Welcome back! Here follows the second installment of the round robin/round table of interviews, wherein I interview David Dunwoody, madcap author of Empire, Empire's End, The Harvest Cycle, and about eight zillion short stories.
It has long been suspected Dave had replaced a portion of his brain with a portal to the multiverse, where the stories come from. But that's just rampant speculaion on my part. Lete's hear about it from the man himself, shall we?
This feels like it’s been a long time coming, Dave. (Is it alright if I call you Dave? You can call me Hal, if you like.) You have an impressive body of work, and I was wondering, what was the drive to link so many of your short stories to the Empire universe?
I’ve really enjoyed the zombified world of Empire, and there have been a lot of ideas –the Reaper in different time periods, the origin of the plague—that I didn’t use in the novels themselves because I didn’t want to go off on too many tangents. As is, both Empire books have a lot of side stories and spotlight various undead anomalies. I also thought that getting some related shorts into various anthologies might help draw new readers to Empire (and vice versa, hopefully introducing Empire fans to other authors).
And would you open the pod bay doors already?
Speaking for myself, one of the things I liked so much about Empire and its sequel was that it was set years and years beyond the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse. So many of the books we see are set at the beginning. Was this something you decided on beforehand, or did it just come about as you started writing?
Setting it 100+ years after the initial outbreak was one of the first decisions I made about Empire. The collapse of society and the horror of a dawning apocalypse is definitely compelling, but I found myself wanting to see what the world looked like long after—a time when humanity’s remnants are all people born into the last days, into a life that seems doomed from the word go. Of course, we see it as such because we’ve had a taste of this posh zombie-free existence.
How did it feel to return to that universe in Empire’s End? Do you plan more for that world, or is that it?
There was definitely more to be told after Empire, and I was excited to do it – at the same time I knew Empire’s End was going to be the conclusion of that arc, so it was a little bittersweet. Knowing it was the finale did offer a certain freedom—I’ll tell you this right now, no one in Empire’s End is safe. No character’s signed for a Book III.
I definitely intend, though, to write more short stories set in this world at some point. I have an idea for a tale that would serve as a fitting epilogue of sorts to the whole saga. Just need to get this Empire movie done first. Which is taking forever because no one’s optioned it.
To veer off the writing path for a moment... tell me about ghost hunting. You have an EMF meter and everything? Do you ever record for EVP? (EMF = electromagnetic fields, EVP = electronic voice phenomena, for the uninitiated.)
It’s funny, I don’t believe at all in ghosts but I have spent a few nights in cemeteries with a recorder. Just to creep myself out, I guess, maybe get a story out of it. I do love cemeteries (I set part of The Harvest Cycle in Utah for that reason – Ogden City Cemetery is gorgeous) and it’s interesting to listen to the anomalous sounds the tape picks up and let your imagination interpret them.
|...and that worked out so well for this guy.|
I really can’t stress enough, you have a lot of writing credits to your name. What made you decide to write?
Actually, that might not be far from the truth. I spend more time in my own head than I do in the external world – that’s always been the case, and I think I used to make up worlds and stories as a kid because my brain always seems to need to be doing five different things at once. As an adult, this need has manifested itself in the form of OCD, and in dealing with that I have noticed that writing seems to put all my mental trains on the same track, so the speak. It centers me in a real way.
Does it matter what you write, or only that you write?
“What” is definitely important. The creative engine’s got to be in overdrive, and dark fiction seems to do the trick for me. As for what it is about horror and dark fantasy, your guess is as good as mine. But why worry?
If you were able to choose the person making an adaption of your work into a movie, who would it be? And how close would you want it? How may changes would you be alright with?
Dream director, David Cronenberg. The guy’s a genius and I’m not being hyperbolic.
When we publish our work, we give it to readers and they experience it through their own filter. They come to own their experience of your story. Allowing someone to then put their experience on film with your name attached is a leap beyond. Someone, probably Cronenberg, said there’s no such thing as a pure and faithful adaptation from one medium to another. Clive Barker said that if writing’s masturbation, a film’s an orgy. No matter what, the shag carpet’s gonna need replacing the next morning. (I added that last part.) The idea of other artists taking my story and reinterpreting it is intriguing and doesn’t make me (too) queasy. Of course, there’s a difference between a filmmaker’s artistic vision and a studio’s mucking about. Nonetheless, Empire, for example, would probably have to go through some major changes to work as a movie. Easier said than done, I’m sure, but I would have to go into it thinking “This isn’t my Empire anymore.”
Right. The book is the book, and the movie is the movie, and never the twain should meet. Or something like that. How about music? Who’d you like to make a concept album of your work?
That is an awesome question. Goblin would be fantastic. Danny Elfman for The Harvest Cycle. I guess I’m thinking more of scores, aren’t I? Concept albums – Foo Fighters and/or the ghost of Warren Zevon for Unbound.
But you just said you don’t believe in ghosts. Trickster! You mentioned The Harvest Cycle with the ghosts. What is that, and where did it come from?
The Harvest Cycle started with a nightmare about 5 years ago, about being trapped in a hotel with these things that looked like skinned gargoyles running around outside. I started fleshing out the idea for an apocalyptic novel, and during that process was also working on a story for the Permuted anthology Robots Beyond – that’s what made me think of adding robots to this alternate reality and really got the ball rolling. The story concerns an apocalypse in which ghoulish alien beasts are hunting humans – they give us just enough time to catch our breath before launching the next “Harvest,” always at a different point during the year. The Harvesters are engineered by a godlike entity with ties to the Cthulhu Mythos, and this entity, Nightmare, has managed to make contact with the robots who once served us. Manipulating their system of logic, it has convinced them to join the hunt. I put together some videos to break it down in greater detail (and be silly): PLAYLIST LINK!!!
|That's this book here.|
Is that the first time you’ve dangled your dabbley bits into the Mythos? I can’t say this as a rule, but there seems to be a lot of stand-offishness between the zombie people and the Lovecraft people. The world of the Mythos is certainly bleak enough. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I think a lot of zombie fans want as much realism as possible in their fiction – they want to imagine it happening in our world, to experience the survival-horror aspect vicariously, and although zompoc and Lovecraft do intersect there does seem to be some resistance to too much dark fantasy and/or sci-fi in zombie media. For my part, I certainly implied a Mythos connection in the Empire books. The source of Empire’s plague is an energy cast off by old gods who fled our universe aeons ago – like unruly tenants who, upon notice of eviction, decide to use the entire apartment as a toilet before they bolt. Their cosmic dookie evolved into our apocalypse, and it was purely by chance. Life is fun.
This zombie niche has some serious legs just following the classic formula, but what’s wrong with fresh ideas, with throwing something weird into the mix? Playing with the zombie archetype? Some of these ideas won’t be for everybody, the same way that there’s a traditional vampire blueprint and then a wealth of modern variants, some of which are pretty cool.
The only problem is the fandamentalist, a term I wish I’d coined. The guy who doesn’t think anyone should be writing anything other than Dawn of the Dead Part Eleventeen. The guy who alone knows what a “true zombie” is. Maybe the fact that it’s such a young monster, the modern zombie, has something to do with it. The upside of that is that you can meet its creator at conventions and ask him what he thinks. I don’t know myself, but I do know G.A.R. wrote the foreword for Skipp & Spector’s Book of the Dead, a brilliant collection that didn’t concern itself with whether or not this or that was sacrilege.
Everyone’s entitled to choose their own path, but there are many roads to the promised land. If you don’t agree, then at least let the rest of us go to Hell in peace.
Empire started as a free online serial, which seems to be something a lot of people are doing now. Do you have any advice or cautions for writers interested in trying their hands at it?
I was really flying by the seat of my pants when I serialized Empire in 2006 (and Harvest in ‘08) but I suppose the thing to keep in mind is that, while you will enjoy the instant gratification of people seeing your work the second you publish it on your site, you also don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so having another pair of eyes look your stuff over for errors (have beta readers, even) isn’t a bad idea. Even if you’re not trying to parlay the serial into a book deal, take your writing seriously if you take writing seriously. If you get critical comments that are relevant (i.e. something other than “Die in Hell douche” or “Fr3e C!@L1S click here”), leave them up and take them into account.
And if you are hoping the story will catch a publisher’s eye, remember that a lot of publishers will want the story taken down from the Web– many would prefer it have never been there to begin with. And there’s no guarantee once you’ve deleted it that it’s really-really-really gone from the Internet. Still, it can serve as a great writing exercise, a workshop of sorts and a way to start getting your name out.
At what stage in your writing, generally, do you let betas read the work? Is there a circle of people who you trust to hold the secret, or do you hold a raffle...?
It’s pretty much the same few folks, folks who believe in my ability but will tell me if something is completely batshit. They might see a first draft, and then usually after that I’m alone in revisions for a good while.
You’ve made no secret of the situation with your vision. What kind of hurdles does this present for you, and how do you get over them?
The toughest thing is proofreading – using special software and all that has become second nature in the past 4 years, but checking for typos is always a challenge. Just another reason to have extra eyes on hand! I mean in other people’s heads, by the way, not in your desk drawer. Don’t talk about those. The other stuff I just gradually adapted to because I had to. I wasn’t going to stop writing.
What’s Dave reading now?
Over the last year I’ve been reading a lot in the thriller genre. I always encourage writers to read outside their genre of choice, and I’m trying to practice what I preach. I’ve come to enjoy aspects of the thriller and would like to try my hand at it someday.
That’s the ticket. Someone smarter than me (I? Should that be I? Fuck it.) said that a story should be a good story first, a good genre piece second.
There are genres that I live in and will stay rooted to until that artery in my head finally pops. But there are also these perceived genre boundaries, places you’re not supposed to go if you’re staying true to the conventions of said genre. I say nuts. Tell your story.
On that note, in checking out thrillers I also finally read Maberry’s Patient Zero, which I think most would consider a thriller first. It nonetheless doesn’t seem to be constrained by its sense of realism or its action-thriller core. Now I have to get my butt to Audible so I can catch up with the Ledger series (and while I’m there I will look at the Harvest Cycle audiobook, which is there, doe-eyed, waiting to find a loving home).
No, no. Thank you.
NO THANK YOU
You said it first. I meant it more. So there.
Tune in two weeks from now, when teh_Dunwoody interviews William Todd Rose, author of The Seven Habits.