The new book by Craig DiLouie, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, comes out on the 20th, and he stopped by to answer a few of my questions about the book, and more!
You’re pretty well known for your fantastic contributions to all things zombie with The Infection, Tooth and Nail, etc, but Suffer the Children is different. Will you tell us more about it and what inspired you to write it?
I’m fascinated by stories about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, particularly when those circumstances are global, affecting everybody. In a disaster situation like that, there’s no help from the outside, and all the value judgments and morals that make you a person are tested. Those are the kinds of stories told in my zombie novels THE RETREAT, THE INFECTION, THE KILLING FLOOR and TOOTH AND NAIL. Average people thrown into a world where everybody they loved is gone, the familiar world has become a hostile place, and they must fight to survive. In these novels, the problem is usually solved through resilience, making tough ethical choices on the fly, and plenty of violence and action. Ultimately, the winners will be those who can retain their humanity and hopefully someday return to living, not just surviving.
In SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I wanted to do something different. As I wanted to write a horror novel, I asked myself, “What’s the most horrifying thing that could happen?” The easy answer is if something bad happened to my kids. The result is an entirely new spin on the apocalyptic vampire story popularized in novels like Justin Cronin’s THE PASSAGE, with the humanity of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s HANDLING THE UNDEAD.
In SUFFER THE CHILDREN, a horrible disease kills all of the world’s children. They return from the dead and ask for blood. If they get blood, they return to life exactly as they were, but only for a short time—then they die again. Their parents are now put into a horrifying situation where they must continually give their children blood. The question becomes, how far would you go for someone you love? What would you do just to have somebody you lost back for an hour or two? Some will accept their loss and let them go. But others will go all the way. Most, in fact.
As the supply of donated blood dwindles, so will the parents’ choices. In the end, the only source of blood is from each other. It’s the end of the world, one pint at a time, all because of the most primal love in the world. The result, I think, is a story that will be particularly titillating for fans of horror fiction, and a refreshing take on the vampire story. The primary horror is psychological.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. It adds a whole different dimension to my life. Part of my existence is in the imaginary, an imagination that I exercise continually. It’s a lot of fun but a ton of work. It’s both challenging and rewarding on a lot of levels, particularly once you get published and people are buying and reviewing your work, and it all transitions from a fun, low-stakes hobby into something you do professionally.
What’s one of the earliest things you remember writing?
My first “novel”–about 20 pages handwritten—was a disaster story where the world ends due to a series of natural disasters. Moscow ends up buried under miles of mud. A tidal wave totals Washington, DC. I grew up on disaster movies and wanted to do something epic combining all of them. In my teen years, I read pretty much everything Robert E. Howard wrote and became inspired to write fantasy for a while. I wrote a ton of sword-and-sorcery novellas in my teens. By that time, I knew I was hooked. Writing was going to be a life-long passion. I still write fantasy, by the way. My novel THE ALCHEMISTS is now with agent, and we’re close to getting a deal with a publisher. Whereas my horror fiction is dark and grisly, my sci-fi and fantasy work tends to be humorous and filled with adventure.
Did you do any specific research for Suffer the Children?
I do a ton of research for all of my books. Thank God for the Internet, which allows writers to go both deep and broad. For SUFFER THE CHILDREN, most of my research was into the composition of blood and the toll blood loss takes on the human body. But I researched everything else too. One of my characters is a waste collector. I don’t know a damn thing about that, so I researched everything about that profession to get it right. A few scenes from the story take place in hospitals, so I did a lot of research about how they’re laid out, where they keep the blood, how they dispose of it. The result is not just getting the story right but tons of details that make the narrative come alive and feel even more real. That’s the secret of good horror fiction: Make the world as real as possible to help the reader suspend disbelief, give the reader characters they care about and identify with, and then drop something horrible like a bomb right in the middle of it.
What do you enjoy most about writing horror? Where do you see horror heading in the near future as a genre?
I like writing fantastic fiction—horror, fantasy, science fiction. The juxtaposition of the fantastic to the normal is fun to write, and there are tons of story possibilities. In particular, I enjoy writing apocalyptic fiction. During a major disaster, the best and worst of humanity are on full display with there is a sense of zeitgeist—that the world has changed forever, and this is the new world. Think 9/11 on a global scale. People’s identities and morals are thoroughly tested. You can put your characters through the wringer and really find out what they’re made of, who they are. The reader is similarly confronted with choices and consequently learn about themselves. They get the thrill of reading horror—the same instinct that makes people go on roller coasters—which is to face danger (death) and survive the encounter.
As for where horror’s headed as a genre, I think we’re going to continue to see a lot more apocalyptic fiction, which I believe has something to do with a desire for catharsis during times of social and economic uncertainty. Certainly, zombie fiction continues to be very popular, and vampire and other myths are crossing over into the apocalyptic. The biggest change in horror fiction is the popularity of eReaders and self-publishing, which have really gone hand in hand. This will continue to give writers another path to publication and readers many, many more choices.
Have you ever based any of your characters on real people?
All of my characters are based on aspects of myself, people I know and what I understand about the human condition and the psychology of the human animal. However, none of my characters is based on me or people I know. Any opinions or decisions my characters make are theirs. For me, as the writer, these characters become real people by the end of writing the novel, and they often say and do what they want, taking the story and character development into interesting directions you simply can’t plan for at the beginning.
What do you look for in a good story? Is there anything in particular that would make you put a book down, unfinished?
This is another great question. As a reader, first and foremost, give me characters I care about, confront them with exciting conflict, and maintain tension on every page. I read constantly to keep up with what’s going in the genre and because it also helps me learn about craft. Great authors like Joe McKinney, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Joe Hill, Peter Clines, Stephen Knight, Jeff Long, David Moody, Stephen King, John Dixon, Jack Ketchum, Adam Baker, Adam Neville and many others have all taught me something about what makes a good horror story work. Off the top of my head, I would recommend Hill’s HEART-SHAPED BOX, Neville’s THE LAST DAYS and Long’s THE DESCENT as examples of the kind of quality I aspire to in horror fiction.
What’s something that truly terrifies you?
Anything that would hurt my health—and that includes aging—and the health of people I love most. Nothing else really scares me, it’s just a problem to be solved.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a novel about romantic love as the catalyst for ending the world, which I hope will offer the same thrill, provocation and emotional resonance as SUFFER THE CHILDREN.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and your readers!
About SUFFER THE CHILDREN:
One day, the children die. Three days later, they come back.
And ask for blood.
With blood, they stop being dead. They become the children they once were.
But only for a short time.
Too soon, they die again. And need more blood to live …
The average body holds ten pints of blood.
How far would you go for someone you love?