This week on The Scariest Part, my guests are Aaron Dries and Mark Allan Gunnells, authors of the novel Where the Dead Go to Die. Here is the publisher’s description:
Post-infection Chicago. Christmas.
Inside The Hospice, Emily and her fellow nurses do their rounds. Here, men and women live out their final days in comfort, segregated from society, and are then humanely terminated before fate turns them into marrow-craving monsters known as “Smilers.” Outside these imposing walls, rabid protesters swarm with signs, caught up in the heat of their hatred.
Emily, a woman haunted by her past, only wants to do her job and be the best mother possible. But in a world where mortality means nothing, where guns are drawn in fear and nobody seems safe anymore — at what cost will this pursuit come? And through it all, the soon-to-be-dead remain silent, ever smiling. Such is their curse.
This emotional, political novel comes from two of horror’s freshest voices, and puts a new spin on an eternal topic: the undead. In the spirit of George A. Romero meets Jack Ketchum, Where the Dead Go to Die is an unforgettable epilogue to the zombie genre, one that will leave you shaken and questioning right from wrong…even when it’s the only right left.
It won’t be long before that snow-speckled ground will be salted by blood.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest parts were for Aaron Dries and Mark Allan Gunnells:
Writing Where the Dead Go to Die was a unique experience as it was my first collaboration. Actually embarking upon the idea of working with someone was an initial hurdle for me. However, once I met Mark in person, I became so enraptured by his ability to tell a story, often making me laugh until my sides hurt, I just knew that this was someone I could creatively cook with. And of course, he’s a great writer. I’m glad that my ego didn’t get in the way of this happening, and that I followed my gut and opened myself to the opportunity — because with risks come rewards.
Along the way, there were no real concerns from my end about the writing process. Mark and I formed an agreement about being open with one another about our approaches, about trust. And this worked out wonderfully, the words spilling hard and fast. We pushed each other from opposite ends of the planet, often inserting details in our sections that would inspire whole chapters from the other author. I can honestly say that this was a comfortable partnership from beginning to end.
The only really concerning part of the process for me is the release. The great ‘gulp’. The concept of working on something for so long, and showing its smiles and scars only to a select few, and then having to set it free in the wide-open world is terrifying to me. This book is easily the most political thing I’ve ever written, and its subtext is certainly overt — and yet I’d argue that it has be.
What if readers think agenda outweighs plot? What if readers don’t identify with the situation and the characters we’ve conjured up? All these things maybes swirl about in my head…
Regardless of the leaps and bounds we’ve made as a society, we seem to be living in increasingly conservative times, politically and ideologically. And you feel that hardest if you’re a part of a minority. Mark and I get that, feel that. There’s a peculiar swing towards policy that comes at the cost of others — and not just in the US, but globally. This is a post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-Pauline Hanson world. And Where the Dead Go to Die was very much born from the cultural shift we’ve now found ourselves trapped in (though hopefully not forever).
The content of the book doesn’t concern me. What concerns me is that we needed to go there in the first place. But that’s why horror is a great thing. It’s reflective. It’s reactive. A splinter purged from infected flesh. In this respect, horror is healthy.
As mentioned before, with risks come rewards. I think Where the Dead Go to Die deals with some risky, but essential issues — trauma, assault, euthanasia, homosexuality, gun control — all whilst spinning a story that hopefully keeps the pages flying by.
And as a terrified as I may be, I still think the best rewards are yet to come.
Mark Allan Gunnells
Unlike my pal and collaborator Aaron, this was not my first collaboration. I actually have done several collaborations, and I always enjoy the process.
And yet it’s still the scariest part for me. Not because I worry about clashing egos or butting heads or anything like that. I welcome the opportunity to learn from other writers. However, I also fear disappointing those with whom I collaborate.
I’ve been fortunate that I’ve worked with some very talented people, and Aaron is no exception. I first encountered him in the world of cyberspace, as a name on my Facebook Friends list. About two years ago, I purchased his first novel House of Sighs and read it in a state of complete and utter awe. I followed it up with his novella And the Night Growled Back, which confirmed for me he was massively talented. His stories were not just engaging and entertaining, they were also surprising. As someone who has been a horror fan my entire life, it’s hard to throw out a twist that really catches me off guard but he did it with ease.
I then met him in person shortly after at the World Horror Convention held in Atlanta, and he proved to be more than just a talented author. He was also funny and charming and nice. We had an instant rapport, so when he asked if I’d like to work with him on something in the future, I instantly said yes.
Then when he approached me with an idea, the fear started to kick in. I am not someone who spends a lot of time doubting my talent, but neither do I inflate it. I feel I have a realistic view of my abilities as a storyteller, and I am comfortable with that.
But faced with crafting a story with Aaron, whom I knew to be an exceptional storyteller, I had my doubts. Could I rise to the occasion, could I keep up with someone so talented? It wasn’t a crippling fear, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was there.
The way I overcame that fear was by opening myself up to the experience, allowing it to enrich my writing and committing to grow from this collaboration. Aaron became not only my collaborator but unbeknownst to him my teacher and mentor.
He was incredibly generous during our collaboration; he never made me feel like the junior partner of the pairing. I do think working with him made me a stronger writer, and I like to think that he benefited from our time together as well.
In some ways, the fear going in made me work harder, stretch the limits of what I had previously thought myself capable. I’m grateful for that, as I believe Aaron and I really delivered a strong and powerful story.
Avid traveler, former pizza boy, retail clerk, kitchen hand, aged care worker, video director and copywriter, Aaron Dries was born and raised in New South Wales, Australia. When asked why he writes horror, his standard reply is that when it comes to scaring people, writing pays slightly better than jumping out from behind doors. He is the author of the award-winning House of Sighs, and his subsequent novels, The Fallen Boys and A Place for Sinners are just as — if not more — twisted than his debut. Feel free to drop him a line at aarondries.com. He won’t bite. Much.
Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.