A Conversation with Charlie Huston, author of Already Dead
Q: What sets the vampires of Already Dead apart from those familiar to readers of Stoker, Rice, and Hamilton, as well as to fans of Buffy and Angel? What new angles are you bringing to vamp noir?
Charlie Huston:Well, I don’t know how many knew angles you can find in a vampire story. Truth is, that's a well-mined vein. No pun intended. The aspect I find most entertaining is blending vampire mythology into a noir world. I love the idea of a gothic creature of the night existing in a contemporary setting with a noir sensibility.
Q: You've published two mainstream mysteries, Caught Stealing and Six Bad Things, the first of which has been optioned for a film. What made you branch out into horror–assuming you consider Already Dead to be horror?
CH:I tend to think of Already Dead as a noir story with horror trappings, but honestly, it’s a pretty fine line. Once you got vamps and zombies, it’s hard to argue the book’s not horror. Either distinction is fine by me. As to how I ended up writing this book after starting with straight-up crime, just kind of happened to me. I had a few lines and a few scenes that kept picking at me until I went to work. I expected to end up with a short story maybe. Instead I got a novel and the framework for an entire series. Lucky me.
Q: Some writers never wanted to do anything else but write, while others seem to have stumbled into it almost by accident. What was your path to becoming a writer?
CH:I was a bit of a stumbler. I’ve always done a bit of writing for my own entertainment, even started college as a creative writing major (miserable failure). But for most of my adult life I was studying theater and acting. I wrote my first novel more to occupy myself with something creative than to find a publisher. It was only through a random series of events and blind luck that I ended up doing this full time. This is me knocking wood.
Q: Who are some of your biggest influences as a writer?
CH:Over the last couple years, as I’ve worked on several novels now, I’ve started to see signs of many writers. Off the top of my head, Charles Bukowski, James Elroy, Cormac McCarthy, have all put a stamp on my Henry Thompson books. With Already Dead I’m pretty consciously going for a Chandler thing.
Q: How long have you lived in New York, and what brought you here?
CH:I’ve been here just about eleven years. Came here both because I was following a girl and because I wanted to act. The girls gone, and so’s the acting. Go figure.
Q: Do you find the city a good place to write? What's your typical writer's day like?
CH:In the sense that it’s an outstanding source of material, there are probably few places as good to write as NYC. Character, dialogue, settings; it’s all out there on the street. Keep your ears and eyes open and you can fill a notebook with ideas every day. In terms of needing a quiet place to write, it’s one of the worst. I say that never really having had a truly quiet place to write. If I ever do, I’ll probably freeze up.
I start my day fairly early. Get some exercise because I’ll have my ass glued to a chair for the bulk of the day, and then get to it. My process is really just about staying in my room and limiting distractions. Given little else to do, I’ll write. Sad. Just plain sad the things we do to motivate ourselves.
Q: Already Dead is set in Manhattan, and much of the action takes place on the Lower East Side and Alphabet City. That's close to where I live, so I know how accurate your depiction is, and not only geographically–you get the people right, too.
CH:Thanks, man. I lived in the East Village for many years and it seemed a pretty natural setting for this kind of thing. I really loved that neighborhood when I was there, and I don’t think I’ll ever get it out of my system no matter how many Starbucks they put up.
Q: What would you like potential readers of Already Dead to know?
CH:Forewarned is forearmed: this isn’t romaticy-bursting-bodicey vampire stuff. It’s vulgar and violent and there’s graphic brain eating in the first ten pages.
Q: Tell us about Joe Pitt, your vampire hero, and the city he calls home.
CH:Joe Pitt is a pretty classic noir anti-hero. He’s tough and cynical, which usually means there’s a shattered idealist inside, and he’s self-reliant and violent. Emphasis on the violent in Joe’s case. He’s a native New Yorker, and he has to drink blood to stay alive. That’s the basics.
Q: In your world, vampirism and "zombification" seem to have scientific rather than supernatural causes–the former a virus known as the Vyrus, the latter a bacterial infection. Yet there also seems to be a supernatural aspect to the Vyrus–at least, that's what the vampyre clan known as the Enclave believes. Can you talk a little bit about the science and the supernatural in this series?
CH:Well, the science is really more “science.” I’ve done just enough research for there to be a level of verisimilitude within Joe’s world, but I’d hate for anyone with a medical degree to pick over this stuff.
There are actually several Clans in Already Dead, and it will become apparent through the series that they all have very different ideas about what the Vyrus is. In fact, while each book will have its own self-contained mystery, the 5-6 book series will have a larger story arc about what the Vyrus really is.
Q: Will we see werewolves or other horror monsters in future books?
CH:For the time being I’m going to focus on the Joe Pitt books. That’s gonna take up all of my horror juice for the next few years. After that I’ll be taking a look around. I grew up reading a ton of science fiction and would love to do something over there.
Q: At one point in the novel, a character tells Pitt that the lifespan, so to speak, of a vampire is about thirty years. Why are older vamps relatively rare?
CH:One of the concepts I started with for this world was that vampires are essentially very vulnerable. I mean, hell, the SUN kills them and they have to drink human blood to survive. So basically, you have these people that have to get away with multiple homicide on a regular basis, and they have to never go in the frigging sun. It struck me early on that it would be a pretty suck life and one that most people wouldn’t hack for very long in the modern world.
Q: I understand you're doing a mini-series for Marvel Comics. Tell us about that.
CH:I’m doing a six-issue Moon Knight mini-series. MK was created in the late seventies by Doug Moench and had his own series in the ‘80s and again in the ‘90s. He’s been pretty much on the shelf for the last several years and Marvel was looking for someone to bring him back. I was lucky enough to get the job. It’s actually a character I loved when I was a kid, and it’s kind of an honor, in a profoundly geeky way, to get to do this. I’ve also been extremely luck in being teamed up with one of the industry’s top artists: David Finch. Issue #1 in March 2006.
Q: How does writing a comic book compare to writing fiction?
CH:Pictures. That’s the big difference, pictures. Comic books are still story driven, but they are primarily a visual medium. Characters can’t sit around talking. Well, they can, but only if they look really cool doing it or if they’re really hot women. No joke, thems the rules. So learning to let the images carry as much of the story as possible, the biggest difference, the biggest challenge and also the most fun.
Q: I mentioned before that Caught Stealing has been optioned for a film–is that going happen? Would you want to write the screenplay?
CH:The option is held by Crossroads Films. They’ve been working on getting the movie made for several years now and already have a screenplay. In fact, they have a director and some cast as well. From what I understand, the next few months will determine if they are able to get the movie made.
Q: Any movie prospects for Already Dead?
CH:Could be, but I’d have to kill you if I told you. Have to kill aaaaallll of you.
Q: Easy, big fella! What other projects do you have in the works?
CH:I’ve finished the last book in my Henry Thompson trilogy, A Dangerous Man. That will be out next fall. I’m looking at doing some more work for Marvel. And currently I’m writing a stand-alone mystery for Ballantine. It’s about a gang of teenage housebreakers in a suburb in the early eighties. They break into the wrong house and see the wrong thing and get into a shitload of trouble. Chaos ensues.
I’ve also got a website, www.pulpnoir.com, that I update every week with journal entries and some short fiction. I’ll be putting some supplemental Joe Pitt material there over the next couple months.
Q: What's next for Joe Pitt?
CH:Book two, No Dominion, is in the very last editing stages and will come out winter of 2006. It’ll be more of the same. A vulgar, violent, bloody, cool, punk-rock vampire tale à la Chandler.