I’m breaking my holiday blogging silence to present to you a fantastic guest post and book giveaway from W.D. Gagliani, another interviewee on the Crime Cafe podcast. W.D. (or Bill) writes the Nick Lupo series, a paranormal crime series featuring a werewolf detective. Thus, the giveaway of the day will be his latest novel, WOLF’S BLIND. To enter the giveaway, just email Bill at tarkusp[at]yahoo[dot]com. So without further ado, please take it away Bill!
A Lifetime of Thrills
Growing up, I spent much of my time reading a long succession of macho British thriller writers, flowing from one to the other in an almost unbroken chain. Recently I’ve been rereading a select few titles from my youth, in their original 95-cent and $1.25 paperbacks (which I still proudly own, yellowing pages and all) and it’s interesting to see how genteel they were, how eloquent everyone was, and how sporting – and when they weren’t, it was clearly noticeable as a divergence from the typical. They were wordy, too, in all the best ways. No one could describe a ship at sea, or a near-frozen walk on a polar ice cap, or lurking aboard a submerged submarine nearly as well as Alistair MacLean. Harry Patterson, better known as Jack Higgins, was also no slouch in the description department, and rows of his books attributed to him or any of his half-dozen pseudonyms also still line my shelves. Rereading has allowed me to reconnect with this key phase of my writer’s evolution. After all this time, I still tend to describe more than is currently expected.
And in this rereading frenzy I’m also noticing how often they were “small picture” novels, not “big picture” – that is, the stakes were usually not world domination, but a small corner of some Cold War operation in some tiny Soviet or European country… if there were greater implications, they still tended toward the smaller scale – perhaps a new weapons system that might be compromised, or a government bureaucrat who sought defection without taking all the secrets with him, or a plot to discredit some official would backfire and cause the death of agents in the field.
Okay, I’ll grant one exception: Ian Fleming’s Bond-villains often made noises about ruling the world or part of it, or seeking to blackmail the world into submission with stolen nukes or bacteriological plagues or whatever. Through those colorful rogues Fleming may have begun the whole world-in-peril convention that bloomed naturally into most of the super-hero mythologies so popular today. Normally, though, in most of these thrillers the stakes were much more personal, and those were the ones I appreciated the most. The duel would be between agents, sometimes former comrades, often opposite numbers, who would play chess with each others’ lives and declare checkmate with a silenced pistol in a hotel room or a wooded swath of some dreary Iron Curtain territory. Desmond Bagley, who was British by birth but lived in South Africa, liked to play with missing memory (think early Jason Bourne). Duncan Kyle loved “wrong man” and “amateur recruited to big-time spy caper” plots.
I was drawn to the Brits most, I think, because their wordiness reflected my hunger for detail and because their descriptions turned the novel settings into characters themselves. Their main draw for me was the realism. There was little exaggeration in these novels, and the technology employed was mostly benign even when it was cutting-edge – most novels’ resolution rarely relied upon gadgetry. Perhaps the only exception was the fortitude shown by the protagonists, who often took multiple beatings and shootings and soldiered on with at most a bandage and a few fingers of good Scotch in them for good measure (medicinal purposes). Heavy on the detail, small picture, realistic – these terms described my adopted style for years, and certainly form the background of my first novel, Wolf’s Trap (a Bram Stoker Award nominee in 2004). How is a werewolf novel “realistic,” you ask?
First, let me tell you why I gravitated toward horror. In 1976, a I read a novel by a newcomer named Stephen King. That book was ’Salem’s Lot and it scared me silly – early dusk in a frigid Wisconsin winter, a bookworm latchkey kid home from high school and alone until past 8:00 PM… yeah, the notion that vampires could live next door and down the street was pretty effective. It truly was a game-changer. I’d been reading the horror and thrillers of James Herbert and Richard Matheson for a while, having always been partial to dark themes (ABC Movie of the Week, Dark Shadows, Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Outer Limits, Ghost Story, and so on) already, but it was King who stole my soul. When in due time many other influences would lead me to the idea that a werewolf would make a great protagonist (see some of my other biographical writings in this area), despite the horror trappings the resulting novel was chock-full of thriller elements such as a serial killer torn from the mold of Hannibal Lecter and also a couple I remembered from my favorite British thrillers, namely wordiness (obsessive detail?) and realism.
A realistic werewolf tale? Well, yes. I tried hard to make the notion that a werewolf could exist as realistic as I could after the reader’s one leap to acceptance of the central conceit. The first novel, Bram Stoker Award nominee Wolf’s Trap only had the one werewolf, Nick Lupo – the homicide cop who was the protagonist. Good sales led to a second novel, and a series was born… but first I needed more werewolves. Fortunately I had seeded my “wordy” first novel with a bunch of open-ended elements and I’ve been reaping that harvest ever since.
Now I’ve advanced my series plotlines to include some of that world-threatening super-villain stuff, albeit still trying to follow internal logic and strongly resisting the usual unleashing of multiple monsters and sticking to only werewolves. There are plots within conspiracies within schemes, plenty of sadistic baddies, and domination of one sort or another is certainly up for grabs. The world is in danger in my series, though it’s unaware. There is a larger picture, an arc that stretches over my protagonist and his group, his “team,” and his usual antagonists.
But I still find that when it comes to effective thrillers (and sometimes horror, too) smaller is better. And whenever I can, I make the conflicts as personal as possible. Which is why my new novel, Wolf’s Blind, the sixth in the Lupo series, contains long sections reminiscent of the classic Richard Connell short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” and also why in this book’s post-WWII parallel story related to my own personal family history there is a long sea journey in which the protagonist is surrounded by passengers and crew, any of whom could be escaping Nazi werewolves. Because what’s a smaller and more personal stage than the confines of a ship at sea? Oh, and there’s a femme fatale, too, for those of you who note such things. And a cliffhanger.
In the end, I hope each of my novels will meld thriller and horror elements the way I have always enjoyed them. Sometimes I call them “North Woods Noirs,” but mostly they are the thrillers and horror of my youth, melted into a crucible and fired by some of the hard-nosed horror elements of the Seventies and Eighties. And I hope you’ll give them a try.
W.D. Gagliani is the author of the novels Wolf’s Trap, Wolf’s Gambit, Wolf’s Bluff, Wolf’s Edge, Wolf’s Cut, Wolf’s Blind (just published by Samhain Publishing), and Savage Nights, plus the novellas Wolf’s Deal and “The Great Belzoni and the Gait of Anubis” (to be reissued by Acheron Books in Italian and English in 2016). Wolf’s Trap was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2004. He has published fiction and nonfiction in numerous anthologies and publications such as Robert Bloch’s Psychos, Undead Tales, More Monsters From Memphis, The Midnighters Club, The Asylum 2, Wicked Karnival Halloween Horror, Small Bites, The Black Spiral, and others, and his fiction has garnered six Honorable Mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. His book reviews and nonfiction articles have been included in, among others, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Chizine, HorrorWorld, Chizine, Cemetery Dance, Hellnotes, Science Fiction Chronicle, The Scream Factory, The Writer magazine, Paperback Parade, and the books Thrillers: The 100 Must Reads, They Bite, and On Writing Horror. The team of W.D. Gagliani & David Benton has published fiction in venues such as THE X-FILES: TRUST NO ONE, SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, Dark Passions: Hot Blood 13, Zippered Flesh 2, Masters of Unreality (Germany), Malpractice: An Anthology of Bedside Terror, Splatterpunk Zine, and Dead Lines, along with the Kindle Worlds Vampire Diaries tie-in “Voracious in Vegas.” Some of their collaborations are available in the collection Mysteries & Mayhem.
W.D. Gagliani’s Contact Info
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/W.-D.-Gagliani/e/B002BMHHPQ/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1
PS: Also, check out the Crime Cafe podcast with Jeremy Duns!