Posted on December 9, 2010 by Eric Pollarine
Flames Rising reviewer and Survival Horror fanatic Eric Pollarine had the chance to talk to author David Moody for Zombie Week. We had previously posted the first chapter of David’s novel Hater here on Flames Rising. In this interview David tells Eric about his work on the Autumn and Hater series.
Your work is dark, yet ultimately speaks of the human spirit either in triumph or defeat, do you think that “survival horror,” is now at a point that it will be able to branch off on its own and become a recognized genre?
That’s a really interesting question, and a difficult one to answer. I think that a lot of “survival horror” is a reaction of one sort or another – either to the present world situation or just as an alternative to a lot of the clichéd horror stories which have gone before. I didn’t intend to write “survival horror”, it’s just the way my stories developed. I have a natural aversion to stories where the hero is a square-jawed super man who can fight his way out of any situation, and one my pet hates is when characters just so happen to find themselves in the position of being able to understand and affect world-changing, catastrophic events (I’m talking about stuff like Roland Emmerich’s movies – Independence Day is the one that winds me up the most – the President of the USA flying the plane that destroys the key alien ship… come on, really?!). For me, the key to real horror is watching or reading something that I can easily identify with, so my stories deal with ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations which they can’t control. The ‘event’ which causes the situation isn’t what’s important to me, and I rarely explain what’s going on – I just want to know how the characters cope with it.
Also I’m curious to know what you think about the state of the “survival horror,” genre in general.
I think the genre’s at a really interesting point right now. There are some noticeably great survival horror stories doing really good business (I’d class The Walking Dead and even The Road in that category), but they’re being buried by franchises, sequels and remakes which make money for the studios and publishers without needing a huge amount of effort. That said, we’re living in turbulent, uncertain times, and I think the current world climate is both providing a lot of inspiration for people working in the genre, and it’s also providing a ready-made audience.
Is there any one out there (writers, artists, filmmakers, etc) that you think is doing really great work right now?
As the author of a series of zombie novels, I have to say I’m thrilled with the success of the Walking Dead TV series. It’s based on great source material, of course, but the film-makers have pulled out all the stops and produced something really special, and it’s great to see the living dead finally getting some serious attention in the mainstream. I think part of the success of the graphic novels and the TV adaptations is that they’re a story about people living through the apocalypse who just happen to be surrounded by the living dead – the focus is on the survivors, not the dead bodies. If you think about it, that focus is also present in some of the other great horror of the last couple of years. Take John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In (both the novel and the original Swedish movie adaptation) – it’s a story about kids, one of whom happens to be a vampire. As I’ve already said, for me that’s the key to good horror – concentrating on the characters, not the gimmicks.
Do you think that, given the deluge of “post-apocalyptic,” or “zombie,” related material that the publishing industry seems to be pushing lately, and is on television and the movies- that the public is experiencing something like millennial tension, with the upcoming 2012 date looming?
I don’t know whether it’s the fact we’re nearing 2012 that’s causing the present tension, but there’s definitely something in that. We certainly seem to be living through unique times right now, but I think it’s more likely to be due to the cumulative effect of a number of different factors: the financial situation and all it’s implications for jobs, house repossessions etc., over-crowding (just how many people do we think we’re going to be able to cram onto this planet before something gives?), terrorism (our enemies used to be easy to identify and more selective about their targets – now they could be anyone, anywhere), increased communications and ‘people power’ as a result of the Internet and social media etc., climate change… the list goes on! I think all these things are combining to create an overall feeling of unease, and the media is capitalizing on that (and therefore fueling it too!).
Or is it simply that with the state of the world being in such confusion, that people are willing and ready to address fear in a more realistic light?
Yes, definitely! I touched on the power of the Internet just now, and that’s affected almost every aspect of our lives. Information (and misinformation) now spreads with incredible speed and ferocity, and the fear can therefore spread with it. I think there’s less opportunity for people / organizations / governments etc. to hide now, and that’s having a huge effect on the way the world runs.
Autumn, is a zombie novel that doesn’t have the usual “tropes,” of flesh eating/cannibalism and the like, yet it is still just as terrifying, why did you decide to go the opposite rout with the greatest of all monsters?
I’ve always been a huge zombie geek, but there were aspects of the traditional mythos of the genre which I didn’t understand. I know these are moot points (we’re talking about the reanimation of dead bodies here!) but I’ve never been able to understand why the living dead needed to eat? You never saw them doing anything else like that… they didn’t have to drink, use the toilet, sleep… so why do they need to eat? I decided to take a different approach with Autumn to try and make the story a little more plausible (again, a bit difficult when we’re talking about the living dead!). After making that decision, I also started to look at some of the other zombie clichés and trying to avoid them. There’s a scene in almost every zombie book or film when someone gets bitten and then hides the wound until the least opportune moment when they ‘change’ and then bite and infect almost everyone else. In ‘Autumn’, people are either dead or they’re immune by the end of the first chapter, so those situations were removed from the equation. That allowed the story to develop differently. Finally, the zombies in most stories are the same at the end as they were at the beginning (although maybe a little more decayed!). In Autumn, the living dead change as the series progresses. They’re initially dumb, lumbering hulks of flesh, but, throughout the books, their mental strength slowly returns as their bodies continue to decay. I think it makes the dead more interesting as characters – the threat they present is increasing constantly.
I know that your first book, Straight to You, was published back in 1996, are there any plans to release it again?
Straight to You is a story I’m very proud of, but I was young and naïve when I first wrote the book and I think it’s dated badly. I do intend doing something with the story again in the future, but I’m not yet sure what. It may be a straight re-write, it might be something completely different…
In Hater, we see the main character of Danny McCoyne move from a life that on the inside seems torturous, uncertain and confused to one of absolute, crystal clear certainty. Is there subtext there or am I reading too much into the book?
No, you’re not reading too much into the book! That’s definitely a theme I wanted to explore. I don’t necessarily believe that what the Hater characters in the book do is right, but I thought it was interesting to take a look at life from a different perspective. I’ve often thought of them as very animal-like – in the way they initially move, hunt and kill – and that was a key theme. Bizarrely, an initial, undeveloped draft of the first book had them almost as a kind of werewolf creature, stuck post-transformation. Going back to your point though, as humans I think we automatically make ourselves slaves to our jobs, families, routines, beliefs etc., and I wanted to consider what would happen if all those binds were stripped away. In Dog Blood there’s a scene where a doomed character talks about the next fight he’s going to have, despite the fact that he’s very obviously dying and will be gone within the next couple of hours. He’s become very animal-like at that point – just existing for the moment; uncomplicated, and with a very straight-forward set of priorities: eat, kill, survive.
With Dog Blood, we have a unique version of the apocalypse, where we see the world through, what conventional thought would have us believe, would be the villain’s eyes. What gave you the idea to use the “us vs. them,” mentality in this way?
One of the over-riding themes of the series is us versus them (book three is actually called Them or Us) and I thought it would add extra weight to the events if they were shown from what is the opposite viewpoint to that which is traditionally used. But just because we don’t chose to live our lives according to the rules these people do, does it make them wrong? When you have an enemy, they usually believe in what they’re fighting for just as passionately as you do, sometimes maybe more so. But are they wrong, or are you? Or are you both right? These are impossible questions to answer, but it’s cool to put the cat amongst the pigeons and make people think about the possibilities!
The third book in the Hater series has yet to be released; can you give us a quick rundown of just how far ahead we’ll be looking into the future of the struggle?
I won’t say too much that might spoil Dog Blood for those who haven’t read it. Them or Us takes place about five months after the end of book two (although there are glimpses of what happens between the two novels) when the world is a hugely changed place. It’s an unusual book, and I’m really pleased with it. The fighting and intensity reaches a crescendo at the end of Dog Blood, but throughout Them or Us the social (anti-social) situation continues to play out and develop until it reaches what I think is a natural conclusion. My UK editor summed it up for me. She said Hater is about people falling apart, Dog Blood is about society falling apart, and in Them or Us, what’s left of the world falls apart.
I know you’ve said that the film rights for Hater, have been optioned again, but that there hasn’t been a lot of details, any news on the script or pre/production that you’ve gotten that you would like or legally can share?
I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t have anything else to share. I regularly ask the questions though, and I’ll update as soon as I know anything. Believe me, you’ll hear me shouting with excitement when something new finally does happen! It’s incredible to have Guillermo del Toro attached to my book, and I’m a huge fan of his, but it doesn’t help when he’s the busiest man in the business with new projects being announced almost every day!
I know you get this question often, but I think I may have twist on it. When you originally decided to put out the Autumn series on your own, the internet, and specifically the publishing industry wasn’t in the same complete state of panic as they are today. Do you think that with the emergence of the “everyone can do this,” sort of esthetic, would you still go your own way if you were publishing these stories now or would you try the submission/rejection go round?
I think the situation has definitely changed since I released Autumn online, and that’s been both a good and a bad thing. The approach I took with Autumn was, at the time, fairly unique, but today there are far more writers approaching publishing in the way I did. In many ways, therefore, it’s harder to be noticed today: there are some really talented people out there making their books available in a variety of different ways (podcasts, video etc.) and you have to be able to stand out from the crowd. That said, other changes to the traditional publishing model (most notably, the surge in the popularity of ebooks), means that it’s both much easier and more commercially viable for people to publish themselves. Places like Amazon even seem to actively encourage people to give their work away for free (or, at least, they make it easy for them to do so). I know that many people are generating substantial sales figures for themselves, and that’s a good thing. What the long term impact on the publishing industry will be, however, remains to be seen. I do think that this kind of independent publishing does occasionally offer an alternative to the ages old submission>rejection merry-go-round which all writers used to have to try and get on. The Internet allows you to connect directly with people – to cut out all the middle-men – and that has to be a good thing. If you self-publish now and you do it well, you can eventually present yourself to a traditional publisher with an already present readership, a well-developed product and a decent sales track record. But in answer to your question – if I was in the same position again, I think I’d still take the route I took with Autumn. And I haven’t ruled it out for the future. I like the control and flexibility that independent publishing gives the author, and I can see myself going down that road again one day.
How does David Moody work? Do you listen to music, sit in the dark, do you have a secret chamber where you divine the secrets of the end of the world?
I have a chamber, but it’s no secret! I have a large family and I work from home, so there’s pretty much a constant stream of people coming in and out of my room. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time, but the trade off is that I cop for a lot of the household duties too. I’m the chef, cleaner, dog walker etc. etc. etc. When I actually do get to write though (when everyone else is at school or work) I listen to music (I can only ever write to instrumentals, bizarrely) and I have to literally switch off the Internet (I don’t know what I’d do without Freedom). Like most writers, I think, I’m actually working all the time. I constantly have ideas swimming around my head and I spend a lot of time developing them before I start writing. This is the only job I know where you can be lying in bed or in the bath, or just staring out of the window, and still be working. Try telling that to the wife though!
Lastly, and it’s something I ask of every author I interview, do you have any words of advice for those of us that are still struggling to get our stories out there?
Absolutely. If you have a desire to tell your stories, and that desire never diminishes or disappears, then keep at it until it you make it happen. But you have to be quite hard on yourself. I tried many times to write a novel but it didn’t work until I set myself some specific guidelines and stuck to them: 1. plan the whole story in advance, 2. write at least a page every day, and 3. don’t go back and start editing / re-reading until you’ve finished a complete draft. When I started following those rules I had a complete novel written within six months. I’d also say don’t expect overnight success. Writing is a long, hard haul at times. My first book was written in 1994 but it took until 2009 for my first major publication. Finally, write about the things you’re passionate about. If you’re not interested in the story you’re telling, how can you expect anyone else to be?
I just want to say thanks again for the opportunity to do the interview; I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule, cheers!
It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks, Eric!