Interview by Mike MacLean
David Wellington’s career is a real Cinderella story, only with FLESH EATING ZOMBIES instead of wicked stepsisters. Even if undead cannibals aren’t your bag, Wellington’s road to America’s bookshelves makes for one fascinating story.
Instead of following the traditional route, (agent…publisher…bookseller…reader) the talented Mr. Wellington cut out the middleman. He wrote a serialized novel, Monster Island, and posted it as a blog, available to anyone for free. The result was an online phenomenon that led to a three-book deal with Thunder Mouth Press: Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet. If that’s not impressive enough, Wellington has already landed yet another three-book deal, this time with Three Rivers Press: Ninety-nine Coffins, Vampire Zero, and Thirteen Bullets, which just hit bookstores this week.
Via email, I spoke to Wellington about writing, publishing, and things that go bump in the night.
MM: What made you decide to serialize this work onlline rather than to take it to a publisher?
DW: A friend of mine, who is now my webmaster and chief online marketer, Alex Lencicki, had a website–a blog to be exact. He came up with the idea of writing a web serial. I thought it might be an interesting experiment. I really wasn’t thinking about publishing the story at all. I had an idea for a zombie book I wanted to try and he said it sounded great, so I asked him for six months to do research, to work up an outline, and so on. He said the web didn’t work like that–I would be starting the following monday. I had to write the book in real-time, basically, putting up a chapter every monday, wednesday and friday and doing all the research and editing in between posts. It was exhilarating–and maddening.
MM: What other challenges did you face writing a serialized work?
DW: Well, I’d never done one before. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities for serials before the web came along–it was a lost art form, something Dickens and Conan Doyle used to do, a nineteenth century thing. I actually went back and read a lot of old pulp stuff trying to see how they worked. It’s a very restrictive medium–every chapter has to end in a cliffhanger, you can’t expect people to remember subtle details when it’ll be months between plot developments. Yet it also infused the book with a crazy anarchic energy I’d never seen in my writing before, and I think that’s what really drew people to it.
MM: Even after getting a contract, you continue to publish your work online for free. Why?
DW: It was just too much fun to stop. Publishing online meant I could get instant feedback from my readers. They felt like they had a special access to the book and I felt like I had a friendly focus group ready to tell me whenever the writing wasn’t clear or if a certain character’s actions felt off. It’s a lot of work but it makes me a much stronger writer.
MM: Has offering your work on the web for free cut into hardcopy book sales?
DW: Not at all. Most people who read the books online want to own them, either as a souvenir of something in which they invested five months of their lives, or to see how the book has changed between web and print. Others want copies they can give their friends. I hear a lot of people say they’d rather read a paper book they have to pay for than one they can read for free on a computer screen. Regardless of why, people seem happy to pay for the books once they go to print.
MM: Why zombies?
DW: That’s an easy one–I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where George Romero made his zombie movies. We used to watch them on tv uncut and in prime time, even when I was just a little kid. I think I saw zombie movies before I’d even heard of Dracula or Frankenstein.
MM: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
DW: Night of the Living Dead. It’s the one that started it at all, and it’s still the best. Romero didn’t just change zombies with that movie, he changed American film.
MM: As a true zombie nerd I have to ask this question. What did you think of the controversial "fast-walking" zombies in the Dawn of the Dead remake?
DW: The way you know that zombies are really an archetype, and not just a fad, is that you have so much freedom when working with them. Romero’s zombies were slow and shambling and they were terrifying simply because they weren’t fast but they also never gave up–they would slowly gain on you no matter how fast you ran away. The zombies in the remake of DotD are scary because they’re probably faster than you are, so running isn’t an option. I’ve seen talking zombies, zombie animals, romantic zombies, zombies with super-powers, zombies that are undead and zombies that are still alive but sick, zombies possessed by demons–and they all work. There’s something essential and horrifying about the zombie that is strong enough to stand up to whatever you want to add to the genre.
MM: Name an author we should be reading but aren’t?
DW: Well, there’s a good zombie book called Xombies by Walter Greatshell that came out a year too early to be part of the zombie renaissance. Well worth checking out. In terms of general horror, people should be reading more Ramsey Campbell–the man’s a genius of style and should be taught in schools alongside Faulkner and Joyce.
MM: As I mentioned, 13 Bullets is out this week. You’ve stepped away from zombies in this one to explore the world of vampires. Why the change? How is this book different than others in the genre?
DW: It takes a few minutes to post a book online, but it can take up to eighteen months to get a book published and in stores. I had a long time to wait between Monster Island’s web success and finding out if it worked at all as a printed book. I’m a nervous fellow by disposition and the time lag was driving me nuts, so I did what I always do when I’m feeling at odds and ends–I started writing again. Thirteen Bullets was originally going to be a short story but it kept growing. It turned out to be the best thing I’d ever written. I’d been reading a lot of vampire novels at the time that were essentially romance novels–the vampires were actually dating and sometimes marrying the human heroines. That didn’t work for me. I remembered reading Dracula for the first time and being actually scared! Vampires were supposed to be monsters, evil, unnatural creatures. The vampires in Thirteen Bullets are less Christopher Lee or Gary Oldman and more Max Schreck–the very creepy actor from Nosferatu. They’re hairless, they don’t read poetry, and instead of taking you for a nice dinner they’d rather rip your head off and drink out of the stump. Thirteen Bullets is violent and bloody and thoroughly unromantic, but it also has a fun side because I play with a lot of the vampire clichés, turn them around and make them nasty.
My thanks to David for taking the time to speak with me. If you’re interested in his novels, you can check them out for free at http://www.brokentype.com/davidwellington/. If you like what you read, please support the author by purchasing a hard copy version.
As always, Murder fans, I leave you with questions. Would any authors out there consider publishing a novel online? Why or why not? And could an online crime novel earn the same success as something from the sci-fi or horror genres?