We recently caught up with Wayne Simmons, the bestselling author of Flu. Wayne’s work has been published in the U.K, Austria, Germany, Spain, Turkey and North America.
What attracted you to writing horror – did a particular author influence you?
I’ve been a fan of horror all my life, I guess. First memories include catching what I think was The House that Bled to Death on TV; all I remember is a room covered in blood, but the image stuck with me; I found it intriguing as well as terrifying. As a teenager, I watched a lot of horror on video. That led to reading the likes of Stephen King. Before I knew it, I was a die-hard fanboy.
Writing horror is just an extension of being a fan. I think when you become so consumed by something, like I did with horror and genre stuff, then you just have to find some way to become an active as opposed to passive participant. For me, that began with reviewing and interviewing the writers I was reading back around 2005 – people like David Moody – which then led to me wanting to have a whack at writing some horror fiction, myself.
Four horror novels later and here I am; releasing my first sci-fi book.
Tell us about Plastic Jesus and where the idea came from?
I’ve described Plastic Jesus as my fanboy geek-out to Ridley Scott (for Blade Runner), William Gibson (for Neuromancer) as well as a host or noir and neo-noir writers; Lawrence Block, Christa Faust, Milton K. Ozaki, Day Keene etc.
I had a specific setting in mind (which at first started out as some kind of Cyberpunk remix of Belfast, but then grew into something bigger) and some characters, and just needed a hook to drive the whole thing. The answer, of course, was Jesus. He’s the reason for the season and became the raison d’etre for my first sci-fi.
Our story begins in the near future, the aftermath of a mass Holy War that has caused the Middle East to implode and the former US of A to close its borders and become a mass police state. Our setting is Lark City, a brutal, neon jungle off the coast of Total America. We follow Code Guy Johnny Lyon who is tasked to write a Jesus Social Networking AI to rebrand religion for a largely secular society. And while at first the new AI is a success, users flocking to download it onto their cells and connect through Virtual Reality, things soon start to go badly wrong…
What made you leave your horror roots and branch out to sci-fi writing with Plastic Jesus?
Again, it comes back to being a fan. I’ve been a fan of sci-fi for just as long as I’ve been a fan of horror. As a kid, I had a huge appetite for comics – US stuff like Marvel and DC, but also The Eagle and 2000AD. Blade Runner’s my all-time favourite movie. So it was only a matter of time before I turned my attention to sci-fi, as a writer.
Is Plastic Jesus strictly sci-fi, or can we expect elements of horror?
It’s quite a dark book; dystopian in feel, if you like, and with that comes horror. I guess genre definitions are not something you think of, when you’re in the heart of your story, so it’s hard for me to say where the horror elements are. But I do think they’re there.
What kind of impact does the main character Johnny Lyon have on the book?
He’s the heart and soul of the book. We meet him in the prologue, at his dying wife’s bedside, and the grief he feels, the sheer heartbreak of losing the only person he’s ever loved, drives pretty much every decision he makes in the book. It shapes his work on the Jesus AI he’s been tasked to write, impacts upon its evolution. Plastic Jesus is very much a chain reaction story, every character linked and affected by the launch of the AI. And the first link in the chain is Johnny.
You don’t just explore the world of sci-fi in Plastic Jesus, but also religion and social networking – did a personal experience with either of these subjects spur the birth of the new novel?
Social networking continually intrigues me: the contrast between how we act online and how we present in person; the willingness to share such private and intimate details about our lives with the cyber equivalent of an arena full of strangers. It’s broken down boundaries, made the world smaller, for better but also for worse. It has created a new ID within us all; a virtual amplification of what we want to be, or want people to see us for, and that’s radically reshaped the essence of what we are as a race. In short, what’s happening with social networking right now is manna for sci-fi writers, the very stuff of the old-school cyberpunk stories of the 80s and 90s.
With religion, well… I come from a small town in Northern Ireland once described as the Alabama of the North. Nuff said.
It’s said that Plastic Jesus is very similar to the hit novel and classic film, Blade Runner. Is this a fair statement, and why?
I think it’s fair regarding my intention: as a fan, Blade Runner is as much an inspiration for this book as Night of the Living Dead was for my zombie books. But Blade Runner’s a classic film in just about every way and I certainly haven’t earned that with my humble little sci-fi thriller. Just being mentioned within the same breath is enough for me, though.
With Plastic Jesus behind you, have you stared writing your next big hit, and, if so, are there any titbits of information you are willing to reveal – are you going back to horror?
I’m always juggling projects. With January fast approaching, I’m timetabling my work for 2014 and it looks something like this:
- Finish vamp novel WIP
- Complete 3rd draft on new LarkCity book
- Complete work on final book within Flu series
- Complete work on slasher-horror collaboration WIP (with fellow horror hack, Andre Duza)
- Other secret stuff…
With Flu being your first big break, could you tell us what inspired the storyline?
I was watching the news on TV around the time of the Swine Flu outbreak and wondered if anyone had ever set a zombie story within an outbreak of the common cold. God knows, we all feel like zombies when we’re dosed, especially if afflicted with the dreaded manful…
With so much focus on the zombie genre these days, do you feel it has finally been overdone – are you yourself ready to step away from the undead?
There are a lot of bad zombie books and films out there, but there always have been. It’s always been a sub-genre that seems to attract half-arsed storytelling, for some reason, and that’s always been the case as far as I can see. That said, I think there’s still life in the ol’ zombie, if done right. I’m certainly happy to read more zombie stories or watch more zombie films if the quality is there. Just as I’m happy to read/watch more vamp stuff, ghost stuff, slasher stuff, werewolf stuff etc. In terms of writing, I think Flu 3 will be my last foray into zombie-dom for quite some time…
What is your greatest piece of work, and why should people pick up a Wayne Simmons novel?
That’s not for me to answer except to say that I always try to make my latest book better than the one before. It’s for readers to say whether I’ve been successful or not.
You have a number of tattoos, which vary different styles and colours. Which one means the most to you, and why?
Again, it’s usually the last tattoo I had done which, right now, would be my knuckle tattoos, including some old-school lettering spelling out DDG (Drop Dead Gorgeous, my debut novel). That’s where this whole, sordid business began.
DAVID OWAIN HUGHES
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