Interview: David Dunwoody

Born in Texas and currently living in Utah, David Dunwoody writes subversive horror fiction, including the EMPIRE zombie series and the collections DARK ENTITIES and UNBOUND & OTHER TALES. Most recent is his post-apocalyptic novel THE HARVEST CYCLE. His short stories have been or will be published by outfits such as Permuted, Chaosium, Shroud, Twisted Library, Belfire and Dark Regions. Favorite authors include Lovecraft, King and Barker.

How many people have you killed off over your career as a writer? Ever offed someone then kicked yourself for it?

In terms of just the numbers, I’ve wiped out planets (I have a severe inferiority complex). So looking at it that way, lots. As far as actual characters go, slightly fewer. I’ve never regretted killing any of them, although I miss some of those folks. When you get attached to a character and want to know more about them, but the story needs them to die, it can be irksome. Luckily, though, the horror genre isn’t beholden to the traditional rules of life and death.

Have you ever written yourself or people you know as a character in one of your books?

I’ve definitely written myself in, usually unintentionally. I look back and see a lot of thinly-guised Daves in my stories. Creating a character – whether you’re a writer or actor – can be a way to explore and share aspects of yourself that people don’t normally see. Sometimes you’re confessing your darker nature and other times you focus on your strengths Again, it may be an unconscious thing but I recognize it when I look back at these characters.

Though I’ve named a lot of characters for friends and fellow authors, I don’t think I’ve ever tried to insert all of their real-life traits into the character. It would probably interfere with organic character development. Even when characters bear more than a passing resemblance to me, I find that before long they go their own way and evolve into someone different.

Do you laugh at your own jokes as you write them? 

Only when I know I’ve gone too far. It’s a childish sort of glee.

When did you decide to make a career of writing?

Late 2004. That was the first time I actually tried to sell something, and when it sold I pretty much leapt headfirst into the life. I did still have a day job but it was my intention to change things, and I did. Not all of the changes were smart but it can’t be denied that I changed like a mofo.

What was your favorite moment when writing The Harvest Cycle?

Everything with the character DaVinci. He’s an investigator who has had part of his brain removed and has basically lost his soul – dreams, imagination, the ability to wonder “why” that separates us from the animals. For an inspector, that’s a serious handicap, especially in a post-apocalyptic world swarming with monsters. So he takes extreme measures to achieve brief bursts of inspiration. Holmes had his cocaine, DaVinci eats brains. Writing a character who lacks that quality which we call the human spirit, that was fascinating and sometimes darkly funny and other times really sad.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It varies wildly, but when I’m committed I can have the first draft done in a couple of months. Then there’s the revisions. Actually, next comes the procrastinating and THEN the revisions. I have a nearly-finished manuscript that I haven’t looked at since 2011, while anything for which there’s an outside deadline gets done. Setting your own deadlines and being your own boss can be tough when both the boss and the employee are slouches.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

The Harvest Cycle is entirely born of the imagination (with a healthy serving of the Cthulhu Mythos stirred in). In the case of my previous novel, Empire’s End, I became legally blind shortly before I started the manuscript and I decided to place one of the main characters in a similar position. This was a character established in the first Empire book so he didn’t become me, he just became blind. Losing one’s eyesight during the zompoc was a nasty bit I just had to do.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?

The YA author John Green said (on YouTube) that reading is an author’s only true apprenticeship. He then urged writers not only to read but to read genres with which they’re unfamiliar, genres that don’t interest them. That in particular has proved a great education for me, and I always repeat it when asked for general advice.

Who are you reading right now?

Right now I’m starting a collection edited by Stephen Jones and comprised of horror classics that Lovecraft liked. Each story is prefaced with Lovecraft’s thoughts, which I assume are taken from his existing correspondence. I haven’t actually begun reading but I’m excited for it.

OK, so, what’s next, do you already have a new project in the works? 

I just turned in my next novel, currently titled The Three Egos. I decided to go from writing end-of-the-world scenarios to the end of everything. More than with any other story, this is one where I love the entire cast and had a hell of a time laying some of them to rest. After a long dry spell in which I hadn’t completed a novel, this one lifted me up and restored my confidence.

In ten words or less

  • If you were a Star Trek® character, which one would it be? Why?
    • Bones. Curmudgeonly, but hates people with no sense of humor.
  • If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
    • People often choose superpowers based on insecurities. So, natch, invisibility. 
  • Oreos…Bite into the entire cookie or deconstruct it?
    • If there’s milk present, dunk it whole. If not, evisceration.
  • The zombie apocalypse has begun. What zombie fighting badass would you want on your team?
    • The Reaper from Empire! (Shameless plug) Death always wins.