“This is what the truth is. Second Salvations murdered my parents, and I’m running away.” A single post over unregulated Internet channels. A sleeping society awakens to a chase, broadcast live on television screens all across the New United States of America... Rebecca and Daniel have never met. A fifteen-year-old preacher’s kid and a sixteen-year-old atheist outcast, they appear to have little in common. And yet they have both attracted the attention of a recruiter for Angel Island, where bad kids go to be remade—or destroyed. Agents of the all-powerful New America Unity Church will stop at nothing to get them. They’re building an army, a modern children’s crusade, in which Rebecca and Daniel may be just the kind of future leaders they need. If not, they might be just the kind of sacrifice necessary to keep the rest of the faithless in line.
What does your writing desk look like? What would we find on it right this minute?
My “desk” is actually a table with aluminum legs! The mouse for my computer sits atop a soft, book-sized afghan that, in turn, is binder-clipped to my all-in-one hardback edition of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (50th Anniversary edition). There’s a small pile of McDonald’s napkins that I’ve accumulated under the monitor. I also have a pepper shaker on my desk for some reason—can’t remember how it got here, and I’m not sure why I haven’t put it away yet. Oh, and there’s my magnifying glass. I was wondering where that went. Most importantly, there’s a small black metal box filled with notecards. I do all my outlining on those cards before transferring to computer—weird, I know. My daily double shot of caffeine is here, too: coffee and Diet Coke. Next to me is the cat perch, where my partner in crime, Shazam, curls up and makes sure I don’t get myself into too much trouble.
When and why did you begin writing?
I was nine years old when I wrote my first short story, an eight-page epic and heroic fantasy tale called “Mighty War of the Dragons.” I was going to a private religious school at the time, getting into all kinds of trouble, and really feeling like I couldn’t fit in with my peers. Being able to pass that story around and get other kids to read it—well, that was my thing. I was starved for attention. There was no driving need to be creative, no need for catharsis or escape. I wanted an audience, and I had no other talents.
At what point did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve considered myself a writer ever since I started writing tales that weren’t specifically assigned to me by a teacher. I even bound my stories with little garbage bag twisties and put ratings on them, like this: “The Witch and the Haunted Forest,” by Marcus Damanda, Rated R for violence and the presence of demons.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My family, especially my dad, was very encouraging. I also had terrific friends who pushed me and help me get better—especially an amazing woman named Barbara Posey, who’s been suffering through my material for thirty-one years now. When I was nineteen years old, I wrote my first real book-length story that had a chance. I was inspired largely by Stephen King at that point. The horror market was in full-gear back then, and I was excited by the prospect of shocking and terrifying an unsuspecting world.
Do you have a specific writing style? In other words, are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m absolutely a “plotter.” I plan everything. It’s ridiculous, borderline obsessive—but, then again, when it comes time to start the fun work of typing a draft, I can usually attack the story with a good deal of confidence. There are times, sitting in front of the screen, that’ll I will lean back in my chair and actually cackle in satisfaction—which used to freak out the cat, but he’s used to it now.
How did you come up with the titles to your book(s)?
I alternate between banging my head against a wall and screaming aloud, “God, please, give me a title that doesn’t totally suck!”
Is there a message in your book(s) that you want readers to grasp?
I’m already prepared for people to make the assumption that The Salvation State is a “message” book—a grand statement about the evils of government and organized religion. It’s fair enough, I suppose, although all I really wanted to do was try my hand at the dystopian future genre. Same thing with The Devil in Miss Drake’s Class horror trilogy. There’s no denying there’s an anti-bullying message underlying that story, but my first goal was to write something blow-your-hair-back scary. I never deliberately set out to teach something in a didactic way to readers; nor do I mind if a larger implication comes through in a natural way. Story first—anything else is just a bonus … or, if done poorly, a distraction.
What are you currently working on? Can you give us a sneak peek?
I’m currently outlining the sequel to The Salvation State, of course! There’s nothing polished enough to show just yet, but I’m hoping it will be done by the end of the summer. I can tell you this much: there’s going to be a lot of action in it. It’ll be kind of a futuristic update of that old Steve McQueen movie, The Great Escape. I’m really excited about it.
Do you see writing as a career? Do you write full time? Or in addition to another job?
I absolutely see writing as a career, and I intend to do it until I seize up and die in front of the computer. However, I am also a middle school English teacher—so I’m juggling two careers at once. I love both jobs, and I’m always trying to get better at them.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Even as I was struggling socially and academically in my private school, I had a strong little brotherhood of friends at home. My writing got kick started by playing Dungeons and Dragons with the other neighborhood kids. D&D is a storytelling game at its core, and that was what appealed to me. So, before long, I took on the role of “Dungeon Master” in my group, setting up all the heroic and adventuresome scenarios the other kids would play through. And it was at exactly that time in my life that I started writing, too.
The Fun Stuff
Who I am: I am Marcus Damanda: world’s greatest uncle, teacher of tweens, master of Shazam the cat—I am a writer, weaver of nightmares and dreams, oracle and prophet, conjurer of tales magical and terrifying. I am the Ferryman who bears readers across story landscapes hitherto unexplored … or some crap like that.
What genres I write in: Dystopian future, horror, character-driven young adult and teen fiction
Favorite genres to read: See above! Also, I try to keep up with what the kids are reading at school, and I’ve grown unexpectedly fond of the romance novels and fantasies published by my talented colleagues at Evernight Teen.
Favorite TV shows: Game of Thrones—and that’s pretty much it. To me, usually, the closest I come to television is enjoying a never ending stream of audiobooks.
Last movie I saw on the big screen: The Force Awakens (along with everyone else), but I’m looking forward to The Hateful Eight.
What’s on my Netflix list (to be watched): I still have to finish up the two Mockingjay movies and The Scorch Trials, believe it or not.
Coffee or Tea: Coffee—easily. By the bucket.
Chocolate or Caramel: Yes. Put ’em together!
Apple Cider or Pumpkin Spice: Gotta go pumpkin here, unless we can ferment the cider and start a serious party.
Rock N Roll or Country: Rock and roll—specifically, 70s and 80s heavy metal.
Lumberjack or Police Officer: For a friend? I’ll take a cop any day. As an alter ego—still a cop. In a Monty Python movie, I’ll take the lumberjack.
Tropical Island or Winter Cabin: Winter cabin, warm fire crackling, the wind outside singing like a chorus of ghosts. And, yeah, you really don’t want me in swim trunks. We’ll leave it at that.
Marcus Damanda lives in Woodbridge, Virginia with his cat, Shazam. At various times throughout his life, he played bass guitar for the garage heavy metal band Mother’s Day, wrote for The Dale City Messenger, and published editorials in The Potomac News and The Freelance Star. Currently, while not plotting his next foray into fictitious suburban mayhem, he spoils his nieces and nephews and teaches middle school English.
1/15: Teen & YA http://teenyoungadultromance.blogspot.com/
1/16: Nics Book Nook http://nicsbooknook.blogspot.com
1/17: Seeing Stars http://seeingstarsteenya.blogspot.com/
1/18: Darkest Cravings http://darkestcravings.blogspot.com
1/19: Get Cozy http://get-cozy.blogspot.com
1/20: The Book Pub http://thebookpub.blogspot.com
1/21: All Book Finds http://shannaclemens.blogspot.com
1/22: Nikki Noffsinger http://nikkitrueblue.blogspot.com/
1/25: Fantasy Pages http://www.fantasypages.ca