Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Exclusive interview with Jason Bovberg!

Hey folks,

We have another special treat for our fans today with Jason Bovberg, author of Blood Red (reviewed here). Blood Red is the story of a young woman trapped in her Colorado hometown after a mass death, forced to survive against circumstances she can't understand. A mysterious red light is re-animating the dead and she needs to find out who, if any, among her loved ones are left alive.

So, let's get a start on it, shall we!

1. So what sets apart Blood Red from other horror and zombie novels?

I’ve talked about the inspiration for Blood Red a few times—the fact that every time I visited my local bookstore a couple years ago, I’d see a new, silly zombie satire on the shelves. The genre was becoming a parody of itself. (I wrote about this in “TheSameness at the End of the World.”) 

There were romance mashups and satires and goofy picture books and humor knockoffs. And seeing all those titles made me want to write my own serious zombie tale that turned genre archetypes on their heads. I wanted to create something new that was apart from all the stuff those books were poking fun of. I wanted to write a book that took horror seriously.

And I wanted to bring mystery back into the proceedings, as well as a strong, fast narrative drive. That “What the hell is going on?” hysteria in the wake of an apocalyptic event. I wanted to do something different from the Romero-inspired, groaning shuffler, and even the more recent undead sprinter. I wanted to introduce narrative twists into the story, and I wanted to catch the reader off-guard.  

So in the end, I think that’s what sets Blood Red apart. This is a story in which very little will seem familiar. Yes, there are perhaps a couple of familiar 
background characters and locales, but the particulars of the infection, the characteristics of the “zombies” themselves, and the meaning behind the Event—all of that is completely new. And in the midst of all this weirdness, I wanted very real characters with very real emotions at the center. I want people to cry for Rachel at the end.

2. Do you think of Blood Red as more a horror novel or a zombie novel?

It’s both, but I like to think it’s foremost a gruesome, down-n-dirty horror novel. Blood Red is a zombie novel at the genetic level, but it rises from those roots and becomes something different and totally weird. Yes, it sticks to the key defining characteristic of the zombie novel: hordes of corpses coming back to life as a malevolent force. But I think the fun of Blood Red—and Draw Blood, the forthcoming sequel—is seeing what these monsters become.

Suffice it to say, there were myriad influences, from Carpenter’s The Thing to King’s The Tommyknockers to Alden Bell’s The Reapers Are the Angels. But I felt as if I was absorbing those influences and then pushing away from them. I thought about the archetypal “zombie” and realized I wanted to get as far away from that image as I could. I wanted the reader to feel as if they thought they knew where the story was headed, and then find themselves completely unmoored. In that sense, plain old horror takes over: I’ve found that I’m most frightened when I’m treading unfamiliar territory.

3.       Could you describe your lead character, Rachel, to us?

At 19 years old, she’s still a kid. There’s tragedy in her past, and she’s been the victim of bad choices by her father, but when the apocalypse happens, you might say she’s a bit of a brat. She’s poised to make some horrible decisions. But in many ways she rises to the challenge, testing her mettle in any number of awful situations. In her small group of survivors, which includes such natural leaders as a cop and a hospital administrator and a seasoned caregiver, it’s Rachel who rises to the top, and there’s a reason for that inside her. 

4. Some readers have commented that your book has feminist overtones, containing an unusual number of strong female characters for the genre. What do you say to this?

Perhaps it was only natural: My house is full of women! As the father of two daughters, I’m totally caught up in the female perspective of the world. I have one daughter going through high school—and all its attendant dramas and minor tragedies—and I’ve seen how she responds to the challenges in her life. She can show her immaturity in some cases, and then she can surprise me with her incredible smarts. In Rachel, I wanted to capture that volatile zone between childhood and maturity—in that respect, Blood Red really is a coming-of-age novel (in the space of two or three days). 

The way Rachel deals with the End of Days is hysteria combined with her teenaged version of street smarts. And her decision-making leads to both good and bad decisions. But what matters is this: She steps up. I’m hoping all that adds up to a harsh realism, partially fueled by the experiences of the women in my life.

5.  What do you think is the key to writing a strong female character in the horror genre? And what are the challenges when you're a male writer?

I’m sure this has been said by better minds than mine, but the answer is to simply write characters—not “female characters.” If you start writing a book with the overriding intention to “write a strong female character,” your mind is probably in the wrong place. Don’t distinguish between the sexes, really; just create believable people.

I’m a male writer, but I’m not blind to the human experience, or even the female human experience. Like I said, I have women all around me—as early readers, too! Believe me, my first draft had some awkward turns of phrase that my early women readers were only too quick to call my attention to. But I would also say that a personal strength of mine is to see both sides of any issue (essential for a writer, I’d say), and that includes matters of the sexes.

6. The Red Light creatures are different from any sort of zombie we've encountered. How did you come up with them?

From the beginning, as I said, I wanted to get away from the usual genre archetypes. I’d already read so many zombie stories about infection from a bite, so I wanted to do something very unusual there. The concept of alien infection appealed, but how would I do that in a new way that was different from cellular invasion, as in The Thing? So I came up with the phenomenon you see in the book.
And I loved the idea of a physical manifestation of an “infection” that could affect not only the immediate victim but also anyone who tries to get close to help. It’s a double-whammy of a horrific mystery.

7. Do you have a favorite supporting character from your novel?
I have a soft spot for earth-mother Bonnie, and I get a kick out of Kevin, and the Thompson brothers rock—even though in real life they would horrify me and stand for a lot of things I can’t abide. But my favorite would be Alan, the kindly old man with heroic impulses.

8. Who are some of your influences in the literary genre?

I mentioned Alden Bell earlier—he was really the initial motivating factor, with his unusual heroine in a post-apocalyptic setting. Over the years, I’ve been influenced by the usuals (King, Barker, McCammon), but some lesser-knowns would include Michael Faber with his book Under the Skin. Forget the nonsensical movie; the book is a masterpiece of alien dread. Also, Bradley Denton, with his fabulous book Blackburn. Great voice.

But a surprising influence on Blood Red is cinematic. Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield is a film about an alien invasion told in real-time. I wanted to do the same thing for this novel: an urgent, you-are-there, present-tense narrative. Also in that vein, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, which is sort of a real-time exercise focusing on one family’s experience of the “end of the world.” You might call Blood Red the equivalent of a “found footage” film, focusing on one girl’s moment-by-moment experience. Let’s just pretend Rachel is carrying a video camera.

9. What's the secret of writing good horror or zombie fiction, in your mind?

Wow, I definitely won’t pretend to have that answer! I’m just hoping what I’ve done resonates with some people. In my specific case, I found that writing hell-for-leather resulted in a novel whose narrative pace matched my writing pace. And that’s what I wanted for this story: urgency, adrenaline, snap decisions, in-your-face horrors …

10. What's the most general reaction you've got to your story far? Anything of particular note?

What I’ve enjoyed most is seeing how people respond to the ending. The ending of Blood Red is very special to me. It’s unusual. There’s a big twist, and there’s a strong emotional payoff, but you won’t find a traditional big-showdown climax. The story was envisioned as a trilogy from the start, and I wanted the first chapter to set up the world and the emotional stakes—while at the same time giving the reader a satisfying punch of a conclusion and exploring a tone and structure in the denouement that you don’t see very often. I’m proud of the ending, but I know that some readers have a different reaction. As with almost everything in Blood Red, I wanted to provide the unexpected.

11. What can we expect from you in the future?

Right around the corner, in April 2015, is the sequel, Draw Blood. You might think Blood Red got crazy in parts (as in the pregnant lady sequence), but Draw Blood is where things get really nasty and bloody. It’s the Empire Strikes Back to Blood Red’s Star Wars, if I may be so bold. At least, that’s what I was thinking in my big head when I was writing it.

Draw Blood picks up where Blood Red leaves off, and interestingly, it’s told from a new perspective. I won’t say whose perspective, because that would be a spoiler. But that gave me a unique opportunity to look at the catastrophe from a whole new angle, and to explore new facets.

Right now, I’m about halfway through Blood Dawn, the concluding chapter of the Blood trilogy. This chapter is partially told from a third perspective, a point of view that will shed a lot of new light (forgive that in-joke) on the apocalyptic mystery behind everything.

Thanks, Jason! We appreciate you taking the time to be interviewed!

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