Recently we had opportunity to do a short interview with Craig DiLouie, author of postapocalyptic books Tooth & Nail, Infection and it's sequel - Killing Floor.
OUTPOST: Tooth and Nail changed a lot in my perception of the army - in most of the stories they are background characters slaughtered by infected or zombies or another danger for main protagonist - rounding up citizens or blocking only escape routes from the infected areas. Your soldiers are different, they are more humane. Why did you choose them to tell your story?
DiLouie: I remember reading zombie books and watching movies where a ragtag group of survivors is shooting their way through the apocalypse, and thinking, Where did the military go? How can these people survive so long while the world’s best-funded military was destroyed? So I wrote a book I always wanted to read.
OUTPOST: You have many memorable scenes in the book - I remember horde of infected moving up the street with brute force - pushing cars aside just with their mass and speed and ripping soldiers apart, also there is no infinite ammo. It seems like you are making your stories as real as possible within convention. As a writer you could take easy way out and say "this is a work of fiction after all". How making things "probable" is important to you?
DiLouie: Making the story as realistic as possible is vital, particularly when I’m writing horror. It’s all about willing suspension of disbelief. That’s where the magic of reading happens, where the reader says, okay, I’ll believe this story is actually happening.
As a writer, you have to respect that.
When you have characters who have never fired a gun before now scoring perfect headshots at thirty yards, who have lost everything but don’t seem particularly fazed by it, who do dumb things so they can get picked off—that to me risks the relationship with the reader.
If, instead, you tell a story that is fantastic but that people believe might actually happen—is happening around them while they’re reading—for me, it’s that much better an experience.
As a writer of fantastic fiction, my goal is always for the reader to say, “Yup, that could happen.”
OUTPOST: In Tooth and Nail, Infection and Killing Floor army is a big part of the story. Soldiers, formations, equipment, jargon... Is there a lot of research involved in your writing process?
DiLouie: All I have to say is thank God for the Internet.
As I said before, I believe that every element of the book should be as realistic as possible while still being fiction (a story unfolding a compelling way) and not reality (which can be boring). I do tons of research on every aspect of my books to try to get it right while informing the narrative. For Tooth and Nail, it was all things military. For The Infection, I was researching everything from refugee camps to what one would see when driving from Pittsburgh to Steubenville, USA. I believe this effort pays off by making a better book. Not only is it more realistic, not only is the story told with more authority, you get all these wonderful details that enrich the narrative and make it easier to visualize.
OUTPOST: None of the three books mentioned here are about zombies - do you think time of shambling undead passed or are they simply not fitting your stories?
DiLouie: I actually define “zombie” to mean any human turned into a violent automaton. In my stories, I like to work with a disease or organism that infects people, making them violent machines with one single purpose—attack, overpower, bite, infect. They don’t eat the living, only the dead (for food). I simply find this scenario more plausible and, frankly, scarier. That’s my preference as a writer. As a reader, I’ll read any zombie story as long as it’s well told—featuring people I care about interacting in a plausible way against frightening creatures in the real world.
To address your question, pardon the pun, but zombies are not dead. It’s not a fad. It’s the big publishers missing the boat on what people want to read. Small press and self-publishing opened up that market, and it’s here to stay.
That being said, as a literary movement, its popularity may fade over time. What zombie fiction has going for it most of all is you have the end of the world. Apocalyptic literature is among the world’s oldest—Gilgamesh, Noah’s Flood and so on—and one of its most enduring—with books published throughout the ages. Just as people are fascinated/terrified by their own mortality, so too are they fascinated with the mortality of us all as a species. I find the end itself fascinating—but for many people, they really like what comes after the end of the world. Are there survivors? What will they do? How will they live? We see ourselves in these people, and there’s something cathartic in surviving the end of the world. It’s like conquering death.
That fascination is giving the popularity of the zombie trend staying power. But over time, people may find another means of apocalypse more interesting. In the 50s, it was alien invaders. In the 70s, environmental collapse. In the 80s, nuclear Armageddon. In the 90s, killer viruses. Now it’s zombies. In another few years, who knows?
As a writer, I have to say the market is really getting saturated, however, particularly with a growing number of self-published authors cranking out short books competing at a very low Kindle price. As a result, my new horror novel, Suffer The Children, which will being published by Simon & Schuster, is not about zombies. It’s—well, see for yourself here: http://craigdilouie.com/books/suffer-the-children/. It’s the most honest, powerful and scary thing I’ve ever written.
OUTPOST: Infection is another great book written by you.
DiLouie: Thank you for that.
OUTPOST: I have to admit I was expecting something very similar to Tooth and Nail but very early in the book things are turning in different direction - aside from crazies other creatures are hunting main protagonists. Could you tell us if their origin will be revealed at some stage?
DiLouie: The apocalyptic world of The Infection and The Killing Floor is populated not only with zombies, but bizarre, almost Lovecraftian monsters that feed on the survivors. I did this because I found that when reading zombie books, once you know the rules of the zombies—fast or slow, cannibalistic or not, etc.—they become fairly predictable, and it’s hard to maintain the tension. Many writers introduce a human element—roving biker gang, rogue soldiers, villainous member of the group, and so on—but I wanted the threat in the story to stay focused on the creature element. So I introduced monsters into the story as additional children of Infection. These monsters are truly repulsive and make the story unpredictable, ratcheting up the threat. I’ve gotten mail from readers saying the monsters in my stories gave them nightmares.
The origin of these monsters and the infection itself has pretty much been revealed. It was guessed at in The Infection and expanded upon with the scientist’s theory in The Killing Floor.
It will never be completely spelled out as fact because we, as the reader, don’t know any more than the characters do, and their information is limited.
But basically the scientific theory is correct. I believe I can say, without revealing spoilers, that the bottom line is Earth’s ecology has been infected by an organism. The organism’s only concern is to create life that would endlessly compete in an effort to evolve the perfect life form. I was fascinated by the idea that Earth’s ecology would be supplanted by a more hostile alien ecology, one in which we were not at the top of the food chain. This theme is a major basis for The Infection and The Killing Floor.
OUTPOST: How many books are you planning to write as sequels of Infection? When can we expect third book from the Infection/Killing Floor series to be released?
DiLouie: At this point, the series is complete. This has more to do with how the publishing industry works than my personal interest. Permuted Press owns the rights to publish The Infection and The Killing Floor. Right now, I’m writing with Simon & Schuster, which is my preference as they’re one of the world’s top publishing brands, and my future books will be marketed to them and top-tier publishers in an effort to maximize readership and sales. But one never says, never. One day, I’d love to return to the grim world of The Infection.
OUTPOST: Can you name some of your favourite authors, books, movies?
DiLouie: A list of my favorite apocalyptic fiction can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/This-is-the-way-the-world-ends/lm/R2L8ZXPACHOT5L/ref=cm_srch_res_rpli_alt_3.
I should probably add Adam Baker’s OUTPOST and JUGGERNAUT to that list. His books have really stuck with me, and I’m looking forward to his next work.
Some of my favorites in the larger horror genre include:
Anything by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Anything by Joe Hill
THE RITUAL and LAST DAYS by Adam Neville
THE DESCENT and DEEPER by Jeff Long
VAMPIRES by John Steakley
I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson
THE UNBLEMISHED by Conrad Williams
Some of my favorites in the sci fi genre include:
Anything by Philip K. Dick
TOWING JEHOVAH, BLAMELESS IN ABADDON, THE ETERNAL FOOTMAN by James Morrow
SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE by Austin Grossman
LIGHT by M. John Harrison
THE IRON HEEL by Jack London
1984 by George Orwell
ARCHANGEL by Sharon Shinn
JENNIFER GOVERNMENT by Max Barry
THE STARS MY DESTINATION by Alfred Bester
Some of my other favorites include:
KOKO by Peter Straub
FEARLESS by Rafael Yglesias
The Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser
THE TRADE and LIGHTNING by Fred Stenson
JOSEY WALES by Forrest Carter
THE KILLER ANGELS by Michael Shaara
BOMBARDIERS by Po Bronson
EMPIRE OF BONES by Jeff Long
THE BATTLE by Parick Rambaud
E by Matt Beaumont
THE MOSQUITO COAST by Paul Theroux
DICE MAN by Luke Rhinehart
LIBRA by Don DeLillo
THE FOUNTAIN AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD by Robert Newman
FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk
Whew! I’d better stop there. As you can see, I could talk about books all day long.
OUTPOST: Let's say you are waking up in your home and you hear screams, glass shattering, gunshots - streets outside are looking like a scene from your book - what would you do first?
DiLouie: I would find my family. After that, I’d do whatever it took to keep them safe.
OUTPOST: What kind of conventions are you attending? Are you visiting only those in Canada and USA or were you in Europe as well?
DiLouie: Not much this year, as I’m waiting for Suffer The Children to come out, but in 2014 I plan on doing Crypticon, Texas Frightmare and possibly a few others in North America. If a horror show in Europe wanted to pay my way, I’d be more than happy to be their guest!
In the meantime, I’m working on a series of zombie novellas that will be published with two other great authors in the genre; finishing up a fantasy novel; and planning another horror novel.
I hope your readers will check out my fiction and news about future works at my blog, www.craigdilouie.com (the site also contains numerous reviews of other books, movies, short films all in the apocalyptic horror genre). I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.
OUTPOST: Thank you again for your time.
DiLouie: Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog!