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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Pain and Suffering in the Lair [INTERVIEW]

About a year ago, in February 2018, I reviewed Children of God: Poems, Dreams and Nightmares From The Family Of God Cult, co-written by Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon:

"Children of God: Poems, Dreams and Nightmares From The Family Of God Cult is an astounding collaboration between Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon, featuring a fictional literary collection written by cult members coping with PTSD through writing. Do you understand? These two authors created The Family of God history and the cult's surviving members, complete with personal backgrounds, individual traumatic memories and their own voices. Take a moment to let that level of creativity sink in." (Read the full review here.)

I first became a fan of DiLouie through his Infection series and his novel Tooth and Nail. I learned to expect brutal military battles with nightmarish extremes and heavily traumatized characters struggling with amorality. In contrast, I never knew what to expect from Moon, whether it was psychological symbolism in Heinous or the supernatural undead in Hollow Mountain, but I became a fan knowing I was always guaranteed one hell of a reading experience.

When I learned these two apocalyptic authors had written something together, I was equal parts excited and fearful. I wondered what godless abomination the two could have created, and entertained the possibility I would be scarred for life after reading their novel. Nothing in my horror career could have prepared me for the overwhelming despair and suffering found within the Children of God.

I thought it would be a great way to start the year by bringing both DiLouie and Moon into the Lair, and digging into the dirt with the two...

Co-authors, Craig DiLouie (L) and Jonathan Moon (R)

Let’s get to it. How did this project come into existence? Is this something you discussed at a horror convention or some late night gathering over the net?

DiLouie: Children of God is a book of poems written by the survivors of an apocalyptic cult that committed mass suicide. Unable to talk about their experiences for years, they finally open up when a psychologist treats them using poetry therapy, which has proved successful for victims of trauma such as war veterans. The survivors use all sorts of poetic forms—sonnets, villanelles, rap songs, free verse, and so on—to tell for the first time why they joined the cult, what they hoped, and how it all went wrong.

Jon and I came up with it at Crypticon, a regional horror con in Seattle. We knew it likely wouldn’t be a big commercial hit, but we were in love with the idea and had to make it happen.

Moon: Craig is being modest. This baby is his brainchild and he was kind enough to let me play along. He had the basic idea and we brainstormed over Crypticon weekend. We spent weeks building the mythos and characters through phone calls and emails. Over the next few months we started almost deconstructing the larger story we had into all these different threads- each unique and able to add varying dimensions to that story.

This is quite a departure from the fiction you’re both known for. Did that make co-writing easier or more difficult?

DiLouie: As a novelist, sure, it was hard to find my voice with poetry, but as a writer, it was really just learning to ride a new type of bike. One I got into it, I had a lot of fun. Really, in the end, getting the story right wasn’t the poetic format but finding the characters and what they wanted to say. Once we created these people and believed in them, we tuned into their silent screaming and gave them a voice.

Jon was instrumental in all this. One of the first things he said was, “We’re going to take these people seriously.” Which was the perfect mindset for doing it right. As a result, we told their stories with respect and something like love, allowing the horror to reveal itself in a natural way.
Otherwise, I find it easy to co-author something when you let the other writer do their thing. I took on several characters and wrote their poems, while Jon took on others. That provided even greater variety in the voices and emotions for the ensemble cast of characters.

Moon: This came together remarkably smooth in my opinion. I dabble in poetry, so it was fun to build the story through poems. Working with Craig was very easy for me despite our styles being so different. I felt like it was a welcome challenge to us both to get outside of our various comfort zones to create something as intense as what we envisioned together. We shared the goal of creating something powerful early and once we had the core story we each had the freedom to create the various lenses through which we present it.

How did you approach the research? Did you find yourselves becoming emotional or overwhelmed with the source material?

DiLouie: The storytelling was emotional for me in that you have these people who are just a little broken but then find a family and a simple view of the confusing world that makes sense to them. They believe with all their heart things are going to change, and Jesus is coming back in their lifetime. That level of belief and commitment leads to increasing isolation and self-immolation until the decision comes down from the group’s leader that they aren’t waiting for Jesus, Jesus is waiting for them. So you have this beautiful thing—family, sacrifice, hope, faith, love—that slowly becomes perverted into something evil largely due to these things being driven to the edge for a goal that just wasn’t going to happen.

Otherwise, I read a lot about cults and why people join them. The thing is people in cults don’t see themselves as cultists. To them, they’re in a family of like-minded people. I was fascinated about the psychology of it, how somebody could slowly and willingly lose their identity and take a belief to the point of self-mutilation, murder, and suicide. I’m hoping readers will come away from Children of God not just with a good story but with some understanding of these people. Even at the end, even after everything the survivors went through, some of them still long for being back in the group. They may have left the cult, but the cult never left them.

Moon: I have been fascinated with cults since I was young. To me they represent so many things about humans and our behaviors in groups outside of mainstream society in one way or another. I have always wondered about them as group thought examples and since watching the news reports of the Heaven’s Gate cult when I was in high school I have focused as much on how each individual in that group can personally get to the point of full dedication, even to the point of violating their own socially excepted morals. We strongly focused on the religious aspect, which as Craig mentioned, follows a trajectory from positivity and hope to depraved and tragic violence. This was honestly a challenge to me in getting into that kind of an all-consuming devoted mindset our characters shared.

What has been the general reception of this novel? Do you think the mix of writing styles is a strength or weakness?

DiLouie: The poetry collection has been very well received, but honestly, poetry is a hard sell, and it’s difficult even to break into the horror poetry community unless you dedicate yourself to the form. Jon and I also recognized we may be good storytellers but not razor-sharp poets, though that fit the fact average people were expressing themselves through poetry.

None of that mattered. Jon and I knew all that going into it and didn’t care. We wanted to create something beautiful and horrific, and I believe we succeeded. So while Children of God hasn’t been widely read and likely never will, those who have read it understood it and were affected by it. That for us was a big win. That’s what we wanted. I’m really proud of it.

Moon: I concur fully with Craig here. We knew it was experimental, and could be a hard sell overall, but we were too excited to not follow it all through. None of my work is written with hopes of massive sales or fame, just not my style. Most of my own work is created just to get the story out of my head. I have a small crowd of awesome and dedicated fans and as long as they are digging what I’m doing I am fine. So far most who have read CoG have enjoyed it. I call that successful. I too am proud of what we created together. I think our styles blend with the cast of characters to the point I bet most people couldn’t pick which of us created which characters. Just all gelled together.

What are you hoping to achieve with this book? Are you pushing the boundaries of horror or experimenting with a mix of genres?

DiLouie: We wanted to show the tragedy of horror coming from something beautiful being twisted, while experimenting with many poetic forms to tell a story of faith and love disintegrating into madness.

Moon: I definitely feel like we focused on a more realistic form of horror, pulling it from emotions which I think many people can relate to on one level or another.  The cult members came from all walks of life, each susceptible to the cult for their own reasons. To me we demonstrated how most people, given the right circumstances, could be caught up in something like this. For sure a new kind of terror for me to work with.

How many readers have confused this for nonfiction?

DiLouie: The conceit is the survivors of a doomsday cult wrote the poems, which Jon and I edited. This makes the poetry collection epistolary literature—“found footage fiction.” Some readers have confused it with nonfiction. I’m conflicted about it to be honest. While belief it’s real heightens the enjoyment a la The Blair Witch Project, I don’t like fooling readers. Honestly, I’m hoping readers will add belief it’s real to their willing suspension of disbelief, if that make sense.

Moon: I have had more people ask me, “is this for real?”, than anything else I have ever written.

Will fans ever see another collaboration from the two of you?

DiLouie: I enjoy collaborating on works or series where each author does their own thing and it all comes together. With Children of God, this approach worked beautifully. That being said, I have so many projects on the go I’m not sure how much time I have to contribute to any more collaborative projects. If I do, I’d love to work with Jon again. He’s a good storyteller, brings pride but not ego to his work, and has a wonderfully twisted imagination and turn of phrase.

Moon: I also really enjoyed working with Craig, and if the right idea cooked up between us I would always be down to work with him again. It would have to be down the road a bit because I am 8 kinds of busy right now. I have only collaborated with a few people- Craig and Tim Long- both were wonderful experiences for me. Chances to work with fantastic writers to create something together is all win.

What do you have planned for 2019?

DiLouie: This year, I wrapped up my self-published WW2 series Crash Dive, which sold very well, and next year I’ll be launching another. I also enjoyed publication of my dark fantasy novel One of Us in hardcover, audiobook, and eBook from Orbit, one of the best sci-fi and fantasy publishers in the world. In February, it’s coming out in bookstores in trade paperback. This is a Southern Gothic misunderstood monster novel author Claire North described as “The Girl with All the Gifts meets To Kill a Mockingbird,” which nails it. Then my next novel with Orbit, Our War, will be published later in 2019. This one is about a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war.

Moon: I will be earning my Master’s in Anthropology in 2019! Fiction-wise I have a few projects just about ready to release, just held captive by my own self-doubt. Between fall 2018 and summer 2019 I hope to release my first collection of poetry (In Memory of Autumn Leaves), a collection of all my work with Jordan Krall’s Dynatox Ministries, and two or three novellas. I have an EPIC fantasy novel, okay two novels so far, I have been working on for the last 3 or 4 years, hopefully 2019 will see it get closer to done. Also, been working on a brutal and emotional population control novel for a few years which I’ll have time to work on after I finish my Master’s thesis.

Special thanks to DiLouie and Moon for making time for this interview! Once again, I am recommending CHILDREN OF GOD to any readers interested in the cult phenomenon or any horror fans looking for something different from the usual slash and dash.

"A journey like none other that lives and breathes its progression of faith and destruction." ~HorrorNews.net

As always,

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