Today I am thrilled to be sharing an interview with author Craig Dilouie. I recently reviewed his latest novel One of Us which releases today and found myself instantly drawn to its alternate but familiar setting, and powerful themes. You can read my thoughts here. I want to extend a special thank you to Craig for his time and the opportunity to discuss his work!
My experience with One of Us is one that I still struggle to properly convey. It was an equally rewarding and challenging read that explored very relevant and heavy hitting themes that continue to resonate with me. Can you share with us a bit about your inspiration or original goals for this story?
First, let me say thank you for reading One of Us and having me as a guest on your blog. I’m very happy that the novel got you.
I believe good fiction entertains but also viscerally engages readers with powerful themes. For me, a big idea always starts with an intriguing question. For me, the question was: What if monsters lived among us, but were monstrous only in how they looked? How would we treat them, and what would that say about us? The result is a misunderstood monster novel that turned into a much more ambitious examination of prejudice and what makes a monster a monster.
An early inspiration was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; author Claire North called my novel To Kill a Mockingbird meets The Girl with All the Gifts, which I thought was wonderful. I became fascinated with using the venerable Southern Gothic literary tradition to treat the subject of monsters. Southern Gothic is dark and over the top, and deals with subjects such as the taboo, grotesque, prejudice, and a society in decay. The result is a novel of monstrous humans and human monsters.
I felt that the younger cast of characters really intensified many of the scenes and helped solidify the overall effectiveness of the storyline. And I have to admit, they felt incredibly relatable. Was there additional research that went into creating a younger set of characters and protagonists?
Making the monsters budding teenagers allowed me to show them coming of age, where they begin developing mysterious powers while beginning to gain a more adult understanding of the world and their place in it. It triggers more sympathy in the reader, who sees these kids just being kids, their goofing around and tenderness and friendships, while subjected to institutionalized abuse. And it emphasizes they didn’t just appear, they were born of “normal” parents. They came from us. They’re family.
Having them interact with “normal” teenagers in the town allowed connections based on innocence and hope for the future. I hope this makes sense, but I didn’t write them as teenagers so much as individual characters with a more innocent, enthusiastic teenager’s point of view. In the end, I hope their perspectives mingle with those of the adults in the novel to provide a satisfying and realistic look at life in this small town during the age of monsters.
On a final note, I’m noticing some reviewers found the novel too dark for a YA read. Which is true, as it’s not a YA novel! I hope people won’t let their teenaged kids read it without reading it themselves first, as it explores some adult themes.
As someone who grew up in the Southeastern region of the US during the 80s, I have to admit that the setting was eerily familiar and incredibly immersive. Did you draw upon personal experiences and your own childhood to help create this alternate reality?
I’m very happy to hear the world of One of Us struck you as authentic. As I was writing about monsters living in the real world, I wanted that world to be as lived-in and authentic as possible to both ground the monsters and make them subtly all the more fantastic through the contrast. In my view, if a fantasy novel’s world suspends the reader’s disbelief, the reader is much more apt to suspend disbelief with its fantastical elements.
Otherwise, as with the teenagers in your last question, I wrote the town as an Anytown and then decorated it with a rich palette made possible by setting it in the rural South, from the heat to the cotton to the wonderful witticisms you know have been passed down for generations. The idea was to immerse the reader using these elements, not put them too far forward where they would call excessive attention to themselves. As a guy who grew up in New Jersey, lived in New York City for a number of years, and then moved to Canada in 2003, this required quite a bit of research to make it truly immersive. I obsessed on details such as local fauna and flora, and read a huge number of Southern Gothic novels to capture their perfect earthy flavor.
One of Us contains several graphic and darker scenes. Do you find these harder to write or is there a specific process you implement when tackling difficult scenes?
One of Us pulls no punches, and some of these punches are aimed at the gut, where I wanted the reader to experience the novel’s themes on a purely emotional level. Because I was dealing with the idea of monstrosity and what that means, and this is a Southern Gothic, there are taboo subjects, and there’s violence and other dark stuff.
None of it was hard for me to write except for an attempted rape scene. This is a very sensitive subject, and it had to be handled in a way it completely served the story without any gratuitous aspect. As a result, it’s described as a series of impressions rather than the actual act. There is also a town loser who convinces himself he’s in love with a woman far younger than him, which some may find disturbing, something else I had to handle with care. Even though these can be upsetting subjects, I felt I’d rather lose readers sensitive to them rather than cut them out. The story needed their monstrosity, and for me as a writer, the story comes first.
I found myself developing a strong connection with Enoch almost immediately. I have to admit that while each character appealed to me, he resonated with me the most. Was he influenced or modeled after yourself or anyone close to you?
As a writer, I tend not to base characters on myself or people I know. I’d rather create them based on a unique combination of need, want, challenge, and conflict, and let them grow and become flesh based on that. Enoch represents hope in the novel. He has a childlike hope and belief that the world is essentially fair, and that he has a future in it if he plays along. He’s simple, kind, and loyal. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. The world isn’t fair.
Normally when I read narratives that are alternating perspectives, I tend to favor one over the other. That was not the case here. I found each character to be equally fascinating. Did you favor writing any specific perspective or character over the others and if so why?
I’m very happy to hear you say that. Characterization is at the heart of One of Us, and there is an ensemble cast in this small Southern town, some of them monsters, some intentionally Southern Gothic tropes. I didn’t particularly favor any one perspective over another, as each character is such a powerfully unique individual that writing scenes from each’s perspective was always fresh and fun. I wrote each character with love, even the despicable ones, to make them come across as people both ordinary and yet larger than life.
I guess if pressed, my favorites were Brain, Goof, and Amy. Brain is a genius trapped in a monstrous body, and he believes the genetic mutations that produced the plague children are a repeat of an ancient germ that long ago produced the creatures of mythology. He is a tragic figure, choosing violence to free his kind while becoming trapped by its horrible cost. Goof is just plain funny, and his interactions with Shackleton, his government handler committed to exploiting his special abilities, were a lot of fun to write. Amy is interesting because she’s such a typical teenager while also being something else hiding in plain sight.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing One of Us?
You know, it’s funny, almost every novel I’ve ever written, I could pin an answer to this question in an instant. For One of Us, I can’t really say it was that challenging. It was a unique experience for me in that it flowed right out of me without any speed bumps. I was writing with abandon, with a fierce joy, and for a while I was in that world with these characters. The challenge came later when Bradley Englert, my wonderful editor at Orbit, wanted me to take the novel to another level on par with Orbit’s Girl with All the Gifts, a challenge I happily accepted and worked hard to meet. I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
If you had the opportunity, would change anything within the story?
Nothing. No, that’s not entirely true. I think it’s hard if not impossible for an author to look through a novel he or she has written and not want to change little things here and there. It’s a symptom of growing as a writer. If you’re always practicing your craft, you’re never as good a writer as you will be a year from now. Which is a good thing!
Can you tell us what we can expect next?
I recently signed a deal with Orbit for a novel tentatively titled Our War, which tells the story of a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war. I’m really excited about it and couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity to work with Bradley and Orbit again.
Last but not least (I always ask), do you drink tea and if so do you have a favorite blend?
I’m a hardcore coffee drinker and even with that, I’m no connoisseur. I’ve always wanted to get into tea and tried several times, but I’ve never gotten beyond being a tea tourist. Your question is triggering my tea envy. Maybe I’ll try again.
Thank you for having me on your blog! I enjoyed our conversation.
About the Author
Craig DiLouie is an American-Canadian author of speculative fiction including One of Us, which was published by Orbit on July 17 and is now available in bookstores and through online booksellers.
Again, I want to thank the author for his time and Orbit publishing for my copy of One of Us. This opportunity has been a welcomed and rewarding experience. I look forward to learning more about the upcoming project!