Finnish-born author C.T. Grey is an engineer and self-confessed information junkie with a serious addiction to science fiction and fantasy. Besides his own novels, Grey has also published a number of articles and blog posts on technology, science, politics, and a wide variety of other topics, both fact and fiction.
In First Interview, book 1 of the Necromorphosis series, Grey introduces us to a bleak and horrifying post-zombie-outbreak London, where a mutated virus has escaped government control and now runs rampant among the population. The novel comes with a twist, though: zombies are not the only supernatural creatures roaming London. And now the Damned, which include vampires, are threatened with exposure as the entire structure of society begins to fall apart.
Juliana: Hi C.T., and welcome. First Interview is a zombie novel with a unique approach — one of its main point of view characters is a vampire! How did you come up with the idea of mixing traditional fantasy elements like vampires and magic with a classic zombie outbreak tale?
CTG: Thank you Juliana. It is a good question. At the beginning the trilogy was just a short story that I posted in its entirety in the SFF Chronicles under a title of “A New Beginning…” It was story where Herbert Jackson faced Jane and end up as her dinner, as the story ends in the classical Jane’s line: “I’d like some red, please.”
When I started to listen to Jane as my muse I was imagining a very different kind of story as I was admiring Bear Grylls and I wanted to put him as a character, which comes to rescue Jane from some tower in London. It would have been really romantic and somewhat a classical adventure. However it never happened as Jane led to a very different kind of survival story.
I never wanted to write a classical zombie story or follow Kirkman in the niche market, as the whole turmoil with the zombie uprise is a background detail in the book. It is not the main thing. Jane’s survival story is and I wanted to make her extraordinary as those types get highlighted born in the times of conflict.
You can read from between the lines that the story Jane tells to Henrik isn’t a normal journey. But it is the sort of case that Henrik would be normally investigating, but the deeper he ventures into the story that Jane is weaving, he starts to realise that everything isn’t as it should be.
I wanted that to be the fantasy element, not just supernatural as that would be boring. I honestly wanted to write in all the places she has visited, things she has seen but wasn’t mentioned in the books, like for example: dryads, centaurs, elves and dragons. What I think is interesting is that to Henrik all of those things are magic. He doesn’t believe in any of them, because he was born skeptic. But over the course of the trilogy, his views change somewhat dramatically.
Juliana: I know you are a fan of a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy TV shows, which you review for the SFFChronicles.com. Did your eclectic approach to entertainment influence your choice to draw from both sides of the speculative coin, so to speak?
CTG: No. It never was my aim, but I do admit I might have been influenced by them. Thing is whatever you read, watch, see will get mixed in your mind and eventually spilled out on the paper.
I started my own reading experience with Ursula Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea and moved on to cover a number of classical masters like Asimov, Tolkien, Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. I read a lot and I still do, but these days I have the internet, so I don’t read as many books as I used to, but over the years I’ve never been just one type of guy.
If there is a fantasy creature in my stories, the chances are there are a number of others lurking at the background, ready to pop in the stage. I could claim that it’s like the case of Tove Janson’s Moomins, once you know they are real, they never go away and in the Moomin valley there are a large number of things that not present in the ‘real world,’ but we still do believe in there.
Therefore I cannot omit fantasy from a story, if the main character is already a fantasy creature. What I can and what I have done in the trilogy, is that I’ve rooted them into the realm of realism as much as I can. It just happens to be that after the Great Panic all these creatures start to pop all over the map.
So, in the case of the Necromorphosis trilogy, nothing you’ll see is traditional. I mix … sometimes quite strongly science fiction into fantasy because both genres can offer so much more than restricting yourself to write yourself into the corner. The biggest SF thing I have is the Portal technology, but it is also funny, because the portals are in scientific terms pure fantasy.
Juliana: I have a confession — I’m terrified of zombies! But First Interview, despite the sometimes-graphic descriptions of gore, somehow eased me in and kept me from running away. A lot of this is probably down to your protagonist Jane, and her matter-of-fact manner of telling the story. Was this a conscious decision on your part — to give the reader some breathing space, so the horror wouldn’t be too overwhelming — or did this just occur naturally?
CTG: (Laughs) You are not the only one. Jeff Richards, who has edited the whole trilogy, confessed to me very early on that he absolutely hates the zombie tales. To him, you and a number of other people, who have read the book, have confessed the same thing. First Interview isn’t about the zombies, or what they do, when the apocalypse becomes real, because that tale is Jane’s tale and I doubt she would ever bore Henrik with a simple zombie story.
When you later on read the next book – From Exopolis to Necropolis – you will notice that the same effect that plagues AMC’s The Walking Dead plagues that story as it keeps moving away from shuffling horrors to a short of story that is close to Inception. And that move was as much intentional as it could be. The dead will remain as threat and as a reminder about what happened when the Day of Great Panic dawned in Jane’s Earth and it became apparent that there was no return to the world of yesterday.
So to get Jeff to edit he had to love the story so much that he made me put it into various competitions with the Big 5 for over two and half years. When it became apparent to me that they liked it and saw something in it, but couldn’t invest money into it, I made a decision to publish it on my own.
Juliana: What challenges did your two main characters, the vampire Jane and Intelligence Analyst Henrik, bring? Who was the hardest one to write? And the easiest?
CTG: Henrik was the hardest. The simple reason is, he’s an invisible narrator in First Interview but his role grows much bigger later on. Because he was so vague I had harder time engaging him than Jane. Usually she’s much easier and more interesting thing to write than Henrik. With her you always know that you’re not going to have a boring moment. Instead you’ll get a chance to explore things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. You could claim that Jane is sort of Super Heroine and you wouldn’t be wrong as that is almost what she is. With her being an over six and half centuries old vampire, you get a chance to explore world from a point-of-view that is far older than what you could do with a traditional human perspective.
She has seen history and met people since last mini ice-age and it shows in her narrative. With Henrik the case is different, as he studies things in the current timeframe rather than wallowing in the past, like Jane does sometimes.
There are only a few Jane focused chapters that I struggled to write. Some of them especially so because I got so emotional with her struggles to cope with the world she didn’t wanted to bring around. Jane would have happily stayed in the shadows and continued living in a normal world that we experience everyday.
Juliana: First Interview is full of high-octane action scenes. Do you have a system for writing these scenes? Do you work them out beforehand, in your mind or on paper, or do you just jump straight in?
CTG: I don’t plan them as I let the muse and flow bring them out, but each one of those battles has been written multiple times. In some cases Jeff has made me to rewrite them again. So you get multiple layers that over time became the scenes you see in the books. In First Interview there is a scene, where Jane is being targeted by a sniper. I wrote it probably ten times even though it is relatively simple thing to write. It is also a reference point that Henrik uses multiple times, because in his mind, nobody could have survived it. Jane, on the other hand, isn’t a nobody and her ending in it wouldn’t have made a very good book. (laughs)
With the choreography of the fights I have over a decade long experience as a game-master and making high-octane adventures for the top-class players. Believe me, they schooled me well on what’s an interesting fight and how it should go down. Although with the gamers what you expect to get isn’t ever going to happen, because their sole aim is to destroy you as a game-master. (laughs again)
So, with the fights I never aim to destroy my characters but to put them through fast-and-dirty fights where sometimes unbelievable things happens just like it is in the case of the real life. Although I have a chance to show those scenes to military people and ask their opinion on them, I tend utilize my service experience and stuff that I’ve gathered continuing talking and analyzing current fights in the world, before I bring them on the paper.
Believe me it would be easier to write them if I didn’t knew anything about the art of warfare or how the battles turn out. In fact I’m glad that you can reflect those experience in the fiction and anchor them into the reality as much as I can. It also helps that every week, sometimes every day I write reviews on the stuff you see in the small screen or in the big one.
Juliana: Since your first language is Finnish, what were the key difficulties you had to face when working in English? And do you have any tips for other non-native-English writers?
Finnish and English are very different. Whilst Finnish might be easier language to write prose, it’s not the main language in our world. I write both fluently and out of those two, English is way much harder, because it has so many rules. Some things don’t make sense to even English Masters as they have to accept that things are the way they are. On the other hand I can easily bend the Finnish words and use them in completely different meaning altogether as the language flexes more around the speaker and the writer than what you can do with English language alone. So, it is a question of how much you can cope, and how well you can learn those rules to be able write in second language. As English is one of the main languages I try not to play with it as much I can do with my mother tongue.
Juliana: Talk to me about your cover! What are your favorite things about it? How closely did you work with the artist, Jackie Felix?
CTG: The cover… Oh man, I don’t know where to start. Well, firstly, I wanted to show Jane and keep Henrik altogether, as Jane is the Main Character in the First Interview. Jackie did a fantastic job in bringing her and Sergeant Red out as a couple, as you can see them standing in the Interview Room 2, looking mighty grumpy. Through the book they are an item as much as Jane and Jaq is, but Jackie didn’t wanted to draw nasty dead in the streets of war torn London, hence you see them in the Interview scene.
I chose Jackie, because she draws the best females characters in the industry and she isn’t afraid of showing them curvy or full of life. She also has an ability to draw from the darkness and apply that to the canvas. Jackie also managed to capture the feeling that their world is close to us but in some terms it’s more technologically advanced than our own. You see the eye of the Source (an AI) in the background watching everyone. So even in that you can get layers of the that only make complete sense once you have the knowledge.
Juliana: On February 10th you’ll be releasing Book 2 of your series, From Exopolis to Necropolis. Can you give us any spoiler-free hints of what awaits Jane, Henrik, Jaq and Co.? Also, First Interview very briefly introduces deeper fantasy elements, such as magic, the teaser of more supernatural creatures lurking undercover, and the mysterious Underworld. Will you expand upon these in the sequel?
CTG: Yes, I’ve expanded them a great deal, as the reader gets to dive into the story that was hugely inspired by Nolan’s Inception movie. You’ll get to learn how the Necromorphis advanced in the streets of London. What role the Portals, the Exopolis and the collective of special people that the Authorities placed in the Moon has been doing since the dust from the Great Panic has settled. You also learn much more about Henrik and what he’s going to do when, after six months, he meets Jane in the Exopolis and one of the first things she asks is for him to become Mayor.
At the background, you can expect that the war between the Damned and the Authorities is continuing. And for your delight there aren’t that many scenes involving the dead as there are in the First Interview. Instead of them you get to learn more about the mysterious Underworld, and what role it plays in the grand scheme of things.
Juliana: Thank you CT for stopping by and answering my questions. And I love the cover of the new book, with art by Adam Burn!
From Exopolis to Necropolis is available for preorder from Amazon, and First Interview will soon be available at a special promotional price during the sequel’s pre-launch week.