David Moody first self-published Hater in 2006, and without an agent, succeeded in selling the film rights for the novel to Mark Johnson (producer, Breaking Bad) and Guillermo Del Toro (director, The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth). His seminal zombie novel Autumn was made into an (admittedly terrible) movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Moody has a unhealthy fascination with the end of the world and likes to write books about ordinary folks going through absolute hell.
GJ: Can you describe your journey to publishing your first novel?
DM: It’s quite an interesting story, though the publication story of my second novel is actually more important! I left school as a frustrated film-maker – head full of stories and no way of telling them (this was 1989, and without the technology and film school courses we have these days, embarking on a career in film wasn’t really an option). I decided my best option was to write, and after a couple of false starts, I eventually finished my debut novel, Straight to You. To my surprise and delight, it was picked up for publication relatively quickly by a very small press. I thought once I’d signed on the dotted line that I’d be a made man, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I still have a couple of boxes of copies from the original print run of 500 sitting in my garage! So when it came to releasing my second novel, Autumn, I knew I had to take a different approach.
What was most important to me was getting the book in front of readers, and so I decided to take advantage of the Internet. I should say, this was 2001, when things were very different. I started giving Autumn away to anyone who wanted to read it. This was pre-Kindle, when ebooks were nothing like the big deal they are today, and for a couple of years I was literally emailing Word and pdf (and other obscure formats) copies to people. To my surprise, the book went viral, and I had around half a million downloads in a relatively short period of time. I started my own publishing house, Infected Books, and published a series of sequels which, to my amazement, people were prepared to pay for! Things snowballed from there…
GJ: Am I right that you only write in the horror genre? Are you considering any other genres in the future?
DM: You’re technically right, but I always struggle with describing horror as a genre. It’s an emotion, more than anything, a feeling. Put it this way, when you say you’re writing a Western, your readers pretty much know what they’re going to get. With horror, though, the stories could take place anywhere and at any time. I also think about some of the most horrific films I’ve seen – Threads, Come and See and The Road spring to mind – there’s no mention of the word ‘horror’ in their marketing. But yes, despite my protests, I think it’s fair to say I write mainly horror. I am working on a number of other projects which are less straight-up horror than many of my books have been so far.
GJ: Can you put your finger on why you have a post-apocalyptic / zombie obsession, like so many?
DM: Yes. It boils down to the fact that I’m a people watcher, first and foremost. My books are all about ordinary people stuck in extraordinary situations. I get frustrated by the restraints of society, and how we all unwittingly conform, doing what’s expected of us in the way we’re expected to do it. We’re constantly being manipulated and told what to do and what to think, and as a result most folks just comply. The apocalypse, though, is where everything changes.
As society crumbles around us, I think we’d see people acting not as they’ve always been expected to behave, but as they actually want to. All the rules and regulations and barriers would be stripped away and we’d see people as they really are. And I don’t think it’d be particularly pleasant to watch! I do have a particular passion for zombies (maybe should have rephrased that!), and that, I think, is another side of the same argument. Most stories (and most life decisions, to an extent) boil down to a choice between us and them – you win or you lose, and if you lose, someone else inevitably wins. Zombies take that idea to its purest form. They’re the same as us, but they’re not. They are the antithesis of us. You can drop zombies into pretty much any time, space, situation, scenario and they’ll give you a polar opposite to play off.
GJ: What is the most rewarding part of the writing process for you?
DM: I think it’s when you’ve released something new and you hear from folks who’ve enjoyed it. It’s always a nervous time, and after slaving over a manuscript for months, maybe years, it’s unbelievably gratifying when someone else ‘gets it’.
GJ: Do you have much contact with your fans? If so what is the weirdest question you have been asked and what is the most frequent question you have been asked?
DM: Yes. All the time, but it’s still not enough. It’s not rocket science, and I don’t mean for this to sound as mercenary as it inevitably will, but there’s a direct correlation between interacting with people and selling books. It’s why I chose to give so many copies of Autumn away back in the day. I lost my way for a few years, and looking back now, it’s easy to see why. On the back of the success I’d had with the Hater and Autumn books, we bought a bigger house and took out a bigger mortgage. We moved out of an area we were familiar with where I walked from place to place and knew a lot of folks. Suddenly we were a few more miles out and I was getting in the car when I needed to go anywhere. The financial pressures were exacerbated by the fact I wasn’t having enough human interaction, and my writing suffered hugely as a result. It came to a head one day when my wife said to me, ‘how can you write about people anymore when you don’t know any?’
She was absolutely right, and taking to fans is the most important part of that.
Weirdest question – will you sign my XXX (fill in the blanks for yourself). Coolest question – do you want to be a zombie (during the filming of the Autumn movie). Most frequent question – when’s the Hater film coming out (answer – I don’t know… we’re still working on it… we have a script now, and it’s brilliant, we’re just waiting for the stars to align…)
GJ: What can we expect from you in 2019/20?
DM: I’ve already had a couple of releases this year – a collection of Twilight Zone-esque shorts called The Last Big Thing, and the fifth novel in the Hater series, All Roads End Here. Next up is the final Hater book – Chokehold – which comes out on my birthday! It’s out on November 19 2019 from St Martin’s Press. I’m about to start work on a new novel – my first ghost story (maybe) – and I’ve got more Autumn novels and a five book horror/science-fiction series in the pipeline. Too many ideas, not enough time. I think most writers can identify with that.
GJ: What genre of books do you generally read and can you name a favourite in each, or at least a book that stood out for you?
DM: Very predictably, I love dystopian fiction. I’ve just written a piece on my website explaining why John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids is my all-time favourite book (bit.ly/triffidlove). A couple of other classics are playing on my mind quite a lot at the moment for obvious reasons, and that’s George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s astonishing how both books predicted aspects of the future with chilling accuracy.
GJ: What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
DM: Having Hater optioned by Guillermo del Toro, and having him blurb the book and talk it up in the press. Unfortunately his version of the story never got filmed (it almost made it to the cameras, but not quite). I still have his quote, though: “A head-spinning thrill ride, a cautionary tale about the most salient emotion of the 21st century… Hater will haunt you long after you read the last page…”
GJ: What advice would you give to new writers looking to writing to publish?
DM: Write the best book you can. That’s it, really. There’s a heck of a lot more to it than that, but unless you’ve got a book you believe in, I don’t believe you’ll get very far.
GJ: How prepared are you for the apocalypse?
DM: I can talk the talk, but I’m no where near prepared really. I wound my wife up when we bought our current house in 2012, because I was genuinely assessing it in terms of apocalyptic preparedness (it’s a fenced off estate which used to be a hospital grounds – one road in and out, only about 90 houses, supermarket and other shops in easy walking distance, thanks very much for asking!). I think I’m like everyone else and will have my head buried in the sand when the time comes. Ultimately, though, I’m hopeful of making it. I think the key is to watch what everyone else is doing, then do the opposite. I’ve long thought that the best way of surviving would be to lock yourself in your house for six months, then re-emerge when it’s all over. Trouble is, that never makes for a particularly interesting book or film! I did write about it once, in a story which is actually set on the development where we live (http://davidmoody.net/books/the-cost-of-living/).
GJ: Thank you David for taking the time to speak with me today. Looks like I’ve got another pile of books to be adding to my TBR!
Details of David’s books and where to buy are available from his website, http://davidmoody.net
If you enjoy David’s book then I hope you’ll enjoy my debut novel, In The End, an apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless.
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That’s a great in-depth interview, David. I will add though that no one alive today will “survive” the end of civilisation because it isn’t going to happen in six months, or six years… try six hundred years! Think of the gradual downfall of a great empire, the twists and turns and political intrigues as it tries not just to survive but to regain its earlier glory. Civilisation is much larger than that. The sore spots that don’t heal; the failed states; the collapsed economies; new plagues and natural disasters receiving less and less attention or help from a stressed and increasingly isolationist global community (which we’ve already experienced) and so forth. It might be interesting to do a novel on a speeded-up version of the great die back, for example, trying to imagine (I couldn’t!) what the world would look like if say six billion people died in under an arbitrary five years… How would these people die, and what would be the consequences and chances for survival for those remaining?
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Solid interview/ Thank you. I would love Mr. Moody’s take on the prescient surge in YA publishing, starting at least ten years ago, of dystopian novels. Yet, in these, there always seems to be the hero and his or her drive toward the positive in humans and civilizations. Perhaps you could interview and burgeoning YA dystopian author, too?
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Yes good idea!