Acclaimed horror author Craig DiLouie is a writer on the verge of being a massive household name. DiLouie is the author of the bestselling zombie novels Tooth and Nail (Salvo Press, April 2010), The Infection (Permuted Press, February 2011) and its sequel The Killing Floor (Permuted Press, April 2012). He’s also dabbled in military science fiction comedy with The Great Planet Robbery, and tried his hand at crafting a psychological thriller, Paranoia.
His latest release, Suffer the Children from Simon & Schuster, might just be the one that pushes him permanently into the spotlight. It’s a gut wrenching tale of about a world in which all the children have died due to a mysterious new illness. Soon the kids are back and begging for blood. Once they get fed they return to their original state for a short period before fading back to rotting corpses. A pint will buy only a few hours with the dearly departed and then they need to feed anew. Soon we learn in horrifying detail just how far parents will go to bring back their lost children.
DS: Tell us a little about your journey as an author. How did you get started writing?
Craig DiLouie: I wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I had two loves around that time-disaster movies, and a few years later, Star Wars, which would shape my genre interests for the rest of my life toward apocalyptic and science fiction. My first “novel” was a ramshackle story about the world being overwhelmed by natural disasters. Washington is hit by a tidal wave. Moscow is buried under miles of mud. During my teen years, I read pretty much everything Robert E. Howard ever wrote. He blew my mind. After that, my interest in being a fiction writer went from idle fantasy to hardcore enthusiasm and lifelong dedication.
In the 1990s, traditional publishing ruled, and it was a hard game to break into. The advent of print-on-demand publishing gave rise to a lively small press industry. I got two books published by a small press in the early 00s, but they didn’t go very far. After my first child was born, I was just about ready to hang it up but decided to write a zombie novel I always wanted to read. A year or two before, I’d read David Moody’s Autumn series and Hater, which I thought were amazing. I had already been interested in zombie fiction after reading Brian Keene’s The Rising and Joe McKinney’s Dead City. So I wrote Tooth and Nail, the first military zombie novel, and its popularity exploded. This was a matter of being at the right place at the right time – writing about zombies before they got big, and just when the Kindle was rapidly expanding the market for small press genre books. I’ve been writing apocalyptic fiction ever since. Mostly zombies, but my latest – Suffer the Children, published by Simon & Schuster – is more straight apocalyptic horror, otherwise defying easy categorization.
It’s been an amazing journey, gratifying and humbling. I’ve met a lot of great people and enjoyed my success, and despite the mounting pressure of going from writing for fun to writing professionally, it’s been a blast. People ask me the formula for getting published and making a name for yourself. Some writers, they like to share their own success story and then point to it as the Way to Do It. I don’t think there’s a formula. Every writer’s path to success is different. If there is a formula, it would have to be to put in the hours producing as much quality work as possible, put yourself out there, and then get lucky.
DS: What’s your favorite zombie movie and why?
DiLouie: For sheer spectacle, I’d have to say World War Z. I know the cool kids bashed the movie because it didn’t follow the book. First, while I enjoyed the book, I didn’t require a strict adaptation, which I doubt would have been even possible. (An HBO miniseries, however, might have pulled that off.) The movie was also criticized because the plotting and characterization were thin. No arguments there, but the same is true of most of what comes out of Hollywood these days. But wow, what a thrill. Here, for the first time, was a big-budget zombie movie with amazing set pieces and action. I loved it and hope they can pull off the sequel, which has been rumored to be in the works.
Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later would be close seconds. In my opinion, some of the best zombie movies are actually comedies – Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I recently watched a great little indie zombie flick called State of Emergency, which was surprisingly good because it felt authentic. One day, I hope somebody will make a movie out of Tooth and Nail. Picture Battle of Los Angeles or Blackhawk Down meets 28 Days Later.
Probably the best zombie story being told on a screen, however, is The Walking Dead. The series delivers the scares and spectacle you want from an apocalyptic zombie story, but also takes time to develop compelling characters and drama steeped in a fair degree of realism. It’s a great show.
DS: Who are some of your influences?
DiLouie: I agree with Stephen King that being a great reader makes you a better writer. I read constantly, and I learn something about craft from every book I read. Some great authors I’d recommend are Joe McKinney (Dead City, Flesh Eaters), Peter Clines (Ex-Heroes, 14), David Moody (Autumn, Hater), Jeff Long (The Descent, Deeper), Adam Nevill (The Ritual, Temple of the Last Days), Adam Baker (Juggernaut), John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (Spore, The Bridge) – man, I could go on and on. There are so many writers of quality horror fiction out there. I tend to enjoy books that challenge me on an intellectual level, surprise me, make me care about the characters, show me the thrill of the end of the world as seen by those who would survive it.
DS: I’ve heard that you do extensive research when you’re working on a new novel. Can you take us through your process?
DiLouie: Absolutely. World building is a critical part of any good novel. The more realistic the world, the more believable the horror aspect will be, making it scarier and more thrilling. I do a ton of research for my books to get the details as right as I can, everything from how to clear a misfeed in an M4 carbine to Army radio protocols to how new automatic side-loading garbage trucks are changing waste management. The bonus for me and the reader is all the wonderful little details you can put in your book that make its world, its people and its monsters come alive.
DS: What do you like to listen to when you write?
DiLouie: Dead quiet. It’d be awesome to be like Stephen King and have metal playing in the background while I’m writing. It makes a great image. But no, I need absolute focus to immerse myself in the story I’m creating, and for that I need quiet and no distractions.
DS: How did you come up with the idea for Suffer the Children?
DiLouie: Suffer the Children is a horror novel that poses the premise that under the right circumstances, love-particularly the love we have for our children, the most primal love humans have-could end the world. In the novel, a strange disease called Herod’s Syndrome strikes down the world’s children over the course of a week. Three days later, they return from the dead and ask for blood. With blood, they become the children they once were, but only for a short time. To continue to survive, they’ll need more and more. The parents are put in the impossible situation of continually coming up with blood. As the blood supply wanes, in the end, their only source will be each other.
The children, well, they’re basically vampires, but they’re not monsters. They’re just normal kids with an abnormal disease forcing them to drink blood to go on living. The monsters in the book are the parents who will do anything to keep their children alive. They don’t become monsters immediately, but over time. One rationalization after another. And these ordinary people become monsters, there’s something heroic about it, because they’re doing it out of love. As the reader, you are similarly challenged with the question, how far would you go for someone you love more than yourself? At what point does doing good for someone you love become evil? The book is a mind bender. It’s the most honest and disturbing thing I’ve ever written.
DS: What’s next for you?
DiLouie: Right now, I’m working on a novel about romantic love as the catalyst for the end of the world. I’m also getting ready to produce the fourth episode in my zombie series, The Retreat, which I’m writing and publishing with the great Joe McKinney and Stephen Knight. Besides all that, I have lots of ideas that will keep me busy for years to come. I’ll keep writing as long as my fans keep reading.
DS: Anything else you want to promote?
DiLouie: I hope your readers will visit my blog and check out the reviews and trailers for my books. I also blog regularly about horror movies, short films and books. Even if a reader takes a pass on my fiction, if they enjoy apocalyptic and horror media, they’ll find something on my blog they’ll love.
Thanks for the interview! I enjoyed talking to you.