What do you find more challenging, being a technical writer or writing fiction?
Technical writing is the day job for me. One would assume that it's an entirely different animal than fiction writing, and they'd be right. With technical writing, you are simply trying to explain a subject accurately and make it as interesting as possible. But because the topic is fixed and what you are writing is factual, the foundation is already given.
Fiction is more challenging but also more fun. Fiction comes from an exercise in imagination, and there is nothing more cathartic and satisfying. The challenge is in communicating something you have in your head so that somebody else--with a different imagination, experiences, personality--sees either the same thing or something equally compelling, and then considers the experience of reading your work to be pleasurable and memorable. Doing this well is a very hard thing to do and requires extreme talent, which is why the greatest fiction writers are like rock stars to me.
You have written non-fiction books. Do you do as much research for non-fiction stories as fiction?
I spend almost as much time researching my fiction as writing it. For example, THE INFECTION, my new apocalyptic horror novel from Permuted Press, is set in Pittsburgh, so I had to research everything about the city. Part of this entailed "driving" from Pittsburgh into eastern Ohio on the video highway on Google maps. I also found myself researching weapons, how long Molotov cocktails actually burn, how to drive and fire the weapons in a Bradley fighting vehicle, and so on.
TOOTH AND NAIL was even tougher because it was about a military unit, and as I have never served in the military myself, everything had to be researched--military organization, weaponry, radio protocols, formations, small arms tactics and so on. I have been told by former servicemen that the novel is essentially accurate and some of them thought I was former military, which was the most gratifying feedback I've received to date.
This commitment to research is essential to presenting a story that is so realistic it minimizes the reader's suspension of disbelief throughout the story, without testing it. If you do that as a writer you've allowed your reader to immerse themselves in your world, which creates a more memorable and exciting reading experience, while making the monsters that inhabit your world all the more believable and frightening.
What do you find appealing about the apocalyptic horror genre?
I love placing a layer of the extraordinary or unexpected on our everyday world. In my novel THE INFECTION, for example, a competing ecology is thrust upon the earth, one in which humans are the bottom of the food chain, not the top. Drop in some real people facing the fantastic, and you've got the setup for a great story that is exciting and entertaining. Make the fantastic try to do something terrible to those people--the more terrible the better--and you've got horror. Make the fantastic try to do the same terrible thing to everybody at once, and you've got the makings for the end of the world. The result ideally is a story that is believable, in which you can easily imagine yourself, that scares and excites you, and, with the stakes being the survival of the human race, is stirring to the spirit as well as the intellect.
What do you find most challenging about writing a story and the most enjoyable?
The biggest challenge is writing something in such a way that your reader will see the same thing you see in their imagination, with the same feelings that you have about it, or something equally exciting to them. That's how you end up with glowing praise from one person about the fact you included X in your novel and then another reader punishes you with a bad review because you included X in your novel. If as a writer you are getting more glowing praise than punishment, then you are doing well.
With zombie fiction, there are certain elements you have to get right. First, the story should be realistic and believable from the gritty, toxic post-apocalyptic setting to the way people respond psychologically to what is happening to them. Second, it should be about real people in a fantastic situation--a story about people with zombies, not the other way around. Third, there should be some type of innovation that sets the work apart of the rest of the genre.
In TOOTH AND NAIL, for example, the soldiers are not cannon fodder or psycho killers but instead scared kids trying to stay alive as the country they swore to defend collapses around them. Their rifles jam, gun smoke obscures their visibility, they panic, they vomit at seeing so much gore, they communicate by radio, they plan their operations and follow orders with strict rules of engagement, they run out of ammo. In TOOTH AND NAIL, five ordinary people try to survive the end of the world while traveling a ravaged real and psychological landscape. They are the dead living, people who will continue fighting to survive but, having had everything they love taken away from them bloodily, are too damaged to ever be able to return to anything resembling a normal life.
The 'end of the world' scenarios are a popular theme in Horror writing today. If you had to pick one thing to make sure people would know if a situation like that occurred, what would it be?
The basic human survival needs are water, food, shelter and security. They would need to be able to satisfy these needs on a long-term basis. In a zombie apocalypse, the power would go out quickly. Water would then be the biggest problem. A human can't go for more than a few days without water. Sanitation and food preservation would be another problem. If you find a secure place--such as an auto repair garage, where in THE INFECTION the survivors spend a night--and stock it with food and water, you would be able to hold out until your resources began to run out, which would force you out to forage.
In the short term, presumably there would be plenty of resources and a huge security threat, so people would likely cooperate to survive. "I'll share food with you if you stand guard while I sleep." However, in the long term, those resources would gradually become depleted. That means survivors would either have to become nomadic in search of new resources or produce their own, which would be very difficult. Eventually, these survivor groups would begin competing.
Can you tell us about your books Tooth and Nail and The Infection and where to find them?
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper, but a slaughter. TOOTH AND NAIL (www.infectedwar.com), available in paperback, eBook and audio book at online booksellers everywhere, tells the story of the soldiers who tried to save it. Due to its focus on a military unit, this novel has been described in reviews as BLACKHAWK DOWN meets 28 DAYS LATER. This novel was just very positively reviewed at The Zed Word blog: http://zedwordblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/tooth-and-nail-review.html.
The setting of the novel is New York City, where a combat infantry unit, fresh from Iraq, has been redeployed to help maintain order during a pandemic of a deadly flulike virus. A small number of victims of the virus exhibit rabieslike symptoms and become violent but are easily controlled—that is, until their numbers begin to grow exponentially, turning the city into a slaughter house. The soldiers suddenly find themselves surrounded in hostile territory in their own country, fighting hordes of rabid people in a war of extermination. For the boys of Charlie Company, the zombie apocalypse will give new meaning to the proverb WAR IS HELL.
THE INFECTION (www.infectednation.com), which has just been published by Permuted Press and is now available in paperback and eBook (and soon audio book) at online booksellers everywhere, tells the story of five ordinary people who must pay the price of survival at the end of the world. The novel has been described in early reviews as THE ROAD meets 28 DAYS LATER with a dash of THE MIST. THE INFECTION was recently positively reviewed by The Gore Score: http://thegorescore.com/2011/01/29/g-o-r-e-score-the-infection/.
In THE INFECTION, 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. Want to get in the mood for the apocalypse? Check out the novel’s video trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8dEWnHo958.
To compare the two in broad strokes, TOOTH AND NAIL has the kind of scope and feel you might find in a war novel, with many characters, less back story and lots of combat scenes, while THE INFECTION concerns itself much more with how a small group of people survive and ultimately cope with their world collapsing around them (plus monsters!). If you like gore, gritty realism, great characters and tons of action, I think you’ll like them both.
Where can people find out more about you?
Fans of apocalyptic horror can find me at www.infectednation.com, the official website of THE INFECTION, and www.infectedwar.com, the official website of TOOTH AND NAIL. I also welcome people friending up with me at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100001688886697.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts about apocalyptic horror with your readers!