Friday, June 15, 2012

A Conversation With Craig DiLouie, Author of the Apocalyptic Novels THE KILLING FLOOR and THE INFECTION

Today's guest is writer Craig DiLouie, here to talk about his work, including his latest release from Permuted Press, The Killing Floor, the sequel to his acclaimed apocalyptic novel, The Infection. Book covers are featured throughout the post and purchase information is provided at the end.

Welcome, Craig. Thanks for stopping by. I was introduced to your writing when assigned “The Infection” and “The Killing Floor” for review. Tell us about other books you have written.

Thanks for having me, George; I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my fiction.

THE INFECTION (Permuted Press, 2011), described by one reviewer as THE ROAD meets 28 DAYS LATER, tells the story of five ordinary people who must work together to survive after everybody they love is violently taken away from them. It’s got tons of action, brutality, violence, realism and grit, but is also a deeper, character-driven story. In many ways, it is similar to THE WALKING DEAD, but much more violent and filled with action. This novel has garnered great reviews from numerous sources, including Fangoria, and will soon be published in Russian.

THE KILLING FLOOR (Permuted Press, 2012) picks up where THE INFECTION left off, and therefore feels familiar while starting a whole new story arc and introducing several new characters to join the surviving cast of THE INFECTION. In THE KILLING FLOOR, we see the White House evacuated and Washington fall, and then participate in the invasion by America’s far-flung military to take it back. While THE INFECTION is somewhat episodic, with numerous flashbacks, THE KILLING FLOOR congeals around a single storyline and function as much as a straight-up thriller as a work of apocalyptic horror.

TOOTH AND NAIL (Salvo Press, 2010), described by one reviewer as BLACKHAWK DOWN meets 28 DAYS LATER, was my first zombie novel. It tells the story of a military unit deployed in New York City during the zombie apocalypse. It’s incredibly violent, stirring and powerful, while also being realistic due to intensive research. This novel was recently optioned for film, was published in Spanish (NUEVA YORK: HORA Z), and will be published in Russian.

Before my zombie novels, I wrote three other books. The first, PARANOIA, is a psychological thriller about a man subjected to conspiracy theories, denying all of them, until being given concrete evidence one of them is true. After believing one, he finds himself believing all of them, and is then forced to make a choice of whether to kill for his new beliefs.

The second, THE GREAT PLANET ROBBERY, is a comedic military science fiction novel about two military veterans who decide to get rich in retirement by robbing an entire planet. The book reads like Kipling’s GUNGA DIN set in outer space. This book got a great review from PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY.

And the third, THE THIN WHITE LINE, is a book about what a severe influenza pandemic would look like in a modern country. The book, recently nominated by, a website providing a resource for nurses and nursing students, for its Top 50 Must-Read Books for Nurses in 2012, describes a flu pandemic occurring in 2012 as if it already occurred. The novel reads like a nonfiction history book, and is heavily researched and footnoted.

Your readers can learn about these and my other works of fiction at, where I blog about novels, movies, short films and other media dedicated to the apocalyptic horror genre.

I described the exhilaration of “The Infection” as a book that “happens to you.” You do a tremendous job capturing the effects of PTSD on the survivors of the initial plague in present tense prose. How did this come about? Did you always know you would write the novel this way or did the idea come later?

When I was first exposed to zombie fiction, I found it extremely exciting. Here is this collection of literature in which the reader is exposed to the zeitgeist of the world ending, the excitement of survival, the catharsis of being one of the last standing—of not having to have a real job or pay taxes anymore. As I got older, however, my tastes began to change as I now have a family, and therefore much, much more to lose. Instead of writing my fantasies onto the apocalypse, I began to write my worst fears.

In the early days of zombie fiction, David Moody was perhaps the only author writing what I would consider truly realistic stories about the undead. In Moody’s AUTUMN books, his survivors are psychologically unsteady, emotionally shattered people, just as apt to collapse onto the floor crying than take charge and do something. This inspired a similar sensibility in my own books, which is that a zombie book should always be a story about people with zombies, not vice versa, and people are fallible and act human when confronted by horrifying circumstances. They freeze, they scream, they run, they suffer from shock. Imagine seeing your closest loved ones hurt in some violent way—really imagine it, go ahead, I’ll wait—and that horrifying panic you now feel barely scratches the surface of what you would feel if something really did happen. In my view, running through the apocalypse without a care in the world shooting zombies in the head is thriller fiction, while fleeing through the apocalypse, after everybody and everything you ever loved is violently torn away from you, is horror. Since the latter makes me feel something much deeper and more satisfying, I tend to enjoy it more as a reader and explore it as a writer.

As for present tense, that was a simple decision. I’d written books in past tense and present tense, first person and third person, and decided present tense would work beautifully here. The present tense makes the action imminent. Everything that is happening in the book is happening now, and there are no guarantees anybody is going to survive the next five minutes. Present tense is not everybody’s cup of tea, however. Some people simply hate it. Thankfully, more people have liked the use of present tense in my zombie books than didn’t like it.

On a final relevant note, I believe that the greater the realism in a story, the greater willing suspension of disbelief, that magic glue that connects reader and storyteller. So in my story TOOTH AND NAIL, which is about a military unit fighting zombies on the streets of New York City, I researched everything from bayonet fighting to weaponry to slang to small arms tactics to provide a convincing tale. While I didn’t get everything perfect, servicemen have written to me to tell me they appreciated the authenticity—plus that the soldiers are presented as real people, not sappy superheroes or pointless villains. In TOOTH AND NAIL, rifles jam, smoke obscures vision, friendly fire occurs, the chain of command breaks down. Similarly, the boys of Charlie Company have no taste for shooting the people they swore an oath to protect, they’re horrified and shocked by the extreme violence and gore, they’d rather be home protecting their families, they question their responsibility to help others when it’s fast becoming every man for himself, and they wonder why they’re obeying orders from a government/military that is dissolving. Exploring these questions with people we can care about in a story that is both exciting and told realistically is so much more satisfying.

I want to avoid spoilers for those readers who will seek out your Infection novels as a result of this interview, but suffice to say by the end of “The Killing Floor” things are looking grim. Do you plan more sequels and what can you tell us about that?

Right now, the series is complete, although one never says never, and I would be happy to revisit the series and make it a trilogy under the right circumstances. Whether that happens has as much to do with how the publishing industry works as my own personal interest.

What is your usual writing process? Do you outline or just see where a novel goes?

A book starts with a compelling idea. Writing one of these books takes hundreds of hours, time I could be spending with my family or dedicating to my business instead. And that’s just typing, not even counting the fact that for about a year, I am almost always thinking consciously or subconsciously about my current project. In short, writers do this for love.

So I first have to start with an idea that really drives me. That gets the love going. Usually, this big idea will distinguish the book in some way from the competition, justify the amount of labor, and demand that I produce it. In short, it presents itself in my mind as a book that I want to read—I just have to write it first.

The idea always involves how the story will end. That is my goalpost. From there, I back it up to the climax, and I think of how the climax could be an incredible payoff, and then from there back it up loosely to the first sentence. So really I need to know how the story ends, and the first sentence, and the rest I can pretty much figure out along the way. It sounds silly and Zen but stories really do have a way of writing themselves, and characters have a way of telling you what they want to do—even die at the strangest moment—and it’s often not what you’d planned. Along the way, the novel has to deliver compelling conflict, strong characters, stirring action and a convincing setting, with each word, each sentence, each page moving the story forward.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on an apocalyptic novel about love taken to its extreme, where it becomes horror. For me, this is one of the primary conflict points with any story about death, particularly if the dead come back as undead: How do we, as the living (or uninfected) deal with the undead (or infected), particularly those we love? I can’t provide any more detail than that because the concept is fairly original and I’m keeping it close to the chest until it’s completed. It’s very disturbing—even to me as the writer, and that’s saying something.

Describe a favorite character from your own work and how you created him/her.

One of my favorite characters is Anne from THE INFECTION and THE KILLING FLOOR. Here’s this strong, mysterious woman who has a natural talent for killing the Infected with her sniper rifle. The other survivors in her group wonder about the fresh scars running down her otherwise attractive face, and imagine a romantic military background. They don’t know she’s a simple housewife who lost her family during the outbreak through her own denial of the severity of what was happening. That she’s so good at surviving because she would be perfectly happy to die. That even her scars are not what they seem. We get to know her story in a flashback in THE INFECTION, and she returns as a major character in THE KILLING FLOOR.

Anne is the Captain Ahab of the story, if you can imagine Moby Dick as a virus. She’s a killing machine; she finds killing the Infected easy because to her, they are no longer people, but instead meat puppets with some type of parasitic organism pulling the strings. She’s an ideal survivor because she doesn’t care if she lives or dies; she has nothing to lose and therefore nothing to fear. The scary thing about Anne is her hatreds and obsessions for Infection often get the better of her. She has fought monsters so long, so intensely, she herself is becoming another kind of monster. I would not want her hunting me in an apocalyptic wasteland. She never gives up.

What other authors do you admire? What authors have influenced your work?

I agree with the Stephen King quote that recently made the rounds on Facebook that essentially says if you’re not a reader, you have no business being a writer. Every time you read a good book, you learn more about the craft. I’ve read scores of horror books just in the past year, and learned a great deal from every single one, from the good to the bad.

As for my favorite authors in the genre, I would have to say—just to name a few:

  • David Moody for his courageous take on the undead in his AUTUMN series, his dedication to extreme realism, his incredibly original vision in HATER, and in general for his role in fathering this incredible fast-growing subgenre;
  • John Ajvide Lindqvist for his original takes on vampires (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) and zombies (HANDLING THE UNDEAD);
  • Conrad Williams for his almost poetic but also horrifying and dismal view of the apocalypse in ONE;
  • Jeff Long for his amazing vision of a sinister underworld in THE DESCENT and DEEPER—he taught me a lot about horror and its practical boundaries;
  • John Skipp for entertaining me time after time, book after book—he writes with a breathless energy, has perfect pacing and is fearless with his material; and …
Well. the list just goes on and on. There are so many. The great thing about horror fiction is none of us write the same story. All of us authors try to distinguish our work as best as possible. That means readers have endless choice, which is a great thing for me both as a reader and as a contributor to this genre.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work, George!

Thank YOU, Craig, for stopping by. To our visitors, please follow this blog to receive updates of future guest blogs and also your host's own writing endeavors.

I have re-listed Craig's blog address below as well as some links to purchase his work.

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