I recently had the opportunity to interview Tony Monchinski, a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and author of the EDEN series from Permuted Press.
Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Tony: I wrote and self-published an action-horror novel called EDEN. The joint Permuted/Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) reissue was released in December 2011. Hopefully that will help it get into more readers’ hands. Permuted has published two sequels—CRUSADE and RESURRECTION—and I recently sent them the fourth book in the series (MORIAH) which I hope they publish.
Craig: What type of storytelling in the genre do you consider your niche?
Tony: I’m good at writing dialogue and action scenes and moving a story along. I know what I like to read and when I’m reading I am very aware of what an author is doing. This in turn, I like to think, helps me when I write.
Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead?
Tony: I like both fast and slow zombies, mixing it up. I’m definitely not into the “smart” zombies or zombies that can wield sophisticated weapons, channel two-thousand year old spirits, or talk and communicate with one another.
Craig: Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Tony: I like to think I make highly-readable, fast paced action-horror novels. When I see one of my books labeled “a zombie novel” I feel somewhat ambivalent about that. On the one hand, I get that it’s a signifier for a certain reader—someone on the lookout for books with zombies in them. On the other hand I worry that there is a whole segment of the reading population that will avoid a book with “a zombie novel” printed on the cover because of their own prejudices and presuppositions of what such a book would be like. I don’t think I just write ‘zombie novels’. Any novel worth its salt is going to make you stop and think and mull it over long after you’ve finished reading it. This is what I am going for with my books. Readers can decide if I’ve accomplished what I set out to achieve.
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Tony: I love zombies. I thought they were getting short-shrift six or seven years ago when I decided to write EDEN. Vampires were all the rage and really still are although zombies are getting a lot more love in our society nowadays, which is heartening to see.
Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Tony: Three that come immediately to mind are Kurt Vonnegut, George Pelecanos and Andrew Vachss. Each taught me that you can say a lot with few words, much as Hemingway did. They also taught me that you can transcend a genre with the quality and import of your writing. For example, no one is going to say SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE is just a science fiction novel, or that George Pelecanos’ stuff is purely ‘crime’ fiction. Each, on top of being important contributions to literature, are also entertaining as hell. I admire Cormac McCarthy greatly as well, although I cannot write like him—arguably EDEN was trying to sound somewhat McCarthy-ish.
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Tony: WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks.
Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Tony: There are so many. I will say I don’t think any affected me as much as the original DAWN OF THE DEAD. I was too young to see it in theaters—it was released here in New York without a rating, only “no one under 17 will be admitted to theaters.” I probably first saw it on video when I was 10 years old and I completely missed the humor and social commentary. It came across as bleak, a gore fest and frightening. I watch it now and I can see the weaknesses but I still love that film for what it meant to me then and what it has come to mean for me and millions of fan-boys like me. Romero was defining a genre and laying down the ground rules in that film and the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Tony: They both have a place in my heart. What I’d really like to write one day is a big, fat thousand- page novel that moves from apocalypse to post-apocalypse. I have an idea in mind and like everything else it’s a matter of sitting down, fleshing it out, and then committing to writing it.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Tony: I put a lot of leg work and thought into a novel before I actually sit down to write it. I map our stories, characters and sometimes detail scenes before actually writing. I find the more depth and detail I can attend to in these early stages makes the novel flow that much faster. And that said, things develop as I write: I’ll see the need for a scene or I’ll build things here and there as I am writing. I tend to write scenes or sections and do not follow a beginning-middle-end convention. I do go back several times and make sure things flow and check to rule out and expunge inconsistencies. I like to write in the early mornings (say 4, 4:30) before everyone in my house is awake and before I have to go to work. Get up early, write for an hour, hour and a half; give me three months like that and I can complete an 80 or 90,000 word novel like the ones in the EDEN series.
Craig: What is the best review you ever received on Amazon, and why did you like it?
Tony: Any time I see 4- or 5-stars I’m feeling pretty pumped! Patrick D’Orazio has written some reviews of my books that were very detailed and showed that here is a guy—a writer himself—who understands the craft and can appreciate where we, as authors, go right, and where we need work.
Craig: Without naming names or quoting, what is the worst review you ever received on Amazon, and if you could respond to it, what would you say?
Tony: Early on a review of EDEN was a personal, vituperative attack on me and my family. I have a suspicion I knew who wrote it and chose not to respond. The review disappeared after a month or so on Amazon. All I’d say to the person who wrote it is it’s easy to be a big man behind your keyboard, isn’t it?
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Tony: Character and plot figure first and foremost. Diction is extremely important. When I’m reading and a particular word stands out over and over again and not because it is supposed to, that bothers me. I try and be very careful about this when I write. I consult dictionary- and thesaurus.com a lot.
Craig: What makes a great character?
Tony: Someone we can feel strongly about-either for or against. Someone that resonates with the reader. I’ve found dialogue is often an effective way to convey character so I tend to stick to that and show the reader rather than flashbacks to tell the reader.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Tony: Taking notes on what will be I KILL MONSTERS 2 & 3 (THE REVENANTS and BAD MEN, respectively). I KILL MONSTERS is another series I self-publish (EDEN was originally self-published). It doesn’t involve zombies—yet (there will be Nazi zombies down the line)—but vampires, djinn, furies and mobsters. I’d like to write these two books and then start thinking about a novel I have long wanted to write, SCENES FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUTION: A LOVE STORY, which is best described as straddling the “literary fiction” and satire genres. And it has very little if anything to do with the actual French Revolution. Depending on how the new EDEN does and if there is interest from Permuted, I have ideas for an EDEN 5 in mind as well. If I had my druthers, what I’d really like to write would be a sequel in novel form to the 1980s cult horror flick HELL NIGHT. In the meantime I have a horror-science fiction novel I wrote called WARLORD: DERVISH that I wrote in spring of 2011, and I envision at least two sequels to that. I am trying to find a home for it and if I cannot I might self-publish again. Time will tell, as it always does.
Craig: Thanks for joining us today, Tony!
Tony: Thanks for this opportunity!