Tell us about your story appearing in the “Undead Tales” zombie anthology (no spoilers, please!)
“Until Hell Calls Our Names” was my first zombie story, although I believe I’ve only written two more after that one! (Need to remedy that!) It was inspired partly by my reading of S.P. Somtow’s DARKER ANGELS, an incredible Civil War novel only one facet of which included zombies. That book was constructed as a mind-blowing set of concentric tales told by characters to other characters, and it inspired me to do a second-hand kind of story too. Plus I’d been reading about the Confederate submarine, the Hunley (this was before they actually found it and raised it), and wanted to use it in a story. When the Memphis-themed anthology More Monsters From Memphis came up, it seemed perfect because the battle of Memphis was fought by gunboats on the Mississippi. How simple to slip a Confederate sub into the historical facts! It’s a bit of an alternate history tale, too, as well as horror. It’s one of my favorites.
Is this your first zombie tale?
It was indeed, though I didn’t think of it as a zombie tale at the time. My friends John Everson and Dave Benton and I are working on a zombie novel called Sing Zombie Electric, so I imagine I’ll revisit the world of zombies a bit more in the near future.
What do you think of the horror book market, and the zombie subgenre?
The entire book industry in transition right now! I think there’s room for both paper and digital, and I like both. I use both. I have a foot in each camp. I have ebooks out there, and I have traditional books. I think horror lends itself to ebooks because people can load up their devices and go to town. But there’s something cool about a paper book with a great cover you can see better. The transitional phase makes it hard to assess the horror market by itself – it’s inextricably linked to what’s happening throughout the industry.
The zombie subgenre has been surprising, in a way. It’s been taking some of the vampire’s thunder! But – as a werewolf guy – I hope my favorite werewolves will get a turn. In the meantime it’s true that zombies have somewhat taken over – the zombified classics are testament to that! As long as readers don’t tire of the shambling dead, there will be zombie apocalypse tales. Hit TV shows like The Walking Dead haven’t hurt, either.
Some of your favorite authors that inspired you?
Tim Powers, whose “secret histories” have blown my mind since 1984 – and who did zombies pretty early on in On Stranger Tides (yes, it was optioned and adapted for the Disney Pirates franchise, but the book predates all that and it’s so much better). His books The Anubis Gates, Last Call, The Stress of Her Regard (among others) are touchstones in my formative years. Of course, Stephen King turned me from thrillers, my first love, to horror – in 1976 when I read ‘Salem’s Lot! I grew up on Jules Verne, then kids’ books like the Brains Benton and Three Investigators series, then jumped to adult stuff like Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean and writers of thrillers, many of them British (which may have shaped my style as sometimes more formal than average). Then King came along and I went in that direction, eventually finding the so-called splatterpunks of the 80s: Laymon, Lee, Schow, Skipp & Spector, Lansdale, Garton. I was a huge mystery and crime fan, as well, in my high school years – grounded myself in Chandler, Hammett, and later Block, Westlake, Parker and so many others. In the 90s and later I came to love the short stories of people such as Gary Braunbeck, Brian Hodge, and Brian Hopkins, for instance. My roots led me to create thriller-crime-horror blends that are exactly like the kinds of stuff I prefer to read. Of course, I could add about three or four dozen authors to this brief list! (For instance, I’m neglecting to mention my large SF phase, as well, in which my favorite authors included Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick.)
What is your ultimate – realistic – goal as a writer?
I have always wanted to be a writer, to tell stories. I also love reading the stories of others (which is probably why I became a book reviewer as well, starting in 1986). It’s probably too late to make writing my full-time career, but a realistic goal is to continue to explore the themes and characters I love and which intrigue me, and at the same time watch it grow into a credible second income. That’s one goal that has eluded me so far, but there are signs of that changing. The main thing is to have happy readers, though, and my mail referring to my werewolf cop series about Nick Lupo has been so overwhelming and satisfying that I could see writing about him for years to come. Maybe he’ll meet some zombies, someday. So part of my goal is to continue to tell stories I like and which I hope readers will also like, whether or not about zombies…
What are some of your influences?
See question 4 for some of the authors – and I stress some – but movies and TV shows also helped. I’ve been a Bond fan since I was four or five and my folks took me to “Goldfinger.” Ian Fleming and Bond had a huge impact on me, both the literary and the film versions. I was a science fiction fan and fantasy followed, though never much the Tolkienesque… I preferred urban fantasy and dark fantasy, and the Tim Powers version of historical fantasy blended with horror. But as a kid, I thrilled to the 50s and 60s SF and monster movies. On TV, the 70s were a gold mine: the ABC Movie of the Week managed to hit all the horror subgenres! There were great shows from The Twilight Zone (earlier but I caught up in the 70s), Night Gallery, Ghost Story, and so many others. Eventually I was an X-Files fan because, like Mulder, I wanted to believe… in terrible conspiracies, horrifying creatures, and the bizarre. The traditional horror movies helped – I saw “Jaws” three times the summer it opened. I saw “The Omen” three times, too, and “The Exorcist.” The Universal monster movies were concurrent joys for me, and Creature Features, because, again, I was catching up. I dare anyone to watch “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and not see the roots of what so many of us do, creating laughs and shivers both – and with the classic actors, too. I consider all of those influential. And I have to thank my parents because they never censored my viewing habits. In fact, they took me to R-rated movies when I was too young! And I love them for having done that. Sheltering kids is a terrible crime. I have an open mind because of that.
Give us a typical day in your writing schedule.
Well, since I have a day job, a typical day involves finding a few minutes here and there to write or take notes. As a book reviewer (not as active as I was, but still active), I’m often drafting a review in those short opportunities. After work I may head over to my local Starbucks where I tend to veg out and work on something, though nowadays that includes a fair amount of social media for marketing purposes. Sometimes I fall asleep at the computer, trying to do some writing – I think ultimately I do a lot more writing on weekends, since on weekdays my opportunities are few and far between… and shorter. But plotting is something I do in my head almost constantly – whatever I may be working on is on my mind from when I’m standing in the shower, to lunch, to breaks, and so on. I think a writer is always writing, even if there is no pen or keyboard in his or her hand. It’s more a calling than a job or a hobby, that’s for sure. I find that I can’t not write or work on something related. And when I can’t actually write, then reading is a perfect alternative because I love it so much.
What story/book of yours are you most proud of, and why?
Right up there with “Until Hell Calls Our Names” is my story “Icewall,” which can also be found in my Shadowplays collection. It was my first big fiction sale, and it went to Robert Bloch’s Psychos, an HWA anthology edited by Robert Bloch (the master who wrote Psycho) and which included stories by some of my idols including Stephen King and Charles Grant and Gary Braunbeck. I’m proud of pretty much all the stories I wrote in the 90s, because they all found homes here and there. A couple appeared in cd-rom anthology projects by Brian Hopkins, who is himself an exquisite writer. Those sales gave me confidence when I might have surrendered – I’d been submitting stories since 1976, while still in high school! Those stories, and a couple contest wins and close calls, and later Honorable Mentions in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, all helped get me through dark times while I worked on my first novel.
Wolf’s Trap took nine years, was heavily workshopped with author Elaine Bergstrom’s group in the mid-90s, was published in the small press, and went on to earn a nomination for the Bram Stoker Award. Then it went to Leisure Books, sold well, and led to three sequels. I’m especially proud of that book because it was hard work, writing without knowing if anyone would ever care, and I let it all hang out – pushing my own boundaries – and the response was gratifying. I’m proud of all my Wolf novels, but the one coming in October 2011 from Samhain, my new publisher since the shake-up at Dorchester, is also a proud moment because it involves a parallel story that arose out of anecdotes my parents told me of growing up during World War 2 in Italy, first occupied by the Germans and later bombed and re-occupied by the Allies. I wrote some heavy scenes for that book, scenes that made me highly uncomfortable and touched too close to home. I wrote a scene that had me in tears, which doesn’t usually happen. And I think that’s what it takes – our work (call it “art” if you will, but I just think of it as “the work”) should make us uncomfortable, push our buttons and boundaries, and challenge us and/or our emotions in some way. Because if it doesn’t, then it’s not really effective. Even simple genre work, just like the pulps we now tend to revere, can be an effective bearer of what I call “cosmic truth,” or narrative honesty, which I think is what writing is all about. I’m proud when someone tells me that something I wrote affected them somehow. To me it’s ultimately better than financial reward. Though I wouldn’t mind some financial reward, too, I hasten to add!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on that zombie novel with Everson and Benton I mentioned earlier, as well as Wolf’s Deal, which is a Nick Lupo novella that fits between two of the novels, a couple projects for younger readers (also with Dave Benton, with whom I have also written a batch of adult short stories), plus another collaborative project that’s just getting started in the creation phase, plus doing the plotting for a fifth Lupo novel, and allowing a few ideas to brew and bubble at different paces. I tend to get ideas when I can’t begin to deal with them, which is frustrating and can affect my focus. I like to say I have more burners than stove. Or time. I definitely feel the sands of time rushing out the bottom of the glass, but it’s not making me more prolific – just more harried and out of sorts.
Shameless plug time… where can we find your work and you?
I have a supply of copies for sale of all three prior Lupo novels in paperback, so anyone who wants to catch up before Wolf’s Edge comes out in October from Samhain (first as an ebook and then in trade paperback a couple months later) can just write to me for details. It’s not necessary to read Wolf’s Trap first, though it helps, but Gambit-Bluff-Edge form a loose trilogy so they should be read in that order. The novella Wolf’s Deal should be a ready by fall (I keep putting it aside to work on something else). Dave Benton and I have Mysteries & Mayhem, a short collection, and a story from that – “Mood Elevator” – which is erotic horror we had published in the legendary Hot Blood series, in Dark Passions: Hot Blood 13, are both available as ebooks. We share a blog here: http://moodelevator.wordpress.com/ where I have also started to post old book reviews as well as our musings and those of some selected other guests. I can be found on Twitter at @WDGagliani, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wdgagliani . And my main websites are www.williamdgagliani.com and www.wdgagliani.com , through which I can be contacted as well.
Thanks for giving me the chance to spout about some of my favorite subjects!
Books by WD Gagliani: http://amzn.to/obZAok