Author Gary Whitta Talks Abomination and the Monsters Within Us All
Out today is Gary Whitta’s debut novel, Abomination, and we had a chance to chat with the author about the publishing model he selected for it, the book’s historical and biblical elements, what horror fans should appreciate, his influences, and lots more so dig in!
Dread Central: Inkshares is a new way of publishing – if I understand it correctly, it combines crowdfunding with input on the story itself from your followers beforehand. Why did you choose that model instead of traditional publishing; how do they differ in terms of author benefits? And why not just publish it yourself? That’s popular nowadays also.
Gary Whitta: Yeah, I think it’s a terrific model that kind of combines the freedom of self-publishing with all the benefits a traditional publisher can bring to the table. I did initially consider doing it the old-fashioned way through a traditional publisher, but the more research I did, the less appealing it seemed to me. So I then considered the self-publishing route, which has become a totally valid option these days, a far cry from the old “vanity publishing” days, and was lucky enough to get some great advice from authors who have had tremendous success going that route, like Hugh Howey and Andy Weir. So I was pretty close to self-publishing Abomination for a while. But then the Inkshares option came along, and I just really liked their approach. I knew that they could provide far better production quality and distribution than I could manage on my own, but I didn’t need their permission to publish the book; all I needed was to collect enough backers through their crowdfunding process.
DC: Did the crowdfunding campaign require any special preparation? You hit your $16K goal in just 20 hours; that’s pretty impressive.
GW: Inkshares helped with some of the preparation; we shot a little promotional video and stuff like that. But I think the crowdfunding success we enjoyed came largely from the fact that I’m fortunate to have a little bit of a following through my previous work as a writer in other media. I banged the drum pretty loudly among my social media following and also did every little bit of press that I could solicit. That’s the thing about going the non-traditional route — you really have to do a lot of the publicity that you might otherwise expect a publisher to do yourself.
DC: This is your first novel, but you’re hardly new to writing with screenplays (The Book of Eli) and video games (The Walking Dead) on your resume. Why tackle a book now? How does it compare to the other media you’ve worked in?
GW: A novel felt like the best fit for this particular story. I’m most experienced as a screenwriter, but I wanted to flex my muscles and try to learn a second language, so to speak, and also some of the things I wanted the story to do seemed like they would be better facilitated by a novel than a film. In some ways Abomination is quite a personal, intimate story, and that’s not something that’s always easy to do in a film — at least not a big-budget film, which Abomination would certainly have to be because of all the monsters and magic and stuff.
DC: With Abomination being a blend of history and fantasy, how much is based on real-world research, and how much of it was a product of your own imagination and world-building?
GW: Combining history and fantasy was one of the most fun parts of writing this story. Fantasy is a really crowded genre right now, and I felt like this story needed something to set it apart. So one thing I knew I wanted to avoid was setting it in a faraway imaginary land. We’ve seen plenty of that. I was born and raised in England, and I’ve always been fascinated by early English history, so it felt like a good opportunity to explore that and also use it as a setting which would maybe help ground the more fantastical elements of the story because they’re not taking place in some fairytale kingdom but in a real historical place and time. So I did a fair bit of research into the period of history where the the story is set, a time when Alfred the Great was defending England against Viking invasion and the whole country was basically split in half between the native Anglo-Saxons and the Nordic invaders. There’s a map at the front of the book because of course all good fantasy books have to have a map, and we were lucky enough to have ours drawn up by Jonathan Roberts, who is George RR Martin’s official cartographer of the Game of Thrones universe. The amazing thing about it is, you look at the map and you instantly recognize it as the British Isles, but once you look closer and see how the country at that time was split up into these different kingdoms — there wasn’t really an “England” in a unified sense back then — and this massive Viking nation known as the Danelaw, it almost seems as though you’re looking at a map of a fantasy kingdom. But it’s all real.
Related Story: Read the First Two Chapters of Gary Whitta’s Abomination
DC: Along with the historical elements, there are biblical touchstones weaved throughout the story; can you share a bit about those? What’s their significance to the tale?
GW: I think it’s difficult to tell a story during the Dark Ages without referencing religion to some degree because it so defined the culture and the people who lived during that period. But I also think there’s some element of spiritual faith that seems to show up in all of my work. Obviously, The Book of Eli is about the power — be it positive or negative — of religious belief. For all the violence and gore, the themes of Abomination are largely about mercy and forgiveness and human kindness, and those all have strong connections to Christian teachings. It’s weird because I’m an atheist myself, and yet, I always seem to come back to writing characters who are driven by these kinds of convictions.
DC: Wulfric is not your typical warrior hero; what inspired his character?
GW: Abomination is set against a backdrop of war, but what I really wanted to find was the anti-war message. So I liked the idea of creating a hero who was a warrior, but who hated war. He’s a pacifist who never even wanted to pick up a sword but has been blessed — or cursed — with an innate gift for killing. Much of the story is about him trying to find a way to atone for the things he did in the war. War is often glamorized in fiction, particularly SFF fiction, but I was more interested in telling a story about the toll war takes on the human conscience.
DC: Indra is Wulfric’s foil in many ways as a fierce female warrior. She’s leaving her domineering father on a path toward her destiny. Were there any challenges to writing her arc in particular?
GW: Indra partly came from wanting to write just a really good, strong, female character and put her front and center, as much the hero of the piece as Wulfric is. And I think there’s often a misconception about what a “strong female character” really means. A lot of people seem to think it’s one who is tough and badass and basically has a lot of masculine qualities. I prefer to think of a strong character — be they male or female — as someone who is burdened by a great deal of flaws and issues, but who finds the strength to overcome them and succeed. So I weighed Indra down with a lot of problems. She’s way too headstrong and full of herself for her own good, she lies, she suffers from debilitating panic attacks, she’s often unable to control her anger… and yet, underneath all of that there’s a kind and selfless soul trying to push through all that and assert itself. I found that the more broken I made her, the stronger she became.
DC: Throughout Abomination there is a theme of Beast vs. Man/Instinct vs. Reason. Could you expand on this concept, particularly as it relates to the horror genre?
GW: A lot of the great horror stories, going all the way back to The Wolf Man and Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde, deal with this idea of taking the internal struggle between our better selves and our dark side and externalizing it by making the monster real. I think it’s one of those areas where horror is really able to deal with real human themes that we can all relate to. We all want to be the best version of ourselves, but we also acknowledge that all of us have some monstrous qualities within us that we try to contain. So at its purest level Abomination is really about that, the monster within all of us.
DC: Are there any other elements to the story that fans of horror fiction especially might appreciate? What more can you tell us about the monstrous beasts of the title?
GW: I hope that purely as a genre piece Abomination will scratch that itch for people who just want a bloody good time. So far I’ve been really encouraged by the feedback I’ve been getting from readers. Any time someone says, “This is disgusting!” or “Your imagination is seriously messed up” or “This part made me want to throw up,” I take it as a compliment. It is definitely not a book for the squeamish. Part of the fun of writing this was just to see how far I could go in creating the most wretched, hideous, horrifying monsters possible and then just to let them wreak all kinds of bloody slaughter. That was definitely one of the most enjoyable parts, to just let the darkest parts of my imagination let rip. John Carpenter’s The Thing was a hugely influential film for me, and when you see some of the monsters in Abomination, I think that comes across. Just absolutely disgusting.
DC: Who have your influences been, not just for Abomination, but also some of the film and video game work you’ve done? Favorite books or movies in the genre that stand out?
GW: Beyond the obvious Star Wars references, the big movies that influenced me early on were stuff like Time Bandits, The Last Starfighter, Hawk the Slayer, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Dawn of the Dead, The Exorcist… some pretty hokey stuff sometimes, but there’s nothing wrong with that when you’re a kid. As a reader it was Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl, and Kurt Vonnegut. I also read a lot of horror stuff when I was a kid; I remember reading a lot of books by a guy named Shaun Hutson, who I think was one of the influences for Garth Marenghi? Tremendous fun.
DC: Lastly, with Abomination being unleashed upon the world this week, what’s next for you? You worked on the Star Wars standalone Rogue One; I imagine it’s going to be tough to top that!
GW: Yeah, I’m all done with Rogue One but I’m continuing with Star Wars as a writer on the TV series “Star Wars Rebels.” I’m finishing up a film adaptation of the Mark Millar comic Starlight, and then we’ll see what’s next!
Our thanks to Gary for his time. Abomination is available NOW!
He is England’s greatest knight, the man who saved the life of Alfred the Great and an entire kingdom from a Viking invasion. But when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.
She is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her past, she defies her controlling father and sets out on a dangerous quest to do what none before her ever have―hunt down and kill an abomination, alone.
When a chance encounter sets these two against one another, an incredible twist of fate will lead them toward a salvation they never thought possible―and prove that the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness can shine a hopeful light even in history’s darkest age.