13 Questions with Jeff Carlson

Excited for Horror Addicts 51: Thriller? I am…our featured author this episode is Jeff Carlson.

Jeff shared his thoughts on being back at Horror Addicts. “I love you guys! Rhonda Carpenter’s rendition of my vampire story “Caninus” ranks among my all-time favorite podcasts of my short fiction…“Monsters,” my story before that, earned Season One’s BEST IN BLOOD Listener’s Choice Award. If Horror Addicts had only come along sooner, you guys might have tipped the balance in my career. Instead of writing from dark sci fi thrillers, maybe I’d be a pure horror novelist! I grew up on a big dose of Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz. That’s who I first wanted to be until science fiction claimed my mind.”

The story Carlson will be sharing with us is titled Pattern Masters. “It’s among my first published stories and originally appeared in a semi-pro magazine called “Tales of the Unanticipated.” What’s unique about this piece is it’s something of a sister story to my short story “Meme.” That one is a sci fi mystery. “Pattern Masters” is more of an anti-social paranoic’s dream.”

“The two have nothing in common except that the inspiration for both came from the drug store where we used to drop off our film to have it developed…Yes, Dorothy, once upon a time people used FILM in their cameras, ha ha. And I always wondered what it was like to be the guy behind the counter who got to peek into so many passing lives.”

Readers, you may be familiar with Jeff’s “Plague Year trilogy.” Which includes the three novels Plague Year, Plague War, and Plague Zone. Carlson was kind enough to share with us a little information about the novels.

Plague Year: “Disturbing but fun. Ha ha. Plague Year is about a medical prototype nanotechnology that breaks loose before it’s ready. It’s designed to fight cancer. But what happens is it devours all warm-blooded life across the planet below 10,000 feet, where it self-destructs at low air densities due to a hypobaric fuse (sic). The only safe places on Earth are the Sierras, the Rockies, the Alps, Andes, Himalayas, and a few scattered bumps like Mt. Fuji and Kilimanjaro. Obviously there’s a strong science element, but talk about your basic horror story! There’s nothing in the highest mountains but ice and rock. No food. No buildings. No electricity. It’s the Donner Party everywhere. The shit hits the fan in a very big way and it was great fun to write. Cannibals. Civil war. Paratroopers in hazmat suits. Let the games begin.”

Plague War: “There are two tricks with any sequel. First, it has to work as a stand-alone for anyone who comes along and finds it first. Second, the stakes need to escalate — it has to be a “bigger” book than the original with new demands on the cast of characters. Given that in Plague Year there are five billion people dead and the world map is completely obliterated, outdoing myself was a challenge. Fortunately I have a taste for nuclear war, so top of the nano plague in Plague Year, Plague War features a limited first strike on North America and an invasion by hungry, desperate foreign armies.”

Plague Zone: “Same deal. How do you top an apocalyptic nano plague and World War III? Aha ha ha. Well, what if *our* scientists weren’t the *only* scientists who were working to turn off the nanotech? What if some of our enemies learned to harness that technology and developed a new plague — a mind plague that spread like wildfire through America’s survivors?”

In my opinion Jeff has the ultimate dream job…full time author. Of course, everything has it’s “ups and downs”.

“The main thing is it’s lonely work. I spend most of my time by myself in a room with a laptop listening to the voices in my head. That sounds like a joke, but it’s the first rule in [writing: Keep Butt In Chair.]”

According to Carlson, the hardest thing about being an author is patience. “The wheels in New York and L.A. turn veeeeeeery slowly, so patience and persistence are the watchwords of any pro.”

I was curious to find out what Jeff preferred to write…novels or short stories? “Short stories are fun to write *because* they’re short. Unfortunately, there’s no way to make a living on short fiction, and I have kids and a mortgage and a taste for things like sushi, DVDs, and ski tickets. At this point I’m barely writing a short story a year, usually in between novels. It’s a relief to bang through a project that only takes two or three weeks…But the truth is I prefer to *read* novels because they’re more involving, and I have to confess I prefer to *write* novels for the same reason. The long, deep haul of creating a full-length book is more gratifying in the end.”

His goals for the future is “[t]he total conquest of the New York Times bestseller list. Fat movie deals. You know, the usual. Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!!!!”

Here is a little info about Jeff you may have not known…

“I’m a zombie man. There’s something about the implacable, faceless, unstoppable mob that really gets my paranoia jumping. Even so-so zombie movies like the original Romero films are surprisingly powerful. What I mean is that some of the characters in Dawn and Day of the Dead are complete morons. They do stupid things just to get themselves in trouble. That’s bad, lazy writing. I prefer stories about smart people doing smart things… but even so, some of the scenes and personal drama in Day of the Dead are especially fascinating. I’ve always wanted to do an intelligent remake.”

“The remake of Dawn of the Dead was only partway more intelligent. There were still a lot of idiots doing idiotic things just to introduce tension to the plot. I’d rather root for someone with brains. My favorite zombie film remains the Dan O’Bannon-scripted Return of the Living Dead, which is the smartest zombie movie of all time except possibly for 28 Days Later. Great stuff.”

Carlson’s favorite scary story growing up was“Stephen King’s “The Long Walk.” If you haven’t read it, it’s an obscure, early novel and it’s lean, well-written and original. And very, very dark.”

And speaking of being scared, did you know that Jeff is afraid of heights? It’s actually a very common fear called Acrophobia.

Be sure to keep an eye open for Jeff’s up coming works. “These days I’m eyebrow-deep into my fourth solo novel, a big new high concept tech thriller that we’re excited about. I feel like it’s better than all three of the Plague novels put together, larger in scope, larger in character, more ambitious. I recently posted a sneak peek on my blog at http://www.jverse.com. There will be more of this soon — stuff like “deleted scenes” and other teasers. Come by and say hi!”


For more information about Jeff Carlson be sure to check out his website:


http://www.jverse.com – Come check it out! Readers can find free fiction, free audio, a zillion videos, contests, and more.


Jeff Carlson on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

By Jeff Carlson

I think we’re programmed for hardship.  In my experience, human beings are happiest when they’re working themselves to the bone.  Call me crazy, but from what I’ve seen people are more likely to feel adrift and unsatisfied when they have too much leisure time.  Purpose is the greatest gift.  Obstacles are good.

Here’s why.  For hundreds of thousands of years, life was brutal.  It still is for a good chunk of the planet.  The technology and wealth we enjoy in North America is a very new development in history, and I think we miss the challenges of day-to-day survival in our comparatively easy modern lives.  Some people will even create problems if they have none.

Everyone’s had a psychotic girl- or boyfriend, right?  Well, lots of ‘em really are just nut-flavored bologna.  They have a neurochemical imbalance or ate too many paint chips as a kid… but some people look for drama and emotional upheaval for reasons they can’t explain themselves, reenacting the shortcomings, chaos, or abuse of their childhoods.

Surprise.  These drama kings and queens might be exactly the kind of person you’d want at your back during the zombie apocalypse or the aftermath of a comet strike.  Each of our nut-flavored friends is a sponge.  They’re ready to soak up as much as trauma as anyone can dish out.  They have the stamina, heart and depth to keep on slogging through the radioactive bugs even long after the last shotgun shell is gone.

They’re not the only ones.  I like to think I’m the kind of guy you’d give the keys to the bomb shelter and I’m extremely boring and normal — wife, kids, mortgage, bleh — ha ha — except to say that I grew up fascinated with books like Lucifer’s Hammer and The Stand.

We like to be scared because we have a huge capacity for fear.  The most basic element of storytelling is conflict because we respond to it.

For me, writing post-apocalyptic novels isn’t so much about exploding helicopters and fifty megaton doomsday bombs as it is about the pleasure of dealing with the best of everything that makes us human: cleverness, grit, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.

Sure, the hot-sex-with-our-last-breath and the gunfights are fun, too, but ultimately my novels boil down to the ability of some people — the greatest of us — to overcome nearly any hurdle.  I back my heroes into corners just to watch them wiggle free.

People are tough.  We’re evolved for less food; more exercise; less sleep; less security; more paranoia.  The irony is that we’re so good at what we do.  We strive for more food; less exercise; more sleep; more security; less paranoia — and we’ve succeeded.

Look around.  Humankind has remade the entire face of the planet, blanketing Earth with electrical grids, highways, super-agriculture, shipping lanes and aircraft, even wrapping the sky in satellites.  It’s easy to complain about your bills or morning traffic or the neighbor’s neglected, ever-barking dogs (you know who you are), but these are fantastic problems to have.

The grocery stores are loaded, we have the industrial strength to roll off three cars per household, and every other family has enough money to spare to feed two dogs and a cat even though they don’t have any inclination to walk Sparky and Spot every day and choose instead to leave their canines to noisily go insane, each set of dogs fenced off inside their own isolated little patch of suburbia.

Anyone with a computer to read this blog is richer than 99.99% of the human beings who’ve ever lived, and yet we can’t help imagining what things would be like if we had to start over.  Nuclear armageddon.  Superflu.  The living dead.  Nanotech.

Give me a wild scenario and some smart good guys and I’m happy — just so long as the lights stay on and there’s iced tea in the fridge.  I’d really rather not be sifting through the rubble for canned food and medicine while we keep one eye peeled for roving gangs of illiterate cannibals.

Jeff Carlson is the international bestselling author of the Plague Year trilogy. To date, his work has been translated into fourteen languages. He is currently at work on a new stand-alone thriller. Readers can find free fiction, videos, contests and more on his web site at www.jverse.com