When I was given the opportunity to speak to horror author William Todd Rose about his work, I couldn't resist. His recent novel, published by the fine folks at Permuted Press, has proven to be an excellent entry into the zombie-fiction genre. If you love zombies, horror, or science-fiction---heck, if you love to read a good story, The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People is highly recommended.
Synopsis for The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People:
Bosley Couglin can travel through time. And the future does not look good.
Through a heady cocktail of drugs and the occult, Bosley slips through time and space and glimpses The End. Cities lay in ruins, and those who still cling to life hide in the rubble like frightened animals. Walking carcasses shamble through the debris exacting a horrible fate upon any living they find.
This horrific future is the only world fourteen year old Ocean has ever known. Starving and alone, she struggles for even the most basic of necessities: food, water, shelter, love…
In the present, Bosley stumbles across Clarice Hudson and soon realizes that she is much more than a simple shop girl. One by one, she displays the seven symptoms of the contagion that will bring Bosley's world to an end and create the nightmare Ocean calls home. Clarice may hold the key to stopping the coming apocalypse and sparing Ocean from the atrocities of mankind's imminent future… but only if Coughlin is willing to push beyond every notions he's ever held about right and wrong.
VB: Your work tends to straddle the line between horror and science-fiction, often blending both genres seamlessly. Why did you choose horror? More specifically, what interests you about writing in the zombie sub-genre?
WTR: I’ve always had a fascination with horror in general. Ever since I can remember, I was enthralled with ghost stories and those creepy urban legends we all grew up with. So when I began writing my own stuff, it was just a natural extension of this interest. So I guess I didn’t exactly choose dark fiction… it was just kind of there all along.
The zombie subgenre fascinates me for a couple different reasons. For quite some time I’ve been intrigued with the psychological and sociological ramifications of a single, shared event… in this case, the collapse of civilization as we know it. How individual people would cope with this collective tragedy would undoubtedly be as varied as the personalities involved. Of course, I could explore apocalyptic scenarios in ways other than the walking dead (such as I did in Cry Havoc and Apocalyptic Organ Grinder); but zombies can be a lot of fun. There’s the obvious metaphors of facing one’s own mortality and the whole preternatural aspect of living corpses, but damn it I like monsters! Always have. And zombies, in my opinion, are the perfect monsters. Werewolves only change by the light of the full moon; vampires must seek refuge during daylight: but a zombie isn’t bound by any of that. A zombie will just keep coming after you until either you kill it or it kills you. But the best thing about reanimates is they plunge humanity back down to the bottom of the food chain. It’s not enough that our infrastructure lays in ruins. It’s not enough that PTSD runs amok from the initial shock and awe campaign of an undead uprising. Zombies completely outnumber the living and put us back to a place we haven’t been for a very, very long time. We become prey, plain and simple.
The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People offers a unique reading experience because it is often surreal, while showcasing characters whose emotions and struggles are both contemporary and emotional. Tell us a little about one of your characters, and how you think their conflicts are relevant to readers.
Ocean is a young girl, around fourteen years old or so, who has grown up in the apocalyptic wastelands of the United States. She’s never known any other world than the one she was born into. Her reality consists of hiding and evasion, of desperately struggling to survive in an inhospitable environment. When she was very young, the already crippled remnants of society were further torn apart by Food Wars. In these wars, gangs fought one another, and massacred innocents, in an attempt to seize as much food and as many weapons as they could. When it was all over, there were no more supplies to be had, further pushing mankind toward extinction. The people of her world aren’t survivors… they’re refugees. In fact, when we first meet Ocean she is emaciated to the point that most of her hair has fallen out and is trapping flies in her mouth just for a bit of sustenance. She’s almost more animal than human, sniffing at the air to detect the scent of nearby zombies, scurrying through warrens and tunnels of debris.
But even though she lives in a world so very unlike our own, human nature still asserts itself. Like all children, she plays. Kids in our world look at the clouds and amuse themselves by forming pictures from the shapes they see… Ocean does the same thing with the Rorschach-like bloodstains that color her world. Eventually she feels the pangs of first love, the confusion of adolescence. In a lot of ways, her portion of The Seven Habits is a coming of age story set against a very desolate and horrible backdrop.
Is the protagonist of Seven Habits, Bosely Coughlin, the kind of guy a girl would be comfortable bringing home to meet Daddy? He seems like the kind of guy who could easily be misunderstood…
Bosley definitely isn’t a “meet the parents” type of guy. To begin with, he possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the occult. Combing arcane rites with a steady drug regimen, he hopes to totally erase his own ego so he can rebuild it from the ground up, tailor made to his specifications. He’s extremely intelligent with a particular interest in science, but can also be a condescending ass at times. He’s pretty much given up on personal hygiene and his circle of acquaintances include drug dealers and prostitutes. He’s probably most parents’ worst nightmare. So, as you can see, he’s not exactly your typical “hero”. But he’s actually a good person at heart. You just have to get to know the dude.
Seven Habits features a very fresh take on the zombie genre. Like most of your work, this book warps both the metaphysical and physical worlds. How does a creative mind like yours work? What is your writing environment like? Was there a specific type of process or mood you relied on while writing this novel?
I’m not exactly sure how my mind works. These characters and situations just kind of pop unbidden into my head. As far as my writing environment, it’s pretty simplistic. Just a desk, chair, my computer, a few favorite toys, and lots of scraps of paper with snippets of prose and dialogue jotted down. Though I almost always do have music playing as I write. I usually try to match the style of music to the atmosphere I’m trying to capture. For The Seven Habits, the soundtrack to my writing featured predominantly goth and darkwave bands. I was trying to set a tone of brooding melancholy and menace, so these songs fit pretty well in my opinion. As far as the process goes, The Seven Habits was something of an anomaly. I generally write in a very sequential order. Chapter one is followed by chapter two and the plot unfolds in a linear manner. When writing this book, however, I was kind of all over the place. Much like Bosley being pulled back and forth through time and space, I would find myself working on things that happened near the end of the book and then going back to work on earlier events before returning, once again, to later plot developments. It was such a different way for me to work that I was kind of surprised there was actually a consistent story arc. Everything eventually got put in chronological order (at least as much as possible when time travel is an element in your tale), but it was a very scattered method of writing that I don’t know if I could do again if I tried.
Has there ever been a sequence or an event in one of your novels that you found difficult to write because it was disturbing, or is there a scene that you consider to be particularly horrifying now?
There’s never really been anything which has been difficult to write. This might be because I have a pretty sick and twisted imagination, as well as sense of humor. Sometimes when I’m working on something really horrific, I’ll be sitting there cackling like a madman with twisted glee. The funny thing is it’s not graphic scenes that eventually get to me. It’s usually subtle things. The last sentence in the short story “Cooking with Grace” (from Box of Darkness) is a good example. That sentence gives me chills when I go back and read it. And that’s the way it usually is for me. It’s the subtext which creeps me out.
What do you look for when you sit down to read a horror story? What was the last good book you've read?
I like something that’s different. I don’t want a cookie-cutter knockoff of the current bestseller. I don’t want to read an author who writes the same book over and over and over. I don’t want predictable. I haven’t been reading as much as I used to, but the last good book I read was Neuromancer by William Gibson. Again. I never get tired of that novel and have actually lost count of how many times I’ve read it. If I refine your question to the last good book I’ve read that I hadn’t read before, then the answer would be Blood Legacy by Carl Hose.
Finally, what advice can you give to other writers?
My advice to writers is short and simple: be true to your own voice. Don’t try to be Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or HP Lovecraft. Just be yourself.
You can check out The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People in papeback or Kindle format here: http://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Infective-People-ebook/dp/B007DLLOLS/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1349899929&sr=1-4&keywords=william+todd+rose
Named by the Google+ Insider's Guide as one of their top 32 authors to follow, William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction which often lends itself to the bizarre and macabre. With short stories appearing in various magazines and anthologies, his body of work also includes the novels Cry Havoc, Shut The Fuck Up and Die!, The Dead and Dying, and The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, as well as the short story collection Sex in the Time of Zombies. For more information on the author, including links to free fiction, please visit him online at www.williamtoddrose.com