Scream Horror Magazine

Interview with Jeremy Wagner – Horror Author

Posted on: October 31st, 2018

How far would you go for love when it’s DEAD? Horror author Jeremy Wagner answers that in his new book, Rabid Heart (Riverdale Avenue Books). After the Necro-Rabies virus breaks out, turning most of the world into zombies, Rhonda Driscoll discovers her once thought dead fiancé is actually alive (or more accurately, one of the living dead). Rabid Heart follows Rhonda as she takes off with her lover, fearing her military father will kill him; on their road trip to start a new life, Rhonda will come face to face with thrills, romance, and terror.

Some of you may already know Wagner as the lyricist/guitarist of Chicago death metal act Broken Hope; beyond his music, however, Wagner has an impressive writing career. His Best-Selling novel, The Armageddon Chord, earned a Hiram Award, a first-round ballot Stoker Award nomination, and has received critical acclaim from a number of publications. Wagner also has an impressive resume of published short stories across many anthologies.

His passion for writing and horror all began at a young age. “It all started when I was like five years old,” Wagner says. “I began by writing adaptations of monster/dinosaur and horror movies I saw on TV and writing my own creepy stories. My love for horror began at that age—kindergarten. I loved Halloween and all that creepiness that the holiday celebrated. From there it all evolved into horror movies, horror magazines, horror comics, and horror books. My mom has always been a big reader, and she always read dark fiction [such as] mystery and horror novels; so I grew up with those books around, and I began reading at an adult level in grade school. When Stephen King and Peter Straub appeared in the ‘70s, I devoured them. All of these things made me a ‘horror fan-kid’—I’m still that kid!”

SCREAM: Hi Jeremy, what’s new in “Wagnerworld?”

JEREMY WAGNER: I’ve come off a busy summer and into a very busy fall—and it’s all good!

SCREAM: Known for your work on music – when did your love for writing start?

JW: It definitely started when I was like five years old. I began writing adaptations of monster movies I saw on TV and writing my own creepy stories. My love for horror began at that age—kindergarten. I loved Halloween and all that creepiness that the holiday celebrated. From there it all evolved into horror movies, horror magazines, horror comics, and horror books. My mom has always been a big reader, and she always read dark fiction [such as] mystery and horror novels; so I grew up with those books around, and I began reading at an adult level in grade school. When Stephen King and Peter Straub appeared in the ‘70s, I devoured them. From there it all evolved into horror movies, horror magazines, horror comics, and horror books. All of these things made me the “horror fan-kid” that I am today.

SCREAM: Was horror fiction always your first drawn or you actually were interested thanks to another genre?

JW: Horror fiction was definitely my first love as far as reading and writing. Since then, I’ve embraced other genres for sure that are pure joy: noir crime, mystery, sci-fi, thriller, and some dark humour. Non-horror authors like Dennis LeHane, Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton, Carl Hiaasen, Mario Puzo, John Connolly, and others are great.

SCREAM: What is it about this genre that you find so fascinating?

JW: It’s a total escape—like all fiction, but it’s a bit more. Horror has always given me an adrenaline jolt. A great horror story makes me check my own mortality and give thanks that shit isn’t real—though sometime reality is worse than fiction! The imagery of horror first got my attention as a kid…that’s what I remember first. Hell, Scooby Doo had already been on TV for five years and I was all over that as a youngster. I loved the ghosts, monsters, creeps, and all that stuff. So, going into books and writing, I wanted to write what I loved, which were horror stories. Those dark things fascinated me in the same way an airplane fascinates someone who wants to be a pilot.

As my writing grew, my craft grew and I became a novelist in adult age, my stories took on more meaning. I wrote more about what I “knew,” and tied that into my dark fiction.  I like to think I’m a good person, but you’ll find there are other sides to good people. Many people slow down to get a view of an accident—as Stephen King once said, many of us are fascinated by the macabre and by the weird and even the nastiness that comes along. That’s me all the time…

SCREAM: As a fan of horror memorabilia – is it fair to say you are drawn by the much classic aspect rather than the much modern?

JW: I’m drawn to both the classic and the modern. In my collection you’ll find pieces related to Nosferatu to Frankenstein to Jaws to The Thing to Hellraiser to Silent Hill and much more. I embrace it all—old and the new. I love it all.

SCREAM: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

JW: I’d say John Carpenter for sure. THE THING is my favourite horror movie and all of Carpenter’s other movies are among the greatest to me.

SCREAM: What are you reading now?

JW: I’m reading Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door.” It’s horrifying!

SCREAM: Who were the authors that inspired you to write (HORROR and/or other)?

JW: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Mario Puzo, Jack Ketchum, Peter Benchley, Dennis Etchison, Gary Brandner, and William Peter Blatty among others.

SCREAM: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

JW: I usually have a “loose blueprint” of how the story is going down and who the main characters are. That said, once I start writing, every story takes on a life of it’s own and goes places I never expected!

SCREAM: How did you come up with the idea for Rabid Heart?

JW: A few years ago I was offered to sell a zombie romance story to St. Martin’s Press for an anthology called, “Hungry For Your Love.” RABID HEART started there…but it wouldn’t stop going. Before I knew it, I had written 30,000 words and had to stop because my story for the anthology had to be no more than 5,000 words. So, I wrote a completely different story for the anthology titled, “ROMANCE AIN’T DEAD.” After that, my other novel, THE ARMAGEDDON CHORD, was sold to another publisher and I got busy promoting that and then started ANOTHER new novel. A year after TAC dropped, I returned to focus on RABID HEART and finished the first draft and then reworked it numerous times until I was happy with it. I was lured back to finish this novel because I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I like it a lot. It got under my skin in a way that Cormac McCarthy’s, THE ROAD, got under my skin. My stories aren’t happy with happy endings and that’s how I like my fiction. And that’s why I was so into RABID HEART—it’s a legit and deep story full of darkness and the hope of getting through that darkness…

SCREAM: There are a few movies and TV shows exploring the world of zombie-human love out there. Without spoiling it, can you tell readers what makes your story Rabid Heart stand apart from the crowd? How is it similar?

JW: I’ve been having nightmares of zombies since I was twelve—followed by nightmares of great white sharks. Zombies have always been more horrifying than anything in cinema for me. Romero had it down, man. The Walking Dead has it down. That said, I’m quite aware that the zombie genre is saturated with movies, books, comics, toys, and more. Being original is paramount for me. To that end, I feel RABID HEART stands apart because it’s a bit DEEPER of a story than most. That’s not a diss on anyone else, it’s just that on TV and whatnot, zombie stories happen fast, with injections of horror and action that gloss over the meat of the story. I wanted to tell the story of Rhonda Driscoll in reality—the reality of pure terror and PTSD one would suffer in this fucked up, apocalyptic scenario. Not to mention how one would deal with a loved one who became infected and homicidal. With that, I liken the setting of RABID HEART to something akin to Day of the Dead meets 28 Days Later meets The Road. Pure horror on one hand, survival in a bleak and lethal world on the other hand—with a protagonist desperately clinging to love, which is already lost in one respect, but it gives her purpose to live. Follow me?

Now, as far as similarities, there’s one I can think of and I embrace it because it really relates to how Rhonda Driscoll deals with the discovery and preservation of her zombified fiancé, Brad Savini. The example I’m thinking of is the character, The Governor (aka: Brian Blake) in the comic book, The Walking Dead who’s niece, Penny, is killed by a shotgun blast—and then later rises from the dead. Penny’s father couldn’t bring himself to kill zombie-Penny, and later, neither could the Governor, who keeps her locked up or on a leash and feeds her human body parts. That story in TWD is a prime example of, “WHAT IF?” What if your lover, or child, parents turned into a zombie? Would you have the heart and fortitude to end their existence even if they were a walking corpse? I asked myself that question the whole time I was writing RABID HEART. I don’t know if I could do it. I can’t even put down a beloved pet at the vet, so when I imagine a loved one needing a bullet or decapitation, well, it’s unthinkable.

SCREAM: The books’ premise borrows from zombie and virus driven material – were you mostly influenced by films under this concept or novels?

JW: Absolutely. I’m such a huge fan of zombie films and apocalyptic films/concepts. I’m quite aware that the zombie genre is saturated with zombie movies, zombie books, zombie comics, zombie toys, and more. Being original is paramount for me. To that end, I feel RABID HEART stands apart because it’s a bit DEEPER of a story than most. That’s not a diss on anyone else, it’s just that on TV and whatnot, zombie stories happen fast, with injections of horror and action that gloss over the meat of the story. I wanted to tell the story of Rhonda Driscoll in reality—the reality of pure terror and PTSD one would suffer in this fucked up, apocalyptic scenario. Not to mention how one would deal with a loved one who became infected and homicidal. With that, I liken the setting of RABID HEART to something akin to Day of the Dead meets 28 Days Later meets The Road. Pure horror on one hand, survival in a bleak and lethal world on the other hand—with a protagonist desperately clinging to love, which is already lost in one respect, but it gives her purpose to live. I also tried to make the “virus” that sets off the pandemic to be based in reality as much as possible. I referenced Richard Preston’s, “THE HOT ZONE,” for much of that…

I’d like to add that zombies have always been more horrifying than anything in cinema for me. Romero had it down, man. The Walking Dead has it down. That said, I’m quite aware that the zombie genre is saturated with movies, books, comics, toys, and more. Being original with this novel, this concept/story is paramount for me and I think I’ve succeeded.

SCREAM: How would you call this a departure from your previous work?

JW: I’d say all of my stories are departures from previous works. I tend to always write stand-alone stories. With RABID HEART, I tried some new things that came to me as the story took on its own life. Like, I had always wanted to write a story with a strong female protagonist. I had a recent press release where I mentioned this and that I was raised by strong women and I have strong women around me now—and so I made the main character in RABID HEART, Rhonda Driscoll of bits of actual women I know. This was a first. Another departure is that I’ve never combined pure terror with a love story before…sure, my short story, “ROMANC AIN’T DEAD,” had some of that, but even that was more voodoo-in-the-suburbs and short versus this novel about a horror planet and heartbreak.  I like writing different ideas all the time…I doubt I’ll return to this same type of “concept,” (but never say never).

SCREAM: Were there any scenes you found particularly difficult to write?

JW: Yes…there’s a scene where Rhonda Driscoll has saved two young kids—a boy and girl, two siblings—and they’ve been through hell and back. Not only were they abducted by barbaric raiders and then kept captive by cannibalistic “little people,” but their parents were also brutalised and murdered in front of them. When I wrote the passage where the boy tells Rhonda about how his parents were killed, it wasn’t easy to write. That didn’t stop me, though…when the writing and story flow, I never get in the way. I let it all tell the story on it’s own. And I draw many things from real experience, and in this case, I knew kids/friends who’s parents were murdered and worse…so I drew from that. It was difficult to channel that…

SCREAM: You mentioned that you like “f-cked up stories” and “dark fiction”, which I also find rather appealing. Has it always been that way? When did your love for horror and dark fiction begin?

JW: Yeah, that’s the truth! I love “f-cked up stories” and “dark fiction.” Like, some of my favourite books have horrific storylines or just bad people who do bad things, and with dark endings. Novels like GALVESTON (Nic Pizzolatto), THE INTRUDER/SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS (both by Peter Blauner), OUTER DARK/BLOOD MERIDIAN/THE ROAD/NO COUNTRY for OLD MEN (all by Cormac McCARTHY), AFTERBURN (Colin Harrison), SHARP OBJECTS (Gillian Flynn), THE LOST (Jack Ketchum), PSYCHO (Robert Block), THE SHINING (Stephen King) and many more have really had profound effects on me.

My love for horror began around age five. I was big on Halloween and all that creepiness that the holiday celebrated. From there it was a natural progression into horror movies, horror magazines, horror comics, and horror books. My mom has always been a big reader, and she always read mystery and horror novels, so I grew up with those books around and I began reading at an adult level in grade-school. When Stephen King and Peter Straub appeared in the ‘70’s, I was all over them—and still am! All of these things made me the “horror kid/horrorfan” that I am today.

SCREAM: Do you believe in writer’s block?

JW: I do. It has screwed me up in the past (not much, thankfully) when writing fiction and writing music. When it happens, you can’t force it. Writer’s block is a legit condition, and I’ve seen it screw up authors…putting their ability to create new work at risk. Total creative slowdown. One cure I have for that is the fact that I write down EVERY idea I have for other novels and short-stories…I have HUNDREDS of them in a folder. So, if I ever feel I might not be inspired, I visit that folder and latch on to an idea that blows my mind and then I find the inspiration comes—and then the writing comes! But really, writer’s block is no joke and can fuck up writers for years.

SCREAM: How music does influence your writing and the other way around?

JW: Music is EXTREMELY important when I write—and I even weave music INTO many of my stories. For me, music fuels me while I write—I really don’t think I could write without music in the background. I know Stephen King writes with music blaring—sometimes jamming metal. It’s like a subconscious thing that helps me…it’s not a distraction at all. It really gives me energy or something. You should see my playlist when I write—it’s all over the place!

SCREAM: What were some of the challenges did you encounter?

JW: There’s always challenges when it comes to “research and facts,” when I write. I really try and make sure I have these details correct when I’m going into new territory I know nothing about. The challenges there are finding experts to read my work and tell me if I got the shit right or not. I’m a stickler for being accurate as possible. It all works out!

Also, another challenge for me was writing a troubling part of the books where the main character—Rhonda Driscoll—has saved two young kids (a boy and girl, two siblings) and they’ve been through hell and back. Not only were they abducted by barbaric raiders and then kept captive by cannibalistic “little people,” but their parents were also brutalised and murdered in front of them. When I wrote the passage where the boy tells Rhonda about how his parents were killed, it wasn’t easy to write. That didn’t stop me, though…when the writing and story flow, I never get in the way. I let it all tell the story on its own. And I draw many things from real experience, and in this case, I knew kids/friends who’s parents were murdered and worse…so I drew from that. It was difficult to revisit this and channel it—but with that, it kept my story honest and sobering.

SCREAM: Where can fans and new readers catch on the book?

JW: RABID HEART can be ordered from anywhere in all editions (Paperback, Hardcover, Digital, and Audio) worldwide.

SCREAM: What else is happening next in Jeremy Wagner’s world?

JA: Aside from pushing the hell out of RABID HEART, I’m working on THREE new books: One is a completed novel, the other is a first me—an authorised bio of a famous chef, and last is another new novel that’s just begun as a WIP. I plan to keep the books coming often and steady!

For more information and to order Jeremy’s books check out his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Words: Larry Abono

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