The Ginger Nut May Have A Tooth And Nail Infection, An Interview With Craig DiLouie
Hello folks, today I’d like to present an interview with author Craig DiLouie.
Things are awesome, thanks! It’s great to talk to you.
GNOH – Can you tell the readers a bit about yourself?
I’m a very lucky middle-aged guy, blessed with a lovely wife, two great kids and a successful business, and living in Canada after spending most of my life in New Jersey and then New York City, where I was a magazine editor.
Middle age makes you think about your mortality, building some wealth for the first time makes you worry about losing it, and having a family makes you want to protect them from everything. At the logical, if extreme, end of these emotions is an urge to stock fuel and food and guns and ride out the apocalypse.
That’s how I became attracted to writing stories about the end of the world. It became a way to exercise my most morbid fantasies and worst fears. That’s why, in my stories, you won’t find much wish fulfillment—heroic guys shooting zombies in the head as if they were born for it. In my stories, you find broken people struggling to survive as everything they ever loved is violently torn away from them. They fight the living dead, but in many ways, they are the dead living.
GNOH – How do the others react when they find out you write horror?
They almost always find it intriguing. Some grin as if to say, a-ha, I always knew you were a little weird. I just grin right back; I long ago gave up on caring whether I’m weird or not.
GNOH – You’ve also written a number of nonfiction works, can you tell us a bit about this?
Those books are related to my day job as an independent marketing consultant and technical writer specializing in the lighting and electrical construction industries. I do a lot of writing and other communications work for various magazines, trade associations and manufacturers. My nonfiction books are rather dry texts about managing lighting systems and designing electrical circuits.
GNOH – How does writing nonfiction compare to writing fiction, and which do you find to be the most rewarding?
Nonfiction writing is enjoyable because there is a finite reality you are working with. For example, if you are going to explain how a given electrical device works, there is only one way it actually works; your job is to explain it in a way that is interesting, clear, memorable. What I like about my day job is it forces me to write every day and treat writing as a craft instead of something I occasionally binge on when the Muse takes me, which is closer to therapy than a craft.
Fiction writing is my first love, however. It is certainly more challenging because every page is perfectly blank before you write it, but that is also what attracts me to it, the fact I can create people and worlds and stories out of nothing.
For me, the most satisfying part is the understanding that you can write some words, a total stranger will read them, and then they might not only feel excited and scared, but have an actual nightmare after reading it. Think about how crazy that is, how some words on a piece of paper can make somebody feel genuine terror. When somebody reads your work and responds to it, their feedback completes the act by creating a loop. The author writes something, somebody reads it, and they tell the author what it made them see and how it made them feel. It’s an incredible process to me.
GNOH – How would you describe your writing style?
Evolving. I’ve written a psychological thriller, a humorous military science fiction novel, a mockumentary-style nonfiction book about a future flu pandemic, and two apocalyptic horror novels. Each book has a different style geared to the topic of the book.
My zombie novels are written in present tense, for example, to convey a sense of immediacy and urgency to the narrative. This is happening right now, the tense communicates. We don’t know anything the characters don’t know. We’re right there, with them, facing the same threats in real time.
Not everybody is okay with present tense. Some ripped me to shreds for it in Amazon reviews. They simply hate present tense and acted like I had hurt them in some way. I felt like I should have put a disclaimer on the book, a warning that the book contains present tense. Books make people crazy.
Other than that, I believe most people would call my work original, realistic, gritty, descriptive, violent. Regarding the grit and realism, I believe the details are important in a book where you are asking the reader to suspend a considerable amount of disbelief. Providing a richly imagined, lived-in apocalyptic world makes it more believable, and therefore the monsters that populate it also become more believable. To create this world, I research everything to make it as realistic as possible.
GNOH – So what prompted the move into writing zombie novels?
I’ve always been a fan of apocalyptic fiction, and my favorite brand of apocalypse has always been the zombie kind. For years, however, there were almost no books available. The horror section always appeared filled with a few big-name authors and an endless choice of sexy or funny vampires.
Then David Moody and emerging small presses like Permuted Press started putting out some really good stuff, and the genre opened up to me as both a reader and a writer.
I decided to write Tooth and Nail, a story about the end of the world told from the perspective of the soldiers who tried to save it. The novel was so successful—with more than 10,000 copies sold so far—that I wrote The Infection, and I’m now working on a sequel to The Infection.
GNOH – What would you say makes your novels different to huge number of zombie novels all ready out there?
Not only in the quality of writing and strong delivery of everything fans love about books in this genre, but I believe my novels distinguish themselves for new ideas, steady building of suspense and action from beginning to end (with no “filler”), interesting twists and new perspectives, gritty action, strong realism in action and setting, and characters who behave realistically to what is happening to them.
GNOH – So should zombies run or shamble?
While most people treat this question as the start of an amusing debate, I’m often surprised that some people take it very seriously. The traditionalists say zombies are dead and so they can’t run. Really? We’re arguing about what dead people can do.
Zombies should do whatever the author wants them to do within a story that is exciting, features characters you care about it, and has all the surprises and gore one expects from good horror fiction. In short, I don’t think it matters, as long as it’s a good story. Running zombies are just another sign of the genre innovating to prevent itself from getting stale. I don’t see it as “jumping the shark.” Similarly, I enjoy living zombies a la 28 Days Later; I define a zombie as any person turned into a mindless automaton, which is actually closer to the original definition than Romero’s undead flesh eaters.
So far I’ve answered as a reader. As a writer, I prefer running zombies. They’re simply scarier to me than something I can avoid by simply walking away quickly. I read a story where the zombies infected a naval ship and the characters kept falling down and dropping their guns. (This had to happen to even the odds; otherwise, our heroes would have simply shot the zombies, and the story would have ended there.) After a while of this I actually started rooting for the zombies. I also could never understand how slow-moving zombies could turn into hordes so quickly, overrun the military and cause the collapse of society.
But again, give me a good story, and I don’t care what kind of zombies are in it.
GNOH – You’re a big fan of apocalyptic fiction, what is the appeal of this genre to you?
I once asked myself which I would rather read: a novel about zombies infesting a cruise ship, or a novel about zombies infesting a collapsing world. I would read the latter book every time over the first.
For me, the apocalypse is even scarier than the zombies, as the apocalypse can actually happen. Imagine, suddenly, that the institutions providing a sense of normalcy and security to your life are no longer there. We look to people like soldiers and first responders to provide us with protection and support in an emergency, and when they break, it’s terrifying. It means no more law and order. It means collapse, no security, isolation, you’re on your own and there’s no help. Emotionally, that’s a very big step off a very high diving board without knowing what’s down there.
GNOH – What are your top five apocalyptic novels?
There are so many good books, but these would probably be my top seven (I couldn’t decide on just five), in no particular order:
One by Conrad Williams
The Hater and Autumn series by David Moody
The Death of Grass by John Christopher
Plague Year, Plague War and Plague Zone by Jeff Carlson
The Stand by Stephen King
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
I also recently enjoyed The Passage by Justin Cronin, Dust by Joan Frances Turner, On The Third Day by Rhys Thomas, Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield, The Fall of Austin by Bowie Ibarra, Flu by Wayne Simmons, and Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney. Here’s a bunch of apocalyptic books that I like:http://www.amazon.com/This-is-the-way-the-world-ends/lm/R2L8ZXPACHOT5L/ref=cm_srch_res_rpli_alt_2.
o GNOH – Tooth and Nail is your debut zombie novel, how well has it been received?
Beyond my strongest expectations. To date, more than 10,000 copies have been sold. The publisher is currently in negotiations to sell an option to adapt the book into film, and a foreign deal with a 5,000 print run. I’m also hoping to see it adapted as a graphic novel. The book has generated about 145 Amazon reviews, almost all of them very positive, as well as good reviews from dozens of other horror authors, horror magazines, websites and blogs. The letters I have received from readers have been amazing and humbling, particularly the ones from American servicemen.
GNOH – How happy are you with it?
I could not be happier with the literary and commercial success the novel has generated.
GNOH – Your second zombie novel, The Infection, is, am I right in think not a sequel to Tooth and Nail? Were you tempted to write a sequel?
Tooth and Nail (www.infectedwar.com), described as Blackhawk Down meets 28 Days Later, tells the story of a company of U.S. infantry trying to survive in New York City during the zombie apocalypse. It has the kind of scope and feel you might find in a war novel, with an ensemble cast of characters and tons of combat scenes. In this novel, the apocalypse is a war zone—Custer’s last stand with zombies. It is currently a standalone novel without plans for a sequel, although one never says never.
The Infection (www.infectednation.com) is the start of a new fictional universe. Described as 28 Days Later meets The Road and The Mist, it tells the story of five ordinary people who must pay the cost of survival at the end of the world. While Tooth and Nail is more cinematic, The Infection has similar high-octane action but is overall even darker, with fewer, deeper characters, focusing on how a small group of people survive and ultimately cope with their world collapsing around them. In this Permuted Press novel, the apocalypse is a wasteland both real and psychological.
GNOH – The zombies in Infected are not the typical run of the mill zombie, they start evolving, what gave you the idea for them to do this?
I had just written a scene at the hospital where a group of Infected are shot down and I thought, well, that’s it. I can have bigger and bigger crowds of Infected, but the stakes will never get any bigger than this. The novel’s true threat has been realized before it’s even half over.
So I raised the stakes. I introduced monsters that evolve alongside the Infected. These monsters raise the stakes, add an unpredictability to the book, and seriously accelerate the fear factor, as some of the monsters are extremely creepy and disgusting. In the end, the monsters strongly differentiate the novel from others in the genre, making the story even more exciting, scary and unpredictable.
GNOH – How much work goes into your back story, do you have a whole mythology worked out for your zombies? Do you try to come up with scientific reasons for the zombies, or do you trust the reader’s leap of imagination?
I put an endless amount of research into my books. For Tooth and Nail, I found a treasure of military manuals that were extremely helpful, covering everything from radio protocols to bayonet fighting. For The Infection, I learned the basics of how to drive and operate the weapons systems of a Bradley fighting vehicle, clear a jam in an M4 rifle, blow a six-lane bridge, survive in a refugee camp, and more. I drove from Pittsburgh to eastern Ohio and back in the virtual world of Google maps, studied how emergency generators work, and watched YouTube videos showing what it is like to sit inside a Bradley, what its cannon sounds like, and so on.
Regarding the back story, I don’t think it’s important for an author to tell the reader why the zombies are here. For the characters, it’s not important why they are here; it’s only important how to kill or evade them. Even Romero has never definitively explained why the dead rise in his Living Dead series other than to point out the rising coincided with the return of a space probe.
In Tooth and Nail, the reason is given: It’s a designer virus, based on rabies, that was intended to be used to fight deadly diseases. This is actually happening. Viruses are very efficient at penetrating human cells and inserting DNA, so modified viruses make great Trojan Horse delivery systems for genetic material or drugs that can treat or even cure other diseases such as hemophilia, Alzheimer’s, cancer, cystic fibrosis. Unfortunately, in the novel, the scientists botched it, and the designer virus got out of the lab and spread.
In The Infection, the reason is mysterious. Different characters have different theories. Some believe Infection was caused by nanotechnology, others an extraterrestrial life form that came to earth on a meteor (actually close to Romero’s first cause in Night of the Living Dead). It’s never made clear. In the sequel, these competing theories are elaborated and one emerges as true.
GNOH – You’re working on a sequel to The Infection, can you let us in on any secrets?
The sequel to The Infection, tentatively titled The Killing Floor, will be released from Permuted Press in late 2011 or early 2012. It’s going to be even darker than The Infection, if that’s possible, but like The Infection, end on a note of hope for humanity.
GNOH – What do you think makes for a good story?
I particularly enjoy stories about ordinary people fighting to survive in extraordinary circumstances. The story should be about people featuring the apocalypse instead of the other way around. It should show realistic character responses, with a realistic setting, that make reader suspension of disbelief as easy as possible. I also like stories that take their time with the world actually ending instead of jumping quickly into the post-apocalyptic world. In short: Big stakes, people I care about, lots of action, realistic setting.
GNOH – Who are your literary heroes?
I learn something from every author I read. Probably the closest thing to a “hero” in my world is David Moody, author of the Hater and Autumn series. Here’s a struggling self-published novelist who ends up with his books coming out in hardcover from major publishers. He’s the local boy who made good, and inspired many people, including myself, to get in the game. He’s also a hell of a nice guy. Buy his books.
GNOH – What albums would you choose as a soundtrack to Tooth and Nail and The Infection?
Tooth and Nail goes with pretty much any brain-crushing death metal music, such as Dope’s “Die Motherf*cker Die” and Drowning Pool’s “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor.” The Infection goes with pretty much anything mellow, despairing, discordant. Enya, “Ave Maria,” Muse. Try “Paranoid Android” and “Airbag” from Radiohead.
GNOH – So what does the future hold for you?
My intent is to continue writing in the apocalyptic horror genre for as long as people will read my books.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and your readers about my writing! To learn more, I hope they’ll visit my apocalyptic horror blog at www.craigdilouie.com.