Today I am honored to host writer Craig DiLouie, author of One of Us, an extraordinary novel I reviewed a short while ago.
Hello Craig, and thank you for being here at Space and Sorcery! I’ll start with a classic question: tell us something about yourself and your work.
Thank you for having me as a guest at Space and Sorcery! I’m an author in many genres ranging from fantasy and historical adventure-thrillers to zombies and horror. I try to differentiate each work by placing characters the reader can care about in a world that is gritty and realistic, which makes the fantastic elements all the more so in contrast. I’ve been published by small presses and major imprints like Gallery and Orbit as well as through self-publishing, and my work has been published in multiple languages, optioned for screen, and nominated for major literary awards. Being a professional fiction writer can be a struggle—it’s not my day job, which is freelance journalism—but I can honestly say I’m living the dream. It’s been a gratifying and humbling journey.
For those who have not read One of Us, could you summarize the story?
One of Us is about a disease that produces a generation of monsters rejected by society and now growing up in ramshackle orphanages throughout the Deep South. As they get older, the plague children begin to develop extraordinary powers. When a plague boy is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, it might be the catalyst for revolt. Author Claire North described it as To Kill a Mockingbird meets The Girl with All the Gifts, which I think is pretty apt.
Indeed, and that brings me to the fact that genre distinctions have become a little blurred lately, so how would you define One of Us genre-wise?
While mutants gaining special powers is a familiar trope in fantasy, what sets One of Us apart is setting it as a Southern Gothic, which allowed me to explore darker territory of the human soul. Led by greats like Harper Lee and Cormac McCarthy, Southern Gothic literature has many wonderful tropes such as the grotesque, prejudice, and a society in decay. For me, it was the perfect place to tell a misunderstood monster story. I would therefore call One of Us a Southern Gothic dark fantasy. Readers of Southern Gothic and readers of fantasy alike will find something both new and familiar in it.
Where did the core idea at the origin of this story come from?
In my horror fiction, I enjoy taking popular monster tropes and trying to make them new with a fresh angle. For my vampire novel Suffer the Children, for example, a disease strikes down the world’s children only to bring them back as vampires. By giving their kids human blood to drink, parents can keep them alive for a few hours, but then they need more, and more. The kids are vampires, but the monsters in this novel are the parents, who will do anything to keep their children living. I found it fascinating that evil could come from the purest love in the world, and hoped the reader would uncomfortably look in the mirror and ask themselves how far they’d go for someone they love. For One of Us, I wanted to tell a misunderstood monster story in the tradition of Frankenstein while giving it an Island of Dr. Moreau feel and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes cathartic uprising, and in so doing examine the subject of prejudice as a basic human instinct. I was fascinated with the idea of monsters coming from us but being forced to live apart because they’re, well, monstrous, but otherwise they’re the same as us. And then contrast the monstrousness of appearance with that of behavior to ask the question of what makes a monster a monster. When the plague children rise up, they become the monsters they were feared to be, but were they born monsters or made that way through oppression? So in the end, for me, One of Us was simply a fun story to tell, one I wrote with fierce joy, and I hope it is as fun to read. But I also hope it will cause readers to reflect on the themes and engage with it beyond its being an entertaining story.
Your story does certainly compel us to think about ourselves and the way we look at the world, which brings me to another question: in One of Us, prejudice is at the root of the mindset for the era the novel is set in: do you think we have evolved in some significant way past that? Or are we still afraid of the “monster”?
At the root of One of Us is the idea that prejudice is a basic human instinct. It’s hardwired into us. We’ve all suffered it, and we’ve all shown it. It becomes particularly horrible when a group is subjected to it not just on an individual but an institutional level. That is how you can have people who don’t live around the prejudiced group and stereotypes and fears but otherwise doesn’t hate them, but is still complicit in a system designed to deny that group’s rights. All of this is dehumanizing and creates a “monster” at both ends. I don’t think we can evolve past prejudice, but we can condition ourselves past it through simple self-awareness, education, looking past easy stereotyping to take people one at a time, and by holding to a basic principle that equality of rights is more important than one’s fear of a group that’s different. That’s speaking for me. As for One of Us, it doesn’t try to preach an answer. Thematically, it invites readers to experience prejudice through empathy with the characters, and then draw their own conclusions. While its primary purpose is to be an entertaining story, One of Us offers powerful themes readers can reflect on if they wish, and I hope they do.
The end of One of Us feels quite… fluid, with hints about the possibility of a sequel. Is there one on the horizon?
Will the plague children succeed or be exterminated? We don’t really know at the end of the book, but in a sense, it doesn’t matter. The point is the events in the book bring us to violent conflict, and that is the end, in a sense, as this novel has a tragic element to it. What the reader should wonder is whether it was inevitable, whether it could have been avoided. At the same time, some of the characters choose a different path, providing hope that maybe there is another way. That being said, I’d be happy to write a sequel showing what happens next, though that’s really up to the publisher. Orbit loved the book, but their willingness to invest in a sequel would of course depend on sales!
So let’s hope that our small contribution as book bloggers will prove helpful in that respect: One of Us is the kind of story that deserves a wider recognition, indeed. And since we are on the subject of future developments: what new story or stories are in there works right now?
I’m currently in the editing phase with my next novel with Orbit, which is scheduled for release in 2019. Titled Our War, it is a story about a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war. As with One of Us, it’s dark and powerful in its themes, and I hope it will similarly entertain while inviting readers to reflect. Thank you for having me as a guest! I enjoyed our conversation!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! Personally I will be looking forward to Our War, it sounds quite promising. Thank you again, Craig and… happy writing!