Thursday, July 9, 2009

Interview - David Moody

David Moody is the author of one of the novels I enjoyed a lot this year, “Hater” (reviewed here), but also an author with a very interesting story. He published his first novel, “Straight to You”, in 1996, but the novel failed to make an impact. Because of this fact David changed his strategy and published his next novel, “Autumn”, on-line. The novel became a phenomenon and lead to the creation of Infected Books, David Moody’s own publishing house. Here he published another stand-alone novel, “Trust”, and three other novels in the “Autumn” series, “The City”, “The Human Condition” and “Purification”. In 2006 David publishes a new novel, “Hater”, and in just a few months this novel captures the attention of a US movie production company. The film rights were sold and now the movie is in production with Guillermo del Toro and Mark Johnson as producer and Juan Antonio Bayona directing. David Moody also sold the publishing rights of “Hater” and its two scheduled sequels and the novel was published in 2009 by Thomas Dunne Books in US and by Orion Books in UK. The novel is scheduled to be released in other countries too, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Russia among others.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): David, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
You proved to be an ambitious and perseverant writer so far, but will get to this a bit later. First I want to know how did it all start? How did David Moody become interested in writing?
David Moody: It sounds like a cliché, but I always wanted to tell stories. For as long as I can remember I’ve constantly had story ideas running around my head but, like a lot of people I guess, it took a while for me to do anything about it. Originally I wanted to make films, but a lack of cash and relevant experience prevented that from happening. Instead I started to write again, and the screenplays I’d planned somehow became novels! Creative writing was always something I’d had a flair for and enjoyed, so it just took a little planning, self-discipline and effort to start producing books.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Like I said you proved to be ambitious and perseverant. Did you get many refusals while trying to publish your first novel? Were you disappointed by the initial impact made by “Straight to You”?
David Moody: Actually, looking back, I think I was quite fortunate in that I found a publisher for ‘Straight to You’ very quickly. As it turned out though, they produced a great book but it didn’t sell in the numbers I’d hoped (in fact, it hardly sold at all!) which was incredibly disappointing at the time. But, if I hadn’t worked with that particular publisher, I probably wouldn’t have turned to self-publishing my work on-line and I wouldn’t be in the position I am now. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Mihai (Dark Wolf): How did you come up with the idea of releasing your novels on-line? Would you recommend other authors to follow your path?
David Moody: After the experience I’d had with ‘Straight to You’, I was determined to take a different approach. I was resigned to not making a huge amount of money from my second book ‘Autumn’, so I sat down and reassessed my priorities. I realized that building up a readership and getting my name known was far more important than making a few quid, so I decided to give ‘Autumn’ away as a free download from my website. It proved to be such a success that it gave me a platform from which I’ve built everything else. As a result of the half a million or so downloads of the book, I launched my own publishing house (Infected Books) and produced a series of sequels and other novels. That lead to two movie deals and a deal with a major US publisher. I’d certainly recommend that other people try this route, but don’t expect overnight success. Giving away books was a fairly new idea when I did it back in 2001, but the Internet is swamped with free stories now. To stand out from the crowd you’ve got to be good and present yourself well, but that’s also the case when you’re trying to get exposure for your material in any market, traditional or on-line. ‘Autumn’ was available on-line for almost 7 years before the deal with Thomas Dunne Books was made.

M(DW): Did the fact that you built an on-line readership and your novels were well-received on the Internet help you later to publish your works with an established publishing house?
DM: Indirectly, yes. I was approached by my current publisher who’d found out about ‘Hater’ after I’d sold the film rights. Again, the production company came to me, not the other way around. So that says to me that someone, somewhere at some point got hold of a copy of the Infected Books edition of ‘Hater’ and it was good enough for Mark Johnson and Guillermo del Toro to want to buy the rights. Likewise with the ‘Autumn’ movie. What I’m trying to say is the books sold themselves, and that was completely down to the on-line readership I’d built up. I’ve had the support of many great people from very early on and I’m full of appreciation for them. To put things into perspective, in total since 2001 I’ve spent less than $500 on publicity. Everything I’ve achieved has, at some point, been as a result of word of mouth publicity.

M(DW): Did you feel that your novel, “Hater”, was perceived in a different way after its release from the well known publishers (Orion Books in UK and Thomas Dunne Books in US)? Do you hope to reach a different and new readership after this publication?
DM: The perception of the story itself hasn’t really changed – I still get the same comments today, but I get lots more of them now than I used to! What has changed dramatically is the size of the audience I’ve been able to reach. More physical copies (I’m not including ebooks and free downloads here) of ‘Hater’ have been printed than all the Infected Books copies of all my other books combined! The book’s also been sold to publishers in around 14 other countries worldwide whereas before I was largely limited to an English speaking audience. And also, whilst Infected Books was almost exclusively an on-line business, working with large publishers such as Orion and Thomas Dunne Books has allowed me to get my books into thousands of bookstores worldwide.

M(DW): With “Hater” already published and with the future release of the “Autumn” series will the other two of your novels, “Straight to You” and “Trust”, be available for a wider audience?
DM: Eventually yes. Those two books are, I feel, great stories. But I also see a lot of unfulfilled potential within them. They’re both flawed. ‘Straight to You’ in particular is quite naively written and structured and it’s also dated somewhat. It is my plan to rewrite and hopefully republish the book one day. ‘Trust’ is similar and I’m actually hoping to start work on a new version very soon. Since I walked away from that story in 2005, I’ve found several new levels to open up and develop the action and themes of the book. I hope to have more news on ‘Trust’ by the end of the year.

M(DW): If I am not mistaken you also planned to write a novel called “Mark Thane”. Do you plan to continue writing it someday? Can you reveal a little about the subject of this novel?
DM: ‘Mark Thane’ was an abandoned project which I hope to be able to go back to one day. It was being published as a free, on-line serialization. Unfortunately I just wasn’t able to commit enough time to it to do it justice. In essence, the book was about a fairly ordinary guy who suddenly discovers that in 34 days there’s a 70% chance he’ll die. Doesn’t sound very nice, I know! It’s about the changes we would all make to our lives if we knew there was a definite ‘end-date’ approaching. I won’t say any more for now but yes, it’ll be finished one day!

M(DW): Speaking of on-line publishing and moving just a bit aside the line of questions may I ask if as a reader do you prefer to read a book in an electronic format or in a physical one? Why?
DM: Personally, I still prefer physical books just because of the portability of a paperback. I don’t mind reading off a screen, but it’s less convenient. I’ve tried reading books on my iPod touch but the display is just a little too small for my liking. I get sent a lot of pdfs and I read through a lot of my own drafts on screen so I’m looking forward to trying Amazon’s Kindle or one of the other ebook readers which have recently been released. I think that would be a happy compromise – the convenience of the computer along with the portability of a physical book.

M(DW): All your novels written so far are focused on apocalyptic scenarios. What attracts you towards this subject? Do you believe that our world is heading to such future and such a violent end?
DM: You’re right, my books are all about the end of the world in one way or another, but it’s not really Armageddon itself that I’m interested in. My stories focus on the people involved, and how they cope with what’s happening to them. I do think that as a race we’re inevitably doomed to destroy ourselves, and I don’t think it’ll be pretty when it happens. I’m actually a really happy and positive person, believe it or not! I think we’re naïve though if we just coast along from day to day thinking that everything’s always going to be okay. It doesn’t hurt to peer over the edge and look down into the abyss from time to time…!

M(DW): I’ve noticed while reading “Hater” and the information of your other novels that many aspects of your works are an assessment of our society. Are these meant as a critique towards our society? Also your heroes seem trapped in a system so, do you think that we live in a frustrating society?
DM: Sometimes I think it’s hard to believe we live in a society at all. To me, a society of people is one which works together for the common good, and that’s certainly not the case in many places today. As a recent example, just look at the recent MPs expenses scandal in the UK. Our elected representatives have been stealing from us and lining their own pockets for years! And that, I think, is a good illustration of the problem – people are too self-obsessed and are concerned with self-preservation at the expense of everyone and everything else. We live in a world where many people (not all, I accept) want the very best for themselves and will strive to get that at the expense of anyone who gets in their way. That’s the frustration, and that’s why many people (like Danny McCoyne in ‘Hater’) get trapped.

M(DW): Would you try in the future to write on a different subject and in a different genre? Which one would you like to try?
DM: Yes! I have plenty of ideas – I just don’t have enough time to write them all! I can’t give you a specific genre that I’d like to try. I’ll write about anything that interests me, and that’s the key. If I’m not excited by the story, I won’t write the book!

M(DW): “Hater” feels a bit like the movie “28 Days Later”. Is this movie one of the sources of inspiration for your novel? What inspired “Hater” beside your passion for apocalyptic scenarios?
DM: I can honestly say that neither ’28 Days Later’ or ’28 Weeks Later’ influenced ‘Hater’ or any of my other books. They’ve been compared to each other for as long as I can remember though! The first film came out around the same time ‘Autumn’ was beginning to get noticed and I was asked a lot at the time if there had been any influence. I think people hear certain keywords – rage, violence, zombies, UK – and decide to make comparisons. ‘Hater’ also often gets mentioned in the same breath as ‘Cell’ by Stephen King and films like ‘The Signal’. Again, they’ve got nothing in common except the basic premise of people turning on each other for no immediately apparent reason.
The actual inspiration for ‘Hater’ came from two things. Firstly, I wanted to write a book examining what would happen when all the differences we use to divide ourselves into groups (age, sex, beliefs, political views, position in society, race etc.) no longer applied; where some new division had come along to redefine the boundaries. I was struggling to find what that division might be until July 2005 when London was attacked by suicide bombers. One of the bombers worked as a classroom assistant in a primary school and videotape of him working with small kids was shown on the TV news shortly after the attacks. That was my second major influence for the book. I was stunned that someone could spend their time helping kids one week, then, days later, walk onto a packed tube train and explode a bomb with the sole intention of killing as many people as possible. The thought that people could act that way was the inspiration for ‘the Hate’ which tears society apart in ‘Hater’.

M(DW): Reading your bio and your novel “Hater” I can’t help notice that there is a certain resemblance between you and Danny McCoyne, the character of your novel. Is there an autobiographical side in the character of Danny McCoyne? Did you encompass some of your experiences in other characters from your novels?
DM: There are some similarities between Danny McCoyne and I, I won’t deny it! Between writing ‘Straight to You’ and ‘Autumn’ I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself with a family when I met my wife and her three daughters! My position at the time was similar to that which Danny finds himself in at the beginning of ‘Hater’ in that we were bringing up lots of kids (we’ve since had two more – all girls – now you understand why I write about the end of the world!) in a house which was too small. At the time I was working for a bank in a series of faceless departments like the PFP which Danny is trapped in. But that’s where the similarity ends! I did something about my situation, whereas Danny does nothing but complain about how hard his life is!
I think every writer writes about their own experiences and the people they know – it’s hard not to. I always make sure that characters are well disguised so that I don’t get any complaints or lawsuits! Whilst writing the five books in the ‘Autumn’ series, I frequently needed to describe different dead bodies and how the survivors got rid of them. If anyone had wound me up at work, I often used them as the basis for the zombies and gave them a particularly nasty demise! It was very therapeutic!

M(DW): “Hater” is the first novel in a trilogy. Is this trilogy already finished or are you still working on the novels? The second novel of the series is named “Dog Blood”. Do you have a name in mind for the third one as well?
DM: The second book is almost finished with just the final edits to be done. I’m just beginning to work on the third book and, as yet, it’s untitled. There have been some negative comments about the fact that ‘Hater’ is a trilogy, and hopefully the reasons for that will become clear when the other books are released (in 2010 and 2011). Danny McCoyne’s story is too big for one book! Each part of the trilogy shifts the focus of the story and the action to a different level. Book one is very personal – looking at the effects of the crisis on Danny and his family – whereas the second book looks more at what happens to society on a larger scale. As for book three… let’s just say I’m not giving anything away yet!

M(DW): The movie rights of “Hater” were acquired for a future production. Is this a dream come true considering that you wanted to make horror films after graduation? How did this happened, did you try to sell the rights or did the movie company come to you?
DM: As I mentioned earlier, a copy of the original Infected Books edition of ‘Hater’ somehow ended up on the desk of a major film producer. His people got in touch with me and I agreed to sell them the film rights. It certainly is a dream come true to know that my stories are being adapted for film. ‘Autumn’ was recently filmed by an independent company in Canada (the movie stars Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine and will hopefully be released later this year), and that was exciting enough! But what’s so special about the ‘Hater’ project for me is the caliber of the people who are involved. Guillermo del Toro will produce the film, along with Mark Johnson who produced ‘Rainman’ and the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ movies. J A Bayona is to direct which is also incredibly exciting as I’m a big fan of ‘The Orphanage’.

M(DW): Are you still dreaming of working in the movie industry? If your dream would come true would you still be writing?
DM: I would still like to make my own films one day but for now I’m content just to write. Movies are a very corporate and profit orientated business these days, and that concerns me. I wouldn’t want to make a film and then risk having it compromised because studio execs thought we’d make more money if character ‘A’ didn’t die, if situation ‘B’ didn’t happen or if we had a happy ending. I want to wait until I’ve got (hopefully) sufficient financial backing and a strong enough reputation /audience to be able to make movies independently. I guess what I’m saying is I want the same level of control as I had over ‘Infected Books’.

M(DW): The movie will be produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who both impressed with movies like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Orphanage”. But who do you see in the leading roles? I’ll be honest with you and say that I personally would like to see Christian Bale in the role of Danny McCoyne. Would you like to be a part of this project?
DM: I’d love to be a part of the ‘Hater’ movie project! Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with people like del Toro and Bayona? I’ve been asked several times who I’d like to play Danny McCoyne. My stock answer is I don’t know, but I know I wouldn’t want them to be a major star. Danny’s character is so pivotal to the story, and I think it would work best if he was played by an unknown so the audience went into the cinema with no preconceptions.

M(DW): “Autumn” was acquired for movie as well and it is already produced with a special showing done on 30th of May. Did you see the final result? Are you satisfied with it?
DM: I got to see an early version of the film late last year. It’s hard to pass any judgment on the movie because I wrote the novel and, when I write, I focus so much on the story that I can visualize every detail and every scene. It’s surprisingly hard watching someone else’s interpretation of your work. That said, I did enjoy the film.
I had several approaches for the film rights to ‘Autumn’ and I settled on Renegade Motion Pictures because they were the people who wanted to stay truest to the independent spirit of the book. I even had them add a clause to the contract which said they couldn’t turn the movie into a typical blood, guts and flesh-eating zombie film! As with many small productions, however, they were limited by their budget and they weren’t able to fully show the scale of the devastation caused by the events of the book. That said, Dexter Fletcher, Dickon Tolson and David Carradine give wonderful performances.
Unfortunately, the film’s had quite a lot of bad press since the recent death of David Carradine. His sudden passing resulted in huge amounts of interest in the film and, at the same time, someone somewhere leaked an unfinished workprint of the movie on-line. Also, a lot of people who watched the leaked version weren’t familiar with the book and were less than pleased when they didn’t get a typical zombie story full of loads of blood and guns and violence. So the Internet’s now full of bad reviews from people who’ve effectively stolen an incomplete copy of the film and who were expecting something like ‘Zombie Flesheaters’ or ‘Resident Evil’. But hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people are now aware of ‘Autumn’!

M(DW): Like the events in your novels, your works spread out through the entire world, with the help of the Internet and with the publishing of them in worldwide countries. How does this make you feel? Do you consider your books to be “a powerful virus”?
DM: Yes! That’s why my publishing house was called ‘Infected Books’! For years I promoted my work with catchphrases like ‘Spread the Infection’ and ‘Get Infected’! This is, after all, ‘viral marketing’ – one person tells two, they tell four, they tell eight who then tell sixteen etc. etc. etc. The global reach of my books is truly humbling. It’s incredible speaking to people from a huge number of countries who know me through my work.

M(DW): What future projects do you have?
DM: I think I’ve mentioned everything already! Right now I’m focused on finishing the ‘Hater’ trilogy and on reworking the ‘Autumn’ series and ‘Trust’. I do have some other projects also, but it’s far too early to talk about them!

Thank you very much for your time and answers, it has been a pleasure.
Thank you for the questions. I really enjoyed answering them. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed ‘Hater’ so much!


The Reader said...

Thanks for the Interview DW.... Moody seems to be an interesting read.

Mihai A. said...

Thank you. David Moody is a very interesting read :)