An author of popular thriller, apocalyptic horror, and sci-fantasy fiction, Craig DiLouie has been praised for writing strong characters and gritty realism. His novels have been nominated for literary rewards such as the Bram Stoker Award and the Audie Award, translated into multiple languages, and optioned for film. He is a member of the HWA, International Thriller Writers, and IFWA.
Craig, thank you for agreeing to this interview. You have been publishing since 2001 writing everything from apocalyptic thrillers to tales about zombies to mutant children. What were your influences growing up that led you to writing?
I can name two decisive influences on me when I was a kid. The first was growing up watching disaster movies and sci-fi films like The Poseidon Adventure and Soylent Green, stories about ordinary people tested by extraordinary circumstances. The second was reading the complete works of Robert E. Howard, who fired my imagination with his pulpy fantasy and horror stories. I was completely hooked as a lifelong fiction reader and somebody who wanted to write it.
Which of your novels was your favorite to write? What makes it different than all the rest?
My latest novel, One of Us, is probably my favorite because it poured out of me without the usual speed bumps. I wrote it with a fierce joy, having a huge amount of fun casting the misunderstood monster story as a Southern Gothic. It’s more focused on character and sharp dialogue than anything I’ve ever written, the themes are stark and powerful, and it turned out, under the guidance of my fantastic editor at Orbit, to be a really strong, gut-punching story.
That being said, I enjoy everything I write, from my zombie stories to my horror works to my pulpy adventure thrillers. I just enjoy something different about each one.
I write for big publishers and also self-publish. When I write for a publisher, my goal is to deliver a “big book,” a story combining big ideas with strong execution. Including a strong theme is important because it gives the reader something to reflect on after they close the covers, and it allows me as the author to describe the nonfiction idea of the book. My vampire novel Suffer the Children, for example, is about how far parents will go out of love for their children. My dark fantasy One of Us is about prejudice and what makes a monster a monster. While the themes are always different, one thing these books all have in common is that they make the reader feel the theme through empathy with the characters, rather than making them listen to an author preaching. More often than not, there’s no clear single right answer to the thematic question, leaving it up to the reader to reflect.
I have always seen science fiction and fantasy stories as gateways for us to discuss difficult topics in a safe environment. Your latest novel, One of Us, looks at prejudice in all its forms (societal, institutional, and individual). Is this something you think we should be discussing more seriously as a culture? How does this novel bring the topic to the table?
I agree with your take. I love speculative fiction because one can really break boundaries, even periodically hold up a fractured mirror to the human soul. My fiction tends to make people uncomfortable for that reason, resulting in strong and often wonderful reactions. You’re absolutely correct that One of Us is about prejudice and whether monsters are born or made. The idea was to examine prejudice as a fundamental human trait rather than grab onto a context everybody already has preconceived notions about, such as race or religion. The idea of using monsters allowed me to create a fictional group and subject them to both individual and institutional oppression, and through empathy the reader is right along there with them, feeling what they feel. As the author, my goal wasn’t to tell anybody what to think but rather encourage them to viscerally engage with the theme through the characters’ story, and ideally reflect on meaning afterwards. If you like books that make you uncomfortable and invite you to evaluate yourself and your world in a new way, I would confidently say you’d dig One of Us.
What a crazy ride it’s been, gratifying and humbling. Any success I’ve achieved would look to an observer like somebody falling up a long flight of stairs. As a result, the only advice I could give other writers is to keep learning, keep producing, and be at the right place at the right time. Two of the most wonderful things to happen to publishing in the last 20 years no doubt has been on-demand printing, which produced a renaissance in small press, and the eBook reader—notably, the Kindle—which together completely democratized publishing. The result has been many, many new choices for readers, and viable new publishing paths for writers. It’s an incredible time right now—as always a tough game but with far more opportunity.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m finishing revisions for another novel for Orbitabout a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war. As with One of Us, I expect the story and its themes will be provocative.
It has been a pleasure, Craig! Please tell us where fans can find you online or in the upcoming year at events.
Thank you for having me! The best place to find me and where I am on social media, etc. is to visit my website at www.CraigDiLouie.com.