Hogan, Chuck (The Strain)

The StrainHitting bookstores across the country on June 2nd, is the first book in a horrifying trilogy co-authored by horror-meister, Guillermo del Toro, and thriller/mystery award-winner Chuck Hogan. The Strain is but an introduction to some of the most horrific vampires to be seen or read about in QUITE some time (apologies to those folks who enjoy the romantic vampire novels – just not my thing). Just imagine what horrors del Toro could come up with, multiply that by 100 and you MIGHT be close, And add into that all the facts and reality that only a thriller writer could come up with and you have what might be THE horror novel of the summer.

Dread Central spoke with “The Strain” co-author, Chuck Hogan, to find out how this project started, what it was like to work with del Toro and what fans of The Strain (review here) MIGHT have in store for them in the next two books.

Elaine Lamkin: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with Dread Central about your and Guillermo’s new book. I suppose the first and most obvious question is, how did this project come into being? And why vampires?

Chuck Hogan: Love Dread Central. I came on to The Strain when my agent sent me a 12-page outline of the trilogy that GDT had written. Two pages in, my head started to explode. I called my agent immediately – but, not being a horror novelist, I figured it was a longshot. A month or so later I drove down to meet GDT at the New York Film Festival – where he was previewing PAN’S LABYRINTH – and I drove home four hours to Boston in a vampire-induced fog. Next thing I knew, it was game on.

EL: How did you and Guillermo actually write this book? I recall Stephen King and Peter Straub, when they co-wrote The Talisman, saying that they would each write a chapter and send it to the other for criticism, new ideas, etc. What method did the two of you use?

CH: It was like that, though in larger chunks than chapters. GDT was in Hungary for much of it, working on HELLBOY 2. Very intimidating, having GDT as your first reader. When I felt him beginning to feed off my pages, as I was certainly feeding off his, that was when my confidence started to rise and things really started to get interesting.

EL: For those readers who may not have heard about this book (and the trilogy), how would you sum it up?

CH: Scary shit.

EL: I was struck, at the beginning of the novel, with how Flight 753 arriving at JFK reminded me, to a degree, of the Demeter in Bram Stoker’s novel. Was there ever any discussion of incorporating elements from Stoker’s book into The Strain? Setrakian could definitely be a 21st-century Van Helsing.

CH: GDT and I never spoke about it. I think there is no getting around Stoker if you are undertaking a vampire tale. But where we went from there – and will go, with the next two books – is much more interesting to me. As thrilling as I think THE STRAIN is, it is only the beginning…

EL: There is a LOT of fascinating information in The Strain about everything from air traffic controllers to the CDC to rats to what some might call literal Gross Anatomy and more. How much research was done and did you each choose what you wanted to learn more about?

Co-Author Chuck HoganCH: I left all the monster-specific biology to GDT, because it is all his. And I had a handle on the CDC from writing my book THE BLOOD ARTISTS. Beyond that, each of us followed his interests, be it WWII extermination camps or rat-hunting – whatever that says about us. Verisimilitude only ups the scare factor to come.

EL: The use of Ground Zero in the novel – was there any fear that that might be too upsetting for readers?

CH: I absolutely thought about it. But not for too long. Horror has to go to horrible places. It has to. And Ground Zero made perfect sense to me in a way I really can’t say without giving away too much. We don’t exploit the tragedy at all, but only address its role in the world today – and specifically that lingering wound in the soil of lower Manhattan.

EL: Without spoiling anything for readers, you and Guillermo have created some truly horrific and TRULY unique vampires in The Strain. Where did some of these ideas come from – their method of attack, their physiology and anatomy, ways to hold them off, how some elements most people associate with werewolves and zombies became part of your vampires? If you need to answer with info that would be considered a spoiler, I can warn readers not to read any further.

CH: GDT has a lock on his monsters; I am all audience in that respect. Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid? At times, that was my experience writing THE STRAIN. He leads, I follow.

EL: Obvious question, perhaps, but has there been any talk of Guillermo turning this series into a film?

CH: Even better – a long-form cable-type series. That way you get the episodic nature of the book, with its various cliffhangers and character surprises – and you get your full-on scare as well.

EL: The Strain, being the first book in the trilogy, ends on a cliffhanger. When can readers expect to see The Fall (2010) and then The Night Eternal (2011) hit bookstores? June releases again? For a chilling beach read?

CH: June 2010 and June 2011. You’ll notice it is the month with the most daylight – because no one should be reading this stuff after dark.

EL: The character of The Master aka Jusef Sardu reminded me of Max Schreck’s Nosferatu or Reggie Nalder’s Barlow (in Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot). What were you and Guillermo going for with the appearance and character of The Master?

CH: Funny, I don’t see Him that way. Part of what we are doing – and part of what we knew we would be coming up against – is working off readers’ preconceptions. Vampires and their lore have such visual references. But remember – we have two books to go.

EL: Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect with the next book?

CH: No, but I know everything there is to know about THE HOBBIT movies. If only you’d asked!

EL: You are best known as a thriller writer, having won the Hammett Award for Prince of Thieves. How different was it for you to write a balls-out horror novel?

CH: Not so different, in the sense that Guillermo and I, from our first conversation, wanted to marry the procedural thriller with the horror novel. We wanted to start with a real world scenario and grow it out until the only rationale left for the characters was the supernatural.

EL: I know it is early but what sort of feedback have you been getting for The Strain? And with the recent Swine flu outbreak, do you think that will add an extra freak-out factor for readers? The vampires transmitting a virus, as they do.

CH: Feedback from advance readers has been everything we hoped for: people tripping on a new strain of vampire book. Most critics are raving, though a few aren’t quite sure if we’re trying to deliver PAN’S LABYRINTH or HELLBOY, and maybe feel disappointed when they find it is neither one nor the other, but instead a tasty mix of high fable and low gore, of fast action and slow dread. All I know is that pages are being turned very quickly and doors are being double-locked and triple-checked.

EL: Are you a fan of horror – literary and/or cinematic? And if so, what are some of your favorites?

CH: I still have all my Fangorias. When you subscribed in the early 1980’s, they gave you a free three-line classified ad, so you could say I was first published there. I like Italian horror, most Fulci, with GATES OF HELL as my favorite (the car scene). The usual classics (Romero, THE THING, THE EXORCIST, etc. etc.). I saw EVIL DEAD on opening night. LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH is a work of true dread. First date with my future wife was FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING (nowhere near a classic, but a sentimental favorite). And trash like PIECES. Especially the trash. BTW – I haven’t seen CRONOS yet…GDT said to wait for the Blu-Ray, due later this year.

EL: Is there anything you would like to add that I may not have covered?

CH: Yep – saved this space for my literary favorites. King, of course (NIGHT SHIFT, THINNER, THE SHINING, THE MIST…). THE EXORCIST again. Ligotti, Lovecraft (some), Jonquet, DONOVAN’S BRAIN, Patrick McGrath. Many more, but this is getting boring, right? Like a fan’s classified ad in Fangoria. Besides, no one is better read in the field than my co-author. And – I have been to literary horror nirvana: GDT’s library!

EL: Thank you so much for your time, Chuck, and a big thanks for scaring the hell out of this reader!

The Strain is available on book shelves RIGHT NOW. Click below to order yourself a copy today!

Elaine Lamkin

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  • unclebob

    I think I remember that classified….something to the effect of SLAYER ROOLZ – OZZIE DROOLZ, wasn’t it? Anyway, that was most of them.

    I’ll take all credit for inspiring young Hogan’s writing career, though, and may well hit him up for a loan one of these days.