An Interview with Brilliant Author Craig DiLouie
What turned you on to writing horror fiction?
I’ve always loved apocalyptic fiction, and usually found it in the science fiction section. Back then, before the digital revolution reached publishing in a big way, the horror section of bookstores was dominated by Stephen King and sexy vampires. Then I discovered the incredible work of publishers like Permuted Press and writers like David Moody, and the genre opened up to me both as a reader and a writer. I wrote a novel I always wanted to read: Tooth and Nail (www.infectedwar.com), which tells the story of a military unit during the zombie apocalypse, and followed it up with The Infection (www.infectednation.com), a survival horror story that focuses more on the experience of five ordinary people and how their lives are turned into a minute-to-minute fight to survive. Both feature zombies as the instrument of apocalypse, which combines the best of apocalyptic fiction with the best of horror.
What is your opinion of the widespread popularity of apocalyptic fiction?
People have always been fascinated with the end of the world. I recently found a website that listed all the years in recent Western history that the world was supposed to end: http://web.me.com/lorenmadsen/endings/pick_a_year.html. I’ve often asked myself the same question as an avid reader and writer of apocalyptic fiction: Why do I like it? I’m still not actually sure, but I have two possible answers.
The first is that sense of zeitgeist one gets when connecting to major events that are stirring to the spirit as well as the intellect. It tickles a part of the brain that normally sits there doing nothing. The second is the apocalypse hits the RESET button. Your life no longer seems on a fixed course between now and your death. Suddenly, your life priorities change from stifling chores, work and debt to a challenging fight for survival. The idea of “throwing it all away” is always exciting. Unfortunately, the reality of the end of the world would be a living nightmare.
Zombie apocalypse is horror, but the scariest part isn’t the presence of zombies, it’s the collapse, the sudden realization that all of those institutions providing a sense of normalcy and security in your life—cops, firemen, soldiers, government, hospitals and so on—are no longer there. We look to people like first responders to support us 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 underneath you.
Why did you choose a viral pandemic as your theme in Tooth and Nail and The Infection?
I define zombie fairly broadly as meaning people who are transformed into violent automatons. That is a terrifying idea, as friends and family could suddenly turn on you and attack you. Could you kill somebody you love if they turned into a zombie? Would they still be your loved one, or just a monster wearing the face of your loved one? I love all kinds of zombies—living or undead, shambling or running, cannibalistic or not—as long as the story is told well, involves characters I care about, and is apocalyptic—in other words, has stakes that involve the survival of everybody, not just a few, with society breaking down and no help available from the outside.
That being said, shambling undead simply don’t scare me as much, even though they are certainly more repulsive than living zombies. They can work very well in film and TV—the Walking Dead handles them perfectly—but in fiction, they are tougher material. You often end up having characters who trip and fall and drop their guns just as the shambler lurches close, or characters who don’t notice zombies standing right next to them, about to bite down on their forearm. One novel I read had so much of this that I started rooting for the zombies.
As a result, when I began writing Tooth and Nail, my first zombie novel, I decided to use living zombies for four reasons. First, they were simply scarier than a shambling corpse you could avoid simply by walking away quickly. Second, I simply could not explain how slow undead zombies could grow from an index case to large hordes. Third, living zombies had become popularized in 28 Days Later but were largely unexplored territory in fiction. And finally, living zombies simply struck me as more believable, requiring less suspension of disbelief.
In Tooth and Nail, the zombies are people afflicted with a rabieslike disease that makes them compelled to bite others to pass on the virus (symptoms begin within hours of a bite); they don’t eat or drink anything, which gives them an expiration date. The zombie disease in turn is an advanced strain of a flulike illness that created a pandemic around the globe. In The Infection, my second zombie novel, the zombies are living people afflicted with a mysterious disease (speculated as a nanotech agent or perhaps something alien). They drink from gutters and toilets and they do eat the dead but their primary goal is to pass on their disease through biting, with symptoms appearing within seconds.
Do you think that apocalyptic literature will be as enduring as other genres like science fiction?
Absolutely. Apocalyptic fiction is as old as science fiction—look at War of the Worlds, I Am Legend, The Last Man and others—and will always be an important part of both science fiction and horror genres. As for me, I’ll keep writing it as long as people keep reading it!
Tooth and Nail gives the reader a glossary of acronyms as a reference; how did you learn of all them?
Tooth and Nail tells the story of a military unit deployed in New York City during the zombie apocalypse. I wanted the reader to feel like they were “embedded” with a real military unit. The reader participates in an exciting bayonet charge during a night option, building clearing, reconnaissance missions, marches and last stand battles. I did a massive amount of research to get the facts right about weapons, radio protocols, vehicles, organizational structure, small arms tactics, riot control, marching formations, and so on. As a result, some soldiers reading the book concluded I was a veteran, which has been the most gratifying feedback I’ve gotten about the book to date.
So to finally answer your question, part of military life is slang and shorthand, which involves a lot of acronyms. This is how soldiers talk in the field and I wanted to respect that. There are a lot of acronyms involved, however, so to avoid alienating or confusing the reader, I included a short glossary of these acronyms at the beginning of the book.
What are your favorite zombie stories and films?
Here’s a list of some of my favorite works of apocalyptic fiction: http://www.amazon.com/This-is-the-way-the-world-ends/lm/R2L8ZXPACHOT5L/ref=cm_srch_res_rpli_alt_2. My favorite zombie books are David Moody’s Autumn and Hater series, Joe McKinney’s Dead City, Rhys Thomas’ On The Third Day, Conrad Williams’ One, Joan Frances Turner’s Dust, Max Brooks’ World War Z and anything by Permuted Press. Permuted’s Bowie Ibarra has a greater sequel to his Down The Road titled Fall of Austin that I had the opportunity to preview and found to be very well written and entertaining. On the film side, The Walking Dead series, Dead Set miniseries (UK), Dawn of the Dead (original), Day of the Dead (original), 28 Days Later and Crazies (original). I also enjoy the abler comedies such as Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and Planet Terror.
Will you be continuing the story of The Infection in upcoming novels?
I’m currently working on a sequel to The Infection that will bring together the best of that novel—character-driven fiction, gritty action, monsters—with the best of Tooth and Nail—hardcore military realism and action. In the sequel, it’s time to take America back. The book should be released by Permuted Press sometime in late 2011 or early 2012.
Do you have a favorite of all the characters that you've created?
I like all of my characters, but try not to get too attached to any one in particular, as then I might feel tempted to give the character an excess of screen time, or give them goodies, or use the character for wish fulfillment. That being said, I do feel attached to all of them—Anne for her strength, Wendy for her perseverance, Sarge for his calm leadership, Paul for his questions, Todd for handling growing up too fast, Ethan for his devotion to his family. In Tooth and Nail, I also feel attached to the characters, particularly Lt. Bowman for his sense of honor and patriotism, and Valeriya Petrova for her very human fight to survive as infection races through her lab.
Did you ever imagine that you would become as well known and well-liked as a writer?
Writers need readers. It’s one thing to write a book, but it’s an incomplete act; once somebody reads the book, the act is completed, and if that reader responds in some way—reaches out to the author directly, or writes a review on Amazon—the introduction of feedback closes the loop. For me, that’s what it’s all about—readership, a writer/reader relationship.
I had always hoped for, but had not expected, the level of success I’ve achieved with Tooth and Nail and The Infection, which I’ve found both fantastic and humbling. I’m grateful to all of the people who have read my books.
Thank you for visiting with us today.
Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with your readers!
On a parting note, I would like to point out that Tooth and Nail and The Infection are available at online booksellers everywhere. Tooth and Nail (www.infectedwar.com) is available in paperback, popular eBook formats (Kindle, Nook, etc.) and audio book; The Infection (www.infectednation.com) is available in paperback, popular eBook formats and, as of May 10, 2011, audio book as well.
Tooth and Nail:
As a new plague related to the rabies virus infects millions, America recalls its military forces from around the world to safeguard hospitals and other vital buildings. Many of the victims become rabid and violent but are easily controlled-that is, until so many are infected that they begin to run amok, spreading slaughter and disease.
Lieutenant Todd Bowman got his unit through the horrors of combat in Iraq. Now he must lead his men across New York through a storm of violence to secure a research facility that may hold a cure.
To succeed in this mission to help save what's left of society, Charlie Company will face a terrifying battle of survival against the very people they have sworn to protect-people turned into a fearless, endless horde armed solely with tooth and nail.
For the boys of Charlie Company, the zombie apocalypse will give new meaning to the proverb WAR IS HELL.
A mysterious virus suddenly strikes down millions. Three days later, its victims awake with a single purpose: spread the Infection. As the world lurches toward the apocalypse, some of the Infected continue to change, transforming into horrific monsters.
In one American city, a small group struggles to survive: Sarge, a tank commander hardened by years of fighting in Afghanistan. Wendy, a cop still fighting for law and order in a lawless land. Ethan, a teacher searching for his lost family. Todd, a high school student who sees second chances in the end of the world. Paul, a minister who wonders why God has forsaken his children. And Anne, their mysterious leader, who holds an almost fanatical hatred for the Infected.
Together, they fight their way to a massive refugee camp where thousands have made a stand. There, what's left of the government will ask them to accept a mission that will determine the survival of them all—a dangerous journey back onto the open road and into the very heart of Infection.
We at LivingDeadMedia would like to thank Mr. Craig DiLouie again for interviewing with us.