO MANY Easter eggs in this story. On the first page of Issue 1 alone, there are about 5 clues to the big mysteries of the series, which won’t be revealed until Issues 3 and 4. The front cover has a bunch of clues. There’s a page in Issue 1 where Blue finds a baby in a dumpster; there’s a drawing on the dumpster that is a nod to the villain of Issues 6 thru 8. Look at graffiti, at license plate numbers, tattoos, stuff like that.
I designed this so that after you finish the issue, you go back and reread it and see a bunch of new stuff. And as you read each new issue, when you go back and reread the old ones, more and more clues and nods will emerge. I’ve written 4 issues so far, but I’ve roughly outlined all 8, so I know everything major that happens, especially how it ends, so I can hint at things from page one. I want you to read these over and over again, that’s why they’re so short and dense.
Also, if you listen to the audiobooks, I clarify some things in the images that you can’t know for sure just from looking at them. (For instance, that the baby you see in the Yes-We’re-Twins onesie is indeed baby Club, and that’s his mother crying as she changes him.)
A: I’m so excited to eventually have the whole collection to explore! I know your instructions at the beginning of the book helped because I found myself scrutinizing the pictures far more than I would for an average comic book.
Questions about You/ Just for Fun
What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?
T: A mundane thing that drives me nuts: when people say words that aren’t words, like “irregardless.”
What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?
T: My favorite trip was a week I spent at my family friend’s shore house in Nanticoke, MD, when I was nine. It’s the place Club refers to in the opening sentence of Issue 1, and comes up repeatedly in the series. Our family friend had a video camera, and we didn’t, so the only extended video of me and my brother and parents is this one tape from Nanticoke. I have it, and made digital copies for my family. That place is my happy place. Some tragic things happened to that family who owned the beach house, and that week we spent there (one of several) is bittersweet now. It’s become a symbol of my own innocence.
What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?
T: I wrote a screenplay about a girl who always laid under a turtle shell blanket. She was a recluse, and the turtle shell was a visual depiction of her character; she would pull it over her head the way a turtle goes back in its shell. My girlfriend at the time sewed me a turtle shell blanket. It was neat to have a thing I came up with in my mind become reality. That’s how I feel about all of Nick’s drawings. It’s endlessly satisfying to see my mental images become beautiful art.
A: That’s so thoughtful!
If a stranger wanted to win you over at a bar, how would they start the conversation?
T: The stranger would say, “Who’s your favorite comedian and why?”
A: Everyone, comment below with your favorite comedian and why!
What’s something you would scream at your younger self until you were sure they heard you?
T: Oh, I’d scream at him so much. Mostly, “STOP BEING ON ALL THE TIME! YOU DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO PERFORM AND TRY TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH!” And “STOP TRYING TO PLEASE PEOPLE WHO DON’T LIKE YOU! THEY DON’T MATTER. FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE WHO ACCEPT YOU FOR WHO YOU ARE, THEY’RE THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE.”
A: As someone who was voted class clown in high school, that hits hard.
Where Can People Find You?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
T: I’d just like to say thank you, Amanja, for taking the time to read the book, for your honest review, and for doing this interview with me that had such awesome questions. And thanks for keeping an open mind about the Club-Annie stuff. Some reviewers have been very harsh/negative about it, and I get why, but I promise there is something very meaningful and beautiful at the heart of that mystery. And thank you for your enthusiasm about this book. As a comic, I got this great immediate feedback from an audience of strangers. As a writer, it’s usually just a review that said “I really enjoyed this.” Which is lovely, but not as fun as someone getting really excited like you did. It made me very happy.
A: I hope that many people find your books and have the same reaction! Everyone go read Alter Ego!
Dave Terruso is also featured on this list of Short Story Books.
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