Craig DiLouie is a Bram Stoker Award-Winning author and still claims to not be a vampire. I was able to interview DiLouie a while ago about his career and novel One of Us. I was able to interview him again about his latest novel Our War.
Nicholas Yanes: I last interviewed you nearly a year ago. How has life been for you? Any new superpowers?
Craig DiLouie: Thanks, Nicholas! It’s great to be back. As I get older, I’m discovering far more kryptonite than superpowers, but I’m happy to say life has been good to me.
Yanes: More seriously, how did the release of One of Us go? Were there any marketing lessons you picked up from this experience?
DiLouie: One of Us did very well, and I’m happy to continue working with Orbit on the release of Our War and a supernatural horror novel, tentatively titled Mysterion, which is coming out in 2020. The biggest lesson is one I brought with me, having learned it in small press, which is do everything you can to support the publisher.
Yanes: On a professional level, did you take a break from writing after One of Us or did you just immediately dive into working on Our War?
DiLouie: I finished my commitment to two self-published series—my WW2 submarine adventure series Crash Dive, and The Front: Berlin or Bust, an episode in a WW2 zombie series co-authored with David Moody and Timothy Long. These were quick, fun projects. I was really sorry to let go of Crash Dive. Sometimes you just fall in love with a series, and it’s hard to say goodbye to it.
Yanes: You have been publishing books fairly consistently. Could you take a moment to discuss your approach to writing? Specifically, do you follow a schedule? Do you have a special place that you go to write so that no one will bother you?
DiLouie: I’m a very lucky man in that I work at home, doing journalism and education in the lighting industry. As my fiction income grew, I started to consider it less a hobby and more a client. Now it’s my biggest client and gets the attention it deserves. So I work where I’m most productive, which is at the same desk where I do my day job.
As for my process, it’s disciplined but not exactly scheduled. The discipline comes from pressure, which in turn comes from deadlines from Orbit and self-imposed deadlines to keep my self-published work rolling out because fans are waiting for it. For me, I take tons of notes and “dream” the book until it reaches a critical mass, and then it rushes out of me.
Yanes: On this note, your latest book is Our War. What was the inspiration for this story?
DiLouie: Our War is a dystopian thriller about a brother and sister forced to fight on opposites sides of a second American civil war, and who will be forced to make a choice whether to fight for their cause or fight for each other and ultimately for themselves.
The primary inspiration is of course the horrible polarization in American politics and the rise of domestic terrorism and civil unrest. Another source of inspiration is the fact many second American civil war novels are wish fulfillment stories written by people of a certain ideological bent, and I was curious what a real civil war would look like and whether its story could be told in a realistic and even-handed way.
After that, I had two additional sources of inspiration that informed the plot and the world of this novel. First was the Bosnian War of the 1990s. If a second civil war ever happens in the United States in the near future, I believe it would look for more like that conflict than our last civil war fought in the 1860s. Civilians would do most of the fighting as rural areas declared war on nearby cities—just look at the electoral map on a county-by-county basis, and you see the likely battle lines of a second civil war. Second for me was watching Beasts of No Nation, a film about a child soldier in Africa. Reading about Bosnia and child soldiers fighting in conflicts across the globe, I realized the first casualty of a second civil war here would be American exceptionalism. If a civil war broke out, we’d experience all the things we thought could never happen here—refugees, shortages, atrocities, even child soldiers. In such a war, everybody would fight, nobody would win, and the biggest losers would be the innocent.
Yanes: Given current political tensions, did you seriously worry about another civil war occurring while researching and writing for Our War?
DiLouie: There were times I’d joke with my agent that I hoped the novel would come out before the real war actually happened. The prospect of a second civil war used to be the kind of thing you’d find on fringe websites. It’s recently come out in the open, particularly among the Right, and has been discussed by media like NPR. The tribalization of America, polarization of politics, and divergence of narratives about what America should be all increase the pessimistic but real possibility of the cultural cold war turning hot. To those who would romanticize the idea, I’d say, be careful what you wish for.
Yanes: Our War features a group called the Free Women militia. What current feminist trends did you evoke while shaping this group and its members?
DiLouie: I loved writing the Free Women—one of the many militias defending or laying siege to Indianapolis—because here you have a large group of women escaping domestic abuse and living in a shelter, and suddenly they are forced to step up and form a militia to defend their neighborhood. For them, this is the ultimate in empowerment and self-determination. It’s also a little alarming to read, as they become increasingly radicalized the longer the war goes on. People enter this war to defend what’s theirs and end up fighting for a revolution. Once the bullets start flying, the very idea of America becomes up for grabs—whose narratives will be accepted as truth. That makes all sides of the conflict dig in even harder to win, because they believe the winner will be able to reshape America in the image they want.
Yanes: Hannah Miller is a great main character. At what point in the writing process did she take on a life of her own?
DiLouie: I knew who Hannah was and what I wanted to do with her as a major character from the get-go. Here you have a young girl who hates the war as an all-consuming god that slowly takes away everything she loves until she’s alone. The Free Women give her a home, and Hannah chips in as a cook and then as a runner in combat and finally, out of necessity, as a soldier. Though she doesn’t get the politics, she understands love and family, and she steadily grows more mature and willing to fight over the course of the story. She transforms from fighting against those she hates to fighting for those she loves and ultimately fighting for herself.
On the other side, her brother Alex goes through a similar journey, though with a rougher crowd, the right wing Liberty Tree militia, which we get to see both through Alex’s eyes and those of Mitch, a sergeant in the militia. The Liberty Tree are dedicated to transforming America into what they believe the Founding Fathers intended. They want their own revolution.
The other major characters are Gabrielle, a UNICEF worker who wants to stop the use of child soldiers, and Aubrey, a journalist who wants to expose it. From this cast, we get a rounded view of political viewpoints and the ways in which people are affected by the war.
Yanes: When people finish reading Our War, what do you hope they take away from it?
DiLouie: Well, I hope they’ll be entertained and emotionally engaged, as that’s the novel’s main purpose. After that, I hope they’ll reflect on the ideas and themes. As with my novel One of Us, my goal with Our War isn’t to preach what I think is the answer. Ideally, readers will come up with solutions on their own. If I had a goal beyond simply providing a thrilling story, it would be people having that conversation, about how do we avoid such a future.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working that people can look forward to?
DiLouie: I’m polishing my submittal of a supernatural horror titled Mysterion, which Orbit will publish likely in the fall of 2020. This novel is about a group of people who grew up in and survived an apocalyptic cult, and reunite years later to confront their past and the entity that appeared on the cult’s final night. The story’s major themes include faith, trauma, memory, and belonging. If you liked IT and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, you’ll love this one.
Thanks for having me back as a guest!