From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof is the recipient of SNM Horror Magazine's Literary Achievement award in 2011. Vincenzo is the author of the zombie novels "Nightmare of the Dead" and "Necropolis Now," the first book in the Zombie Ascension series. Both are available from Severed Press. Vincenzo's new serial, "Japanese Werewolf Apocalypse" will be available in February 2013. Please join me in welcoming this respected colleague to the blog.
As with my previous interviews, I’ll begin with the standard Six Demon Bag opening question, which you can interpret and answer however you please: if you were in possession of a six demon bag, what would yours contain?
I would think the demons within the bag would be symbolic; each would represent a repressed or realized fear. If demons have the power to inflict suffering and pain, I imagine that I would have to experience six horrific scenarios, and in each I would be given a chance to "resolve" or prevent whatever disaster is supposed to occur, only to fail miserably.
With that out of the way, what can you tell my readers about your latest offering, Necropolis Now?
In Necropolis Now, the slow, Romero-esque zombies aren't the sole reason why Detroit is falling apart, but rather, mass hysteria perpetuates Detroit's destruction. The central plot revolves around a former Delta Force commando who became a deranged serial killer in his quest for hellish power, which involves the resurrection of the dead; a group of mercenaries are dropped into the dying city to find him.
How long would it really take for people to say the word "zombie" if one of them appeared? Why do we have to use different words, like walker, when our first thought would be zombie? It wouldn't take long before people figured it out, if it happened, and the military wouldn't be overwhelmed. Rather, the people themselves would instigate society's destruction.
Instead of using a cast of characters who are "good" people just trying to survive, I opted for characters that're already past the point of no return, characters that would wallow in the destruction rather than hide from it. In that way, my characters are very much like every day people…
People who watch The Walking Dead are witnessing the protagonist, Rick, slowly lose his "humanity" and become a more violent person. Most of the characters in Necropolis are where he doesn't want to be, and they're trying to reverse the process, or come to terms with WHAT they are. The book is truly about violence and redemption.
Necropolis Now is a fusion of styles. I grew up in the eighties, so I mixed over-the-top action with zombie gore and characters. It's Michael Bay meets George Romero.
A lot of your work deals with zombies… how do you think you’d fare if the undead apocalypse began tomorrow?
I think of it as a crises situation; there are a lot of similarities between an impending apocalyptic scenario and a natural disaster —the world as you know has been threatened and it may end. I say that because I don't want it to sound silly that I've actually thought about this. What would I do? I'm certainly not prepared. No ammo cache or grenades, and I don't exactly have Boy Scout skills. I like to think that in a crowd, I could make tough decisions for the good of the group, but with a child, I think the emphasis shifts, and the decisions are a lot more challenging. I would leave the katana swords at home, because the whole idea that it could slice through vertebrate like a hot knife through butter is about as ridiculous as a shotgun that never has to be reloaded… I would do anything to protect my family, so I would try to impose my will upon the group for my own personal gain, which would likely be bad. I think we would have to do things on our own, because I'd likely get kicked out…
As human beings, our perceptions and experiences tend to shape our views of the world around us; as authors, we’re charged with creating our own worlds and populating them with people who never existed. Do you feel your own life experiences have influenced your imaginary worlds and, if so, how?
I think this is true of every writer, whether it's subconscious or realized. Our environment helps shape us, so our understanding of the world is often represented by our imaginary creations. I typically don't think of an archetype or someone I know when I create a character. I essentially meet my characters the first time I write them onto a page, and I learn more about them as I go, which often forces me to go back and edit things. I don't stop and wonder where certain concepts come from, but if I did, I could likely find a subconscious rationale behind everything.
First, you must have an authentic voice. If I can pick up your book and it reads just like any other cookie-cutter Wal-Mart mass market book, or like a bestselling horror novel where the main character is always a fictional version of the author… it's kind of like forging a signature…
Second, take a grammar class. No, seriously—that make's me smile (joke). Many grammatical elements are thrown out the window when it comes to realistic character dialogue and stream-of-consciousness; good readers SHOULD be able to make that distinction, but if you break grammar rules — and this really applies to fragmented sentences and character language — you need to make sure you're consistently breaking them.
Third, take a psychology class. I'm actually going to write a blog post on this soon, but basically, you have to provide the reader with insight into WHO your characters are. Consider ensemble pieces like the TV shows American Horror Story or Game of Thrones. Intrinsic motivations and flaws inform character actions, and these are extremely important to the story.
Time for another standard Six Demon question: There’s a train rocketing through the night with nearly a hundred people looking out the windows. The only person actually sitting in their seat is a small child who gazes unwaveringly at the floor. What is going on with these people?
The kid's parent tells them not to look, otherwise they would. Outside, Godzilla is stomping around and breaking stuff, and in its (hers?) hands there are a gaggle of late-night talk show hosts and politicians who suddenly have nothing clever to say because their writers aren't there to help them…
In one of your blog entries, you said, “I truly think that an exploration of horror can unlock the secrets of the human soul.” Can you expand on exactly what you meant by this?
I'm going to begin to answer this question by quoting a mantra from Frank Herbert's Dune: "Fear is the mind killer…"
Fear cripples us. We’re all afraid of something, and it holds us back from discovering something important about ourselves, or the world. Change is the worst. The horror genre ultimately represents that. We hate it when our normal, boring lives are interrupted by a terrible inconvenience, like the car breaking down… or a traumatic event. It sets us back emotionally. It changes us.
There are so many horror stories that focus on children as the protagonists or the catalysts for horrific events. Why? They're supposed to be pure and innocent, untainted by the responsibilities and tragedies of the adult world. Orwell once wrote that "Ignorance is Strength." In a way, it is.
I think the horror genre is making a comeback, much to the chagrin of big publishers. We can open up Pandora's Box to discover what scares us. The things we're most afraid of represent inherent flaws in our society. Understanding what we fear helps us understand who we are; it allows us to deconstruct our personalities, to know the impetus behind out motivations and desires.
This is a discussion about what "horror" is, and there is a fine line between "horror entertainment" and "horror fiction." I guess I could write a book about this subject.
Speaking of writing books, if there were to be a novelization of your life what would the title be and who would you want to write it if you could pluck any author from the streams of time?
"I Told You I Don't Like Cake, So Please Stop Offering it to Me, Thus Forcing Me to Politely Decline Once Again." I think the title concisely summarizes my life. It would have to be written by Roberto Bolano, who actually wrote horror stories using poetry, so his stuff was sold as "literary" fiction. Most of his work involves madness and serial killers. He actually wrote a short story that was a summary of Return of the Living Dead 3, in which he tells you the plot of the whole movie; it's scarier than the film, and he didn't fluff it up.
We’re nearing the end now, so here’s the last of the standard Six Demon questions: are there any questions you’d wished I’d asked but didn't?
You didn't ask me what I was having for dinner. I thought the whole world wanted to know… that's why I always post pictures of meals on Facebook.
You handled that last question with such grace and aplomb, that I’m going to leave the blog in your capable hands while I fight through the stray cats at the kitchen door in an attempt to take out the garbage. Feel free to seize control. Anything at all that you want to talk about or promote is fair game; the forum is yours. Ready…. GO!
If you enjoy zombies, EXPLOSIONS, gore, action, and complex characters, check out Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension. It's the first book of a new series! Here's the synopsis:
Detroit has become a war zone. Slow, shambling corpses feast upon the living while fire consumes the city. Amparo Vega, a haunted mercenary, fights through streets that are choked with the dead. Her mission: extract the legendary soldier, Jim Traverse, who holds the terrifying secret behind the zombie epidemic. While the bullets fly, Traverse befriends a group of survivors whose fates are forever linked to his: an infamous arms dealer, a young lawyer, and a former detective struggle against the zombies together. Can Vega's elite cadre of mercenaries find Traverse before the epidemic becomes global?
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