Eight authors—including veterans and rising stars in the horror scene—interview Craig DiLouie about his groundbreaking horror novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN.
One day, the children die. Three days later, they come back.
And ask for blood.
With blood, they stop being dead. They become the children they once were.
But only for a short time.
Too soon, they die again. And need more blood to live …
The average body holds ten pints of blood.
How far would you go for someone you love?
A very special thanks to all these great authors who participated in the interview!
Joe McKinney, author of THE SAVAGE DEAD: Where did the idea for SUFFER THE CHILDREN come from? It’s a tale of such powerful grief and sacrifice that I’m almost afraid to hear your answer.
Craig DiLouie: I’m an admirer of John Ajvide Lindqvist because his novels often take a popular horror concept—vampires, zombies—and turn it on its head into something entirely fresh and original. He also puts people first in his stories. In his HANDLING THE UNDEAD, for example, the zombies aren’t attacking and eating people, they’re lost, they’re loved ones come home, and the characters in the book do everything they can to keep them there. I wanted to achieve something similar with SUFFER THE CHILDREN and turn the vampire story into something new. What if the vampires were just normal people but required blood to stay alive? What if those vampires were those we love most? What would we do to keep them alive? How far would we go? It’s a horrifying situation and a natural for a novel. Those choices take front stage. It’s the end of the world, one pint at a time. Because of love.
Joe McKinney, author of THE SAVAGE DEAD: Parts of SUFFER THE CHILDREN had me openly weeping. Did you find the story particularly challenging to write?
Craig DiLouie: Absolutely. I wanted to write a horror novel that almost everyone could relate to on a human level and find horrifying in a visceral way. And when I say visceral, I wanted to both bring the reader into the story and bring the story into the reader, make them question themselves and what they would do in a similar situation. Writing it left me feeling raw. I went on an emotional journey with the characters, forced to make the same choices. The result, I think, is a story that is authentic as well as disturbing.
John Dixon, author of PHOENIX ISLAND: This is a beautiful yet terrifying book. Was there ever a point where you wondered if you were going too far?
Craig DiLouie: Every step of the way! But that was a good thing. On every page, I made a conscious effort not to overplay the sensationalism inherent in the plot for spectacle or cheap shock. I knew I was dealing with potentially taboo material and didn’t want the book to go anywhere near where it might be regarded as exploitation. 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.
Peter Clines, author of EX-HEROES: A lot of the horror in this book comes from the parents, who are all just ordinary folks. Is it easier or harder for you to write disturbing things that are much more plausible?
Craig DiLouie: It was harder in this case. At several points, I really started to agonize over what I was doing to my characters. They get put through a psychic shredder. The choices they’re faced with are agonizing. The suffering they experience is real. And they do it all for love, the most primal love in the world. That is the tragedy. Their struggle takes them to a dark place, but they’re heroic in a way. We can admire them because they endure and will do anything for the people they love more than themselves.
John Dixon, author of PHOENIX ISLAND: This was perhaps the most unsettling book I’ve ever read—the only book that comes close is Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR—and yet it’s a smart book that unsettles more through concept and character than through extreme violence or gore. Was this a conscious choice on your part?
Craig DiLouie: Thank you for that. Yes, that was a conscious choice to avoid anything that might come across as gratuitous. Extreme violence and gore would have dulled the knife. The book is much more cutting by simply presenting the reality of the situation. The novel is gruesome, but its true horror is psychological. The characters must continually give their children blood for them to survive. As the blood supply runs out, they must make increasingly difficult choices. To win, they must be willing to kill. They try everything to prevent themselves from hurting people, but over time their options dwindle. And out of love, they become monsters. Not all at once, but one little choice at a time. Those who are willing to become true monsters, in fact, come across as extremely sympathetic and even noble for doing so.
The other psychological horror element is increasing isolation. Not only are the characters on their own, all of the institutions they take for granted that are there to protect them—police, paramedics and so on—they’re still around, they don’t collapse during the violence, but now they’re threatening instead of helpful. They’ve become gangs dedicated to getting blood for their own children by force. You call 911, and you end up at a blood farm.
Gareth Wood, author of RISE: If you were in the situation that your characters were in, how far would you go to feed your children’s appetites?
Craig DiLouie: The question you ask is one I hope every reader will ask themselves. It may sound horrible, but I would like to think I’d be as strong as some of the characters and do whatever it would take to keep my children alive in such a situation. This is not an easy thing to admit. That being said, I also admire one character who refuses to go over the edge, and David, a doctor who acts as the voice of reason in the book.
Jackie Druga, author of FLU: The beginning of the book was just traumatic for the reader, how bad was it for you?
Craig DiLouie: The death of the children was difficult to write because again I wanted to present the drama and horror of the situation through the eyes of the parents without being exploitative or playing for shock value. In my view, the death of a child is the worst thing that could happen, and I wanted to be sensitive to the subject. So here are average people, irritated with their kids one minute, laughing with them the next, and suddenly horror strikes, and their world ends. Probably the hardest scene for me to write in that part of the book was Joan, who’d gone to see a movie with a friend and missed it all. The children are already dead, and she finds out over the phone. Her reaction is extremely realistic, powerful and sympathetic.
Stephen Knight, author of THE GATHERING DEAD: Is there hope for the humanity depicted in the book?
Craig DiLouie: My previous horror novels dealt with people fighting to survive in an apocalyptic world overrun with zombies. The characters are brutalized, but at the end, the reader has the sense that their trials and sacrifices will make a difference. That even though not all of them will make it, humanity itself might survive. SUFFER THE CHILDREN is not as hopeful, but there is always hope.
Eloise J. Knapp, author of THE UNDEAD SITUATION: As a parent, were any of the scenes particularly difficult for you to write?
Craig DiLouie: At one point, the reader is allowed into the minds of the children themselves, and we learn that they’re just kids. Yes, they died, they came back, they need blood to survive. But they’re not monsters. They’re just kids who want to enjoy life, and they’re as trapped as the parents.
John Dixon, author of PHOENIX ISLAND: Your characters are brilliantly drawn and utterly believable. Though many of them go to terrible extremes, it always feels like you remain sympathetic to them. Was it tough, writing this book, knowing how these realistic people would suffer? Did you relate to any character in particular?
Craig DiLouie: I admired all of the characters and by the end of the novel, came to love them. Ramona is pragmatic, she sees the writing on the wall, and she will do anything for her child. Once she crosses a certain threshold, nothing is forbidden as long as it benefits her son. Joan is equally pragmatic, but in a different way, and she is much more hesitant about crossing the line. The decision she makes at the end is heartbreaking. David is a terrific character because he acts as the voice of reason in the novel. He sees the approaching horror and wants to stop it. Probably my favorite character is Doug. He’s an average guy who has struggled his whole life to be a good provider, and he connects that instinct with doing whatever it takes for his kids even if he ultimately knows he can’t win. They’re all heroic in their own way.
David Moody, author of HATER: what do you think the reaction of the unsuspecting book buying public will be to SUFFER THE CHILDREN?
Craig DiLouie: I believe the fact the book is clearly in the horror genre and the story is clearly described on the back cover avoids a sucker punch. Otherwise, I’m not sure I see the book being popular outside the horror crowd, as it’s strictly a horror novel. More than that, it’s a horror novel that stays true to its premise. At the end of the book, the reader should understand that it could not have ended any other way.
All that being said, who knows? Oprah Winfrey loved THE ROAD–which is about the love a father has for his son set in a post-apocalyptic America–and it became extremely popular, but it was without a doubt one of the darkest, most hopeless novels I’ve ever read. I’ve read many books that are far riskier and disturbing than SUFFER THE CHILDREN (and have seen even more films), and some have become popular with mainstream audiences.
Gareth Wood, author of RISE: SUFFER THE CHILDREN is very dark. Do you as a writer feel that there are some limits to the darkness that should not be passed? Things we should not write about?
Craig DiLouie: Absolutely not. Good horror pushes boundaries, makes people think and feel. In my view, the trick is that while material produced for shock value has its market, the best horror doesn’t bludgeon the reader but rather invites them into the story.