Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Interview with Horror Author W.D. Gagliani

Brian: Continuing with my interview series for October, I'm thrilled to have werewolf author extraordinaire, W.D. Gagliani, as a guest on my blog. Hi, W.D., thanks for being here.

W.D.: Thanks for having me as a guest, Brian! There’s nothing I like better than talking horror fiction.

You’ve written a series of novels about a homicide cop, Nick Lupo, who happens to also be a werewolf. When I was growing up loving all things horror, werewolves were my favorite monster. I remember how much I wanted to have the powers to change into a wolf. You get to live out this fantasy through Nick Lupo. I always like to know how a horror writer’s mind ticks. Out of all the monsters you could write about, what had you gravitate toward werewolves? And how did you come up with the Nick Lupo character?

It’s hard to say where Dominic “Nick” Lupo came from specifically, but I’d say he’s the intersection of several strong influences and a desire to explore some autobiographical notes, as well as wanting to deal with a monster I’d loved since watching Universal movies as a kid. I was greatly influenced by Robert McCammon’s novel The Wolf’s Hour (even the title had an influence), in which a World War 2 spy is a werewolf. It made me realize that a protagonist werewolf could be something other than “the monster.”

I was also a huge Robert McCammon fan growing up, and The Wolf’s Hour was one of my favorites. I really like the concept of having a werewolf as the hero. What were some of your other influences?

Then later along came the syndicated TV show Forever Knight, about the homicide cop who is a vampire. On the surface my Wolf books might seem to owe a lot to that show, but really it was more the format. In FK, Knight was trying to become human by atoning for many past sins. As I built my protagonist’s character, I gave him sins to atone for, but they were more closely related to his youth, and growing up Italian-American, and learning to cope with his condition. If you think about it, a vampire cop has it all – he can fly, he has supernatural strength, he can hypnotize people into submission, or after letting them see his fangs… the only tough element he faces is getting on the night shift forever!

But when I started to see a cop who was a werewolf, he was a tortured soul for reasons different than the TV cop, and I saw that his condition actually would hamper his police duties. He can barely control his temper, or the Change. He’s still learning how to control the Beast. He has to leave his clothes somewhere. If he defends himself, he’s likely to leave a mess. Plus he can’t blend into an urban setting as a wolf nearly as easily as a vampire. He can’t hypnotize people. If he tries to wolf out for cop work, he’ll almost always have to explain himself (where he was, why his clothes are rumpled, etc.). It’s like the Clark Kent thing without all the perks of wearing the cape.

I’d also been a huge consumer of thrillers and crime novels since an early age, and about this time I had discovered people like David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, and John Sandford. I kept thinking: place the werewolf in that kind of environment, like McCammon had done with the wartime espionage.

Lastly, I was always fascinated by Talbot’s tragic character in Universal’s “The Wolf Man,” and I wanted Lupo (whose name signaled his destiny) to be a tortured soul. Of course, the puberty metaphor was just starting to be explored in the genre, and I grabbed onto that, too, because I had an interesting and not always positive childhood – some of Nick Lupo’s reminiscences and flashbacks to his time as a kid parallel mine in some ways (not in all ways, of course). I started to “see” the major characters during a period in which I vacationed a lot in Northern Wisconsin’s heavily wooded landscape, and the pieces came together. The serial killer in Wolf’s Trap is also based on somebody, though very loosely. The rest was just shaping the clay into various shapes until it rang my bell.

Your fourth novel in the series, WOLF’S EDGE just released with Samhain Publishing’s new horror line this October. And your novel that kicked the series off, WOLF'S TRAP, will re-release through Samhain in March 2012. Tell us about what’s in store for Nick in this series.


Wolf’s Trap was always intended as a one-off novel. In an early draft, I actually killed Lupo at the end. An editor changed my mind! Trap went on to grab a Bram Stoker Award nomination in its small press version, which helped me finally land at Leisure Books – where I’d always wanted to be, based on all the great writers published by them, and based on the legendary editor, Don D’Auria, who had gathered them together. I had met Don at conventions, but his waiting list for getting a reading was huge… the award nomination, I believe, made my novel stand out just enough, and he took it for publication in 2006. It sold better than expected, and a sequel was requested in 2007. I was in the middle of another novel, so it took me some extra time, but Wolf’s Gambit was finished in 2009 and published in 2010.

The reason I mention all this is that when it was time to plot the sequel, I had nothing. Lupo faced down the serial killer and his hired minions in Trap, and there was nowhere for him to go… But then I got the title WolfsKlan in my head and it wouldn’t let go. What if there were other werewolves and they were militaristic, and somehow Lupo had to face this new danger while also facing a more standard opponent? Well, Don hated my title! But that was when I started the loose gambling connection with the rest of the titles (gambit, bluff, deal, and edge are all gambling terms). I’m a lifelong fan of the band the Alan Parsons Project, and their album The Turn of a Friendly Card had found its way into Wolf’s Trap along with a lot of other progressive rock I favored. Suddenly I had a series! Gambit did well, and Don was enthusiastic for another book – which was great because I’d started to drop a lot of hints that there was more to those rogue werewolf mercenaries (whose employer, Wolfpaw Security Services, was based loosely on Blackwater).

The thing was, Wolfpaw had more than just a few werewolves in its rank – it turned out it had a long and sordid history, too. Wolf’s Bluff almost wrote itself. I’d taken nine years to write Trap, maybe eight-nine months for Gambit, but now I was down to about seven months for Bluff. I realized that Gambit and Bluff had started a story they couldn’t contain. I knew a third book would have to finish the Wolfpaw arc – and Wolf’s Edge was born when Don gave it the go-ahead. The Dorchester/Leisure problems hit with a thud and… Wolf’s Edge was later reborn as a Samhain title, purchased for the second time by Don D’Auria, who is absolutely the best! Edge mostly concludes the loose Wolfpaw trilogy, though it also ends on something of a cliff-hanger. Probably more than you wanted to know, but it’s fascinating to me because the story arc seems to have spun itself, and I just wrote it down. Now I need to head in a different direction with the next Wolf book, but the ideas have been flowing…

With four books out, you must be super rich. Is writing your full-time job now or do you still have to work a day job? If so, how do you balance working for somebody else and writing as a second profession?

Ha ha ha! Excuse me, but I have to laugh so I can keep from crying. Neither is a pretty sight, believe me.

I don’t know many writers who can afford to write full-time. I’m definitely not one of them. Balancing a day job and writing makes for very long days, nights of less than five hours’ sleep (and, therefore, constant exhaustion), weekends taken up by long writing marathons instead of movie or TV marathons, ignoring family and friends, eating too much junk food, and sometimes making really bad choices.

But I can’t seem to be able to stop…

The horror genre is new to Samhain Publishing. What drew you to them as a publisher and how has the experience been?

As I mentioned, Don D’Auria was hired by Samhain after the near-implosion at Dorchester (who still hold the rights to Wolf’s Gambit and Wolf’s Bluff). It was only natural that I would approach him and ask if he was interested in my writing more for him. Fortunately, I had pulled Wolf’s Edge for nonpayment, so it was ready to go and Don graciously bought it again.

So far, the experience has been outstanding. But I’m biased, because I know how much better Don makes my writing – so I’m surely judging everything based on getting to work with him again. Don is a fantastic editor who manages to have a light touch while at the same time turning your potentially terrible sentences into great ones. That’s not easy to do. He genuinely loves the horror genre and it shows in every book he’s touched. Samhain’s other genres all flirt with horror anyway, so I can see why they wanted to make it official – and they got the best person to make it happen! I’m proud and thrilled to be a part of the horror line’s launch this October!

Brian: W.D., I’ve enjoyed working with Don myself and can’t say enough good things about him.

Writing a book takes a lot of focus and discipline. Can you share your writing process and tell us how you get into the creative frame of mind to write fiction?

It’s called desperation. I desperately want to continue writing, so I force myself into the frame of mind. Believe me, it’s not easy. I love reading other people’s books, I love movies, and I love music. There’s a whole lot of other stuff I could be doing, so writing fiction sometimes feels like torture… when I’m starting. But when I hit the groove, if I’m lucky, then it’s great. I try to write every day, a little, but on weekends I spend about 12-14 hours at my nearby Starbucks office so I can avoid all that other distraction. Unfortunately, the internet’s still available. I try to put in a couple hours at least three other nights, too.

I don’t do focus or discipline very well at all. It’s all put-a-gun-to-my-head kind of stuff to get me into a project, and sometimes other ideas try to crowd out the one I’m working on. I like to say I have many more burners than I have stove! But when that groove happens, when the action starts rolling, or even better, when characters start to do things on their own, ignoring the paths I set out for them, then it’s sweet indeed. I’ve been fortunate in that quite a few of my characters have rebelled against me and done their own thing, some of them lived and died against my wishes, and the fact that they surprised me has also hopefully surprised readers.

Brian: I can totally relate. There are days I have to force myself to sit down and write. But when I hit my groove, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Also, I’ve collaborated enough with my friend David Benton, and found that projects we work on together flow a lot more smoothly because it’s two writers carrying the burden of plotting and writing scenes. You get more stamina, fresh eyes, and a partner who’s not afraid to tell you something’s not working. All this can have a good effect on your solo work, too.

As many people will know, Samhain Publishing is named for the ancient tradition that became every horror fan's favorite festival of Halloween. What would make for your best ever Samhain celebration?

Hard to say. I’m much more of an observer than a participant. I love the holiday and all its ancient and modern trappings. But you’ll never get me into a costume. But I so like to watch…

I find Halloween very intriguing, scary, kind of sexy, kind of dangerous, kind of illicit, kind of taboo. I take it all in. And I love chocolate…

W.D. trying his luck against the Casino Beast.

You live up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I once visited Green Bay and toured a cheese factory. All I know about the state is cheese, the Packers football team, and Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. Besides watching sports and eating cheese curds, what else do you do for fun in Wisconsin?

Fun? What’s that?

We dig ourselves out of tons of snow, shiver through 20-30 degrees below zero days (with windchills even worse), and watch our Packers and Badgers and Brewers doing very well this season! I’m looking for a Packers Super Bowl Re-peat, since that’s my game. And the Wisconsin Badgers are looking big-bowl bound, too. The Brewers, who knows, maybe it’s the Series for them after many years’ drought.

I love a good Friday fish fry, I do declare. And a good brew to go with it.

And yes, we put cheese on everything. What of it? (Am I being too defensive?)

Oh, and we’ve sure created our share of serial killers in this general area… wonder why?

W.D., thanks so much for being here. I’ve really enjoyed having you as a guest on my blog. Book lovers, check out W.D. Gagliani’s werewolf series. The Leisure editions of WOLF’S TRAP, WOLF’S GAMBIT, and WOLF’S BLUFF our out of print, but you can buy autographed copies directly from W.D. Gagliani's website. You can now buy a copy of his fourth Nick Lupo novel WOLF’S EDGE, which just released from Samhain Horror. And be on the lookout for a re-release of WOLF'S TRAP through Samhain (March 2012) and the novella WOLF'S DEAL (summer 2012.)

Thanks a million for having me here, Brian! Let me return the favor, okay? And good luck to you with your own Samhain release, Dead of Winter. I’m looking forward to reading it.

W.D. Gagliani is the author of WOLF’S TRAP, WOLF’S GAMBIT, WOLF’S BLUFF, WOLF’S EDGE (Samhain, 2011), WOLF'S DEAL (novella), SAVAGE NIGHTS, SHADOWPLAYS, and MYSTERIES & MAYHEM (w/ David Benton), plus THE GREAT BELZONI AND THE GAIT OF ANUBIS (novella). WOLF'S TRAP will be reissued by Samhain in March 2012. Most are available on Amazon Kindle and other e-formats. He has also published numerous short stories in various anthologies, and nonfiction in ON WRITING HORROR, THRILLERS: THE 100 MUST READS, and THE WRITER magazine (October 2011 issue), among others. Gagliani is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and the Authors Guild. Visit him at www.wdgagliani.com, www.facebook.com/wdgagliani, http://www.williamdgagliani.com/, and on Twitter: @WDGagliani.

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