I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Thomas, author of THE UNDEAD WORLD OF OZ and other books. You can learn more about Ryan and his work at www.ryancthomas.com.
Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Ryan: My novels include THE SUMMER I DIED and its sequel BORN TO BLEED, RATINGS GAME, THE UNDEAD WORLD OF OZ and HISSERS. I was the editor of MONSTROUS: 20 TALES OF GIANT CREATURE TERROR. I’ve had three novellas published–WITH A FACE OF GOLDEN PLEASURE (in ELEMENTS OF THE APOCALYPSE, Permuted Press), ENEMY UNSEEN (in HEADSHOT QUARTET, Permuted Press), and CHOOSE (in MALCONTENTS, Grand Mal Press). My biggest seller has been THE UNDEAD WORLD OF OZ, which is a mashup that sees Dorothy and her friends not just fighting off the Wicked Witch, but also hordes of undead munchkins, zombie flying monkeys, and more. It was a fun project because my editor and I agreed we needed to copy Baum’s voice, which is written for young children. So it was like telling a horror bedtime story to your kids: “And then the big zombie ate Toto’s head, for Toto was too slow to outrun the undead Munchkin, and this made Dorothy sad as she sat splayed in her little pet’s entrails.” But perhaps my most praised book is THE SUMMER I DIED, which has often been described as HOSTEL with characters you actually care about.
Craig: What type of storytelling in the genre do you consider your niche?
Ryan: I got pegged as a splatterpunk guy early on due to THE SUMMER I DIED. So I tried to get away from it. But now I kind of miss it. I love a good story about blood, guts, and other bodily fluids.
Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Ryan: I prefer fast zombies. I feel like there’s no real fear when you can just speed walk your way to safety. My idea in HISSERS was to expand on running zombies by adding an element of mutation to them. I don’t want to reveal the secret, but by the end of the novel those running zombies have become something far more horrifying.
Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Ryan: I tend to read a lot of non horror books for inspiration. Joe Lansdale, Joseph Kannon, Richard K. Morgan, Christopher Moore, and Andrew Vachss are some of my favorites. Each has a unique style that reminds me writing is like music, you have to develop your own sound. Lansdale is witty, Kanon’s dialogue is beautiful, Morgan’s chop chop chop narration is awesome, Moore is just funny and weird, and Vachss’ seedy underground world of LOST BOYS is a perfect example of creating your own universe to work in. All writers need to be reading stuff like this to get outside the box.
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Ryan: In zombie fiction? I’d have to go with ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL. But I’m currently reading SANDMAN SLIM: KILL THE DEAD and it has lots of zombies in it too and it’s amazing.
Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Ryan: DEAD ALIVE. hands down the funniest, goriest zombie story every put on celluloid.
Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Ryan: I really enjoy post apocalyptic stories because I love the idea of creating a new world order. I love the politics of starting over, rewriting the rules. Especially when there is still a mass enemy out there trying to eat you. A lot of films have explored it to some extent, like 28 WEEKS LATER, LAND OF THE DEAD, etc. Those are more or less microcosms of what a govt would be struggling with–the egos, the backstabbing, the pychoses of men in power. The lack of fresh donuts.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Ryan: By forcing myself to sit and write every day. Some days I’ll get a lot done, and some days I won’t. It’s all about discipline. Also, I never edit until I’m done. Just get the damned thing written and then go back and start smoothing out the jagged pieces. I need a semblance of something to work with. If that fails, I conjure a demon to do it for me.
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?
Ryan: I don’t read the negative reviews. I did a long time ago and I’d get bummed out, but now I just let it go. Not everyone is going to like what I write. But I did recently get a rather poor review of the audio book of HISSERS, and I was kind of annoyed because the narrator of the audio book never contacted me, which he was supposed to do, and while I think he did an amazing job, he read one key character completely wrong, and it changes the entire idea of who the character is. And the reviewer kind of harped on it like I was using lame tropes. But that character is the opposite of the trope. She’s based on someone I knew well and I wish I could tell the reviewer that “I really wrote it the other way! I promise! Let ME read it to you!” But reader reviews for it have been very good so at least it comes across the right way in people’s heads.
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Ryan: Number one: Character. I create my characters out of bits and pieces of people I know because their traits need to be realistic. Character is key, because if i don’t care about the character, and if they don’t seem real to me, then I don’t care about the book. Number two: plausibility. You can write the impossible but you can’t write the implausible. I read way too much stuff where the reactions of the characters are just ridiculous. As humans we have a set way of thinking that comes into play during crises. A good author knows this and employs it. Number three: art. I hate to say there are too many writers out there today just telling a story, not showing, and not showing it in a voice that’s fresh. A good story flows properly. It has a voice. That’s why I love the aforementioned writers so much. I’m really trying to find my voice these days. And finallly: Dialogue. Make it real, make it sparkle, make it funny and emotional, but make it stand out. Again, those authors up there are key influences.
Craig: What makes a great character?
Ryan: Familiarity within something new. I need to know this person can really exist somehow. Even if it’s some wacky made up character, their traits need to be familiar. You know, stuff like ego, desire, flaws, a set way of thinking, a specific speech pattern, etc. Put all that into something I’ve never seen before.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Ryan: I am re-editing a novel I wrote a few years ago, THE BUGBOY, about an autistic boy accused of murder. He can control insects, and we come to find his place in the world is part of a larger plan. It’s a sort of horror/detective/mythos novel. But the next out from me is ORIGIN OF PAIN, from Thunderstorm Books. 100 signed, limited edition hardback copies of my first two novels in omnibus form. I can’t wait for it. And yes, I do have part of HISSERS part II written. I hope to have it done in a few months.