Sunday, September 23, 2012

Interview With Author Daniel Waters!

The Recommender is thrilled to bring you this short interview with one of my favorite authors, Daniel Waters. Dan is the author of the groundbreaking zombie series “Generation Dead” and his new book “Break My Heart 1000 Times” has become one of my all time favorites, and has my favorite title of the year, as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us here on the Militant Recommender! 
 These were wonderful, insightful questions, so thank you. 
What I love about Break My Heart 1000 Times is the absolutely believable reality you’ve created. The ghosts seem so natural in their day to day haunting. How did you ever come up with this concept??
I think the original concept is one of those "Hadron Collider of the mind"-type things, where I can't pinpoint any single flash of inspiration that triggered the idea, but I can see a number of the particle trails that combined to form it. I love horror stories to begin with, and ghosts stories are my favorite among them--I reread The Haunting of Hill House every couple years, so that has to be in the mix. The Sixth Sense is a favorite movie, and the novel takes the "I see dead people" concept and changes it to "everyone sees dead people". Thoughts about recent tragedies, both historical and personal, figure in to the book heavily as well.
I loved the character of Veronica. She’s a very complex and sympathetic character. You are very good at creating believable girls which is one of the things I admire about the Generation Dead series. Were there any real girls or women who helped inspire your great characters?

 Thank you. No one consciously--but my daughter is close to Veronica's age, and she is a very complex and sympathetic character. Her friends are all great kids too so I'm sure that knowing them helps the writing of my female teen protagonists. Of course, she was in grade school when I wrote Generation Dead, so that might be a fairly recent development.
 The image of Ronnie’s father appearing in the kitchen each morning is almost unbearably moving. The details of his apparition doing something mundane, reading the paper, drinking coffee and his wife and daughter positioning themselves each morning so that it appears he’s still there and about to speak to them is just beautifully conceived. What gave you the idea for this particular haunting?
The story is essentially about the idea of loss, the loss of loved ones, and how it affects people. Each character in the book is shaped by loss; loss has toughened Ronnie, it has caused her mother to put her life on hold, it has reduced Janine to a bundle of nerves, it has, and it has broken Bittner. Even Kirk, who hasn't felt any direct loss himself but has been witness to it in others feels its effects.
The scenes with many of the ghosts, especially Ronnie's father, come directly from personal experiences with loss. If someone dies or drops out of our lives it leaves us feeling haunted; even remembering the happy times brings a painful sting.
 Ronnie and her friend, Janine, walk to school and pass a house where every morning the ghost of a girl appears at the front door and knocks. They note it is the home of their history teacher. Early on we find out he’s a pretty creepy character. You have a real ability to bring the reader’s empathy to even the most despicable character, not giving anything away, as we hate giving away too many details, that is a real art. When you created this character how did you decide to bring that aspect to him, which makes him more 3 dimensional, as opposed to just a black and white bad guy?
Thank you for the drawing you did of the scene you just described; by the way. I love it. Villains to me are almost always more interesting when the are reasons behind that villainy; I also love when I'm reading about a villain and you can sense the moment he or she chose evil over good--or maybe that decision was made for them. There are plenty of fictional villains around that are pure evil from birth or early childhood, especially in horror and supernatural fiction, and I think that is a bit unrealistic. Most of the truly evil people throughout history didn't think they were evil; in their warped way they thought they were the good guys. I think it is fascinating to try and figure out how they could possibly have though something so opposite of what the majority of us believe.
Then again, I'd like to explore true and pure unsympathetic evil someday.
Some people live with the idea of the ghosts as a fact of life in your book while others lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety like Ronnie’s friend Janine. This also seems very realistic and equates, in a way, with how people in our society got on with their lives after Sept. 11, and others seemed to see terrorists everywhere. Was that what gave you the idea for the ghost world and life after the event?
September 11 was definitely on my mind when I wrote the book. I was away from home and in D.C. At the time of the attacks, and I spent the greater part of the following week or so apart from my family assisting with the cleanup of the Pentagon. I'd never honestly contemplated the idea of never seeing my wife and kids again prior to those days; but that's where my thoughts were running. Two high school classmates of mine died in the fall of the towers, and like everyone else in America, if not the world, I think about what those first days and months afterwards felt like.

And then later--surprisingly not a very long time later--it would strike me that people go on with life. Holocausts happen, genocides, plagues, terrorist attacks--and we go on, somehow manager to avoid dwelling on the horror 24/7. We cope. We find ways to love and laugh again. Civilization wobbles but doesn't crumble. People manage to go on with life even after the most horrific circumstances. I thought about an event, a cataclysm, where there was a loss of life hundred of thousands times more than that of 9/11, and in some ways the prospect of returning to "life as normal" after something like that was more terrifying to me than a descent into a post-apocalyptic mire. I think that is what would happen, no matter the scale of the tragedy.
But of course we never really move on completely from tragedy, do we? The ghosts are always with us. And we don't want them to go away.

And finally, I was very excited to read that Break My Heart has been optioned for a movie and the screenplay has already been written. It is such a strikingly visual book you can picture each scene. As a reader I feel a loyalty to the integrity of the characters and story and worry that a screenwriter might mess around with it. Did you have script approval? Were you happy with the results?
I was ecstatic with the result. I didn't really have approval, but the producer, Paul Brooks, was kind enough to send me the script when it was finished and I made a couple suggestions. Really minor suggestions, because Jason Fuchs did an amazing job on the script that I was thoroughly pleased. The script is very faithful to the characters and the tone of the book, which is very difficult as what makes a book thrilling and exciting is not always the same thing that makes a film thrilling and exciting--especially with a ghost story. There's a few new scenes in the script and they are among my favorites!
Although I love the Hemingway quote about dealing with Hollywood, which goes something like, "stand on the Nevada border, throw the book over the fence to California, have them throw the money back, and run like hell", I don't feel that way at all. I think I would be just as pleased with someone doing a takeoff or riff on one of my works as I would an adaptation that was note perfect.
Links to Dan's online media:
WatersDan on Twitter


  1. Dan is one of my favorite authors as well. Thank you for featuring this interview. I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. You are welcome, Quinn. It was such an honor to have Dan agree to the interview!