Unlife As He Knows It: An interview with David Youngquist.

“I write these kinds of things because I can’t afford psychotherapy..”

In a little over a year, David Youngquist has introduced us to a small town in Illinois called Snareville in the form of two books that will ultimately be a part of a trilogy.  The town is unlike most in the United States, in that it has survived the zombie apocalypse.

Through the first two installments in the series, Youngquist has done a fantastic job of sinking his literary claws into the reader’s mind and I will be the first to raise my hand and say I am eagerly awaiting the third and presumably final book.

Youngquist began his writing career at Western Illinois University and while he has had success writing for a number of publications outside of the horror genre, his love for the macabre ultimately won out.  In 2006, Youngquist saw his first short story get published and it was during that same year that he was offered a contract to produce a collection of ghost stories.

The short story collection, Ghosts of Interstate 80, hit in 2007 and in 2008, Ghosts of the Illinois Canal System earned positive reviews from readers across the internet.  David’s Snareville tale first showed up in a zombie webzine in 2009.  A short story ultimately led to the series that Youngquist has brought to life with several new wrinkles in the zombie mythos.

David recently took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with a fellow zombie enthusiast.

Read on…

MANGLED MATTERS: Thanks for joining me this evening, David.  What led you down the dark, foggy path of horror writing?

DAVID YOUNGQUIST: No problem.  Thanks for talking with me.  Let’s see, what led me this direction…?  Well, my standard smart-assed answer is that I write these kinds of things because I can’t afford psychotherapy.  But I think it’s just part of how I’m wired.  Yes, the tough spots in my life had something to do with it, but even my “humor” has a dark twist to it usually.  Just part of me.  As for why, I’ve always had writing as a creative outlet.  Some people paint.  Some people play music.  I write.

The Youngquist family enjoying California

MM: Indie horror is one of the few book genres that still seems to really tread water in this Kindle and Nook generation.  As the president of Dark Continents Publishing, why did you decide to start up your own company?

DY: Well, it was mostly out of a sense of frustration with the industry.  My Aunt in California bought her husband a first gen Kindle for Christmas one year, and he loved it.  I could see where the readership was going, and the industry wasn’t headed that way.  They, as a whole, were content to maintain business as usual since the Guttenburg Bible was put out.  Add to that a lot of mid level and previously published writers were being left out of the system in order for the big boys to concentrate on their current cash cows, without risking letting anyone new into the big leagues, along with the immediacy of the internet, and we five discovered we could launch an independent publishing company with a global reach from our desktops.  With this next round of submissions and releases, we’re moving out of the strictly horror genre, and into fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance and others.  So we’re really looking to expand our library.

MM: How do you go about promoting Dark Continents Publishing and are you still looking to add new members to the team?

DY: We promote as many ways we can; through traditional print advertising, to our web page, to legitimate (not purchased) reviews to twitter.  We find that a mix of the traditional and the new works best for us.  We also attend conferences everywhere we have writers.  Everything from Fantasy Con and BunkFest in the UK, to FandomFest and Zombie Walks in the US, to Horror conventions in South Africa.  We try to have a presence where we have DCP family.  It may not always be a company repped event, but the authors do a great job of getting out there promoting their work and the company.  As for new members of the team, we may open submissions come November, and one of the goals for next year is to hire a publicity firm to to get word out about new releases and such.

MM: I really enjoyed Snareville.  You created a complete town of your own, reminiscent of King’s work whenever he develops a community story.  Where did the inspiration for this zombie trilogy come from?

DY: Thank you.  I appreciate the compliment.  Snareville is pretty much three or four of the small towns I’ve lived in and a number of people I’ve had the privilege to know over the years.  The idea for the books basically came from me being fed up with the entire zombie genre.  I wanted to do something a little different.  Something I could relate to.  Despite popular opinion, there is a world outside of Chicago, New York and LA.  I wanted to put the zombies some place people knew how to take care of themselves, and took care of their neighbors.  I also have watched a number of Brit zombie movies, and they tend to be a lot smarter than the American versions.  And let me explain that.  In England, private gun ownership is pretty much unheard of.  Even local police officers have to go to an armory in a larger town to check out a firearm.  Therefore, any type of z-poc movie the Brits make, the people have to think their way through it.  Most American z-poc films tend to rely heavily on firepower, and not much on brains.  I wanted to do something different in that respect as well, and let the people of Snareville think through how to protect their town and survive.  Before folks think the setting and what people have in Snareville is unrealistic, in my town of 800 people, we have a trucking company, a heavy equipment operations company, a gas station and a grocery store. We’re pretty self contained.

MM: Book One in the series hits on a number of topics, yet you don’t force feed them to the reader.  They are almost subtle in the way you approach them, but they leave a lasting mark on the book itself.  Did you add these current event topics in on purpose or was it simply a subconscious breakdown of society gone awry?

DY: Thank you.  I thought it was risky putting some of those things in, and I’m glad you picked up on them.  Some of it was obviously intentional, but I don’t like to cram things down people’s throat.  I like to give folks something to think about, and they can ponder it and make thier own decisions.  Some of the other things, like a question of Faith, and the presence of God, kind of snuck in on me, and I didn’t realize it until the end of the book.  I grew up with a strong Faith and personal conviction for the Lord, and became a biology teacher because I love science almost as much as history.  I was going through a crisis of Faith as I wrote this.  Finding a balance between God’s presence in the world or science is an ongoing thing for me at this point.  I’m more comfortable with where I stand, but there were a lot of questions at the time.  The part of the book that comes from the view of society imploding was a mix of intentional and again, things sneaking in.  Terrorism, drug use, child porn, corrupt government.  It all is something that’s there in my mind on a daily basis, and it came out in this book probably more than any other.

MM: I like how your squad of ‘Raiders’ aren’t unbelievably good (they have their flaws and own vigilante justice) but they still keep civilized humanity alive during this apocalypse.  They are easy to relate to and root for, which I find rare in horror literature these days.  Do you have a favorite character from the series thus far?

DY: Yeah, no one is good or bad in the sense of the 50’s cowboy movies these days, if they ever were.  More like Josey Wales.  I wanted to make the people real.  I wanted to challenge them and give them flaws, like everyone I know.  As for favorite characters themselves?  Hmmm…I loved Jenny One Sock.  She was probably one of the favorite people I’ve ever created.  When I wrote her death scene, it took me a week to do.  It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t want to kill her, but as the series progressed, it becomes more clear why she had to go.  I also refused to turn her into a zombie.  I wouldn’t do that to her.  In my mind though, this is even a more tragic and senseless death, even if it is more realistic.  As for current favorites, that’s like asking a parent to pick his favorite kid.  But I reckon you could toss a coin between Pepper and Cindy.  They both still surprise me.  It surprises me how Pepper balances being a bad-assed bitch and a mother, and how Cindy has grown despite the damage done to her.  I had a friend once describe Cindy as a hyperactive puppy with rabies. Love that description! Thank you Dustin Rahn!

MM: I loved Book Two.  It really branched out and readers had a chance to enjoy some great stories from outside of Snareville’s walls.  We also met a mind controlling zombie, amongst other intriguing characters.  What were your goals with Book Two?

DY: My goals with book two were to expand the world of Snareville.  Keep in mind that historically, the human race has survived great death plagues several times, the most recent being the Spanish Flu.  People want to connect.  People want to survive.  And they’ll find ways to do that.  Whether that be to stay holed up in one town where they’re safe and hide, or merge a number of communities to make one cohesive group.  I also wanted to show that in my mind, humans are wired to keep killing one another over stupid things.  Even if those things are food and water or sex slaves, humans will kill one another over those issues rather than work together in some cases. I guess I’m not of the utopian, Star Trek mindset when it comes to the human race.  I also wanted to give the people a chance to win against the zombies.  There will always be little pockets of people who will continue to survive simply because they are off the beaten path.  As for the mind controlling zombies, the Omegas, as we’ve since dubbed them, they’ll play a pretty huge role in the third book and a fourth, if I decide to write it.

MM: With two books out there and a third expected, what has the journey been like completing a trilogy?

DY: It’s no small feat!  No, it’s not. (laughs) Not bragging, but I didn’t realize how much work this would be.  The first book was written as a series of short stories, so I’d work on it a week or two here and there as I had time.  The second book I pulled straight through in about eight months of getting up at four in the morning, writing until I went to work, and then editing when I got home.  The third book is a collaboration between Adrian Chamberlin and myself.  So I write a chapter, send it to Ade in England, he writes his chapter, and sends it back.  Throw into the mix normal daily life of family and job, and then add a publishing company, and it’s a little nuts!  Whew!  That all said, and Snareville III: The Ties that Bind will be released next year.

MM: What can readers expect from Book Three?

DY: Book three…Danny is headed for England on a rescue mission to airlift the survivors off the island.  The Omegas- the mind controlling, half-dead men- are coming for Snareville, and the women there they plan to use to create a new species.  Cindy, Tess, Pepper, Mart and Elizabeth, along with the children, are on the run ahead of the horde.  I can’t say who lives or dies.  And I can’t say if Danny makes it back home to his wives.  Still in the process, and you never know.

MM: What other projects are you currently working on?

DY: Personally, I’m working on another series that could best be dubbed “Non Traditional Fantasy.”  Black Jack is the title of the series.  It’s about a broken, miserable, alcoholic of a man who loses a drunken bet with a wizard (who we later find out is actually a young Merlin).  He ends up transported to a world of magic, where he is transformed into one of the humanoid felines of that world.  Once there, Jack finds himself caught in a war between vampires, led by Al Capone, werewolves led by Adolf Hitler, and the feline peoples he has become.  If the felines lose the battle, the werewolves and vampires escape to our world, and find a new source of food.  Company wise, I’m working on growing DCP into a larger, stronger publishing house than it is now.  We’ve got a lot of projects in the works, that I can’t really say much about at this point, as everything is still developing.  But if everything comes to pass, we’ll be able to compete pretty solidly with the Big Six out there in the market.

I truly appreciate David’s enthusiasm and time with this interview. Thank you, sir.

Big things are on the horizon for Dark Continent Publishing– be sure to get the low down as soon as it all happens!

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