Because Permuted Press is the home to so many great authors in the horror and apocalyptic fiction genres, with this week’s blog I decided to keep the theme going and interview another Permuted Press author. This week, I’m welcoming Craig DiLouie, a Canadian author who is right on the cusp of becoming a household name in the horror genre. He’s definitely not a one trick pony though. Aside from his work in the zombie genre with Tooth and Nail, Infected, and The Killing Floor, DiLouie has also written sci-fi/fantasy, thrillers, and non-fiction. If you’re looking for a great zombie novel that doesn’t fall into the same tropes and pitfalls of the genre, then look no further.
1) It must be hard to do something original these days in the apocalyptic zombie genre. How were you able to keep things fresh for Infection and Killing Floor?
Thanks for having me! You ask a very interesting question. First, let me say I do not mind familiar tropes in zombie literature. When people open a zombie novel, they have certain expectations they will want to see satisfied. What makes the story good or not depends on how well it’s told. Look at The Walking Dead on AMC. There’s nothing I can recall about the zombies in that show that’s original over what Romero did many years before, but it works because the story presents people we care about realistically struggling to survive. And for the most part it respects our willing suspension of disbelief. Most of the story has flowed naturally, without appearing contrived.
That being said, I do believe it’s important to innovate to keep the genre fresh and to distinguish yourself as a writer in the genre. I also think a good zombie story needs a threat vector apart from the zombies. In a typical zombie story, once we know the rules for how the zombies behave–fast or slow, cannibal or not, crazy alive or living dead–they quickly start to become predictable. Some other threat is needed, one that is unpredictable, to keep the story exciting.
Nothing is more unpredictable than other humans. The conflict could be internal or external. In AMC’s The Walking Dead, in the first season the conflict was against the zombies. In the second, it was primarily internal–between Rick and Shane (and it was done naturally). In the third, it’s external–Rick’s group is fighting another group.
For my novels The Infection and The Killing Floor, I wanted the threat to remain focused on the creature element. At all times, I wanted the survivors to be terrified for their lives they would be slaughtered or infected by unpredictable monsters. So I incorporated an element in the story in which most of the Infected are people compelled by an organism to violently spread the organism, but some continue to mutate into monsters. These monsters add a Lovecraftian element to the story, and because they’re pretty horrifying and unpredictable, it makes the story more compelling and frightening. Many people have enjoyed this innovation, the purists not so much, which is fine with me–there’s something for everybody in the genre.
2) Aside from what’s inside the book, your series has some of the best covers I’ve seen from Permuted Press. Who’s responsible for those masterpieces and what type of input do you have as an author during the creative process?
One of the great things about working with small presses is that while they have fewer resources than big publishers, they give authors more input on things like cover design. For THE INFECTION, I had an idea for a very artsy cover, as I wanted to convey the image this wasn’t your standard zombie pulp but aspired to something higher. Permuted said that’s fine, but we want to sell books, and you need something that hits the buyer in the gut. So the publisher sent me an image of a man going berserk–a victim of Infection who a short while ago could have been your boyfriend, waiter, dentist, son. I said that’s great, but let’s do it as a very dramatic closeup so the threat feels even more imminent–when you pick up the book, his face is right in yours, so to speak.
And a cover was born. It was a great collaboration.
For the second cover, Permuted found a terrific cover image in a painting produced by Andree Wallin. In my view, it’s the perfect image of the apocalypse: A soldier in a gas mask, dehumanized by his cold, robotic appearance and horrific actions. Fighting to survive and just maybe save the world to ensure this is not really the end, but a new beginning–the start of a world where others will not have to experience what he has. This is what the people in THE KILLING FLOOR face-–a choice to save themselves, or give everything they have, even their lives, so that humanity itself has the best chance to survive.
For that cover, there was no discussion. I loved it. We were lucky to get it.
3) When you see people like David Wong and Pete Clines making the jump from Permuted to one of the big houses, have you set that as an ultimate goal for yourself?
I don’t know David Wong, but I do know Peter Clines, and I’m very happy for his success as he’s not only a talented writer but one of the most genuine, friendly, interesting and humble people I’ve ever met. I’m not kidding when I say the sky’s the limit for this guy.
As for myself, I’m currently working on closing a deal for a new horror novel with a major publisher. It’s not zombies, but it’s apocalyptic. It’s honestly the most creepy thing I’ve ever written (or read), and I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. If the sale with this publisher doesn’t work out, however, I’d be happy to stay with small press or even take a stab at self publishing. I’ve been humbled, amazed and grateful at the reception my novels have received, and I already honestly feel like I’m living the dream.
4) In terms of zombies, what’s one cliche about them that you wish would just go away and be stricken from the canon?
Nothing is off limits to me as a reader as long as the writer tells me an interesting story involving people I care about facing monsters that scare me in a world that is realistic enough for me to believe in.
As a writer, however, there are several tropes I typically avoid, such as people tripping and dropping their gun when the slow zombie shows up, or contrived conflict between the good leader and the guy in the group who’s a jerk seemingly for the sake of it, and so on–this kind of thing in my opinion is just lazy writing. I also tell my stories on their own terms, without injecting personal wish fulfillment and subsequently jeopardizing the realism and willing suspension of disbelief. In my stories, people react like real people to what’s happening to them, actions have consequences, the setting is messy and toxic, and so on.
5) What’s next for you?
While I’m working with an agent and publisher to close this deal for my new horror novel, I’m working toward completing two other novels in 2013. The first is another horror novel, a seriously disturbing work with the theme of body horror. The second is an historical fantasy novel. In my ideal world, I would write and publish two novels per year in two markets; we’ll see how that works out. Meanwhile, I’m also hoping to produce a small self-published project this year.
I don’t know where my writing career is going to take me in the future, but as I said earlier, I already feel like I’m living the dream. It’s been a lot of fun, and again I’m honored and grateful so many people enjoy my fiction.