Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Interview with Gregory Solis- Horror Author

This week your loyal correspondent was lucky enough to track down Gregory Solis, the author of the excellent zombie novel Rise and Walk. In the best interest of letting the artist speak for himself I'll get right to it.
Interview by-Shawn Rutledge

1. First off Gregory, how about you introduce yourself to our fine readers.

Hello everyone, I am Gregory Solis, the writer of Rise and Walk. I have a B.A. in Cinema and make my living as a video editor out in sunny California. I am very happy to be here and humbly thank you for this interview.

2. Of all the monster archetypes in the realm of horror fiction, what made you choose zombies for your first time out of the gate?

I had the extreme fortune to see the original Dawn of the Dead at the theatre in 1979. I absolutely loved it. Romero’s work was more like an adventure than a horror film. Stuff like the Exorcist or the Omen scared the hell out of me at time but zombies seemed more manageable than the supernatural. My nine year old mind became immersed in the film. Dawn was the first movie where I found myself exploring what I would do in such a situation. The ending of Dawn made me wonder what happened to Peter and Fran for the rest of that summer. I remember having to write in a journal the following year at school. I wrote a continuation of Dawn every day for a week. On the next Monday, the teacher pulled me aside and was very concerned about my writing. I have been a fan of zombies ever since. In 1999 I went back to school to study Film and became a commuter. It took an hour and a half to get to school and I am sure that experience had something to do with my writing. Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone who commutes on a crowded train every morning? That is true horror my friend.

If you want to ask how a nine year old got into a NOT RATED film, here is the answer.
In the seventies I had two twin foster sisters. They were seventeen at the time. I was a little punk, so they thought they would scare me by taking me to see the most horrible film possible. The ticket dude said we couldn’t see the film but they were a couple of Disco hotties and flirted our way in. It was a Sunday and no one was really there. The best part was that it turned out to be a double feature with Phantasm. That was the coolest event of 1979.

3. In Rise and Walk, you populate the story with some very well known and, some might say, well worn archetypes (blonde bimbo, brainy brunette with a dark past, paramilitary Mexican best friends, spoiled white rich boy etc.) but manage to make them both realistic and inherently very human. Would you mind enlightening us as to how you managed this wonderful feat?

I began conceptualizing the story with characters drawn from my real life. I happen to be half Latin, half white so I know a little about living in both worlds. I wrote a treatment that outlined the basic story then started to ask myself, what drives these characters? What do they want? Everyone in the book has a motivation and bit of a back story. Many of the character’s physical traits are based on people that I know and grew up with. Having the ability to visualize the characters gave me a starting point from which I could flesh out their personalities. I used a little basic Psychology combined with imagination. I had to know what these people are afraid of besides the undead. I had to come up with what they want out of life. Who their parents are or were and what effect their relationship was like. Once I made up those elements in my head, the characters began to have their own voices. Essentially, it is just making stuff up, but in a thoughtful way that considers how things from the character’s past helped make them who they are. While I was writing, I would find myself taking the heroes into different directions than I had originally intended. By developing the characters I could determine what they would be most likely to do in a situation, making them more real.

4. Most people tend to use a very southern feel, if not locale, for tales involving the living dead, and you seem to play off this in your choice of a Californian mountain town as your setting. How did you come to the decision to use this locale as the central area of your novel?

The campground is a fictional stand in for a part of northern California where my friends and I would go ride motorcycles and shoot guns. We used to have these Thrillseekers weekends where we would get hammered, do really stupid crap, and jump bikes over the campfire. I first had the idea for Rise on one of those trips. The town in the book is based on where one of my brothers lives, just shy of the Oregon border. It is like the town that time forgot. There are only seven thousand people in the whole area. Once again, being able to visualize the area helped me in describing it to the readers.

*** If you want to see a short video of the camping trips I am talking about there is one here.;=en

5. Cheesy question time: Since you are obviously a fan of the genre, due to all the little omages thrown into the novel, I have to know, what would you say the top ten zombie films of all time are?

Well, I counted the zombie DVDs I have recently and came up with ninety nine films. I think I will buy Meat Market III to make it an even one hundred. El Diablo Azul makes me laugh.
Seriously, all the Romero films are in the top.
1, Dawn of the Dead,
2, Night of the Living Dead,
3, Day of the Dead,
4, Land of the Dead,
5, Night of the Living Dead 1990,
6, Return of the Living Dead,
7, Zombie,
8, Return of the Evil Dead,
9, Verses,
10, 28 days later, (I know, some disagree, but I love the scope of the flick)

6. How do you feel as a member of the genre community about the current resurgence of zombies as the monster of the moment?

Zombies had a lull for a while but as soon as I saw the first Resident Evil video game, I knew something was going to happen. Later on, when Romero directed the commercial for RE2, I hoped that he might get the opportunity to direct another movie. I thought then that we would begin to see more zombie films but I really never expected the popularity that zombies now enjoy. I am thrilled that we are seeing so much zombie media and believe that it will continue. I wonder if somewhere on an unconscious level it has something to do with the current turmoil in the world.

7. Here’s one I’ve personally been wondering about since I first heard about your novel; why chose paintball as a central theme?

All too often in media, average citizens pick up a weapon and are instant crack-shots. In reality, it takes practice to be proficient with a firearm. I wanted the characters to have a logical reason for their special skills and paramilitary experience. My friends and I grew up on Rambo, Enter the Ninja, and Red Dawn. We played paintball in the hills, shot bows, guns, threw knives, made potato launchers, blow guns, practiced Kendo, and took martial arts. The character of Jack is based on my best friend who now makes some amazing custom knives and hand crafted bows. He really is a bad ass with a sword, so Jack’s character is believable to me. It was the world I came from, extrapolated and expanded to fill the story of the two main characters. I still have my Bud Orr manual pump paint gun. It is a little beat up, but can fire a homemade dart deep into a fence post.

8. We all know how hard it is to get published now a days, as well as the daunting task of actually completing that first novel, so would you mind sharing with us how you actually did it? Or, more appropriately how you got this idea from conception to the wonderful little paperback that is now on store shelves?

Completing the novel was easy. Once I had developed the characters I owed it to them to finish. I wanted to get all the words out and give life to the story. Editing was a nightmare and took longer than writing. I had my girlfriend and an old friend from school help me with the proofreading. Many of my friends out in the valley are involved in new media and the internet. They told me about self publishing and how integration with Amazon and other online retailers has improved. I did some research and decided that was right for my purposes. I know that some established writers and many publishers look down on self publishing, however I felt that the idea had merit. Print on demand was more akin to the world of independent Film that I am used to. It is working out for me and I am happy with the results. Through POD, I have gained readers across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. As I develop as a writer I may look to the world of traditional publishing but for now I like having full control of my work.

9. What other authors do you enjoy/draw inspiration from?

David Moody was something of an inspiration. I had read his first book, Autumn, before I found out about self publishing. I enjoyed what he did with the characterization and Psychology in his book. Discovering that he and Len Barnhart were independent really helped me to make the decision for POD. Before the internet, I had only read Dawn of the Dead by Sparrow and Romero and The Book of the Dead by Skipp and Spector. There just wasn’t that much zombie related fiction in my area. The only other horror book I read in my youth was Frankenstein, which I read three or four times. Some bastard stole it from my towel on Waikiki beach. What kind of punk ass swipes Frankenstein while on vacation? Growing up, I was heavily into Hemmingway but after my twenties I kind of lost interest. I got into Shakespeare in my teens. I cannot recommend Shakespeare enough to someone who wants to study the human condition. If you cannot stomach reading it, rent the movies, but give his work some consideration. Everything about humanity is there if you take the time to look. In the nineties, I got into King with the first Dark Tower book. I have read The Stand at least five times. For some reason I like to read books over again. Recently I enjoyed Deathbringer by Bryan Smith, really liked Berserk by Tim Lebbon, and Day By Day Armageddon by Bourne.

10. What sort of research went into the creation of Rise and Walk?

Life experience; I wrote what I knew about. I was interested in medicine when I was younger where I studied Anatomy and Organic Chemistry. I think that helps me when I have to be more visceral with the gore. One of my brothers is in Law enforcement and shared quite a few stories over the years. It is all stuff from my wacky past. Veronica’s experiences in the earthquake come from my living in the east bay during 1989. I remember driving to the Oakland hills the night of the big quake with some friends. The power was out in most places and we could see the fires across the water in San Francisco. We took surface streets because the freeways were unsafe. Some of the over passes had crumbled to the ground and there were still the after shocks to worry about. Hell, the Bay Bridge broke. It had a strong effect on me, so I expanded upon that and made it a part of Veronica’s back story. The best research for me is listening to people and observing.

11. The novel itself is very cinematic in feel and scope, so I wonder, as many readers probably have, is there a film adaptation anywhere in the future?

The reverse actually. I haven’t really spoken about this anywhere but Rise and Walk was originally a feature that I wrote in my senior year at Film school. I attempted to produce the film but it turned out to be too vast for my budget. I am glad in a way that the film didn’t work out because the novel gave me the time to really explore and expand on the lives of the characters. I do still have the original script but it pales in comparison to the novel as I no longer had to worry about how we would film the stunts. I imagine that my training as a Film maker will always come across in my writing. Drama is drama no matter what the medium. Character motivation, plot, conflict, suspense, and pacing, are all important whether you are writing for print, stage, or film.

12. At the end of Rise there is an advert for a sequel entitled “Pathogen”, would you be able to tell us eager readers a bit more about that?

Well, we are going to continue following the struggle of the four heroes. These characters are not self contained action devices; they have familial connections and people that they care about. They want to get to their loved ones and make sure they are safe. We will learn more about who they are and what things, internally and externally, stand in their way. We will meet some new characters and find out what happened to others. There will be further discoveries about the Cerberus infection and its carriers. Pathogen will have more action, more gore and hopefully some honest character development that the readers can identify with.

13. Are there any other projects coming soon that would like to let our readers know about?

When I finish Pathogen, I plan on completing a collection of stories set in different cities in the Rise universe called R&W;: Cerberus. Some stories will tie into events in the main series and others will just explore the zombie phenomenon as society collapses. I have a general outline and order of events that should take me through quite a few books in the main series. I admire what J. Michael Straczynski did with Babylon Five so I am trying to take the long view with the Rise storyline. Things that happen in one book can be found having an impact later on in another. I also have another non Rise related project titled, the boy you used to know, in development.

14. What time period/ schedule best fits your particular writing style?

Rise was written in the mornings. I would wake up at around four A. M., have coffee with a handful of vitamins, and start writing. I would type away until almost eleven. The writing for me flows better after a nights sleep. I write to music without lyrics. Action scenes get rock music like Apocalyptica, while others get classical. I think the music influences my pacing, kind of like scoring in Film.

15. Any practical advice for the many talented aspiring writers out there?

Rise is my first novel; I am no authority. There are many far more experienced authors out there that have good advice for the aspiring writer. Join the forums over at Shocklines, Permuted press, and others, and read what they have to say. Introduce yourself and be kind. If you are shy, just lurk around and read the posts. There are many varied opinions on what one should do as a writer, so be a little skeptical. Collect the information and let your mind digest what they are saying. Then decide what you think is the best way to approach your work. Remember that people are taking their time to offer advice, so don’t get mad if you disagree. Be polite, thank others when they help you and work hard at your craft. Write often and push yourself to create new stuff. Read many different books from different genres. Everything you read can teach you something, even if it is how not to write. Take a book that you are fond of and critically read it again. Attempt to discover how the writer managed to communicate to you in such a way that you enjoyed the work so much. Write because you love it; because you love the story and your characters, not because you want to score a six figure advance. Show your work to others and learn to take criticism. Take good physical care of yourself and get some exercise. Writing is not very active and working out helps keep the blood flowing to the brain. I urge anyone who is interested in self publishing to consider their work carefully and produce the best writing and editing possible. I believe in this new model of self distribution, but it is not easy. Some people will have trouble accepting your work as legitimate. There is nothing you can do about that other than just be professional and keep writing. Write for yourself and your audience because they are the best judge of your ability.

16. Thanks once again for this interview opportunity, is there anything you would like to add?

Thank you for your time and thanks to everyone who has given the book a chance. If anyone is interested in checking out Rise and Walk, there is a 48 page free preview PDF available here:
Take care,


Anonymous said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I may be a bit biased, but Rise and Walk is a fabulously original work. The characters are real people that we all love and know in our lives, for one reason or another. I commend Mr. Solis for bringing the horror genre up to date by placing the story in a tangible space and time where us as readers could see oursleves in the exact same situation. I appreciate his rich honesty with the characters and look forward to the next chapter of Rise and Walk.