David Wellington is the brilliant mind behind modern horror masterpieces; The Monster Island Series, Laura Caxton Series and the Frostbite series. Check out the interview–David discusses literary inspirations, chances of a real zombie apocalypse and more!
What inspired you to become an author?
I was a huge reader when I was a kid–I probably read a hundred books a year from the time I learned how. And I found so many of them disappointing, or confusing, or just boring. I decided one day that if I wanted better stories I would have to write them myself. Of course, over the years, I’ve discovered that most of the books I found disappointing were in fact quite wonderful. I just wasn’t mature enough to appreciate them. I also found out that writing isn’t exactly easy. But I stuck with it, and put in the time, and eventually I started getting to the point where I could almost write the books I wanted back then, the books I saw in my head. Almost. I’m still working on it.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I tend to enjoy books that are very different from what I write. I’m a huge fan of comedic authors–Terry Pratchett jumps to mind–because comedy is something I can’t do well. It’s tough to enjoy a book when you know all the secrets, all the tricks, and so I like authors who know how to do things I can’t (yet) do. Neil Gaiman has this incredible ability to connect emotionally with the reader even while he’s writing about fantastic worlds. And I love the classics, both the literary stuff (I’m a huge Mark Twain nerd) and old-fashioned horror and science fiction–Arthur Machen, H.G. Wells, G.K. Chesterton. If I had a time machine the first thing I’d do would go back to London in 1906, and get to meet all the writers there, and watch them develop modern genre fiction before my eyes.
What is your favourite classic horror monster?
Easy. Frankenstein’s monster. The incredible loneliness of a being who knows he’s been created but doesn’t know why… it gets me, in every incarnation, from the original novel to all the movie versions.
How do you craft your worlds for each story? Each setting is so diverse and realistic. The reader is pulled into the world and feels like they are right by the protagonist’s side.
The trick is to find telling details. Not to overload on details, which just reads like set design for a movie. But to find the one detail that instantly calls a place to mind. Gauzy curtains blowing in an open window. The smell of newly cut grass. The sound crickets make at night in the country–the reader’s brain fills in all the details. But you have to pick exactly the right detail to get them started.
Your characters are well rounded and developed so vividly by the end of each story the reader feels as though they know the characters personally. What is your process for crafting characters? Are any traits based loosely on real people?
Sometimes they’re based on real people–Laura Caxton, my most developed character, is partly based on my sister. But a lot of the time they’re hybrids, combinations of character traits or details I see in various people, kind of mushed together. I tend to pick characters specifically for a given story (a lot of writers go the other direction, which is fine, but it’s not my method). I know how a book is going to end, first–that’s always where I start. I have an image in my head of the big climactic moment. Then I sit down and think, who are the people who need to be there? Why do they even want to be there (or have to be there)?
Which is the greater evil: zombie, werewolf or vampire?
Vampire. Well, that might take a little explanation. Zombies aren’t responsible for their actions, you see. They’re completely mindless and they can’t reason, can’t differentiate good and evil. Werewolves have no control over themselves when the change comes. Typically they hate themselves when they’re in their human form, hate the thing they become. But vampires are fully possessed of their faculties and still they go out every night looking for blood. I’ve never bought the idea that vampires are addicts, that they can’t stop themselves. It seems to me that to last very long as a vampire, you have to decide that it’s okay to kill people and drink their blood. And that point of decision is what makes them evil.
Your version of a vampire is very different from other literary works. What inspired your vampiric vision?
Honestly, there were so many romantic vampires, so many heroic vampires out there when I started writing those books. It was kind of annoying. I mean, when Anne Rice did it that was revolutionary. By the time True Blood came out, the sexy passionate vampire was a cliche. So I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make them as nasty and as brutal as possible. They had no interest in dating human women. They just wanted to kill people. I started with Nosferatu, which is about as far as you can get from sparkly vampires, and then I looked for ways to make them more bestial, more dangerous.
What are some of your favourite zombie works?
I love zombie movies. I love Night of the Living Dead, the original and still the best. 28 Days Later was a huge influence on me, it updated the zombie for the 21st century. As far as books go, I always like reading about zombies but the best one I’ve read recently was “The Reapers Are the Angels” by Alden Bell. That one got to me right away and wouldn’t let go.
What’s your take on the zombie apocalypse that so many believe will occur?
My take is that it will never happen. There are so many bad things that can happen, that are happening right now. But disasters tend to be local and impersonal. The idea of some huge global catastrophe that totally uproots society and makes it okay to shoot your neighbors… that’s a wish fulfillment thing. It’s not how things would really happen. I know people who want a zombie apocalypse. Who think it would be awesome, or that at least it would give them a chance to reboot their lives. It’s a perfectly fine escape, but it has to stop there.
For the Frostbite series, what drove you to use Canada as a setting? Did you visit Canada before you began writing? As a Canadian, while reading this series everything was spot-on, especially the small details.
I needed a place as far away from civilization as you could get in North America. There are places in northwestern Canada that nobody has visited in a hundred years. I did a lot of research on the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but no, I didn’t go there personally. I talked to people who had been there, and I read a lot of books on the area, but I’m not much of a camper and you’re talking about a place you have to hike for days to reach.
How different was it writing for Marvel comics as opposed to writing a full-length novel with characters you have personally created?
It was a completely different experience. But it was a lot of fun–I was a big Marvel fan as a kid, and it was kind of a dream gig. I think I spent more time giggling excitedly than I did worrying about how different it was. Working with characters like Iron Man, though, was fascinating because there was so much backstory there, so much to work with. My longest series so far was five books; Iron Man has been around for nearly fifty years. There was so much to draw on.
To date, which novel or series are you most proud of?
The 13 Bullets series is the best overall story, which is why I spent five books exploring it. The Frostbite series has some of my best writing in it. I still think fondly of just the crazy energy I had working on the Monster Island series. Wait, you wanted me to pick one? Would you ask someone to pick their favorite child?
Can you tell us about your new book Plague Zone?
It’s a zombie story, but set in a world completely different from my Monster Island books. It’s only available online, as an ebook, as a kind of experiment. The results of the experiment so far are that a lot of people read ebooks, which is nice, but also that a lot of people like paper books, still. This is not a particularly surprising result.
Are there any plans in the works for your novels to transfer to film?
All of my books have been optioned, but that’s just the start of a long process to get to an actual film. I’ve got my fingers crossed.
Will there be any more titles released in your existing series?
All my series are finished at this point, which feels really weird. I’m starting a new thriller series next year, starting with a book called Chimera. It’s definitely got horror and science fiction elements but it’s not like anything I’ve written before. I like to keep stretching myself that way.
Is there anything else you care to share with your readers?
If you’d like to check out some of my writing for free, a bunch of my novels can be found at http://www.davidwellington.net. And thank you. I always want to say thank you to my readers.
Be sure to check out davidwellington.net