Today I’d like to welcome Thomas Koloniar to the blog! Thomas is the author of Cannibal Reign (out today), a terrifying look at a postapocalyptic world! Thomas was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and I’ve also got one copy of Cannibal Reign up for grabs to one lucky winner, so check out the details at the end of the post.
Thomas, your first novel, Cannibal Reign, just came out today! Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
I’ve actually been writing since high school. I have a degree in English Literature from the University of Akron with a minor in creative writing. Cannibal Reign is the 5th novel I’ve written, but it’s the first to be published. I don’t know that I always wanted to be a writer. I think I just was one … in that I’ve always felt the urge to write on a very visceral level. Probably much the same way a painter feels the need to paint. I’m not sure if anyone ever consciously makes the decision to become an artist. I believe they’re probably born, and then they’re either afforded the opportunity to express themselves or they are not.
Cannibal Reign focuses on a group of people (military and civilians) that band together to survive an asteroid that is hurtling toward earth. In a sea of apocalypse scenarios that feature zombies, it was a bit refreshing (no offence to the zombies). What kind of research did you do in order to paint a realistic picture of doomsday preparation, and its aftermath?
As a kid I was always fascinated by films like the Omega Man and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The idea of small bands of survivors marooned on a planet full of crazed humans was both frightening and thrilling to me at the same time. The genre began to rapidly evolve after the turn of the century with films like 28 Days Later in 2002, and the remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004. As you point out, it wasn’t long before maniacal human beings were everywhere. It wasn’t until after I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy in September of 2006, however, that I realized there was a place for this genre in mainstream literature.
I was intrigued by McCarthy’s use of the bomb shelter in his novel, and though I understood entirely why his characters had to leave the shelter and stick to the road, I never stopped wondering how the story might have turned out if they had stayed in the shelter until the supplies ran out. In the end, I dropped my other projects and decided to explore the idea for myself.
Zombies are of course thrilling and frightening, as are rabid killers infected with a bizarre brain virus. But cannibals are still completely human—they can still think—and when they come after you it’s a very personal attack. This not only makes them more dangerous, but I believe it also makes them more frightening.
The bulk of my research was on missile silo construction. I keep the silo pretty accurate in the novel, but I did make a few minor changes to the installation to fit the needs of the story. Hardcore Romero fans will likely spot one such modification right off the bat. It was also necessary to do some research on shortwave radios and code-breaking. Other subjects of research were asteroids, astronomy, performance capabilities of certain military vehicles, Chinese and American naval vessels, snow cats, certain weapons, aircraft, alternative energy sources, hydroponics, diseases and treatments, even how many tomato plants would be required to provide enough oxygen to sustain a single human being. (The answer is at least 300, btw.)
Did anyone in particular inspire the character of Jack Forrest?
You know what? I don’t think so. I’ve certainly drawn inspiration for other characters, but I think Jack’s a product of the asteroid itself. You see, I wrote this story in my head while driving round-trip from Akron, to Atlanta, to Los Angeles—and then back again. Over the course of 2,400 miles or so, the story took shape, and Jack evolved naturally to fit the entirety of the circumstances. Most of my characters I know extremely well. But Jack is still something of an enigma to me, even three years later, as I begin to write the sequel. I’m never entirely sure what the hell he’s going to do until after he’s done it, and I think this is probably due to the organic nature of his birth.
For a lot of writers, the main character was not necessarily their favorite to write. Which character did you enjoy writing the most?
Good follow-up question! Shannon Emory was my favorite to write, and she was inspired by an actual living person. She was inspired by my best friend who is a female combat veteran of the Iraq War. She’s someone whom I admire very much.
Did your experience as a sheriff’s deputy help you in writing some of the psychological aspects of the story (since dealing with the public is an everyday occurrence for law enforcement?)
I believe my experiences in law enforcement must have had a subconscious impact on the psychological aspects of the story, but I can’t cite any examples from the top of my head. Nearly all of my experiences in law enforcement were bad, and they cost me an awful lot, so I don’t spend much time dwelling there. This is probably most apparent in the way that Jack deals with challenges throughout the story. You’ll notice he has a very low tolerance for injustice at any quarter.
If we were facing a doomsday scenario, and you were presented with the same opportunity as your characters, which five items would you take to the silo with you? One has to be a book 😀
Assuming the food, water and medicine are already below? I would take an M-4 carbine, a .45 semi-automatic pistol, a Kabar survival knife, the photo album of my German shepherd … and a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls—which isn’t necessarily my favorite novel, but it’s right up there, and I think it would provide the kind of emotional escape that I would crave. (You may have noticed one of my charaters agrees with me on this point. 😉
On a more personal note, when you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I’m incredibly fortunate to be retired and living in Mexico, so my life is very laid back. When I’m not writing, I prefer to spend time with my dog, my girlfriend and her two little girls. (And I never miss a UFC match if I can help it!) I keep my life as simple as I possibly can these days.
Is there any piece of advice that you would give to struggling writers?
I should have anticipated this question, but I didn’t! Giving advice on any subject is tough. I can only speak from my own experience, but I’m going to be brutally honest on one point: If the only reason you write is to become a published author, you may want to think about finding another way to spend your time. This industry requires a certain amount of luck, and so many fine novels will never be published because of it. That being said, a good friend of mine, Lisa Cron, has a great book coming out in July, Wired for Story. She’s an industry insider, and her book is about capturing your reader’s attention from the first line … and how to keep it. The advice she gives is far more comprehensive than any I can I hope to offer.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well, I’m still waiting to hear from Harper Collins about another novel that I’ve written entitled 13 Violent Days in May. I’ve also begun work on the sequel to Cannibal Reign entitled Cannibal Rise. Before either of these works will see the light of day, though, we’ll probably need to see how well Cannibal Reign is accepted.
Also, I expect to soon be entering into a collaborative work with one of Harper Collins’ best-selling authors on a series of action thrillers. The ink on the deal isn’t yet dry, so I can’t be more specific than that at the moment, but cross your fingers for me, if you would, and keep an eye out for my name in the months and hopefully years to come! :o)
Keep up with Thomas: Website
**GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER AND WINNER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. THANKS SO MUCH TO EVERYONE THAT ENTERED!**
1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Cannibal Reign to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only.
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 7/6/12
6. Giveaway books courtesy of HarperCollins
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.