Permuted Press has just released Pavlov’s Dogs by D.L. Snell and Thom Brannan, so we thought we’d ask them a few questions about their new book and all it entails.
H: Let’s start off with the basics … tell us about your new novel, Pavlov’s Dogs.
Pavlov’s Dogs is about two classic but permuted monsters, werewolves and zombies, battling it out over the fate of humanity. On one side you have a team of genetically-enhanced spec-op soldiers, known as the Dogs, attempting to save survivors from a post-apocalyptic wasteland; and on the other you have hordes and hordes of hungry dead. Caught in between are the poor humans: families, friends, and people who’ve lost everything. The Dogs are their only hope. But not everyone wants to use the soldiers for altruistic reasons. Some would hoard their resources and post the Dogs as compound guards.
H: Which do you find more interesting … zombies or werewolves?
TB: Werewolves. In most iterations of the “monster,” it has a human part, which makes it a character, and therefore infinitely more interesting than a plot device, which is how I see zombies and/or the Zombie Apocalypse.
DLS: You know, when you get right down to it, they’re both kind of the same thing. Strip ’em down, and you’re looking at the bestial side of humanity. At least that’s how the monsters are typically portrayed. Biggest difference is, werewolves switch back and forth between monster and man. That’s interesting, how one copes with the dualities of his own nature. There’s a little bit of that in Pavlov’s Dogs.
What I think is really interesting is that, for whatever reason, people in stories seem to find it more difficult killing zombies than they do werewolves. But if you think about that, it’s like Thom says: werewolves are still alive and are usually more human than zombies. So why is shooting a werewolf in the head with a silver bullet easier than braining a zombie? Maybe it’s only a fair question if the werewolf is someone you know and love. But even then, it seems like it would be easier to shoot a loved one who’s a zombie rather than a werewolf. At least with a werewolf, you still have hope. But, ah… that’s where illogical emotion comes in, isn’t it? Hope, no hope. Sometimes our emotions don’t let us see the difference.
TB: When the zombies come at you, it’s all mindless hunger. You know? They’re sad creatures that only know one thing. When a werewolf comes at you, yeah, there’s something mindless about it, but there’s also rage. Maybe some sadistic glee. I suppose that makes them easier to pull the trigger on, because there’s a reasoning creature that wants to slurp down the innards that you are presently using. And, you know… I’m using them. Keeping all the Thom parts in the original packaging is very important to me.
DLS: Anyway, in Pavlov’s, we play with some of these questions. A lot of our werewolves are portrayed as good guys. Some of our zombies started out as good guys too. To me, it’s all interesting. But, and I second Thom here, it’s only interesting because of how the characters deal with the situations, and usually zombies as characters… well, let’s just put it this way: as much as I wanted to like it, Big Daddy in Land of the Dead just seems more comical than I think is intended. Kim Paffenroth is about the only author I know who’s created zombie characters that are actually profound.
H: You ask some interesting questions in the book. For example: what happens when a werewolf gets bitten by an infected human? Does that create an entirely new creature?
TB: Will that be telling? I don’t want to give anything away.
DLS: I’ll answer this tangentially, as Thom’s right, we want to keep some details close to the vest. In my first book, Roses Of Blood, I pitted zombies against vampires. In these types of mash-ups, it’s always a natural question: how does a zombie bite affect other monsters? Well, in Roses, the answer is complicated, as it’s both what you’d expect, and something unexpected altogether. For example, at the beginning of the book, the zombie bite causes what could be compared to anaphylactic shock: the vampire immune system overreacts. However, by the end of the book, things have changed and the bite does something entirely different.
So in Pavlov’s… let’s just say we’ve tried to give people both sides of the coin: something different, something the same.
H: Did you stick close to the traditions for each monster or did you find it necessary (and more interesting) to move beyond some of the traditional limitations of each?
TB: A little of column A, a little of column B. The titular Dogs are werewolves, even though they’re genetically-derived instead of supernatural. The zombies are zombies… until they’re not.
DLS: What Thom said. With werewolves it seems like there are two main types: the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde variety, and the other, where the werewolf is just an exaggeration of who the person is at the core, good or bad (usually bad). In Pavlov’s we’ve got both kinds.
TB: There’s also a little bit of “power corrupts” with the werewolves. You give a good man the inherent power that comes with shape-shifting and muscle and claws, and what will he do with it? There’s where we find out if that good man is a great man, or just a man who was good for fear of consequences.
DLS: The zombies, well… fast or slow, smart or dumb, it always seems they want to eat human flesh. That’s true in our book as well. But at times the way we personify the undead is different: the zombies are occasionally described as sick people in great pain, moaning for help; you can imagine what kind of psychological effect that has on the survivors. But aside from that, I think we really got inventive with the zombie scenarios that the survivors find themselves in. In the scenarios we’ve added some nice new twists to old conventions.
H: Is Pavlov’s Dogs more science fiction or more horror?
TB: More horror. There are definitely sci-fi elements, but the overall feeling is that of a horror story.
DLS: It’s got a bunch of different genres mixed in. In parts, it’s very much a thriller: we’ve got the good guys and the bad guys constantly throwing obstacles at each other, so the pacing is relentless. And we’ve got humor in there, and a bit of romance — just a bit.
TB: Not too much, or they’d take our cards away.
DLS: Overall I’d say the flesh of the book is action and horror, but the sci-fi is definitely the backbone; if you took it out, we wouldn’t have a story. A main element of the plot is control, and the science fiction is at the root of that control.
And that’s all I can say about that…
H: How did the collaboration come about?
TB: I was drafted.
DLS: I actually came up with the basic concept of Pavlov’s Dogs a long time ago while brainstorming with publisher Jacob Kier and fellow author John Sunseri. The project was put on the backburner for ages, as everyone had kind of moved on to do other things. But I always wanted to get the story idea off the ground. I just couldn’t do it by myself, as I needed someone with a military background to lend credence to the Dogs. So eventually Jacob suggested submariner and author Thom Brannan. Thom had recently been selected to finish ZA Recht’s popular Morningstar Saga, and Jacob wanted to line him up with a few more projects anyway. But it wasn’t just that; and it wasn’t just his military background. Thom is also good, and fast. Enviably fast. And he’s easy to get along with.
TB: Over the internet, I’m easy to get along with.
DLS: Heh, he once told me he’s an annoying little shit in person, but I always chalked that up to false modesty: he’s an annoying little shit on paper too. Hah! But so am I, so I guess it’s all part of the synergy of Team Brannan and Snell.
TB: When I was approached with the project, I might have hurt myself in the haste to answer in the affirmative. There was a lot of back-and-forthing about details and the outline, but once that was ironed out, it was all systems go. And Dave’s enthusiasm was inspiring. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’m glad for it.
H: I find the process of writing a book with another writer fascinating. Tell us about some of the pitfalls and some of the benefits.
TB: Usually, when I’m writing my own stuff, I get a little tangential and there’s nobody to rein me in. Working with D.L., he was always asking where something was going and when it was going to pay off, which kind of kept all the loose threads in mind. And since I never had a good answer, I’m sure he pulled some of his hair out. Just a bit.
DLS: If I were to generalize what Thom says above, I’d say the greatest benefit of co-authorship is that each writer brings a unique skill set to the table. Yeah, Thom did go off on a few tangents, but if he hadn’t done that, I never would have asked where those tangents were going. And if I hadn’t asked, then Thom might not have looked for a way to tie things back into the main thrust of the story. But because we both acted according to our nature, we came together to produce a few integral scenes that neither of us intended from the outset. And you know, those are some of my favorite scenes in the book. (To be coy, one of these bits involves the island security chief… and a morphine thief.)
TB: Another Pro was that D.L. thinks about everything. Everything. Character development, pacing, red herrings, cliffhangers, themes? He’s very literary, and I’m not like that at all. I write, more or less, by the seat of my pants. It was very different, writing things for specific effect or to get a point across before a major turn.
DLS: Now, for pitfalls I’d say that the process of writing and promoting takes long enough in solo ventures, but in a co-authorship everything is times two. Want to change something in the book? Something as simple as a single word? Better run that past your co-author first. Because that’s what’s fair, that’s what’s right: both of your names are on that book. So then you’re subject to each other’s schedules and work ethic. Luckily both Thom and I are fairly quick and responsive, but it still takes time. And everything has to be explained and clearly communicated in duplicate, which takes even more time. There are benefits in this; a second set of eyes, checks and balances. But that’s only a passing comfort when all you want is to get your book out there, into readers’ hands, not now but last year, so it can already have garnered awards and 5-star reviews.
TB: That is a thing. My process is to write, write, write, write, and then revise. Working with a collaborator, it was write, write, revise, read, edit, revise, email, email, email. On the whole, the back-and-forth was entirely beneficial to the novel, and probably both of us as storytellers. Seeing things from both sides really shined a light on weak points.
H: Is there another book by the two of you planned for the future?
DLS: Heheheh. I think what Thom means to say is, “Si.”
TB: You glib devil.
[Editor’s Note: you can purchase Pavolov’s Dogs through Amazon here.]