Tell us about Rotter World?
Rotter World is my first zombie novel. It’s being published by Permuted Press, and should be released early in 2012. It takes place in the months after vampires released the Zombie Virus against mankind, hoping to eliminate humans. Instead, the vampires badly miscalculated, and the rotters preyed on the flesh of the undead as well as the living. In order to survive, a small band of humans and vampires entered an uneasy truce and managed to sit out the apocalypse from an isolated location on the coast of southern Maine. The survivors established a relatively comfortable existence until Dr. Robert Compton, a government scientist, arrives at camp claiming to have discovered a vaccine for the Zombie Virus. The catch: it’s located in his underground laboratory at Site R in southern Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles deep inside rotter territory. The trek across a rotter-ravaged countryside forces the group to confront external dangers (and internal demons) that none of them could have imagined. Yet what awaits them at Site R is far more threatening.
What separates The Vampire Hunters trilogy from the plethora of vampire novels coming out now?
Two things make my vampires stand out. First, mine hark back to the classic monsters of Universal and Hammer Studios as portrayed by Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. The vampires in my trilogy are pure evil. They don’t date teenage girls or spend a life regretting the sins they committed. I vision vampires as embracing their lack of inhibitions and reveling in their inhumanity, so that’s how I portray them. They enjoy tormenting their prey and satiating their desires, whether it’s for sex or blood, with an indiscriminate savagery. My vampires never suffer pangs of conscience.
Second, unlike many books or movies where the vampires are portrayed as two dimensional characters, I give mine personalities and explain the motivations that drive them. Walker, Chiang Shih’s consigliore, willingly became a vampire to get revenge on his master. Melinda, who is twelve-years-old, was turned by a vampire with a penchant for child molestation, and now hunts other children and pedophiles. There are back stories for each of my vampires and reasons why they behave the way they do, which I detail throughout the trilogy. My goal is to make the vampires central characters to the books just as much as the hunters, and to be the villains you love to hate.
What are the advantages to crafting a trilogy as opposed to a single novel?
You get to tell your story in much greater depth. I never intended The Vampire Hunters to be a trilogy. By the time I completed the first book, I found myself wanting to further explore the vampire mythos I had created because there were back stories about Chiang Shih and the Vampyrnomicon that begged to be told. So I came up with the concept of the hunters finding themselves at the center of a war between humans and vampires for dominion over the world, developed a few new characters and subplots, and wrote the second and third books.
What is the process you use when crafting your tales?
I start the writing process by spending a couple of weeks plotting out the novel and developing my characters, jotting down each scene on 3x5 cards which I then organize into a storyline. The cards are effective not only because I can take notes for each scene (dialogue, descriptions, research notes etc.), but it also gives me the opportunity to reorder scenes without having to redo the outline. Once I have a basic plot outlined, I begin drafting the novel. I try to write for at least an hour every day. (My favorite location is on my back deck with a cigar and a glass of iced coffee because outside there are no distractions.) I forge ahead and get my thoughts onto paper, and worry about the wordsmithing later. Unless I get a great idea that would substantively improve a scene, I never go back and edit until the first draft of the manuscript is complete because it disrupts the flow. I do all my revising after the first draft is completed.
What is your favorite character that you created? Do you love or hate him/her?
Jack, the alcoholic mall Santa from my short story “Deck the Malls with Bowels of Holly.” He’s a down-on-his-luck Iraq war vet who finds himself at ground zero of a zombie apocalypse when the sickly reindeer at the mall’s Santa’s Village display drop dead and come back as the living dead. Rather than run for exit, Jack grabs the only weapons he has at his disposal (including a metal candy cane) and wades into the fray. When I wrote the story, I pictured Bruce Campbell playing Jack if Hollywood ever turned it into a movie. (M.R.'s note as a HUGE Campbell fan this sounds fucking awesome)
Which do you find scarier zombies, or vampires?
Zombies are scarier. Vampires are too much like us to be truly frightening. They can think and rationalize and communicate, which gives them some semblance of humanity. In traditional literature, vampires travel singly or in small groups, and that makes them manageable as an enemy. Are they dangerous? Yes. Are they scary? No. (Except for the vampires from 30 Days of Night, who were scary as hell.)
Zombies, however, are driven by nothing more than an instinctual desire to feed. They don’t retain any of their emotions or remnants if their humanity. Unlike vampires, zombies usually travel in hordes. A zombie apocalypse is like an uncontrollable force of nature, a living dead tsunami consuming everything in its path.
What is the difference in your process between writing short stories and a novel or saga?
The writing process is pretty much the same, except that with short stories the time spent on research and plotting is much less. Sometimes it’s a challenge to set up a scene and develop a character in a few pages, but when I get it right, the end result is worth it.
What are your future writing aspirations?
I just finished a short story (“Recognition”) that is told from the point of view of a recently-reanimated zombie, which I am currently trying to place, and am putting the final touches on Yeitso, a novel about something evil terrorizing the desert around Los Alamos, New Mexico, which is my homage to the 1950s monster movies I loved as a kid. I’m doing the research for a series of young adult novels I hope to begin writing early next year. The setting of this series is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where the boundaries between earth and Hell have broken down, allowing the two realms to merge. In addition to those, I also have sitting on the mental back burner an idea for a novel about a group of OSS officers trying to stop the Nazis from concluding a pact with Satan in the closing days of World War II as well as a short story about the Confederates using zombies in Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.
What writer most influenced you as an author? How?
There are two. The first is Graham Masterton. My mother bought me The Manitou as a Christmas gift when I was about ten. It was the first modern horror novel I ever read. An ancient Native American medicine man being reborn on the back of a young woman to destroy the white man; a male nurse turned inside out during its emergence; blood-lusting creatures summoned from hell; an elevator full of slaughtered policemen. The novel made quite an impression on me, and after that I was hooked on the genre. Graham is still one of my favorite authors.
The second influence is Joss Whedon. I’m a huge fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and I always loved the way Joss could take the most intense scenes and intersperse them with humorous elements, and still make them work. I try to work that same type of light-hearted relief into The Vampire Hunters trilogy.
What is the most influential literary character to you personally? Why?
Van Helsing as played by Peter Cushing. I don’t know what it was about that character that appealed to me. Maybe because Van Helsing was the first monster hunter in modern horror. Or maybe the way Cushing played him with that quiet intensity and cold rationality. In either case, I loved that character as a kid, both in the book and in the movies. So it was only natural that when I was looking for my own theme to write about, I would focus in on vampire hunters.
If you could take the reins of writing for any existing franchise, which would you choose and why?
Famous Monsters of Filmland. That was my favorite magazine growing up as a Monster Kid, and was one of the most formative influences for where I am today. I was psyched when they reissued the magazine last year, and was even more ecstatic when they gave The Vampire Hunters a fantastic review. To be able to be involved in that publication would be awesome.