It’s Halloween so TW talks to Horror Master, David Moody

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By Owen Quinn

Can you tell us about yourself?

 

This might be cheating, but I think it’s easier just to copy and paste my bio here!

“David Moody grew up on a diet of trashy horror and pulp science fiction. He worked as a bank manager before giving up the day job to write about the end of the world for a living. He has written a number of horror novels, including AUTUMN, which has been downloaded more than half a million times since publication in 2001 and spawned a series of sequels and a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Film rights to HATER were snapped up by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) and Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad). Moody lives with his wife and a houseful of daughters and stepdaughters, which may explain his pre-occupation with Armageddon. Find out more about TRUST, his latest novel, at www.trustdavidmoody.com and visit Moody at www.davidmoody.net.”

 

 

Where did your fascination for horror begin?

 

I think to begin with it was a case of wanting to see and read stuff just because I knew I shouldn’t. I think the absolute worst way to stop people seeing a movie, for example, is to ban it, because all that does is create a kind of mystique and increase people’s interest. I was like that with horror when I was too young to know any better. I used to sneak down at night to watch movies on late night TV and would sneak horror books out of the library when my parents weren’t looking. It didn’t help that I grew up in the UK in the 1980′s when the Video Nasties debacle was at its height – shop shelves were stripped of pretty much everything horror-related, and all that did was make me want to get hold of more!

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What defines true horror for you?

 

I have real trouble thinking of horror as a genre. For me, horror is an emotion… a state of mind if you like. From a personal perspective, that feeling is borne out of a lack of control. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than no longer having control over your own destiny, be that because there’s a homicidal maniac prowling the streets, zombies in your back yard or a power-crazed politician about to press the button and wipe out all of us in a nuclear haze… the fact your future might be out of your hands is, for me, a terrifying prospect. Horror for me isn’t all about blood and guts and torture porn, it has much more of a psychological basis. It’s often about anticipation: knowing that something nightmarish is going to happen, and having to prepare for that eventuality.

 

 

What writers and movies influenced you growing up?

 

The earliest horror books I read were The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, and War of the Worlds by HG Wells. I was probably too young when I first picked them up, and they both had a profound effect on me. For some reason someone had decided Triffids would make a good addition to my primary school library, and I read the book at the same time the BBC adaptation was shown (the original serial starring John Duttine, not the awful Dougray Scott effort from a couple of years back). As I mentioned,  the Video Nasties situation stopped me getting hold of many decent horror movies for a long time, but I absolutely loved the Universal, Hammer and Amicus movies which were often shown late night on the BBC. I finally managed to watch Night of the Living Dead (on an imported laser-disc – that’s how long ago we’re talking!) and that changed everything for me. I went on to devour James Herbert’s books, especially Domain, the third Rats book. Growing up during the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation didn’t ever seem far away. I think the most terrifying movie I saw during that period, and it still scares the heck out of me today, was the BBC movie, Threads, which showed the impact of a nuclear strike on Sheffield.

 

 

 

What made you decide to write your own books?

 

I’d always enjoyed coming up with stories, and I decided early on that I wanted to direct films. Unfortunately, when I left school I didn’t have the necessary skills or experience and I couldn’t see any obvious way of immediately getting any. I actually ended up working in a bank (something that I’m not proud of now…). I still had these stories, though, and I knew I had to do something with them. Creative writing had always been a strong point of mine at school, so it was a logical progression. After a few false starts I set myself some ground rules (plan in advance, write a page a day, and don’t go back or start editing until each draft was complete), and within six months I’d written my first novel, Straight to You.

 

Autumn 2010 US cover

How did you go about getting your books out there?

 

Straight to You was picked up by a very small publisher in the UK. I naively thought fame and success would inevitably follow but, of course, that didn’t happen! So when I finished my second book, Autumn, I had to think long and hard about what to do with it. It wasn’t rocket science: I had to choose between trying to make money from my book and developing an audience, and it’s pretty obvious that no writer will ever make any profit if no one’s reading their books. So, resigned to the fact that Autumn wasn’t going to be a great money-spinner, I decided to give it away. I’d just gone online (this was back in 2001) and there were very few people giving away free fiction at the time. Fortunately it was a success, and in the time the book was available online, more than half a million people downloaded it.

 

 

What selling avenues did you have available to promote them?

 

Very few! You have to remember, that these were the days before Kindle and iBooks and the like… Initially I was literally emailing pdfs to people who were interested! Within a couple of years, though, various outlets had started to spring up as the ebook business began to take off. I used every one of these outlets I could find to make the books as accessible as possible, and that also involved having to convert the files into a huge number of different formats and specifications. I also used digital download sites – more often used to distribute music and software – to sell the books. Around 2005 I launched Infected Books, and I used Print-on-Demand technology to release my books as paperbacks, and as a result they were available online throughout the world, initially through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the like. Having gone back and republished a couple of my older titles myself recently, I can tell you it’s a far more accessible market place now than it was back then.

 

 

What’s the best advice you could give to someone in presenting their books to a possible publisher?

 

I guess I have a few suggestions. First, be passionate about your story. If you’re not in love with your book, how can you expect anyone else to be? Second, never make do. The manuscript you present must be immaculate – fully proofread and polished. If there’s any element you’re not happy about, don’t send it off. Finally, be prepared for knock backs and for the process to take time. When someone rejects your book, listen to what they say about it. It might be that it just wasn’t for them, but there’s every chance they’ll have some useful feedback which might help you look at your story in a different light.

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Was the Autumn series always intended to be a book series?

 

When I wrote the first book I always had in mind the idea of a series, but I didn’t know back then if anyone would even read the first book, let alone want more! Thankfully, they did. I originally planned a trilogy, but as I was writing the final book it occurred to me that I still had plenty more stories to tell, so I put together a book of shorts (The Human Condition). A while later, an idea for a fourth book presented itself, and when I sold the series to Thomas Dunne Books of New York, we signed a deal for a fifth which allowed me to tie up all the loose ends and bring the entire series to a logical conclusion.

 

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Are you a Dawn of the Dead, fast running zombie man or classic Night of the Living Dead type?

 

It’s slow-moving shamblers for me every time! I do enjoy fast-moving zombie movies, but they defy all logic (not that there’s anything logical about dead bodies walking, irrespective of their speed!). I think there’s something incredibly creepy about a monster that takes its time. No matter how long it takes to get to you, you know it won’t stop…

 

 

What for you makes a good horror story?

 

First and foremost, characters I believe in and care about. For me the horror comes from seeing decent people trying to deal with horrific situations. The fear doesn’t come from the zombie, the vampire, the werewolf or whatever, it comes from watching people you give a damn about being put in mortal danger!

 

 

Are you a regimented writer or do you just go when the zone takes you?

 

I write full-time, so I have to be regimented. I work in hour long chunks (with the Internet switched off) because that seems to be the optimum time for me – any longer and I start to fade, but if I take a brief break from the screen I’ll usually be able to go back and do another hour. All that said, there are days when the words won’t come, and other times when they won’t stop. I’m a firm believer than you need to be in the zone, as you put it, and the worst thing you can do is try and force yourself to write when there’s nothing happening. Staring at a blank screen or an empty piece of paper never helped anyone!

 

 

Do you class the likes of Hostel and Saw as horror or the likes of the Shining and Salem’s Lot?

 

I’m not a fan of torture porn – it’s more fetish than horror to some extent. It only works, I think, when (at the risk of repeating myself) the horror is experienced by characters you care about. Case in point, the remarkable Martyrs. So I’d definitely say the likes of the Shining and Salem’s Lot are more horrific, but again, for me horror is a feeling, not a specific genre.

 

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What’s been your greatest lesson from writing?

 

Trying to walk the fine line between being confident and humble. It’s an amazing feeling when you find out that your writing has had a real effect on someone, but at the same time, in this business it’s easy to get it wrong and alienate folks. I tend to doubt myself, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It’s easy to focus on the bad review you’ve just had and to forget about all the books you’ve sold that people have enjoyed!

 

 

What was your inspiration behind Hater?

 

The original idea for Hater came from thinking about all the divisions we individually use to set ourselves apart from everyone else: age, sex, race, beliefs, sexual orientation, shoe size, eye colour… it seems that we do all we can to split ourselves up. I thought it would be interesting to imagine a world where something came along – some kind of new and irreparable division – which would immediately negate all those previous distinctions. The story really took shape after July 2005, when London was hit by suicide bombers. In the days and weeks following the attacks, it transpired that one of the bombers worked as a classroom assistant in a primary school. The idea that someone could be trying to help kids grow and develop one day, only to then go onto a train or bus with a bomb strapped to their back with the sole aim of killing as many people as possible, absolutely terrifying. Irrespective of our own views of these people and what they did (and what others continue to do), they believe that they’re right, and that’s a theme I’ve gone back to repeatedly in the Hater books. I believe that human beings are hardwired to look out for themselves, and when push comes to shove, plenty of people would do all they needed to to ensure they survive, even if it meant others getting hurt or killed. And everybody does it for what they consider to be the right reasons. So yes, mankind turning against itself and the blurring of the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ was something I deliberately tried to emphasise. By the end of the first book, it’s the so-called ‘good guys’ (depending on your point of view) who do the most despicable things, and they do them to save their own backs. I guess it’s the same kind of logic which gives us a government department called the Ministry of Defence, when all it does is attack!

 

Were you surprised when your books became an on line phenomenon?

 

Yes! There was no great plan, just a lot of enthusiasm. I was amazed when people started downloading Autumn in decent numbers, and even more amazed when they came back and asked for more! It didn’t happen overnight, though. There was almost fifteen years between starting my first book and having Hater published by a major press.

 

 

What is it about your work that appeals to people?

 

Great question. I think it’s the ordinariness of my characters and the world they inhabit (at least at the beginning of the stories). I want people to be able to identify with my characters. I think that makes the horror more effective as the stories progress.

 

 

What’s the word on your books having been optioned by Guillermo Del Toro?

 

No word at the moment, unfortunately. These things take forever… The rights to Hater have just been re-optioned, so I’m hopefully we’ll see some movement on the project soon.

 

 

When a book is optioned do you as an author have any contact with the makers to give input into changes to the story?

 

Unfortunately not (well, unfortunately from my point of view). A director and an author may have very different takes on the same story, and ultimately it’s the director who’s hired to present the story on screen. The author, though, will usually have very clear ideas about how things should look and how the story should flow etc. Often directors and authors are kept well apart for this very reason!

 

 

What are you currently working on?

 

I’m putting the finishing touches to three new novels  - 17 Days, Strangers, and a completely new version of Straight to You. Once they’re all done and delivered to my agent I hope to get to work on a short novella (just because I’ve had a great idea and I want to do something with it!), then I’ll be moving onto The Spaces Between – a six book horror/science-fiction series. Think Quatermass crossed with Dragon Tattoo and you’ll be halfway there!

 

 

 

Where can people find out more about you and your books?

 

www.davidmoody.net

www.facebook.com/davidmoodyauthor

www.twitter.com/davidjmoody

 

 

Thanks David, please attach whatever links and pics you want inlcuded inc

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