Author of the seminal HATER and AUTUMN series, David Moody is a leading author of apocalyptic fiction, delivering a unique take on zombies and mix of realism, strong characterization and a focus on brute survival against incredibly long odds. For writers like me, he is also an inspiring figure–an author whose work encouraged many of us to get into this game, and a hell of a nice guy who deserves all of the success he enjoys. After reading AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION, the second to last novel in the AUTUMN series, I had the opportunity to interview David about his new novel, now available online and in bookstores.
Craig: Welcome, David! I just finished your new latest novel, AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION, which I loved. After several years, it was great to revisit the terrible world of AUTUMN. I understand there is one more book coming?
David: There’s one more novel to come – AUTUMN: AFTERMATH – which is due out March next year. It’s a sequel to both PURIFICATION and DISINTEGRATION which wraps up all the loose ends from the series. And before then, I’ll also be adding another load more free AUTUMN stories to www.lastoftheliving.net.
Craig: How does it feel to begin to bring this series to a close, after so many years and books?
David: It already feels quite emotional. This is a series I’ve been working on for over ten years, and it’s been really successful for me. That said, I’m looking forward to having the whole story available for people to read, and to moving on to something completely new.
Craig: In AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION, we follow two groups of survivors with very different strategies. One group fights the zombies in every way they can, with every act escalating the reaction from the hordes, while another tries to stay quiet and unnoticed. In a way, these groups represent the two primary reactions to your series. Many people, of course, love the series, in which the survivors typically try to stay away from rather than fight the undead. But some have wanted your survivors to grab a weapon and start bashing skulls. Did these public responses inform this book–to say, okay, let’s do it your way, and see what happens?
David: Absolutely! DISINTEGRATION has a long history – it was announced back in 2006, written in 2007-8, and for various reasons only now is it finally seeing publication. Back in 2006, though, it was exactly that kind of reaction from people that gave me the inspiration for the book. I was getting sick of people criticizing the novels because they weren’t “typical” zombie stories. They were never intended to be! I wanted the AUTUMN books to present a more realistic (if any book about walking corpses can be realistic) look at the zombie apocalypse. The people in the books react how I think people generally would do if the unthinkable happened. We all like to assume we’ll follow the movie scripts and immediately start rebuilding: stocking up on weapons and supplies, ganging together with other survivors to kick us some zombie ass etc. etc. etc. But I think there are many, many people who would react entirely differently and implode. I’d even go as far as to argue that the AUTUMN books aren’t zombie stories at all – they’re stories about survivors who just happen to be surrounded by the living dead. The corpses are rarely the focus. I wanted to try and get across the different approach I was taking, and I thought the best way would be to force a group of stereotypical zombie survivors into an inescapable situation with more typical AUTUMN survivors. And that was the genesis of DISINTEGRATION.
Craig: One of the interesting things about the world of AUTUMN is the zombies are, in a way, sympathetic. They aren’t trying to eat people, they are just walking corpses with brains stripped down to fight or flight responses to ordinary people. What was your thinking when you decided to create this world and the zombies that inhabit it, and how do you feel it distinguishes your work?
David: I’m very proud of my zombies (now that’s a weird sentence to type!). One of my frustrations with many zombie stories I’d read and movies I’d watched before AUTUMN, was that the dead show no progression – the creatures you get in the first scene are the same as those in the last. I wanted to illustrate some kind of character development for them, because in doing that I believe it made the survivors’ situation even more perilous and fragile. Early on in the writing of the first book, I saw an opportunity to create something quite unique with the dead, and that’s something which comes full circle with AUTUMN: AFTERMATH. The zombies begin as dumb walking lumps of flesh, but their senses gradually return. Throughout the books they become more dangerous – more alert and active – and yet their bodies continue to decay. So there’s this great paradox: as the zombies understand more about what’s happening to them, they become less physically able to deal with it. As a result, they become more outwardly aggressive. But the question’s always there: what’s actually going on in their heads?
Craig: One of the things I love about your books, which you alluded to just a moment ago, is the people in the story react so realistically to what’s happening to them. Most of the survivors lie on the floor curled into a ball, and those still able to act often end up having long arguments about their options, trying to decide their best course of action. In AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION, there are no heroes–only ordinary people, all of them likable and unlikable in their way. What were you trying to say with this, and how does it demonstrate your typical approach to characterization in your fiction?
David: Thanks for the compliment, Craig. I wanted to try and make my characters react in a somewhat believable way to the situation they find themselves dealing with. Key to all it all for me though, is trying to create characters that readers can identify with. As a writer, I’m not interested in superheroes, politicians, incredible super-soldiers and the like. I like to put ordinary people into extraordinary situations to see how they cope. There are a number of reasons for that. First and foremost, I think it helps people tune in to the characters they’re reading about, and that makes the horror more effective. Secondly, it helps me to focus on the story. When I’m writing post-apocalyptic fiction, I generally just want to show how people deal with the situation they find themselves trapped in. I’m less interested in them looking for causes and solutions. Ask yourself, if the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, what would you do? Would you try and work out why the dead are rising, or just concentrate on survival?
Craig: Some people believe that the early pages of HATER are at least partly autobiographical. The main character’s initials, Danny McCoyne, even match yours. Which character or characters in the AUTUMN series, if any, do you feel you are closest to you and how you would react to the events occurring in these stories?
David: Well the matching initials genuinely was a fluke, but the situation Danny McCoyne found himself in at the beginning of HATER was most certainly based on my own personal experiences. I found myself stuck in a dead-end job, earning a pittance, living in a house that was too small for my family… fortunately I got out of the hole in a different way to Danny! Strangely enough, there isn’t any one character in AUTUMN that I relate to in the same way. I have a soft spot for Michael, Emma and Carl from the original books, and I think certain aspects of each of their behaviors mirror how I think I’d react to the situation they find themselves in. Like most people (I think), I’m ready for “Z” day. If it happened and the “rules” were similar to AUTUMN, then I’d find somewhere hidden and quiet and just keep my head down for six months until the bodies had rotted away to nothing. I think the less you do in such a situation, the better chance of survival you have. If you see a crowd of survivors heading in one direction, I’d be tempted to go the opposite way!
Craig: What do you think will happen to the scattered pockets of humanity across the planet who outlast the zombies? Do you believe humanity has a future after the AUTUMN series?
David: Again, that’s something I touch on at the end of the final book. Sometimes I think that a vast reduction in numbers would be a good thing for the human race in general – a kind of natural re-balancing, I guess. In my two series, though, I think things might have gone too far. There’s an element of hope at the end of the HATER series, but the end of AUTUMN sees just a handful of people left where before there were billions. I don’t know if the human race would be able to recover from such devastation.
Craig: Many writers of zombie fiction consider you the “local boy who made good.” You self published, received acclaim, and ended up with both your major series being picked up by major publishers, and the original AUTUMN made into a film. How does it feel to have achieved the commercial and literary success that you have, and what advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
David: It feels incredible. At least once every day I look at what I’ve achieved and I struggle to get my head around it. It’s taken a long time, though. I started writing seriously in 1994, and it took 15 years before my first “mainstream” release. I could talk for hours about the things I’ve learned along the way, but rather than drone on I’ll just give you a few choice points that have really helped me. First, be patient. Like I said, it can take a heck of a long time to make an impact. Second, strive for professionalism. When I self-published, I was determined that my books would be able to sit alongside any professionally produced book and be of a comparable standard (i.e., no one would realize they were self-published). Finally, when I worked for a bank, a wise senior manager told me a couple of things which I’ve never forgotten. First, he said there’s no such thing as negative feedback – every bit of criticism or advice you receive is important and you should listen to it and think carefully about what you’re being told, no matter how much it hurts (and believe me, sometimes it really does). Second, he said that to succeed in anything, you need courage and luck – and if you have enough courage, you don’t need any luck. Be determined and be persistent.
Craig: That’s great advice, David. All owme to press a little further. In your view, what’s the ideal zombie novel? What are the key elements? What do you like to read?
David: For me, a good zombie novel concentrates more on the surviving characters than the blood and guts and flesh-eating. I like a book which doesn’t rely on the overused cliches of the genre; a book which does something new with the premise of the dead rising. In terms of my personal reading choices, I tend to stick to horror and, to a lesser degree, science-fiction. If I’m honest, I haven’t specifically chosen a book to read for a long time now. One of the perks of the job – which can also be a pain at times – is that you’re constantly sent new books to read and blurb, so I tend to spend all of my reading time working through them. That said, it’s great to pick up a new book by an unknown author and find a real gem. It does happen!
Craig: Your HATER series recently concluded with the excellent THEM OR US, and AUTUMN: AFTERMATH, coming out in March 2012, will be the final installment in your AUTUMN series. The big question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next for David Moody? What are you working on now?
David: I’m working on a few projects. I have a couple of older novels which I’m revisiting with a view to re-releasing (possibly by relaunching Infected Books – my own label), and I also have a stand-alone genre novel and a new five book series I’m working on too. Hopefully all of these will see the light of day in 2012/13. I’m also working on a zombie movie with a director friend, and we’ll be announcing details about it in the very near future, hopefully before the year is out.
Craig: David, thank you for joining us, and best of luck with the launch of AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION!
David: Thanks very much, Craig. I appreciate it!