Thursday, October 30, 2008

Interview with Author David Wellington

David Wellington is the fantastic author of such horror novels like Monster Island, Monster Nation, Monster Planet, 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins and web serializations like Frostbite and Plague Zone. If you are a horror fan and haven’t read any of David’s books…you are definitely missing out on one of the genre’s finest and most exciting authors. David has tackled zombies, vampires, werewolves and more…and with each book has made these familiar horror villains new, dangerous and scary again.

It was my absolute pleasure to interview David about where his love for monsters came from, why he offers his books online to readers for free and about his upcoming book Vampire Zero.

Fatally Yours: David, what made you want to write horror novels? Was there a cataclysmic event that got you into the genre, like an influential book or movie, or did you always have a morbid fascination with the dark side?

David Wellington: My mom read about ten books a week when I was a kid. This was back in the ‘70s and she read all the Stephen King and Peter Straubs she could get her hands on. When she finished a book she would put it on the coffee table for me to read.  She was-and is-a staunch supporter of freedom of speech. When she finished a really nasty horror novel she would put it on the table but before I could grab it she would say, “You can read anything you want to, but I don’t think you should read this.  It’ll give you nightmares.” So of course those were the books I wanted to read the most! They did give me nightmares, definitely, but that secret thrill of reading something that was forbidden stayed with me. The monster stories always resonated with me the most, as well. I was kind of a social outcast as a kid-we moved in the middle of my kindergarten year and I had a hard time making friends in the new town, so stories about creatures that could never fit into human society really spoke to me.

Fatally Yours: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you have other numerous books you tried to have published before Monster Island. Were these also horror-themed? Do you have any plans to go back and try and get those published?

David Wellington: I started writing when I was six, and published my first novel at thirty-five. I’d written at least a million words by then, most of them just plain unreadable. I have a ton of novels on the hard drive of my computer that will never see print-and most of them, deservedly so. As far as I know, that’s one of only two secrets of learning how to write a good book: write ten bad ones, first. There’s plenty of horror in there, but also science fiction, fantasy, the occasional mystery or spy story or who-knows-what. That’s the other secret to writing well: write down every idea that comes into your head, and don’t worry about which shelf it would go on in the bookstore.

Fatally Yours: Why did you decide to publish Monster Island online?

David Wellington: To be honest, I just couldn’t get published any other way! It’s tough, trying to break into publishing, and whatever talent I possessed could only get me so far. Most editors don’t even look at unsolicited manuscripts, something I learned only after wasting hundreds of dollars in postage and printer paper over the years. After so long trying to get published with nothing to show for it, finally I went to a friend of mine who had a blog, and together we came up with the idea to publish the book as a series of blog entries. At the time I had no idea how to write a blog post so I just wrote chapters and posted those. It seems to have worked out.

Fatally Yours: How did you react to the popularity and ensuing book deal that came from serializing the novel online?

David Wellington: My friend, the one who had the blog, claims he always knew it would come to that but I really had no idea. I was just excited, happy, grinning like a maniac for days. Then I got the contract and it was all real and suddenly I had a job, the job I’d been training for my whole life. I was very worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the business side of writing-especially the promotional stuff. I’m still that shy outcast kid I was when I read my first monster stories. But it turns out if you really believe in a book, if it comes from your heart, it’s easy to talk about it. It’s actually fun to go out there and explain to people why they need to read this thing.

Fatally Yours: What were the pros and cons of getting instant feedback from readers?

David Wellington: Oh, I loved that-I learned more about writing in the five months it took to serialize Monster Island than I had in the two years I spent at Grad School doing writing workshops and reading books on writing. You can’t get defensive when somebody online tells you that they didn’t understand something you wrote, or that your facts are wrong. You just have to accept the criticism and move on-otherwise you spend all day shouting down the critics. On the other hand, when somebody says they like what you’re doing, you feel-well, it can be tough, when you’re just sitting in front of your computer writing a book, and you can see all the things you did wrong. It’s tough to stay motivated. That’s why it’s so easy to start a novel and so hard to finish one, I think. If you have a couple hundred readers standing behind their shoulders saying, “oh, that part is really cool,” or “I totally get this character”, you have a very good reason to keep going. I don’t think there are any real cons to the instant feedback the internet provides. It can be painful at times, when somebody just keeps telling you your book sucks, but that’s extremely rare and there are ways to handle it. More often than not the fans handled it for me, shouting down the trolls. If somebody really doesn’t like the book, usually they just won’t read the next chapter-and they certainly don’t bother telling you why.

Fatally Yours: Were the sequels Monster Nation and Monster Planet always planned, or did you decide to write them after the popularity of Monster Island?

David Wellington: The sequels came out of the feedback I got from my readers, actually. I had put in a throwaway line in Monster Island. The smart zombie, Gary, is talking to his mentor, an Irish bog mummy and he asks if there are any others like himself, zombies who have retained their intelligence after death. The mummy tells him there are two of them, one in California and one in Russia. At the time I just thought that was a cool way to stress Gary’s isolation. There was no way he could ever meet those others. The fans started asking questions, though, right away. They wanted to know the stories of those other monsters. So I had to write two more books to please them. Though I was having so much fun at the time with the serialization that I was definitely planning on doing more serials anyway, I just didn’t know that it would become a trilogy.

Fatally Yours: Why did you choose zombies for your villains? 

David Wellington: Zombies have always been close to my heart. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where George Romero made his zombie movies. I used to shop at the Monroeville Mall-the setting of Dawn of the Dead. I had written a short zombie story when I was a teenager but it seemed weird to try to shove this cinematic monster into prose, so I never took the idea anywhere. When I moved to New York in 2002, though, I started thinking about zombies a lot. If you want to get all psychological about it, the zombie represents our fear of other people, especially in an urban setting where you’re surrounded all the time by crowds of people you don’t know, whose lives are complete mysteries. My first few months in New York felt an awful lot like I was trapped in the middle of a zombie uprising-though nobody tried to eat my brains, of course. To be fair New Yorkers are some of the nicest people on earth, and very welcoming to newcomers (yes, really-if you’ve never been here, you should come visit) but there are just so many of them, and your idea of personal space really changes when you move here. So in a way Monster Island is a sort of twisted reflection of my exploring New York and learning to live here, a kind of survival story of its own.

Fatally Yours: Besides Monster Island and its subsequent sequels, you’ve also tackled vampires with 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins and your upcoming novel, Vampire Zero. Why did you choose to write about vampires after writing about zombies?

David Wellington: When I was a kid and I read Dracula for the first time, it scared me. So did ‘Salem’s Lot. These days when you read a vampire novel you’re not supposed to be scared. You’re supposed to be turned on. That… does not appeal to me. I think about the Bloofer Lady or Mr. Barlow and-just forget it. I read so many vampire romance novels that I felt I had a need to react to them, to try to make vampires scary again. I had an idea for a very short vampire story and I wrote it down. Then, as I always do when I finish a story, I thought, what happened next? The story became the first three chapters of 13 Bullets.

Fatally Yours: Of course, after zombies and vampires you released the online book, Frostbite, about werewolves. Are you going through all the monster archetypes?

David Wellington: Yes, very much so, because I love all those stories and I love playing with them, changing them just a little, adding my own take. The one I can’t do-for a variety of reasons-is Frankenstein’s Monster, which burns me up because he’s the one I’ve always identified with the most. I love all kinds of monsters and I love the fact that while they have so much in common (supernatural powers, a craving for human flesh, bizarre weaknesses, nocturnal habits) they actually come from such very different places. The werewolf has always been about our fears of our own dark sides. That goes back to the original werewolf stories, which weren’t novels or even fiction at all, they were court transcripts. Tens of thousands of people were burned at the stake in France and Germany during the Renaissance. And you know what? A significant fraction of them turned themselves in. They really thought they were transforming by night and terrorizing their friends and families.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite horror characters (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.) from film and/or literature, excluding your own creations?

David Wellington: Frankenstein and his monster, definitely, in every form they’ve ever taken, in books, plays, movies. There’s something about those two that always works, no matter how much they’re abstracted or how carefully we stick to the original book. I think everyone who has ever lived can identify both with the mad scientist who really, really wants to know what happens when you push the big red button, and also the creature who doesn’t understand, can’t understand, why he was created.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite characters from within your own works?

David Wellington: I really liked writing lines for Jameson Arkeley, the sort of Van Helsing stand-in in 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins. He’s such a bastard, and he doesn’t care what you think of him. And I’ve spent so much time with Laura Caxton, his apprentice vampire hunter (and star of the series) that I feel like she’s my best friend. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from creating problems for her and destroying her life…all in the name of good drama.

Fatally Yours: Tell us about your new novel, Vampire Zero, in which the hero from 13 Bullets turns into a vampire…

David Wellington: It’s extremely violent, with lots of action and gore.  One vampire is bad enough and hard enough to deal with. They have superpowers and once they drink blood they become nearly invulnerable, even bulletproof. The real fear, though, is that the bad guy will turn into a “vampire zero”. In an epidemic, “patient zero” is the one who passes on the virus to everybody else. A vampire zero is a vampire who passes on his curse-making it that much harder for everyone to survive. Laura Caxton gets a new badge and some spiffy new guns to play with, but she’s never had to fight a vampire like this one before. He knows all her tricks, since he taught them to her-but she has a creeping suspicion that maybe there are some things he never got around to teaching her, things only he knows. She ends up going way over the line in her desperation, doing things she would never have considered before-and she pays the price.

Fatally Yours: How involved are you with the Monster Island movie, helmed by director Stephen Susco? Do you have any updates on the film?

David Wellington: I know he wants to make it huge. A big, epic zombie apocalypse movie. I can’t wait.

Fatally Yours: Are there plans to make any other of your novels into films?

David Wellington: They’ve all been optioned, but that’s just the first step in a very long process.

Fatally Yours: What are you working on next?

David Wellington: There’s going to be a fourth vampire novel, and I’ve just sold Frostbite, so it will be printed as a book.  I’m revising it thoroughly, and then I’m going to write the sequel, which will be called Overwinter, which picks up literally the second after Frostbite ends.

Check out Vampire Zero on Amazon!

Visit David Wellington’s Official Website!

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