An Interview with Craig DiLouie

Hi, Craig! First off, how are you and how have you been?

I’m awesome, thank you, and thanks for having me as a guest at the Inn!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your journey, and how you became Craig DiLouie the Author?

I grew up on disaster films and great science fiction in the 1970s, which gave me a love for stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. In the 1980s, I read everything by Robert E. Howard, who taught me the written word was just as good as a movie.

From then on, I was writing, going nowhere in the 90s, but then starting to get published by small presses in the 00s. My first big break came at just the right time. I’d turned 40, my daughter had just been born, and I was thinking of putting fiction aside to focus solely on the journalism and education services I provide to the lighting industry. But I had an idea for a zombie novel about the last stand of the U.S. Army in New York City.

I wrote it, it got picked up by small press, and then sales exploded. There’s a huge number of zombie novels now, but back then, it was a handful, and nobody had really done an Army versus zombies novel before. Plus the Kindle eBook was just getting big. So I was at the right place at the right time with the right book—that X factor in successful publication.

From there, I wrote two more successful zombie novels for Permuted Press, got an agent, got into small press with my vampire novel Suffer the Children, self-published a military historical fiction series (Crash Dive) that did phenomenally well, and recently started publishing with Orbit, one of the world’s leading science fiction and fantasy publishers.

It’s been an amazing journey where a lot of hard work, learning, and luck led me from one thing to the next, and it’s been really gratifying and humbling.

So you’ve had experience with Big 5, independent, and self-publishing. Could you talk about your experiences with each? How did you move from one to another and does the publishing method affect the type of story you write?

Small press gave me publication and the chance to prove myself. Over time, however, I recognized its limitations. Big publishers offered bookstore distribution and brand cachet, while self-publishing offered complete control and the ability to compete on price. So for me, small press was a fantastic stepping stone, and while there are some very good small presses offering great opportunities for writers, I doubt I’d go back to it.

Big publishing is fantastic if you have a good partner who believes in the product. My experience with Orbit has been more than wonderful. It’s an amazing thing to see your book on a shelf at the bookstore. For big publishers, I tend to write standalone big idea novels.

While I write for big publishers, I’ve really enjoyed self-publishing as well. It’s down and dirty publishing where you have to do everything, but I love the control. For self-publication, I’ll only write series of short, pulpy dime novels for highly targeted reading markets.

Your most recent book is One of Us. Can you tell us a little about it?

One of Us is a Southern Gothic dark fantasy about prejudice and whether monsters or born or made, described by Claire North (84K) as “The Girl with All the Gifts meets To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The novel is about a sexually transmitted disease that created a wave of pregnancies that birthed a generation of monsters now growing up rejected and abused in rundown government orphanages. As they come of age, they begin developing frightening powers while also realizing they have no future. When a plague boy is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, it might be the spark of revolt.

“Mutants with powers suffering prejudice” is a familiar idea in fantasy, but I wanted to go deeper and darker by rendering it as a gritty Southern Gothic, a literary tradition made great by the likes of Cormac McCarthy. The idea was to thoroughly ground the world and the people and monsters living in it, with a story that punched the gut and had powerful themes.

The novel has done very well, with fantastic reviews by The Washington Post, The Guardian, SciFi Now Magazine, Starburst Magazine, and many others. I’m really proud of it.

You’ve said that you try to include “big ideas” in your books. What made you decide to focus on prejudice and the monstrous side of humanity in One of Us?

The core idea was to tell a misunderstood monster as a Southern Gothic, which often deals with taboo, the grotesque, society in decay, and prejudice. From there, it was fun to contrast the humanity of the monsters with the monstrousness of humanity, playing on the reader’s empathy. During the writing, this misunderstood monster novel became a more ambitious examination of prejudice. Not prejudice against this real group or that, where the reader brings preconceived notions, but prejudice as a fundamental human trait, used against a fictionalized group that is outwardly terrifying while inwardly being just like anybody else.

That being said, the novel doesn’t preach so much as invite the reader to reflect on the themes while otherwise enjoying a viscerally engaging story.

Almost all your characters are at least a little sympathetic. Were there any characters you couldn’t empathize with? Was there one you felt more strongly about than the rest?

Thank you for saying that. I really loved these characters, all of them deeply flawed and to some degree or another monstrous and very human, even the luckless loser Dave Gaines who always gets it wrong. I wanted to show that what makes us human is a spectrum, and that what’s on the outside doesn’t really matter all that much when it comes to being monstrous. Humanity and monstrousness comes from what we do, not what we look like.

As a writer, I also don’t like doing the thinking and feeling for my readers, as I respect them. While I typically run with the traditional story framework, my characters, world, and conflicts tend to be gritty and realistic, allowing the reader to reflect and make their own judgments.

A key part of One of Us is the otherness of the monsters. Goof’s upside-down face and Wallee’s tentacles stood out in particular for me. How different do you think this “otherness” would be if One of Us were adapted into a visual medium?

One of Us is now represented by a major Hollywood talent agency, and I’ve got my fingers crossed on something happening. Some type of screen adaptation would be terrific, as I see the book as cinematic, but it would have to be handled carefully to emphasize the humanness of the monsters. In the novel, the monsters are portrayed with glimpses, allowing the reader’s imagination to do the work, and with their strangeness supporting the character, such as Goof’s upside-down face making him seem sad when he’s happy.

From what we’ve heard, authordom comes with a lot of ups and downs. What have been some of your favourite moments and memories since becoming an author?

Ups and downs, you ain’t kidding. Publication can be a real emotional rollercoaster.

For me, there have been three favorite memories. One is getting and accepting the offers from Permuted Press for The Infection, Simon & Schuster for Suffer the Children, and Orbit for One of Us and Our War. It’s a weird feeling knowing you’ve finally made it in a sense that’s meaningful to you, your head exploding while wondering whether you should throw salt over your shoulder or sacrifice a goat to the gods so your luck holds. Gratifying and humbling.

The second favorite memory is doing all the revising for One of Us and Our War. I put a huge amount of effort in response to very good feedback by my fantastic editor, Bradley Englert. It was wonderful taking my work to a higher level with good guidance, and ending up really happy with the novel before it was published. Turning in the final draft was a moment to say, “Even if everybody winds up hating you, novel, I’m proud of you.”

Last but not least, another favorite moment is anytime I get a letter or see a review from somebody who really got the novel and took the time to tell me that it affected them in some way. There’s a magic to reading, yes, but this—putting something out there, and somebody putting back—is the magic of publication. I’d like to add to anybody reading this interview, if you like an author’s work, be sure to review it or dash them a note. You’ll make their day.

You more or less kicked off the military vs zombies subgenre with Tooth and Nail. If you could kick off another genre in the future, what would it be and why?

I don’t know if I have to kick it off per se, but I’d love to see more big idea novels, stories that are engaging but also blow your mind, make you think and feel. Some novels I’d recommend are The Genius Plague by David Walton, Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima, The Power by Naomi Alderman, Spartacus by Howard Fast, the Towing Jehovah series by James Morrow, Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, and others.

What can you share with us about Our War, your upcoming book? Does it follow a similar “big idea” as One of Us?

Our War is about a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war. As with One of Us, it will contain powerful themes about how ideas hold a country together while cautioning against America’s current tribalism.

I see that you review books on your blog. How does your experience as a writer affect your reviews, and vice versa? Anything in particular you’ve read that you would recommend?

Because I’m a writer, I certainly handle my reviews with sensitivity, understanding how much effort went into the work and how awful it is when somebody casually craps on it. I tend to be even-handed, praising what I liked while noting at least one thing I wished had been done differently. When I find a book I love, I definitely praise it all the way, as it’s so rare I find a read I completely fall in love with. If I find a book I hate, I tend not to finish reading it.

As for what I recommend, the last really good story I read was The Power by Naomi Alderman. A nascent genetic trait in women gives them the ability to administer an electric shock from their hands. Suddenly, women become the stronger sex. Alderman gives us the catharsis of social justice—women breaking out of sex trafficking cells, fighting oppressive institutions in countries like Saudi Arabia, eliminating rape, and the like—but then goes all the way with the final battle of the sexes, showing how women become the new oppressors given their new power. It’s an amazing big idea book and one I’d highly recommend.

Thanks for visiting the Inn and chatting with us, Craig! Anything you’d like to say to our readers to close off?

I just want to say thank you again for reading One of Us and having me as a guest, and thanks to all of you who joined us for the interview!


 

CraigDi

Craig DiLouie is an American-Canadian author of thriller, sci-fi/fantasy, and horror fiction. Learn more at www.CraigDiLouie.com.

You can buy Craig’s books at the following links:

You can follow Craig DiLouie on Twitter @CraigDiLouie

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