After the opportunity to read and review Asylum, I got the chance to interview its author, Mark A. Gunnells (A quick note of thanks to Harry Markov for arranging things). If you're interested in reading my review of the novella, you can find it here. If you're interested in learning more about the book and possibly purchasing it, you can visit The Zombie Feed, an imprint of Apex Books.
Q. What first prompted you to put pen to paper?
A. I was young, I want to say ten, and it just came from a desire to tell stories. I don’t know where that came from, I didn’t grow up in a household were books held places of high honor or anything, but I would read books like ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ and just want to do that, create fictional worlds that fanciful and exciting.
Q. Asylum nearly didn't get written from what I understand, abandoned at one point while you worked on other stories. What were your initial hangups with it, and what drew you back?
A. Well, the road to ASYLUM was actually long. I started the novella in college, when it was called NIGHT OWLS, and wrote an opening (the only thing that survived that initial opening was the first line, which I’ve always loved) but then got stuck. I’m not sure what I was stuck on exactly, but once I graduated college I went through a period where work stress and personal issues caused me to stop writing altogether. When I finally rekindled my passion for storytelling, I started again, giving it the much better title (I think) ASYLUM. I got three-fourths of the way through then stalled again. This time I felt it wasn’t working, that I was focusing so much on character and not enough on zombie attacks. I put it aside for almost a year. Then one day I opened the file and read over what I had and was surprised to discover I really liked it. My focus on character over horror and gore suddenly seemed like a strength to me as opposed to a weakness. So I went back to it and finally finished the thing. So from conception to completion—a little over ten years.
Q. One of the unique qualities of Asylum is that it features a nearly entirely gay cast, minus the lone straight female. Would you consider that a selling point, or simply an under-utilized and under-appreciated detail in horror fiction?
A. The truth is, as a gay man who happens to be a big horror fan, sometimes I’d watch the Romero-style zombie flicks and note the lack of gay characters. It would lead me to ponder, “Where are all the gay folks? Don’t we ever survive shit?” Not that I think the typical horror fanbase is crying out for more gay characters, but I do feel we are underrepresented and thought it might be nice to have a standard zombie story with a nonstandard cast.
Q. Zombies are everywhere in horror fiction with no sign of letting up. Did you find yourself questioning how your undead tale might stand itself apart as you wrote it? Or did you find the inclusion of the walking dead inconsequential as far as the overall story was concerned?
A. I will admit, I did worry that people would view the story as too familiar, and I know of at least one publisher that passed on it because of that. As you said in your review, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, which is a fair statement and one I’ve actually used myself in regards to this story. But in the end I wanted to use the familiar type zombies because to me the zombies were not as important as the characters. It was the characters I wanted to explore, their reactions to what was going on, and my hope was that the characters would be strong enough and interesting enough to keep people’s interest. Not that I didn’t want to write a fun exciting zombie story as well, and I hope the story also succeeds there.
Q. I understand you write during lulls throughout your day job. Not an idyllic way to write a story, but you've made it work for you. Have you found any kind of advantage with the constant stop-and-start momentum, or is it simply a facet of your writing schedule that you endure?
A. I have friends who think it is amazing I can be productive with the stop-and-start writing system I have, wondering how I can keep focus and momentum. In the past I probably would have found it strange too, but I’ve really learned to thrive that way. It started out as part necessity and part convenience. Since I do have downtime during work, it seemed that I should really take advantage of it and get some writing done. Problem is I never know when my downtime will come or how long it will last, and yet I trained myself to write in these unpredictable blocks of time. If I get interrupted and have to put it aside for an hour, I usually have no trouble slipping right into the fictional world and the characters’ skins. It might not work for everyone, but I have found it’s a method that does work for me.
Q. So far your published fiction has been short stories and novellas, including your first short story collection which is soon to be released. Do you see yourself going after a novel-length project, or have you found a kind of comfort zone with shorter works?
A. I must say, short stories have always been my passion. I simply love them—both as a writer and a reader. I feel I understand their pacing better than I do novels. However, I do want to stretch myself as a writer and it is my intention to start working on longer pieces. I’ve actually decided 2011 will be the Year of the Novella, an intermediate form that bridges shorts and novels I feel. With these I can build up my confidence in longer formats and then move on to novels. Not that I’ve never written a novel. I have a novel called SEQUEL that should be released digitally from Sideshow Press this year, and I have completed another called THE QUARRY that I’ve yet to really shop around.
A big thanks to Mark for taking part in the interview. For anyone looking to crawl a little deeper inside Mark's skull, you can visit his blog. Or just go out and buy his books--Asylum is extremely affordable at a mere 99 cents, as are all of The Zombie Feed's novellas. Or if want to sample some of his work, you can read the first 3,000 words of Asylum by clicking HERE, or checking out his short story, "Midnight Shift," at Sideshow Press.