Friday, August 3, 2007

Interview with Author Gregory Solis

Fatally Yours recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gregory Solis, author of the Rise and Walk (our review), an intense and action-packed zombie novel. For fans of zombie novels, Rise and Walk is definitely a must-read! Solis has two other books planned after Rise and Walk, the next being titled Rise and Walk: Pathogen.

Rise and Walk is Gregory Solis’ first novel, which he even published himself. Solis is a very friendly, approachable and down-to-earth guy whose zombie novel has been a long time coming, but it was definitely worth the wait!

Read the insightful and fantastic interview with Gregory below!

Fatally Yours: Gregory, congratulations on the success of Rise and Walk! It’s a great zombie novel and deserves to be part of any horror fan’s book collection. What made you decide to write about zombies in particular?

Gregory Solis: Ever since I first saw Dawn of the Dead in 1979, I found the walking dead interesting. They were horrible and frightening yet, even as a child I felt that they could be dealt with. I was very frightened back then by ghost stories or things like The Exorcist, but zombies were an enemy I could deal with. I heard about Night of the Living Dead and watched the local Creature Features every Saturday night to see if it would be on. There was very little zombie related media back in the early eighties. I found what I could with the emergence of home video, the Italian [zombie] films, Return of the Living Dead and others, but my fascination with George A. Romero’s work never went away.

FY: Before becoming a novel, Rise and Walk was supposed to be a film based on a screenplay you had written. What happened to the film idea and why did you decide to write a book instead?

GS: The demise of Rise and Walk as a feature came about because the project was too ambitious for our budget and time. We also lost a lead actress to an emergency relocation. It was an incredible learning experience as a filmmaker but costly as the project never came to fruition. I am still paying for some of the equipment that we purchased for the film. I put the screenplay on the shelf for a few years yet it remained in the back of my mind. I would think about the characters and what would happen to them after the events of Rise and Walk. I thought about how I would create a larger world over run by zombies in sequels. I wanted to exorcise the negative feelings I had from the film not working out by creating something positive. Turning the screenplay into a novel was the natural progression to my mind. Writing gave me the opportunity to create a vast world in the mind of the reader without having to worry about how to pull it off onscreen. I absolutely love it. The limitless possibility for character exploration and scope of the zombie threat is a definite draw for me to keep writing.

FY: Do you think that Rise and Walk will ever be made into a film?

GS: A talented colleague and dear friend of mine is opening up a hi-definition production house based around the new RED camera named Dastardly Studios. He wants to shoot Rise but I wouldn’t try it without a serious, well proven producer. The budget wouldn’t be that bad now as we can do a lot more digitally. I learned my lesson not divide my attention as both Director and Producer on any project. I may shop the script around one day as the book becomes more successful. I think that something like Rise and Walk could easily become a horror television series, given the right outlet.

FY: Besides your work on Rise and Walk, what prior writing experience did you have?

GS: I have a pretty elaborate diary that I started when I was thirteen. It is an old ship’s log that I filled with teenage angst and introspection. I started to churn out fiction pieces that were inspired by Hemingway at fifteen. A lot of the stuff was in the first person like my diary, but written about fictional events and characters. I ran off to Hawaii for a while when I was nineteen and wrote a lot about drinking and chasing girls. Hawaii was my Pamplona. I met a lot of strange people from all corners of the globe and got hammered with them. One day I looked across the table at the bar and said, “I gotta go to school,” so I returned to California and slugged it out in classes. In college I started to learn more about the non first person perspective. My teachers were very encouraging, so I kept writing on my own. This was the early nineties and we didn’t have the many different ways of releasing one’s work that we do now, so I never had any aspirations to publish. I just wrote because I had stuff to say. Later on, I became a Television major where the curriculum required us to crank out scripts for our productions. Some times I would have to produce three shorts in a week, one for Field Production, one for Advanced Studio and a concept for a Music Video. I think that high pressure training helped a lot as a writer. I grew tired of the frenetic pace of Television and transferred to San Francisco State’s film program to get my degree in Cinema. It was there that I learned about serious drama while writing screenplays.

FY: What were your influences when writing Rise and Walk?

GS: When I was working on the screenplay, the main idea was that courage is not the absence of fear, but doing what you have to despite that fear. I think we see that theme in the actions of the characters. I was also thinking of a paper I read by Laura Mulvey about how women are usually portrayed as sex objects in cinema. I thought that I didn’t want the female characters in Rise to be damsels in distress, but real people. I know a lot of women who are intelligent and strong, so I wrote their characters as best as I could.

FY: When writing the book, what was your daily routine? As a writer, did you have a special “process” you went through when creating your stories or characters?

GS: I would wake up early, like four in the morning, have coffee and write to music. I created a few playlists with songs without lyrics. If I was working on an action scene I would play some Apocalyptica or a few AC/DC songs from Maximum Overdrive. Slower songs got slower music, so the music became like a film score for the writing. I would write until noon and go to the gym. I found that sitting at a desk all day is murder on the body. Working out would get my blood flowing to my brain. I would go about the rest of my day, sort of daydreaming about how I was going to write the next day.

FY: In Rise and Walk, the characters are portrayed very realistically. How did you accomplish writing such natural dialogue and actions?

GS: The dialogue, both internal to the characters and in how they speak is based on people I have met in life except for the case of Veronica. I gave a lot of thought to how she expresses herself. She was raised without a mother, by her father who was a surgeon. Her character grew up fast, surrounded by her father’s colleagues. It may sound silly but I decided to make her dialogue very formal. She doesn’t use contractions in her speech or thought. I don’t know if anyone noticed this; it is such a little thing, but it is how she would express herself. Maybe those small details work on a subconscious level to make the character seem more authentic. I am not sure. If you read Rise and Walk again, you might notice that Nikki asks a lot of questions. Even before the horrors become apparent, that is her nature. Nikki is desperately trying to keep up with a world that she thinks is passing her by as she wastes away in the small mountain town. She wants to pick people brains and learn what they know about the world. That line continues as the trouble unfolds. I have extensive back stories for each of the characters that I never mention in the novel. Stuff like Jack and Tony both having foul mouths as kids but being able to switch instantly to formal speech when around adults. Those little details help me to know how the characters would react to a situation, what they would say and how they would express themselves.

As for action, before I write a scene, I visualize it. I imagine what takes place and remember what I imagined when I type it out. Sometimes I will even block the action like we would in a rehearsal so that I know what to describe from the action. When Jack uses a sword to take out a zombie, I had to think about what that would be like. If the blade hits mid-vertebrae, it would take a lot of effort to break through bone, sinew, and muscle. If the blade is sharp, and it strikes in the intervertebral space then you may score a beheading. Acting out some actions lets me know if what I imagined is practical and possible. These characters are human; at lest I hope they come off as such. Jack and Tony have some skills in the book, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t give them super bionic ninja powers. That would just be silly.

FY: Speaking of action, the gore in the book is also described very vividly. How did you achieve such accurate descriptions of grue and violence? Did you have to do much research?

GS: No, I have always had an interest in medicine and science. I did really well in Physiology and Biology and considered a career in medicine. I did a lot of playing around with special effects make-up in college as well. My copy of Grey’s Anatomy has been to hell and back over the years from using it as a reference for sculpting. I also worked in an old time butcher shop in high school. Hunters would bring in their kills for preparation by us and we would charge them by the pound. I learned what it is like to cut down game, the smell, the texture and all that nasty stuff. I am somewhat familiar with the organic processes that take place after death; the gas build up, what coagulation looks like, how quickly insects find the smell of decay. Taking out the discarded material at the butcher shop was something I will never forget. The rendering bin only got picked up once a week. Talk about foul decay! So my life experience was the research for the book.

FY: You self-published Rise and Walk. For the aspiring writers out there, can you tell us how hard this was to do and how you actually accomplished it?

GS: It was remarkably easy. I have a lot of colleagues from my video work out in Silicon Valley. They told me all about how Publishing on Demand was really taking off. It sounded viable to me so I started to think about it. I had already read David Moody’s Autumn and Len Barnhart’s Reign of the Dead, enjoying both novels. Once I found out that they were POD books I started to investigate further. I saw the success that J.L. Bourne had found with his book, Day By Day: Armageddon, and my mind was made up. The process was simple enough. I wrote in MS Word, figured out what font I wanted to use and how the chapters should look. Next I created a table of contents and exported the file to Acrobat.
I never expected Rise and Walk to reach the audience that it has and I am unashamed of how I got my book to market. It has been a wonderful experience.

FY: Will the next two books also be self-published, or are you looking for a publisher at this point?

GS: I am in this for the long run, no matter who publishes the series. I have the rights to the property and can take it where ever I like. After hearing some of the horror stories my film friends have endured at the hands of distributors, I am glad that I am in charge of the series. I would consider taking Rise to a traditional house provided I felt good about how they would handle the property and how much input I would retain. The most important thing is to protect the series and myself as a new writer.

FY: How are you promoting the book and is this hard to do without a publisher?

GS: I have been incredibly fortunate that webmasters, forum moderators and readers have liked the book. Their support and word of mouth have been integral to the success of Rise and Walk. One thing I attempt to do in any of my interactions with others is to just be me. I endeavor not to be a rude to anyone or put on airs. I try to take the time to answer people’s questions as honestly as possible and offer encouragement to authors who ask about my experiences. Sending out review copies to horror related websites and magazines is vital. Indy authors have to find people whom will look at their work and give a review. The practice is expensive, so I recommend that you contact the reviewers first to see if they have the time and interest to review the work. I go to horror and writing forums and introduce myself politely and let people know about my website. The website has a 48 page preview that people can read online or download. I took the idea of a sample from J.L. Bourne, whose preview has been very successful for his book. I know that it has helped me. Putting time and effort into the Rise and Walk website is very important. It has links to all the Rise related reviews, interviews, features and articles to help get the word out. There is also the obligatory MySpace page where people can learn about me. I also blog a little; I recently did an article about how the design of the book cover came about.

It is all a lot of work, but I love my book so it doesn’t weigh on me. I could never be a salesman, it is not my thing, but I can honestly tell someone about my book because I believe that it is a worthwhile horror adventure. I suppose it would be easier to promote with the backing of a publisher but I would still do what I am doing to help the book.

FY: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

GS: I used to be addicted to sushi but it is expensive. I spend time with my girlfriend of four years, collect music videos, which are getting hard to find on TV anymore, read, listen to podcasts about writing, play a mean game of Texas Hold ‘Em, and drink weak ass coffee all day long. I am also a bit of an insomniac so I think a lot about plot. I am currently applying to grad school for creative writing. Wish me luck!

FY: Best of luck! Since you are obviously a horror fan, what are your favorite horror movies?

GS: Dawn of the Dead ‘78, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, and the Night ‘90 remake. Limited I know, but they are my top five.

FY: What are five horror books that you can’t live without?

GS: Frankenstein, The Stand, I am Legend, Autumn, and Stories to be Read With the Door Locked.

FY: What can fans expect to see in the next two Rise and Walk books?

GS: I hope to improve as a writer on the sequels. I want to give the readers more; more characters, character development, more action, more zombies, and even more pages. I may have to shrink the font size down to fit it all but we will see. We will learn more about the characters. There will have a small town to move around in instead of the wilderness. The theme of Pathogen [the next planned book] is family, both blood and close friends. If something like this happened, wouldn’t you want to make sure that your loved ones were safe? If things, walking, munching things, got in your way, what would you be willing to do to get to your loved ones? There will also be an element of discovery as more details of the infection come to light. I have been studying more and more about writing since the publication of Rise and Walk. I feel a great responsibility to do a good job on the further adventures.

FY: Besides the Rise and Walk books, do you have any other stories planned for publication?

GS: I am developing a non-horror project for the future called The Boy You Used To Know. I know that some Masters programs for writing look down on horror so it will be more of a mainstream project about teen partiers in the late eighties.

FY: You’ll be a guest at SiliCon in San Jose, California this October. What can fans expect from you while you’re there?

GS: SiliCon will be my first convention. I have no idea what to expect other than to warmly greet any one who is interested in meeting me. I am looking forward to meeting Simon Wood, Greg Lambertson, Molly and Wil from Horror Yearbook, yourself of course, and the other attendees.

FY: Gregory, thanks again for the interview and I’m really looking forward to the next Rise and Walk books, along with any other novels you may have planned!

GS: Thank you very much for taking the time to ask me these questions. It is an honor to be included on your website.

Buy Rise and Walk

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