Sunday, 1 December 2013

Blood, Guts, Gore and Crime! - Award-Winning Author, Joseph Souza Talks to Patrick Challis


Award-winning crime and horror author, Joseph Souza, has popped in to the part of the Internet known as Curiosity of a Social Misfit to talk to Patrick Challis about his books, his love of zombies and much more!  Be warned, if I start to ask for brains then run!

PC:  Firstly, thank you for joining me here today.

JS:  My pleasure, especially since the pints are on Curiosity of a Social Misfit’s expense account tonight. And while we’re at it, I’ll have another jar along with a meat pie.

PC:  Your books can be both described as incredibly popular or infamous depending on the reviewer but how would you describe your work to a new reader?

JS:  Okay, here’s the deal. Although many of my books contain elements of horror, I don’t want to be labeled a horror or zombie writer. Or a crime writer, for which I also won a few awards. I’ve written crime fiction, horror, and I’ve got a killer literary novel ready to rock and roll. My works are stories, some of which happen to contain zombies and horror. The focus is never on the evil but on the people trying to overcome the obstacles facing them. My stories, I hope, will challenge the reader and make them think in different ways. My books try and take risks, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t—in fact a lot of times it doesn’t, but I hope never to bore the reader. I’m so sick of reading books where all the survivors do is escape from the horde and run, run, run. It bores the living shit out of me. I want interesting characters with top-notch plotting and brilliant scenes. A lot of zombie writing is like porn; requisite blood and guts set to the same seventies soundtrack. It’s the characters reactions to horror that fascinates me and makes me want to read on. It’s what makes Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock so successful. Honestly, I read more literary fiction than anything else, and when I discover an author taking chances with his writing, swinging for the fences (as us Yanks like to say), I read with lustful joy.

PC:  The first novel in the ‘Living Dead’ series, ‘The Reawakening’, really polarized critics with the style of zombie you decided to use but still ended up a massive success for you.  What made you decide to stay away from the traditional zombies that fans are accustomed to?

JS:  Yeah, it had its day on the charts. Some of the critics railed about how I took liberty with my zombies, and how I made some of them half animals and half human. Well, fuck you, was my initial response. Who the hell are you to tell me how to characterize my zombies, or criticize my use of animals as zombies. It was an integral part of the story: how genetic tampering with the food supply infected plant life, which in turn infected the animals that consumed them before being passed onto humans. That’s like telling me that if I put artichokes on my pizza then it’s not really pizza. It’s called creativity and those people who opened their minds to the novel really enjoyed the writing and the odd directions it took. Did they all work? Hell no, they didn’t all work, but that’s the inherent risk. If you shoot for a controversy-free story than you end up with a formulaic bag of shit that has no heart.

PC:  How did you deal with the backlash from the critics aimed towards ‘The Reawakening’?

JS:  At first it stung, Pat. I visited the boxing ring and pounded the shit out of the heavy bag. I drank a few more beers than I should have, contemplated writing erotica for a living. But then other readers told me how much they loved it, and finally I said fuck it. It’s a good book and I should just be happy with it, and satisfied that I didn’t write generic crap. Then I won the award and felt a bit of vindication. Hell, even James Joyce took a lot of shit for his work and look where he ended up—although in no way am I comparing myself to JJ.

PC:  So far we have had two books in the ‘Living Dead’ series but what can the readers expect from the next installment?

JS:  I wanted to write a kick-ass novel unlike anything written—bizarre, moving and meaningful. Darmageddon is even more epic and weird than Darpocalypse, which I really love. It’s big and beautiful and brash. A road trip across the States with some serious mooks, the good guys chased by a deranged army general, who on turn is being chased by a contingent of Chinese troops. There’s an Amish community where everything is not what it seems and where the two Amish clans are engaged in a cold war of sorts, and where the Amish kids are planning a coup over the adults. There’s a brilliant scientist who’s a complete nerd but who ends up being the rock of the group. There are slow zombies and fast zombies. There’s a genetic lab with zombie mutants and zombie sex slaves. There’s a Native American compound that has been able to survive the apocalypse on account of The Undertone (One of my fave Irish punk bands, by the way). Tornadoes picking up zombies and tossing them miles away. This book is mental.

PC:  Being from Maine, there are obviously comparisons to the master of horror himself, Stephen King.  Do you think that puts a lot of pressure on you when you are writing your books?

JS:  No way, because no one can ever be Stephen King, although I do find the rare comparisons very flattering. That dude is one of a kind and the king of the horror genre. No, I love him but don’t want to be him. Sure, maybe have his success, but I think success like he’s had is a thing of the past in the new digital age of publishing. I have my own style, and to be honest with you, my favorite authors are British. Love Martin Amis’s writing more than anyone else, and if I had to pick a novelist to emulate it would be him. His best books are unbelievable and complete fucking masterpieces, and his bad books are some of the worst shit I’ve ever read. But the guy takes chances, big risks in his writing that are brave and beautiful and so breathtakingly bold. I totally admire the way he writes even if he is a prick in real life. I’ve read LONDON FIELDS and MONEY at least five times apiece, and still am left in awe at the sentences he constructs into novels. BRILLIANT!

PC:  With your novels being so popular amongst online bloggers, what would you say has been the best thing that someone has written about you?

JS:  You, Pat, get me. As the Joker says in The Dark Knight: “You complete me.” Ha ha! Seriously, you seem to get where I’m going with these books as well as anyone out there. You understand the creative impulse and yet point out where I’ve screwed up. When a blogger recognizes the freshness and creativity in my work, it’s when I feel most proud, even if the book may not have totally succeeded. Criticize me if you will, but don’t tell me what I can and can’t create. In my novel The Reawakening, I don’t even call them zombies. I call them the living dead—and some readers still gave me hell because they weren’t technically zombies. Since when did the zombie police come into fashion? 

PC:  The world of writing is quite a difficult one to be successful and stay successful in so what made you decide to enter that world?

JS:  It’s difficult to be successful at sex and stay successful, but I think I’ve managed (don’t ask the wife. Ha ha) I’m not making any money at having sex, but I still enjoy it and consider sexual success to be exclusive from making a buck. Same with writing. Love doing it. Sit down at the bar, mate, and let me tell you a good one. Buy me a pint and maybe I’ll tell you two good ones. The cavemen passed stories down on walls and then when language came about they told stories down through the generations. Ooga Booga morphed into Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby. It’s in our DNA, Pat, telling these stories. Most of us listen and some tell. Sidle up to a geezer at the pub and you won’t be able to stop listening to him. All he has is his humanity and his stories, oh and the pint needing a refill. Speaking of which, seems we need another round here. Some of the best stories I’ve ever heard are from some old chucker tossing them back and talking smack. Some of it’s real and some is made up, but it’s all entertaining.

PC:  When you started your writing, what was the best piece of advice that you were given?

JS:  Read and study craft. Then write. Then write some more. And read some more. And don’t be a dick when you write. It’s like sex; you can’t be selfish in the act. Mutual generosity. You must please the other half too. When you write you must please your significant other, which is your reader. 

PC:  Which of your books are you most proud of?

JS:  What kind of question is this, Pat? A Sophie’s Choice? Ha! You prefer your left nut or your right nut? My brother lost a nut from a wrestling accident, so his choice is made. Split the crogie right down the middle. Now that’s real horror. Never heard a worse scream in my life than when he got kicked there.

I love em all equally, but I have to admit that I have a special place in my heart for a crazy little black comedy I wrote called TORNADO ALLEY, which I published under the name Sigfried Overby. Many of my friends still tell me it’s their favorite of my books. And I had such a blast writing that novella. It’s surreal, hypnotic, funny and with a with a weird conspiracy plot.

PC:  You won the Maine Award For Speculative Fiction this year.  How did you feel when you found that you had won such an important award for your writing?
JS:  Well, I didn’t think I’d win. There was a huge crowd gathered and they set up a Graham Norton style talk show to announce the winners. Very classy and funny. And the winners had to go up and answer a random, bizarre question. I’d had a couple of pints, prepared no speech, happy to just be among such great writers, no expectation of winning. Well, you can imagine when my name was called. Can’t tell you how surprised I was. Me? I went up and everyone said I gave the best speech that night, and the best answer to their long-winded, ridiculous question. But to this day I have no idea what I said. I remember people laughing. As soon as I won, though, I felt like taking the award and saying to my critics, “Shove that up your ass.” Of course I’m too classy for that. Ha ha.

PC:  What can fans of your work expect from you next Mr Souza?

JS:  I love my horror and my viruses, my crazy apocalyptic writing and secret conspiracies, but my heart yearns to also write some literary fiction. I’ll never give up the speculative writing. It’s a world unto itself and I can create alternate universes. But my newest novel called UNPAVED SURFACES is about a suburban family trying to deal with the fact that one of their children has gone missing for over a year. It’s sort of John Irving meets Tom Perrotta meets Stephen King. Family drama, some crime with a little supernatural tossed in the mix. Very literate. Explores death, family life, school bullying, crime and forgiveness.

PC:  Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us here today Mr Souza.  If you see anymore zombies on your travels, remember one thing.  Shoot them in the head.

JS:  It’s been real, Pat, and I love Curiosity of a Social Misfit. It’s one of the most comprehensive blogs on the web. You, sir, are one of the most well read men in cyber space and I thank you for the in-depth analysis you provide. And thanks to all your fans and readers to listening to me rant.

The pints were delicious as was the meat pie. Thank you all for listening. Time for me to stumble home now. Cheers, mates!

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