Last Words, joined Yvonne Perry on the WITS podcast last month. Just recently, he had a conversation with WITS team member Sarah Moore to discuss his story of horror and apocalyptic events in more detail.
Sarah: Please begin by sharing something about yourself and your writing background.
Mike: Well I’m 55 years old and just beginning to publish my work, though I’ve been writing since the age of nineteen. There are lots of novels and manuscripts piled up and maybe one day I’ll get them dusted off and published.
Sarah: Share the premise and format of Last Words so that we will know the genre and storyline of your book.
Mike: Last Words is a novel about bio-terrorism and horror. The act of terrorism re-creates the world in which we live and through a pathogen alters human DNA. It creates monsters that want to hunt down any and all those not affected by the virus. The book focuses on the survivors and does so through the short story format. By the end of the novel, each tale comes together to form one complete story. It is a story about good and evil and one I hope people will not forget.
Sarah: Where did your interest in horror and science fiction originate?
Mike: I grew up appreciating sci-fi and horror at a very young age and never stopped watching movies or reading books in that genre. From that point I grew to love authors such as Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Lovecraft, and so many others. The apocalyptic horror scenario was always my favorite.
Sarah: What inspired you to write this particular book?
Mike: Actually it was an author who really has nothing to do with that genre. It was Louis Lamour. He wrote a book called Bendigo Shafter. There was a quote in it that inspired me to create the world of Last Words. He said, “Civilization is a flimsy cloak, and just outside are hunger, thirst and cold waiting.” What Lamour was talking about were the hardships awaiting those who traveled into the Wild West. They encountered bandits, Indians, and wild beasts. There was no law out there. In fact, you were the law. In the very first chapter of Last Words, a character by the name of Einer Jacobson is talking with his father, who tells him some of the same things Lamour mentioned in Bendigo Shafter. He says, “Son, there’s a very thin veneer between being human and being an animal. Take away something that humans need and want, and the animal comes out.” In Last Words, the virus takes away humanity, in its place are mutated humans bend on the destruction of all normal humankind. So Louis Lamour was my muse in the initial creation of Last Words.
Sarah: Your book examines how quickly the thin layer of a civilized society can disappear when we are faced with a destructive force, be it manmade or natural. Can you expand on that concept and how you think Last Words may cause us to reflect on this frightening idea?
Mike: There is no doubt that society has the propensity to break down once all the normal everyday functions disappear. Take away electricity for a week and people will be fighting each other over their neighbor’s generator or fuel. I’ll give you a for instance. I lived in New York City during the famous 1977 blackout that took out the entire state. Within 24 hours, the city was in chaos. 1600 stores looted, over 1000 fires started, over 4000 people arrested, 500 plus policemen hurt. They closed the airports and tunnels leading into and out of the city and over 4000 people had to be rescued from the subway system, all this in less than 24 hours. All I did was add some horrifying creatures and you’ve got Last Words.
Sarah: You employ both physical and psychological horror in developing the story of Last Words. How does each of these components contribute to the overall message of the book?
Mike: I don’t want the reader to think that Last Words leaves little hope for the survivors, but to be realistic, it is a horror novel and I wanted the reader to experience hope, loss, terror, revenge, love, and especially horror to a great degree. This is only the introduction to the world of Last Words. The sequel will give a broader stroke to all the characters in the story line. You will get to know them better. The horror will remain.
Sarah: How did you develop the personalities for the primary characters in Last Words?
Mike: Will Dobbs is the central character of the book. He is a Marine on leave from Iraq who finds himself in the middle of something much more horrifying than the war he knew. He is our hero, the wanderer of the dead lands, and one we will see gain in the sequel. There are others, Mary Signer, a soldier who left the underground bunkers to try and survive the world created by the virus, Jordan a young sixteen-year-old boy who is now alone and fighting off infected creatures in his house, John the young man who barricades himself in a grocery store that is being invaded and so many more. The characters stand on their own, to survive on their own and to be part of the larger picture, as each story weaves into the next. Dobbs is fearless, Mary a determined fighter, Jordan is naïve and finding out the cost of survival and John is afraid, hiding from what he knows he must do to live. You get to know them all and invest yourself emotionally.
Sarah: How long did it take to write this book? How did the storyline develop for you?
Mike: It took me six months to write the book. It was difficult between a job and other responsibilities. But it got done and I was happy with the results. The storyline developed in a linear fashion. I knew what I wanted. I pictured it in my mind, just like looking at a movie. I wanted every sequence to register hard with the reader. I wanted to imprint each story on their minds, make it easy for them to imagine.
Sarah: Have you worked with an agent or publicist? If so, how has that experience been? If not, what challenges or benefits have you found to handling the process yourself?
Mike: The publisher helped in a number of ways. I did the marketing and promotional work. I can say that it’s been very hard work. I try to put in an hour a day on promoting the novel, though right now I’m concentrating on finishing the sequel, Shadows and Dust. If I had it to do all over again, I believe I would hire an agent, someone to market and promote the novel. That way I would have more time to write.
Sarah: Do you have a Web site or blog, or another online presence, where we can learn more about you or your book?
Mike: My website is: www.outskirtspress.com/lastwords. Of course you can find me on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most on-line book stores.
Sarah: Any other comments you would like to share about your novel Last Words?
Mike: Go out and buy it. Read it, and then send it to me to sign for you. I would love that. You can e-mail from the website. Love to hear from all of you.
Sarah: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn more about you and your new book, Last Words.