NOTE: As of May, 2011, Plaguesville, USA has been taken down from Amazon.com! Mr. LaVigne has signed on with Permuted Press for a re-release of this book. Congratulations, Jim!
The name Jim LaVigne will be known by all who are fans of the apocalypse or horror. Perhaps, some day, anyone who likes the genre of fiction will come to know his name. I say this with confidence because Jim is going to be huge some day. He will be as big as Max Brooks or J.L. Bourne. You will come to know him! I had the opportunity to interview him about his book Plaguesville, USA…which, by the way, you should buy asap while you can! Glorious works like these don’t stay 99 cents forever. Enjoy this short interview and get to know the up and coming Mr. LaVigne!
Disclaimer: We all love those shambling, rotting corpses known as the walking dead, but there are none in Plaguesville. However, this book is far too good not to praise.
First I’d like to ask what your influences were. While reading I was reminded of movies like Mad Max and videogames such as Fallout. Did this world come out of nowhere or did you have any external influences?
Oh, definite influences. Fallout 3 was inspiring, not so much for the destruction as for the survivor’s nostalgia and all of the little scraps of a once-great civilization you find laying around. And Teresa’s clan is certainly akin to the Road Warriors of George Miller; those are a couple of great movies and, to me anyway, they aren’t at all far-fetched in terms of what folks might do in those kinds of degraded conditions.
I also watched a series on History Channel called Life After People that was pretty neat and which gave me a lot of the nuts and bolts about what would happen when humans were gone and real neglect and decay set in. I tried to be as true to what the experts thought would (will?) happen and all of the stuff in the book about massive destruction due to chemical/nuclear leaks, dam breaks, and such are as realistic as I could research. Needless to say, there aren’t a lot of sources for this.
On the lighter side, you will also find a good dose of Futurama in there, especially in the chapter quotes for things like Krillo Dogs or Burger Czar. Something about the little touches like Gragnar’s Human Rinds, Soylent Cola, or Bachelor Chow in that show just make me smile.
Has the apocalypse always been a point of interest, or was there a pivotal moment in your life when it gained a spot in your heart?
I think there was a point, actually, come to think of it… When I was in college I spent a long weekend at a friend’s dorm at St Cloud State University. We got bored and broke into an old Civil Defense shelter in the basement and went in and poked around and man! Was that place creepy! They had everything you’d need, down in this windowless, claustrophobic vault. Food, water, chemical toilets, loads and loads of iodine pills and blankets, whole surgical setups, you name it, all boxed up and stamped with official seals and ready to use. When the nukes started flyin’ you’d just run down there and everything would be just fine… I think that might have sparked some ideas.
Beyond that, the apocalypse, where everything’s up for grabs, makes a great setting in general and allows the writer a lot more freedom to imagine and speculate than a setting in the past or present. In other words, you get to make it whatever you want.
Is Plaguesville entirely independent? In other words, did you have any financial or promotional backing (such as a publisher)?
Yes, it’s entirely indie. But thanks to the ease with which authors can e-publish, it wasn’t all that difficult. The really hard part is generating buzz; I’m not a terribly outgoing or extroverted individual and have always had a hard time with self-promotion. I understand that readers like to know more about authors (as in: holy crap, what kinda weirdo could write something like this?), but at he same time I feel like I’d rather the work spoke for itself. I also have to say that without the support of a few crucial people in my life I would never have even had the chance; it’s due in no small part to their support that any of my work was produced. You know who you are…
I find your characters very well developed. Each has their own distinguishing quirks and mannerisms that make them likeable/irritating/or easy to hate. Does creating individuals come naturally to you or is it an ability you’ve had to hone over time?
Practice, practice… But I guess that’s it part both. I’ve always like simply observing the people around me; what makes them what they are and the things they do and say, not to mention why they do and say them… They’re a constantly ready source of inspiration. On the other hand, I think it takes a kind of diligence with each one, sort of gently reminding the reader of each one’s eccentricities, and then consistency–how would this guy realistically react to this situation–to make the character live. Also, I think each character needs to grow or at least change over the course of the story. Mr. Lampert has a line toward the end of Plaguesville to the effect that he and Dr. Kaes haven’t changed, but as he often is, the Old Man is dead wrong. They’ve both changed, and to no small extent.
What got you into writing? Is it a side hobby or something you want to pursue as a career?
In my case, to not mince words, I’d have to say it’s an issue of mental health; if not for writing, I would very likely be committed, incarcerated, or dead. Other than that, I’ve always liked telling stories and I’ve always loved books. All my heroes are writers.
This is a zombie blog, so it’s mandatory I ask you some undead related questions. Since your book doesn’t have zombies, my first question is… do you even like zombies?
Sure, who doesn’t? I do have mutants, of course, but that’s not at all the same… Actually, I think zombies are a fascinating sociological/cultural phenomenon. Some clever psychologist should undertake a study of it–or maybe they are! At any rate, I do like zombies, especially zombie movies. My dad took me to see the original Night of the Living Dead when I was about ten and man, did that scare the bejeesus out of me! The images of the chalk-faced undead ripping out guts and chewing on arms… Yeesh, nobody wants that to happen to them! Quick, get a gun! Run for the shelter!
And today we have really good-looking, realistic films like the remake of Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later, plus the less hardcore (but still entertaining) ones like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. I haven’t yet had the time to delve too deeply into the explosion of Zombie Fiction, but from what I’ve seen, I have a lot of catching up to do, because there’s a lot of good stuff being written! In short: Yes, pro-zombie.
What was your editing process like? Did you seek out an editor or did you have other people read over it first?
I’ve yet to work with an editor, but given my tendency toward wordiness, I think doing so would be great. Mainly I just read (and re-read and re-re-read) what I’ve got and make cuts, additions, and corrections as needed. I rely on my wife, Katy, for all of the proofing and most of the plot continuity.
And your writing process? Did you outline at all or just write from start to finish for the most part?
Some of both. The “road” scenes kind of wrote themselves. But with as many characters and storylines as I found myself managing, I had to stop once in a while to make sure that all of the dots were going to connect. But in the end, all roads led to New America, so that made the issue a little easier… I always knew how the thing would end; as soon as I’d conceived of Dr. Kaes, I knew what would become of him. But exactly how, you know? In that way, I guess the process was a little like the story itself: I knew where I had to go, but there was a great big expanse of unknown to cross to get there.
Is seeking a publisher something you’d consider doing, or are you comfortable with being an indie author?
To paraphrase Teresa from the book, a published version would be just juicy! Even if the words themselves are the same, I think every author wants to see a physical copy. Just something about it. Not to mention sales! I would love to see Plaguesville as a nice trade paperback, maybe even a deluxe edition some day with maps and who knows what, but ultimately I think it would be really neat as a movie. I mean, think of the casting alone?! Who’d play Lampert? Or Baron Zero? Heh heh…
Are any of your other books apocalyptic? In other words, would any of your other books be good for the apocalypse-loving demographic?
Yes, definitely. In at least two others there are forces at work trying to bring on the apocalypse. In Apokryphos, an ageless cult makes human sacrifice and schemes for world domination, and in Bearwood (Or, the Business of Screwing Around with Things Best Left Alone), an evil entity of Lovecraftian nature threatens to wipe out all life on Earth. Both are less dialogue-heavy than Plaguesville, but similar in style and pacing. Always something out there trying to bring on the Fall…
Do check out Jim’s works on Amazon. He has a handful of novels that are also 99 cents.