Hellnotes Exclusive: Author Patrick Freivald Discusses His Recently Released Novel Special Deadposted by Russ Thompson
I’m a lazy, ADD-riddled workaholic. I guess what it comes down to is that I don’t like being bored. I don’t watch much TV, though when I do I tend to chew through entire seasons in a weekend–Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Dexter…. I wake up in the morning between six and seven, go to bed around midnight, and don’t take many breaks in-between. I don’t like being idle, I don’t like just doing nothing, and (in the interest of complete honesty) I sometimes half-ass things like yard work, tend to neglect my friends, and don’t have kids. (The Redhead™ gets neglected too, but that’s the secret of our happy marriage–we try not to spend too much time together!)
I got into writing at the behest of my twin brother, Phil. Phil and I had talked about writing for most of our lives, but except for the odd short story or roleplaying-related bit, had never done anything of any substance. Somewhere around 2007—my mind is no good with those kinds of details—he insisted that we stop talking about it, and just do it. So we did.
When we finished the first draft of our novel, an FBI-type thriller of the Patterson/Sandford/Lee variety, we were so, so proud of it. We knew, just knew, that it was going to be a hit and that it was ready for print… …and today, were I forced to read it aloud in public, I think I’d have to douse it and myself in gasoline and immolate everything. It was bad in ways we didn’t know it was bad, but we were lucky to find out over time.
We had the great fortune of having family and friends with some experience with editing, who were also picky in the right ways, and more interested in making the work better than in sparing our feelings. We got slammed with constructive, but quite negative, feedback. We re-wrote it, and it was better but still bad. We got more feedback, from them and from others. And we re-wrote it again, and again, and again, changing characters and motivations and the entire focus of the plot along the way.
After dozens of rejections and rewrites and after a stint with a bad agent and then a deadbeat-and-now-defunct small press publisher, that novel has seen two title changes, twenty-two drafts, is so much better than it was, and is forthcoming from JournalStone in November. Blood List is a thriller about a serial killer who is trying to save his father’s life—you’ll love it, I promise!
I write stories I would want to read. I like Stephen King more than Dean Koontz–though Koontz’s writing is tighter and cleaner–because King’s fiction is messy in all the right ways. Koontz is fun to read, but [spoiler alert!] the good guys always win, even if they’re quite worse off for the victory. George R. R. Martin beats out Robert Jordan, because Jordan’s fight scenes are perfunctory–you know that nobody important is going to die, and no amount of well-written battle scenes will make a foregone conclusion as exciting as an unknown one. There’s no script immunity in King and Martin (and Straub and Barker and so many others), and it brings real, visceral tension to their work. I’ve been known to sit through books and movies I don’t particularly enjoy if I don’t know how it’s going to end up, and I’m usually glad I did.
I don’t consider myself a Young Adult author, or a zombie author, or even a horror or thriller author. I write what I feel like writing, and I don’t much care what genre other people decide it is. That said, I’ve always enjoyed things that are a little off-center. Fantasy and Science Fiction are great, and I do love them, but they don’t have that certain something special you get from horror. Horror is a slight left-turn from everyday life. Horror is that feeling that we’re all just one closet door away from the cenobites. Horror is that creeping, late-night sensation that everything might not be what it seems…and you don’t want to know the truth.
I’ve loved the reactions to Twice Shy—both the positive and the negative reactions. That people got so very different things out of my novel is just wonderful to me. When I wrote it, I had no intention of writing a sequel. I mean, there couldn’t be a sequel, could there? But then, one day I’m driving with The Redhead™, and she tells me that yes, there can be and will be a sequel, and then she told me what it was about. I had to pull over to keep from crashing, because I couldn’t see through my hysterical laughter.
Special Dead comes out this month, and I’m ecstatic it’s seeing print. Where Twice Shy is a zombie send-up of high school life, Special Dead is more a send-up of high school as an institution. I wanted to write about all the things that are terribly wrong with education today, but to do so in a way that you don’t know it’s there unless you’re looking for it. I wanted to be true to the delicious tropes of zombie fiction, while at the same time turning them on their head. The goal was to give fans of either horror or satire something they’d enjoy, with each element complimenting rather than interfering with the other.
High school students are hilarious. Sometimes on purpose, but sometimes not. Their lives drown in constant irony, where they ignore the critical to obsess over the trivial. Instead of writing some tear-jerker about a girl who is, say, a kleptomaniac, closeted lesbian with AIDS, I figured I’d make it horror—real, genuine horror—and also give it an element of whimsy by making her deep, dark secret something ludicrous: she’s a closeted zombie. This gave me the ability to play around with the critical/trivial dichotomy, to upend it and make it visceral at the same time. The administrators, instead of doling out detention, can incinerate the students with a word to the waiting soldiers; the students are literally chained together through the halls; school is a prison.
Twice Shy and Special Dead both take place in Ohneka Falls, a fictional Western New York town with an equally fictional high school. I’m a high school teacher–physics, robotics, and American Sign Language–in a tiny Western New York town, and am on the School Board in another. While Ohneka Falls is neither of these towns, there are elements of both that live and breathe inside the novels—and the school is no different. Any similarities to real life is strictly intentional.