Picking Brains with Wednesday Lee Friday: Craig DiLouie
Reprint of 2011 Interview originally posted at Zombie Zone News.
Tonight we continue 7 authors in 7 days with Craig DiLouie, wherein we feature authors from Permuted Press and Zombiefest at Audible.com. He writes fiction and non-fiction, stories, articles, and a badass horror blog. I was thrilled to see that he is also a passionate horror fan, and all-around nice guy. After the interview, a sample from DiLouie's amazing and bloody new book. I know, right?
WLF/ZZN: Hi, Craig. Thanks for taking the time to answer these Q's. You are a zombie writer in Canada. Pardon my ignorance, but do they even have zombies in Canada?
Thank you for asking me for this interview! I’m excited to talk to you. As you pointed out, I currently live in western Canada. I moved here from New York City about eight years ago. Canada’s definitely safer in terms of zombies; the endless winters tend to keep the zombies out.
WLF/ZZN: Please tell us the story of your introduction to the zombie genre?
I’ve always been fascinated with stories about the end of the world. Plague, natural disasters, asteroids, aliens, you name it. But zombies have always been my favorite form of apocalypse. During a zombie apocalypse, the familiar becomes unfamiliar, everybody you know and love suddenly turns against you and is hunting you, and you must interact with and suddenly trust total strangers to stay alive. The potential for storytelling is almost limitless.
When I was younger, there was a bit of wish fulfillment in the end of the world, plus excitement that everything in society that you rely on to support you would no longer be there. Back then, the apocalypse was a challenge, a place where people shoot zombies in the head and have thrilling adventures, something a tiny (and insane) part of me longed for on some level. Now that I’m middle aged with a family, there is added the parental/middle class paranoia that everything you have might be taken away from you. Now I regard the apocalypse as a dark place of suffering and loss—not something to secretly long for, but to experience, through storytelling, a fantasy of one’s worst fears come true.
Suddenly, I discovered emerging zombie fiction authors such as David Moody and Joe McKinney and pioneering small presses such as Permuted Press, and the genre opened up to me as both a reader and a writer. So I started writing a novel I always wanted to read: Tooth and Nail, a story about the end of the world told from the perspective of the soldiers who fought to save it. The novel was so successful—more than 11,000 copies sold to date—that I decided to write The Infection, a story about five ordinary people who must pay the price of survival at the end of the world—more of the classic formula of survivors searching for sanctuary, but with some interesting twists. So far, The Infection has been extremely successful as well, and I’m currently in the homestretch for the sequel, tentatively titled The Killing Floor, which Permuted Press will release sometime in late 2011 or early 2012.
WLF/ZZN: Can you describe these books in more detail for our readers who may not be familiar with you and your work?
Tooth and Nail (Salvo Press, 2010, www.infectedwar.com) tells the story of a military unit deployed in New York City during the zombie apocalypse. As the military begins to lose control, it retrenches in the south, leaving behind Charlie Company on a mission to escort an important scientist to a rendezvous point. For the boys of Charlie Company, the zombie apocalypse will give new meaning to the proverb, “War is hell.” The novel has been described as incredibly realistic, gritty, violent—Blackhawk Down meets 28 Days Later—a novel where you feel like you are embedded with the unit, experiencing the danger of a nighttime operation, the thrill of a bayonet charge, the heroic futility of a last stand.
My second zombie novel, The Infection (Permuted Press, 2011, www.infectednation.com) begins a new story in a new universe. This novel focuses on five people trying to find sanctuary in a dying world and is much more character-driven story. The people who inhabit The Infection are damaged people, reeling from the shock of the familiar suddenly becoming a dangerous and violent. The shock at seeing the people you love turn against you. The shock of losing everything. The apocalypse is a horrible place in The Infection, which has been described as The Road meets 28 Days Later and The Mist. It’s a story about what people have to do to survive, and how that changes you because survival has a price. The zombies are the living dead, but the survivors, in many ways, become the dead living.
WLF/ZZN: What led you to choose a viral infection as the source of the Zeds?
I love the classic zombie formula of people banding together to search for sanctuary and survive while the world meets a bloody end. That being said, I’m not a purist about the genre. For example, I define the term “zombie” rather broadly to include any ordinary people turned into mindless (and usually violent and infectious) automatons. So I consider the haters in David Moody’s Hater and the crazies in Romero’s The Crazies to be zombies. (WLF note: **thumbs up**)
The zombies in my stories are alive—infected by a virus that compels them to violently infect others—and as such, they are “fast”—that is, they can run like ordinary people. I prefer this type of zombie in my stories because they are simply more realistic—a mutated, easily infectious rabies virus could actually happen, even if the odds of it happening are miniscule—while also being much scarier to me. A pack of zombies running towards me is much more terrifying than a pack of shamblers, which I could avoid by simply walking away quickly. I’m also partial to stories set during the collapse of society, not after, as there are simply so many more things going on above and beyond the basic nomadic existence of a post-apocalyptic world.
So far, I answered this question by stating my preferences as a writer. As a reader, my tastes are much broader. I enjoy any zombie story—alive or undead, fast or shambling, apocalypse or post apocalypse, story told from the point of view of humans or the zombies themselves—as long as it’s a good story featuring people I care about, people who react realistically to what is happening to them, to their post-apocalyptic environment, to the zombies themselves.
WLF/ZZN: As a Left 4 Dead player, I'm a fan of mutated zombies. Looking through your book, it appears that you are as well. Comment?
I love the game Left 4 Dead. Like the game, The Infection features monsters that appear alongside the Infected and raise the stakes for both the characters and the survival of the human race as a whole. I have always been fascinated with the idea of an alien ecology being transplanted onto ours, creating competition. The monsters are not evil; they don’t enjoy human suffering. They just need to eat and expand their population. And humans are no longer at the top of the food chain. We are something’s lunch.
So I’m writing a scene early in The Infection in which two characters shoot down a mob of zombies in a hospital, and I thought, where do I go from here? Is this it—they’re constantly going to shoot zombies for the rest of the novel? I felt that I needed to raise the stakes. By introducing monsters into the story, the tension skyrockets throughout the rest of the book because you never know what is going to come at you next. The characters, meanwhile, are even more terrified at what is happening to them. I knew it was a risk of offending the purists, but decided to go with it, as I enjoyed the result that the story became unpredictable.
WLF/ZZN: Why should zombie fans check out the Audible.com versions of Tooth And Nail and The Infection?
Audiobooks are an entirely new way of experiencing fiction. When I listen to my stories being narrated by a professional reader, I feel like I’m experiencing them for the first time again. You really fall into the story; your mind goes somewhere else. Naturally, they are best suited to people who like to experience books on the go—while jogging, driving a long commute, and so on.
WLF/ZZN: What other ZombieFest selection would you recommend to listeners?
They are all great books and I’m proud to see The Infection stand alongside them. I would happily recommend almost any of Permuted’s titles. For some reason, Tooth and Nail is not included in the ZombieFest promotion, but is also available from Audible here: http://www.audible.com/search/ref=sr_lftbox_1_1.
WLF/ZZN: The violence in your books is routinely described as intense. Honestly man, what should I be prepared for in terms of general human suffering?
Readers of horror fiction want to be scared. Readers of zombie fiction further want to be titillated by the generalities of the apocalypse and the specifics of violent gore. My zombie fiction serves up plenty of both to continuously punctuate an atmosphere of steadily growing tension. I don’t like filler in books; I believe, as an author, that I have a responsibility to try to provide something on every page that moves the story forward, escalates the tension, and keeps the reader gripped. I also don’t believe in guns that run out of bullets at bad times, in people who trip and drop guns, in zombies that sneak up behind people and bite them, in people suddenly become brilliant at scoring headshots. Everything in my stories must make sense to me, with no lazy shortcuts that will interrupt my reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, and the combat scenes—from military radio protocols to the weaponry of a Bradley fighting vehicle to the sound an M4 carbine makes—must be as richly detailed and realistic as possible. That being said, I don’t believe in violence that is overtly gratuitous. There is nothing sadistic about my stories. There are no evil guys who threaten our protagonists just to have a convenient human villain. Again, everything has to make sense. And while the apocalypse is a sad place, a place of suffering, I like to inject a bit of hope into my stories. There is a sense that if the characters can persevere just a little longer, everything will turn out all right for them.
WLF/ZZN: What's the most interesting bit of zombie media you've encountered recently?
Some good zombie books I’ve read recently include Handling The Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Dust by Joan Frances Turner, One by Conrad Williams, On The Third Day by Rhys Thomas, Flu by Wayne Simmons, Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney, Rise Again by Ben Tripp and Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield. Right now I’m reading Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion.
WLF/ZZN: You also write a regular horror blog. Would you say horror is a big part of your life? Why or why not?
I am a very lucky man blessed with a wonderful wife, two fantastic children, good friends, a great home, a thriving business and a successful fiction writing career. The only horror in my world is confronting my mortality, and the idea that one day something bad might happen to those I love.
That being said, horror dominates my creative life. I spend a lot of my day envisioning or writing stories involving terror, despair and violence. As a writer, I also read everything I can get my hands on in the genre to stay current on what other people are reading and writing. Every single time I read a book, horror or outside the genre, I learn something about the craft. I am also always on the lookout for quality apocalyptic film. The blog at www.craigdilouie.com is sort of an expression of that labor, and a way for me to engage fans and promote my work beyond simply pushing my books at people.
WLF/ZZN: What would you say to someone who asks why you can't write something happy for a change?
The main reason why is that nobody would read it. [laughs] They say sex and violence sells products, but what sells a good story is conflict. Whether it’s inner conflict, conflict between people, or conflict between people and threats in their environment, conflict is needed to propel a story forward and hold reader interest. Of course, happiness can happen anytime, even in the most unexpected places, even during the zombie apocalypse. At the end of the world, amidst so much suffering, people will be snatching bits of love and happiness anywhere they can get it. Even more important than happiness is hope. My stories are dark, gritty and violent, but they usually end on a note of hope. Many have suffered and died, and many more will before it is all over, but there is hope that it will end, and that humanity will get a second chance.
WLF/ZZN: Thanks so much for the interview, Craig. Before we close, is there anything you'd like to say to your readers?
Thank you for inviting me to this interview, Wednesday; I enjoyed it. As for my readers, I would like to say simply that the commercial and literary success of Tooth and Nail and The Infection—particularly the positive mail I’ve received—have been amazing and humbling. Thank you for reading my work. I will keep writing as long as you keep reading.