Wednesday, May 13, 2015


How can two lawyers be better than one?

Taking advantage of the synergy of different talents and experience.

            When we do book-signing events and school programs for students, we often get questions like:  What’s it like writing together as co-authors?  Do each of you write specific chapters?  Do you brainstorm together first, and then decide who writes what?  And if in writing the story, there is a major shift in plot, how does the one writer know whether or not to go with the change?
We enjoy bouncing ideas
off our readers.
So far, we have enjoyed working together as co-authors.  As brothers, we get along well, and have a healthy level of mutual self-respect, so we can freely share ideas and challenge each other without worrying too much about egos.  Each of us has had a career in law, and as lawyers, we were constantly dealing with other lawyers, who often had overblown egos.  When we came together as writers, we had already had much experience in working around another person’s ego while still getting the job done.
In addition, we grew up just a few years apart in a very large family, and then, we each went on to have large families of our own.  While there is not much room for any over-sized egos in a large family, there are certain qualities, like peace-making and courtesy that are highly prized.  Both of us have been extensively trained in the qualities of kindness.  Finally, we both have strong-willed wives, and if we can work jointly with them in a close, personal family relationship, then we can certainly work jointly as brothers in the less intense environment of storytelling.
We have found our differences in personality and experience to be a distinct advantage and are more creative when we’re bouncing ideas off each other and discussing a broad story line, but we brainstorm only in a general way.  We actually write separately, and then confer later on what we have been doing, including any plot shifts.  Though we sometimes disagree on wording, there is usually some friendly give and take as we consider alternatives, then we quickly agree on the final wording.  We both appreciate the different perspective and skills the other brings to the joint writing process.
We are very different in how we approach the creation of a new story.  Andy used to be a planner (a habit that came from writing as a lawyer), but in fiction writing, he no longer likes to plan ahead.  He likes to develop his characters, and then let them take the story wherever it is going to go—he likes to be surprised.  On the other hand, I am definitely still a planner.  I am always making lists and outlines, not only for the current story, but for future stories as well.  In addition to our young adult horror series, we also have written the first two books in a young adult science-fiction series.  Separately, Andy is working on a literary fiction novel about an old lawyer dying from cancer, a story close to his heart.
Andy doesn’t like having other people around him when he is writing, especially when he is creating new material.  There is no real reason for this, just sometimes people bug him.  I have to organize my surrounding work environment.  Once everything around me is in order, then I can detach from the real world and write in the strange, new worlds of my mind.
If Andy hits a tough spot in the story development, it is almost always because of outside distractions.  If he can get rid of the confusion and noise around him, he can keep writing.  He does best when he can find large blocks of undisturbed time.  If I hit a tough spot, I don’t try to force it.  I stop, leave the house, pick up some fast food (Chipotle is always good), and then I can come back refreshed and ready to move the story forward.  I find that fresh ideas come naturally when I am eating.
We both find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our combined creativity and imagination, and that no matter how mature we might be in the real world, we are both still just kids in our worlds of horror and fantasy.  It is hard to get better than that.

Friday, May 8, 2015


Why do we like scary?

Learning to be storytellers from Mom.

            In our young-adult horror series, Dimensions in Death, our protagonists fight for their lives in a battle with monsters that seem to come from nowhere around an old, abandoned mansion in Trona, California, an actual, small, mining town located on the Searles Valley dry-lake bed in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert, near Death Valley, and in fact, death is a good description of the environment.  Very few kinds of plant or animal life can survive there, let alone grow naturally, and many of those that can grow there are deadly.           
Welcome to Searles Valley --
Andy takes in the view.
            Trona is a real town and the desert environment around Searles Valley is the perfect stage for this kind of horror story.  While the events of the tale are limited only by our imaginations, the location of each event is firmly anchored in the reality of what is Trona and its Mojave Desert location.
Trona Cemetery in foreground with
Searles Valley Chemical Plant
seen in the background.
            Both Berk and I grew up in Trona (and later in Ridgecrest, located 25 miles west), and we knew the area well, but we still return there on occasion to make sure our descriptions of the local geography are accurate.  All natural landmarks (and some unnatural landmarks) described in the books actually exist, and their descriptions add to the bleakness of the story.  A desolate landscape is a great backdrop for the giant, marauding, alien predators that are preying on the townsfolk and visitors of Trona.
             In addition, we have researched some far-out theories of astro-physics, so that Mojave Green can answer the questions raised in Pitch Green, and also, so that Fatal Green can answer other questions raised in both of the prior books.  But remember, this is not a science fiction series.
            The tale is fast-paced horror, suspense and mystery thriller, based on pseudo-science, rather than magic and mysticism.  In the end, everything our heroes encounter must have some kind of plausible explanation for what is going on and for where the monsters are coming from.  And, there must be some way for the protagonists to defend themselves, fight back, and maybe in the end, prevail.
            Both of us have always enjoyed hearing and telling good scary stories.  It was a basic part of our growing up experience.  We don’t remember a time when we weren’t telling spine-chilling tales.  We vividly recall lying awake for hours as small children after hearing a horrifying saga told right at bed time, leaving us thinking that every creaking noise, every whisper of wind, was the latest monster coming to eat us alive.
            Once, as children, we heard some mysterious thing scratching on the window screen of our bedroom, which was an extra room, shared by three brothers, built on the back of the house.  All of us dived under the beds, screaming for help.  Turns out, it was our mom—we should have known.  She was bringing clothes in from the line and stopped to pick up a stick to reach up and scrape across our window screen.  She was full of surprises, and we grew up thinking all moms were like that.
            Mom was always thinking of new ways to scare her own children, or anyone else for that matter.  Once, when still a newlywed, she snuck up the basement stairs of Grandma Washburn’s old house and flung open the kitchen door, shouting “BOO!” startling her mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two-year-old niece.  Grandma was not fond of such hijinks.  Pointing an accusing finger at our mother, Grandma exclaimed, “Clara!  For shame! For shame!”  By the time our father got there to see what was going on, everyone in the room was in tears.  He thought someone in the family had died.
            That did not cure Mom though.  She had a talent for scaring anyone and everyone.  One Halloween when I was in junior high, an older brother and sister, Allen and Linda, received permission to throw a big Halloween party for their high school friends.  The culmination of the party, its climax, was a scary story told by Mom.  She said she woke up about 2:00 am, and the story just came to her as she lie there in bed.
            At the party, Mom sat on the fireplace hearth in the front room.  About twenty teens sat on the floor around her feet.  The lights were off.  Only a few rays from an outside streetlight found their way into the room through the window curtains and drapes.
            Telling the story in a hushed, grim voice, Mom spoke as if she were sounding a deadly-serious warning.  Soon, some girls started to whimper.  The boys were “obviously” too brave to complain, but at one point, an older boy suddenly got up and left the room, not to come back until the story was over.
            As Mom talked, Allen crept around the outside of the house to an unlocked front-room window.  When Mom reached the zenith of horror in the story, Allen opened the window and climbed into the house.  He was wearing a full-head mask, colored with glow marks along the dark-red gore painted on the distorted face.
            The screaming and crying was glorious.  Even some guys screamed and tried to run away.
            That was, without a doubt, one of the best Halloweens EVER!
            You could say our love for scary stories is nothing more or less than a chromosomal phenomenon.  However we came by our fascination for horror stories, we love them still and hope to keep telling them for a long, long time to come.  If Mom were still here, she would be so proud.

Friday, May 1, 2015


What are some of your favorite childhood books?

Learning to be a storyteller.

1950s Mom & Dad
Picture taken by first child.

As a child, Andy loved Dr. Seuss.  Later, A Collection of Short Stories, by O. Henry was a favorite, and as a teenager, he was fascinated with The Illustrated Man, by Bradbury.  Growing up, Berk was on the lookout for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and as he got into junior high and older, he was always searching for new and interesting sci-fi writers.  In addition, as youth, we read all kinds of mystery and horror, including stories published by Alfred Hitchcock, with titles like, Stories My Mother Never Told Me.  We loved those scary stories, and in fact, our mother did tell us some of the best scary stories.
Pitch Green and Mojave Green are the first two books in The Dimensions in Death young-adult horror series.  The first book is based on a scary story we told as kids.  The general outline for the novel-length version of our first book came together late "one dark and stormy night" in November of 2010.  We were attending a writer’s conference in Manhattan.  As we rode the subway from one end-of-the-line stop across town to the opposite end-of-the-line stop, and then back again, we mapped out the basic elements that we needed to expand the childhood story into a full-length novel.
Andy wrote the first rough draft, then Berk took it over to edit and expand the tale.  In writing the first book, the ground work was laid for many sequels and prequels in a young adult horror series.
            The second book, Mojave Green, is a continuation of the first story, but that part of the story has no history.  It was written new from scratch.  Same with the third book, Fatal Green, due out later this year.  Each book combines horror, suspense and mystery, moving forward as our protagonists fight for their lives in a battle with a monstrous evil presence, hiding in the old, deserted Searles Mansion in a small mining town, Trona, California, the perfect setting for a horror series.
            While there actually was once a Searles Mansion, built in 1888, not far from Boston, MA, that mansion is now long gone and has nothing to do with our tale’s mansion in Trona.  The original childhood story had a mansion in it and that is the source of our Searles Mansion, named after John Searles, an actual Nineteenth Century Death Valley prospector.
1970s Mom & Dad
With their first grandchild.
            Trona is a real mining town, located in Searles Valley, not far from Death Valley, but there is no actual mansion in Trona.  In high school, we explored the hundreds of square miles of isolated desert and high-mountain country around Trona.  Those experiences provide a location and backdrop for the events in The Dimensions in Death series.
            We have always been story tellers, first to siblings, then to our children, and now to our grandkids.  Scary stories are a family specialty.  We can’t count the number of times Mom scared us witless with her scary stories.  A few years ago, Berk started writing a young-adult science fiction series, so when Andy also tried his hand at writing fiction, it didn’t take long for us to come together as The Brothers Washburn (as in The Brothers Grimm) on a new young-adult horror series.  Mom would be so proud.  We have also written the first two books in an unrelated young-adult science fiction series.
We both find that once we start telling a horror or sci-fi story, the bounds of the story are limited only by our combined creativity and imagination, and that no matter how mature we get in the real world, we are both still starry-eyed kids in our worlds of horror and fantasy.

Friday, April 24, 2015


Telling a compelling (thrilling) Young Adult story.

What is Young Adult horror?

You're not even safe
in your own bed!
            Our first two books in The Dimensions in Death series, Pitch Green and Mojave Green, are the start of what our publisher has labeled as “young adult horror.”  The tale is based on a scary story we told as kids to our siblings and friends (and sometimes to strangers and non-friends).  These two books combine terror, suspense and mystery, moving at a breathtaking pace as our protagonists fight for their lives, battling a monstrous evil presence hiding in and around an old, deserted mansion in Trona, California, a small mining town, located near Death Valley in a desolate region of the Mojave Desert.
            While our series is labeled “young adult horror” (and this is because our story is an all-age appropriate tale about life-and-death encounters with unearthly monsters), we are not completely comfortable with our placement in that genre.  First, we rely more on suspense and mystery (more like a thriller), rather than blood and gore (no gratuitous violence), to tell our scary story.  Second, our monsters are justified by logical principles of theoretical science, not mysticism and magic.  But, we are not science fiction either, so we are left with the horror label for lack of a more exact category.
Fortunately, most teens grow out of
the zombie phase.
            In truth, we’re not sure what our genre is, but we do know what we like.  Both in the books we write as well as in the books we read, we like a fast-moving, compelling story of mystery, suspense and terror about unusual characters with an imaginative plot for a young adult audience, meaning it hits home for teens.  The higher the stakes the better, and life-or-death stakes are pretty high.  As with any reader, youth readers must be courted with conflict and entrapped by suspense.
            A young reader wants to be immersed in a world of new beginnings and exciting transitions, a world where anything is possible and hope is a guiding star.  A world of despair, overwhelmed by failed dreams and missed opportunities, is for an older, more-jaded audience.  A young adult plot says we don’t give up, we will find a way to succeed because life is about happiness, is worth the sacrifices we make, and will bring a happy ending in the long run.  That is the kind of book that we like to read as well as write.
            Here are a few of the young adult books by other authors that we have liked:

(1)        The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
            Two young people (a girl and a guy in love) are caught up in a fascinating world of conflicting types of magic, existing on the edge of the actual world we live in, where they are placed involuntarily into a situation that requires one to die at the hand of the other by a hidden power and mysterious rules that neither completely understands. The real magic is that they figure out how to play the game by their own rules. The brooding sense of danger and dark mystery continually pulls the reader along.

(2)        The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
            A likeable, young scoundrel, who is badly treated and whose life seems to be jerked this way and that at the mercy of an international war and corrupt queens and kings, proves that he is capable of not only dictating his own destiny, but also the destiny of large kingdoms and powerful political leaders. The sudden plot twists and ongoing surprises about the protagonist’s true character carries the reader forward.

(3)        The Maze Runner by James Dashner
            Appearing suddenly in an artificial testing environment, like a rat in a maze, with no memory of how he got there, our young hero must figure out how to escape the trap while being subjected to the tension of lost memories and threatening peer pressure as well as a sense of danger arising from a life and death threat not totally understood, yet the youth out smarts his captors and rewrites the rules of the test.  The overpowering tension and suspense of unanswered questions together with the courage of the protagonist pulls the reader through the story.

(4)        The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

            A young boy, who has been trapped his whole life in a graveyard for his own protection and has been raised by the dead, falls in love with a girl from the outside world and must face the evil forces that would destroy him if he is ever going to find a way out of the world of the dead and into the world of the living, where he can finally have a real life for himself.  This is a fresh story with unexpected conflicts, providing the suspense that keeps the reader going to the end.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


How do you get new story ideas?

Sometimes the best ideas are the old ones.

            Berk and I have been asked many times to say what inspired us to write our first book, Pitch Green, our scary young-adult novel about two teenagers hunted by a fearsome creature that lives in an immense and bizarre old mansion, located in the teens' desolate, desert hometown.  This is a hard question.  Where does inspiration come from?  I sometimes feel that the most inspiring thing I come across anymore is a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies, accompanied by a tall glass of cold milk.
            Not the stuff of novels, scary or otherwise.  We have reached this point in our lives where we have seen and done, well, not it all, but all of it that we have wanted to see and do.  It is not so much that we are beyond inspiration, but that the new ideas have started to recycle, so they’re not really new anymore.  Everything comes now with a sense of déjà vu.  Totally out-of-the-box inspiration has moved on to influence younger, better-looking people than us.
We first told the story of the
Green Rat in this house in
Whittier, California
            Perhaps that is the secret of Pitch Green.  The initial late-night, scary story was first told by us as small children while we were living in Whittier, California, in a tiny residential neighborhood that is completely surrounded by the Rose Hills Memorial Park, one of the largest commercial cemeteries in the world.  Later, our family moved to Trona, California, a little mining town, deep in the Mojave Desert.  There the tale took on a new life of its own.  Trona is the town of our youthful adventures.  We grew up on the doorstep of Death Valley, and as we tell the story now, it takes place in the Searles Mansion in Trona.
           Variations of the story have been told by us in about every conceivable situation.  We told it at church activities and on scout outings, even on dates.  We told it to our friends, girlfriends, siblings and cousins.  To be fair, we weren't above telling it to complete strangers and even to people we didn’t like.  We told it around campfires, on road trips and in school classes when we could get away with it.  This was a story we loved to tell.  And, we loved to use it to scare the crap out of anyone who would listen.
            So, while inspiration may evade us now in our white-hair days, we were able reach back (way freaking back) to those days of yore (I think it is a federal law that says you are not allowed to have “days of yore” until you reach at least 50 years of age) when inspiration was an everyday event--back when inspiration came in a box of cereal; when inspiration needed only a blue sky dotted with puffy, white clouds; when inspiration was always just around the corner.  Inspiration was found then in the last book I read, in the latest episode of Star Trek or Lost in Space, or in the simple smile of the pretty girl next door.  Oh, to be so easily inspired again!
            But, I wax sickenly philosophic.  Sorry.  I guess we really were inspired to write that first book in the Dimensions in Death series, but it just so happens that the inspiration came to us a very long time ago--over fifty years ago.  It has been sitting, smoldering inside us, waiting to burst into flame when we were all done growing up (if that’s possible), when we could look back and see more clearly.  Some things do get better with age.  In a way, that is kind of inspiring in and of itself.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Why are publicists super cool?

Finding your way home.

Jolly Fish Press
            I do not remember ever being lost.  In my youth, I roamed the trackless wastes of the Mojave Desert, but those wastelands weren't trackless to me. No matter what new byway my friends and I explored, I always knew how to get back to where we started.  I have an accurate sense of general directions, north, south, east and west.  More importantly, I think visually, so as our old truck or dune buggy bumped and jarred over the rugged terrain, pictures of the landscape were continuously stored in my brain—a looming joshua tree or mesquite bush, a scraggly rock formation, a twist in the road, a set of animal tracks.  All were duly recorded as pictures that my mind could easily recall later for orientation and reference purposes.
When we had explored as much as we wanted, shot through our ammo, eaten all our Hostess cherry pies, gotten as dirty as possible, and generally had a great time, my mind pictures guided us unerringly home. I easily distinguished between old roads previously traveled and new roads not yet explored.  I always knew which fork in the road to take, which direction to go.
Unfortunately, when I signed a three-book contract for the Dimensions in Death series with Jolly Fish Press, those homing skills did not cross over into the untamed wilderness of social networking and book promotion.  I had entered into an alien world with landmarks and signposts that I didn’t see, or when I did, I didn’t understand.  Up to that point, I might have glanced once or twice at my wife's Facebook page and heard the words “Twitter” and “Blog,” but I did not think those things would ever be part of my world.
Green Death Hangs Heavy
Suddenly, I was in a new land with unfamiliar terrain, and I was lost.  I could not visualize the road, or how all the roads connected with each other, or even which way was up or down, let alone north or south.  While there were many crisscrossing, bumpy roads in this new wilderness, there was no need for a rifle with lots of ammo or a box of dynamite, and though a Hostess cherry pie still helped smooth the adventure when the going got rough, I was woefully ignorant of the real weaponry needed in this strange, alien wilderness.
             Enter Chris Loke and Zach Power, publicists for Jolly Fish Press, and I discovered how cool a publicist could be for newbie authors like Andy and me.  In what I know now were tentative first steps, the JFP Publicity Group helped us set up our Facebook and Twitter accounts, gave us a logo from the JFP design department, and directed us toward Blogspot.  As we took our first tentative steps down these strange roads, they stayed near to coach us in our new adventure and warn us of the dangers along the way.  Whenever we began to fear that we were lost, they were always there to gently calm us with the wise counsel, "If you don't understand it, just Google it."  JFP Publicity has been a faithful and trustworthy guide through a dangerous and wild country.
            So, what are publicists good for?  In our experience, the publicist is a fountain of clear water in the desert, a source of invaluable information, expertise, innovation, encouragement and a nudge (sometimes a shove) when necessary.  By forming a Facebook group binding the Jolly Fish Press authors and management together, JFP created another avenue for encouragement, blowing off steam, sharing information and ideas, and supporting each other.  Of course, behind the scenes, JFP is also doing groundwork which we only occasionally glimpse in the news we get of media contracts, contest information, publishing sub-contacts, as well as overseas, film and TV contacts, and much more.
            When it comes to promoting our books, Andy and I don't pretend to be savvy or to understand where all the social media paths might lead.  But from what JFP tells us, we’re on a path that will allow us to keep writing books.  That's all we care about.  Thanks, JFP Publicists!  You’re super cool!

Friday, April 3, 2015


Keeping the Story Plot Invigorated and Surprising.

Cooking the sequel in a pressure cooker.

            We’re all familiar with sophomoric sequels. The author makes a great start in the first book, but then the story just coasts along with no inspiration or energy in the second book. While we all hope that the second book will be at least as good as the first, we know it must cover new territory, and there is always a risk the author will lose his or her way. The challenge is to not just keep the story alive, but to keep it growing in surprising, unanticipated, and even exciting ways.
The Brothers Washburn
with the owner of
Red Rock Books
Ridgecrest, California
            Pitch Green and Mojave Green are the first two books in the Dimensions in Death young-adult horror series.  Based on a scary story we told as kids to siblings and friends, these books combine horror, suspense and mystery in a fast-paced battle with a monstrous evil presence, hiding in an old, deserted mansion in a small mining town, located in a desolate part of the Mojave Desert near Death Valley.
            The mansion was built almost a hundred years ago by an eccentric genius, who got funding and specifications from a clandestine source of ancient knowledge and wealth. One night the genius was mysteriously slaughtered, and ever after, children and other defenseless animals in Trona and the surrounding desert have been disappearing without a trace on a regular basis.
Hot off the press.
            In the first book, Pitch Green, we meet two teenagers, Camm and Cal, who are destined by wit, pluck and luck (not always good) to become the balancing force against the unearthly predator, who calls the mansion home. Our heroes are hurled from one scene of horror to the next. Though their intentions are good, they don’t understand what they face. By the end of the first book, a door has been left open to predations on an even grander scale.
            In the second book, Mojave Green, a call from her best friend, Cal, brings news Camm had hoped never to hear. Children are again disappearing from Trona. Has the unnatural creature they killed last year returned to life or has the ancient Searles Mansion spawned a new menace? Ignoring dire warnings from federal agents, the pair take a road trip home with unsuspecting school friends in tow and discover the situation has gotten worse. With monstrous predators seemingly coming out of nowhere, enigmatic forces tear the friends apart, pulling Cal into another world, where his chances of survival are slim.
Just 25 miles from
Trona, California
            Finally coming to terms with her feelings for Cal, Camm desperately seeks help where she can, even from the dead, but can a rogue agent and other misfits help her uncover the long-lost secrets needed to rescue Cal and stop inter-dimensional attacks?
            The government will be no help. Federal agents on the case do everything they can to catch Camm and stop her. The destiny of her own world may lie solely in Camm’s young hands.
            Writing the second book was a different experience for us as co-authors than was the first. The first book was based on a childhood story that we had been telling for years, and the basic plot elements already existed. The second book is a brand new story that has never existed before. It was created from scratch in the last couple years. As co-authors, we had to agree on a whole new plot.
            In both books, we were under pressure to make the story as thrilling as possible. We didn’t think in terms of one story being better than the other, just different, but we are definitely excited with the new direction taken by the Mojave Green story. Our fans can expect a faster moving, broader ranging story in the second book, which introduces new characters and covers more territory, both in terms of the desert geography as well as in the depth of the character emotions.
            In addition to the careful research of applicable desert geography, which we try to describe as accurately as possible, we had to do in-depth research of basic principles of astro-physics and relativity theory since Mojave Green answers many of the questions of seemingly supernatural happenings raised in the first book, while at the same time raising new questions of its own. But remember, this is not a science fiction series. It is horror based on scientific principles, rather than on magic and mysticism.
Young-Adult genre is
all-age appropriate
            Some of our favorite scenes in book two take place as Camm and Cal confront the new predators spawned by the collapse of the guardian systems that were originally built into the Searles Mansion to protect the residents of planet Earth. In solving life-and-death mysteries, our heroes find that mundane pieces of furniture, like an old grandfather’s clock, take on roles of life-saving significance.
            Some of our favorite moments in writing and selling the Dimensions in Death books have come as we are able to interact with a few of our fans at book signings and other author events. Initially, we thought that writing a cohesive, compelling story would be the hardest part of the book-selling business. But, when we started trying to find an agent or publisher, who would take our manuscript, we decided that getting published was the hardest part of the business.
            After sending out more than 150 query letters, we found a great publisher, Jolly Fish Press, and began the process of trying to sell our books. Now, we’re sure that building a fan base is the hardest part of the business. It’s a good thing it is also the most rewarding part.
            As we get ready for the third book in our series, Fatal Green, to come out later in 2015, we’re excited not just for the saga to continue, but also for the opportunity to continue learning and growing in a new business, in a dynamically changing industry, in a world with disappearing boundaries and in a universe limited only by one’s own imagination. It doesn’t get better than this!