Tag Archives: apocalyptic horror

Craig DiLouie on Delivering Fear Effectively

I recently met with critically renowned horror writer Craig DiLouie to talk with him about his work. Craig candidly shares his thoughts in a two part interview. In yesterday’s post, we chatted about why nice guys write horror and his deepest fears.

The-Killing-Floor-by-Craig-DiLouie2-199x300Horror delivers fear. It’s why we love it. But as writers, how can we deliver fear effectively?
Scary events are titillating, but what makes a good horror novel is characterization that draws the reader into the story in a visceral way. Good characters get people reading with their gut instead of their head. People come first, scary stuff second. Story is everything.

At first glance, you might not think THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy would win a Pulitzer and become a national bestseller. After all, in McCarthy’s dead, apocalyptic world, the survivors have resorted to vicious murder and cannibalism. Very unpleasant stuff. The reason the novel works is the story is really about a father who will do anything to protect his son in such a world, including his boy’s purity and innocence, even when ultimately their survival appears hopeless. We deeply care about what happens because we identify with the father and want him and his boy to survive.

What then what does the statement “Jacking the emotions effectively, raising the stakes higher and higher in a believable yet terrifying manner” mean to you?
If you’re going to write good horror, create a visceral connection with the reader that is emotional; that brings the reader into the story. Raise the stakes steadily, while occasionally releasing a little tension; that intensifies reader interest and hurls them toward the cathartic climax. Make it believable, which respects and enhances the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. And, yes, scare the crap out of them along the way.

TOOTH AND NAIL is a story is about a platoon of soldiers dealing with the unthinkable – fighting people they swore to protect on their native soil. THE INFECTION is about a small group of broken people who have lost everything and are trying to reach sanctuary. SUFFER THE CHILDREN is about what parents will do for their children. When you choose a theme or an issue, is it because you’re making social or political THE-RETREAT-both-coverscommentary?
My horror operating themes tend to focus on human response to crisis and the ethics of choices associated with survival. As for specific social and political commentary, it’s more a byproduct, with any commentary being directly related to characters and their own points of view. Which brings up an interesting side point. As a writer, I don’t believe every character should have my own political and social views. That’s not telling a story, it’s preaching. So I may have characters with whom I agree and some with whom I completely disagree, and they’re treated roughly the same by the story god, which is me as the author. I have plenty of axes to grind like anybody else, but that has no place in my fiction. For me, it’s essential that the story feel real, be real, with flesh and blood characters.

In SUFFER THE CHILDREN, you have David, a doctor, as the voice of reason. Can you tell us a little about him and why you chose to have him and how you used him to increase the psychological tension?
I have five major characters in that novel and wanted them to represent a cross section of how people might respond to the world’s children essentially becoming vampires. One parent will do anything and embraces that, another will go beyond but hates himself for it, and another is willing to let them go. David is a man whose own child died long before Herod syndrome claimed the world’s children, so he understands their grief, but he’s also able to think rationally. As a doctor, he has an analytical mind and sees the big picture. In that capacity, he stands in for the rational part of the reader’s mind and provides a foil for the other characters.

You stated in an interview on zombiefiles.com (http://www.zombiephiles.com/zombies-ate-my-brains/tooth-and-nail-interview-with-craig-dilouie) that you are more of an apocalyptic fiction fan than a zombie fiction fan yet you are recognized as a horror writer. What attracts you this genre and why do you mash it with horror?
Tooth-and-Nail12-198x300I 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, and 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. That being said, I see my zombie fiction as being less in the horror genre and more in the thriller genre.

You have a new novel coming out, and it isn’t horror. What is it and why the departure?
I’m in final negotiations for THE ALCHEMISTS, which is a Renaissance fantasy story. It’s fun, funny, light, romantic and action-packed. Readers will be surprised it’s the same guy who writes the horror stuff. In a way, THE ALCHEMISTS is going back to my roots, as I wrote science fiction for years before I found my way into horror, or more accurately, before that genre found me.

Besides that, I’m developing a series called CRASH DIVE. This is a series of novellas for Kindle about submarine warfare in World War II. It reads like HORNBLOWER in World War II. The first book is out and has done well; I’m working on the second episode. I’m also working on two zombie series with Joe McKinney, Stephen Knight, David Moody and Tim Long. And I’m also collaborating with Jonathan Moon on a poetry collection titled CHILDREN OF GOD. This work is kind of like a found footage film but expressed as poetry. The conceit is that the survivors of a cult—which ended with a mass suicide and massacre—finally find their voice again with poetry therapy, and this book is their poems. In CHILDREN OF GOD, they talk about why they joined the cult, what they hoped and believed, how it went bad, and how it ended. It’s both scary and emotionally powerful.

How was writing THE ALCHEMISTS different from writing horror?
The intensity is different. When you write, you get in the mood. Instead of going to a dark place, I went to a more fun place. I like doing both.

craig dilouieCraig DiLouie is the author of nine novels, notably SUFFER THE CHILDREN, THE RETREAT, THE INFECTION, THE KILLING FLOOR and TOOTH AND NAIL. He has also contributed short fiction to a number of anthologies. Learn more about Craig’s fiction at CraigDiLouie.com.

Craig DiLouie on Why Nice Guys Write Horror

I recently met with critically renowned horror writer Craig DiLouie to talk with him about his work. Craig candidly shares his thoughts in a two part interview. In tomorrow’s interview, he shares his ideas on delivering fear effectively.

The-Infection28-200x300I know you and I know you’re a really nice guy and a good person. Yet, people always wonder if horror writers are really weird or twisted inside. I mean, how can a nice person write such horrifying things?
[laughs] When I tell people I write horror, I sometimes get a confused look. Horror writers, you see, are like serial killers. People say, “He was such a nice, mannered guy. I never suspected he wrote horror.”  What’s a guy like me doing in a genre like this? Well, it’s fun! That, and as a writer of horror, my imagination can truly soar. Good horror breaks boundaries, makes us uncomfortable, asks disturbing questions, makes readers sweat. It’s writing at the cutting edge of human nature. On top of that, after attending numerous horror conventions and being a member of the Horror Writers Association for years, I have to say horror writers are generally nice people. While my writing tastes go beyond horror, I’m proud to be part of that community.

It’s been said that readers want to become somebody else for hours and to face unimaginable terrors. Why do you think we want that experience?
People who seek out horror tend to thrive on exciting experiences. They want to step outside their comfort zone and the confines of their safe, mundane world to get an adrenaline rush by confronting their fears. It’s the same reason thrillers are so popular, why people rubber neck car crashes, why people go on roller coasters. People want to face death (voyeuristically) and experience the catharsis of survival, asking along the way, “What would I do in that situation?”

What are your deepest fears and do you write them into your work?
SuffertheChildren_Cover-200x300I write my greatest fears into all my horror work. At the root is my fear of death and my fear of something bad happening to my family. These are virtually universal fears.

Sometimes, they’re brought to the fore, as in my novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN (Simon & Schuster, 2014). In that novel, a strange disease claims the world’s children before bringing them back to ask for blood. If they receive a steady diet of blood, they can go on surviving. Unfortunately, there’s only so much blood. The children are vampires, but the monsters in the story are the parents who must decide how far they will go to keep their children alive. So this is a story where the operating theme is directly informed by a parent’s love and fears for his or her children. And it asks the reader, how far would you go?

Other times, these fears aren’t part of the operating theme but instead the fabric of the story, as in the case of my apocalyptic fiction. In my opinion, it’s what marks these stories as being emotionally resonant rather than simple entertainment.

Is there ever a point in your writing where you feel you’ve gone too far?
It’s strange that I’ve been asked that in interviews about SUFFER THE CHILDREN, which has very little gore and violence, but not my zombie fiction, which has plenty of gore and violence. What shocked people about that novel was that it forced them to confront uncomfortable truths about human nature and, in some cases, about themselves. Many parents say they’d put their arm in a shredder for their kids, but would they put somebody else’s arm in a shredder? Five people? A hundred? To do that idea justice, and because I was dealing with the subject of children dying, I made a conscious effort on every page not to overplay the sensationalism inherent in the plot for spectacle or cheap shock. Cheap shock and repulsion get attention but would have robbed this story of its authenticity. The story I wanted to tell was one that felt real to the reader. It’s horror, but it’s really a story about parental love the same way Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD isn’t a story about the apocalypse, but a father’s struggle to protect his son.

Otherwise, aside from my own sensibilities, I don’t really know what “going too far” means, as that kind of judgment is really up to each individual reader. I applaud any fiction that makes the effort, particularly in horror, as good horror pushes boundaries. If it does that internally rather than through cheap shock, by making the reader confront uncomfortable truths, so much the better. In my view, the best horror holds up a fractured mirror to the human soul.

Of the books you’ve written, which was the most challenging?
SUFFER THE CHILDREN, absolutely. I didn’t so much pour my heart into it as let the novel tear it out of me. I was proud to see it nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and Audie Award.

Who are your favorite characters in your books?
I love all of the characters in my books, and I tend to write the kind of books where a lot of these people suffer or die, so it’s hard to let them go. But in my fiction, their deaths mean something. They may suffer and die, but this either serves a principle or ensure the survival of other characters or the species as a whole.

Your website contains some great reviews. What’s on your current reading list?
I’m currently reading TOUCH by Elmore Leonard, an author I love and who has a secret sauce for dialog and character I’m trying to understand better from a technical point of view. Otherwise, as you can imagine, I tend to read a lot of horror fiction, though I’ve stuffed myself with so much of it in recent years I’ve gotten a bit jaded. One horror novel I read recently I completely enjoyed was KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke. It basically tells the story of a young woman who escapes a rural farm occupied by a family of cannibals and what it’s like for her in the aftermath. It reads like a sequel to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The story has plenty of sensationalism but it’s told with realism and genuine emotional depth. Otherwise, if you’re interested in good horror and apocalyptic stuff, my blog, www.craigdilouie.com, has tons of reviews not only of books but also short films and movies.

craig dilouieCraig DiLouie is the author of nine novels, notably SUFFER THE CHILDREN, THE RETREAT, THE INFECTION, THE KILLING FLOOR and TOOTH AND NAIL. He has also contributed short fiction to a number of anthologies. Learn more about Craig’s fiction at CraigDiLouie.com.

What Makes Good Horror?

Guest Post by Craig DiLouie

Craig DiLouie headshot-sm-1

I enjoy writing horror because it allows a writer to really stretch and go way beyond standard norms and reader comfort zones. But what makes a good horror story?

First, let’s define horror fiction. Wikipedia defines it as a genre of literature that is intended to “scare or startle readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror.”

In other words, it’s fiction that produces feelings associated with horror-what Merriam-Webster defines as “painful and intense fear, dread or dismay”-in the reader. The Horror Writers Association essentially agrees with this definition.

I do as well, though I would add that effective characterization is so important to achieving the goal that it should be part of the definition. Why? Horror is more likely to be realized by the reader when there is a character, with whom they can relate, experiencing it at the same time. In this way, certain characters in the story are intended to stand in for the reader.

Character is doubly important when one considers the fact horror is a very subjective emotion. Some of us find the sight of blood horrifying, while others don’t. Some of us tremble and sweat at the slightest turbulence on an airplane, while others barely notice it. If the author can put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes, they should experience feelings of horror through empathy even if they themselves don’t find the object of the protagonist’s horror that scary or dreadful.

Before we continue, we should probably ask the question: Why would anybody want to actually experience this? Horrorperf6.000x9.000.indd is, after all, horrifying.

In Thrill Seekers Thrive on The Scary, published on WebMD.com, Dr. Frank Farley, psychologist at Temple University, says people can satisfy their curiosity about and fascination with the frightening, the bizarre, the unusual, and make sense of it. Dr. Glenn Sparks, professor of communications at Perdue University, believes people have a basic need to seek out situations outside their comfort zone. In some cases, they want to confront danger in order to conquer it.

Then there are the physiological changes that occur when confronted by danger, which some people enjoy-the adrenaline rush, the pounding heartbeat, the sweaty hands. Says Farley, “There’s almost nothing else, including sex, that can match it in terms of the incredible sensory experience that the body is put through.”

That’s powerful stuff. So how do we “bottle” that in a book?

The basic structure of a horror story goes like this: You have the normal, introduce the horror element that disrupts the normal, and finish with the new normal.

Force some interesting people in a story to face the fantastic with high stakes, and you’ve got the setup for a thriller. Make the fantastic horrifying, and you’ve got horror. Make the horrifying life-threatening, and you have survival horror. Make the horrifying element a ghost, demon, etc., and you have supernatural horror. Make the horrifying element a serial killer who brutally slaughters his victims, and you have splatterpunk. Make the horrifying element be life-threatening to everybody at once, and you have the makings of apocalyptic horror. And so on.

Personally, my favorite kind of horror stories are apocalyptic. There are so many great stories that can be told in an end-of-the-world scenario. When well told, these stories can be stirring to the spirit as well as the intellect, particularly when horror is contrasted with hope.

So now we know what horror fiction is and why it’s sought out. But what makes a good horror story? The answer is deceptively simple. In short, a good horror story is a good story that happens to be in the horror genre.

I’m not trying to be cute here. Too often, writers put the horror element so far forward that other elements of the story that matter, particularly character, take a backseat. At all times, a good horror story will give us people we care about, engaging conflict and so on.

Story always comes first!

The Killing Floor by Craig DiLouieIn fact, with horror, getting the basic story elements right is even more vital because the horror element may be so fantastic it requires a greater suspension of disbelief and therefore a higher degree of grounding. The more the reader can empathize with the character’s subjective response to the horror element, the greater their shared feelings of fear and dread. The more richly rendered the setting, the more the monsters that populate will stand out. The greater the willing suspension of disbelief, the more likely the reader will confront the horror in your story, find it believable, and experience genuine feelings of horror. And so on.

In short, the greater the story, the greater the horror.

Now let’s talk about the horror element, which can be conveyed as elements that are internal or external, imaginary or real, supernatural or physical, atmospheric or in-the-flesh. This is where you can have a lot of fun and let your imagination soar. Is it a plague that changes behavior? A trusted pet that turns on a family? A serial killer stalking a couple in a remote motel? A nice, outgoing family man slowly becoming violently insane? Tentacled monsters freed from an underground cavern? Hordes of the cannibalistic dead? A sadistic summer camp counselor? A derelict house haunted by the spirits of its victims? How successful the novel is will depend on two things-first, how well your writing gets the reader to empathize with the characters’ horror, and two, how much the horror element resonates with their imagination.

Horror is still a young genre that has been largely neglected by the major bookstores. With the advent of eBooks, online retailers like Amazon are eating their lunch as literally thousands of titles are becoming available, many of them very good. As a result, there is still plenty of opportunity for writers to break in and make a name for themselves. Forget your preconceived notions of what horror fiction is-that it’s werewolves and vampires, that it’s Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, or whatever else immediately comes to mind-and make it your own.

Most important is to tell a good story and have fun, and your reader will too!

Craig DiLouie is the author of the apocalyptic horror novels Tooth and Nail, The Infection and The Killing Floor. His latest horror novel is in contract negotiations with a major publisher. He is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association. For more information about Craig’s work, visit www.craigdilouie.com, where he blogs regularly about apocalyptic horror media.