The Twisted World of Gregory Solis.....
There’s one thing I don’t do very often due puely to time constraints, and that’s recommend or review books. I read pretty voraciously, I love horror, naturally and am a huge fan of Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Robert McCammon back in the day Richard Matheson ....but recently, a new writer came to my attention through a mutual friend, director Sean Cain.
Gregory Solis, a self confessed zombie fan himself, has written a book that is ideal holiday reading for horror fans
Rise & Walk is a fast paced novel about a zombie invasion in a remote mountain area. The infection spreads relentlessly through the unsuspecting population of vacationing Americans with most of the action taking place during a paintballing contest. As the living population dwindles and the ranks of the zombies increase, two men and two women find their chances of survival decreasing by the hour.
Click on this link to find out more and buy the book from Amazon.
Having read the book, I was lucky enough to be able to get some further insight into the twisted world of Gregory Solis.
Robin Pierce: Can you give me some background on yourself? Where were you born, childhood, education, entry into the film industry?
Gregory Solis: I was born in San Francisco Ca and moved to the suburbs by the age of four. I went to public school on occasion but didn’t conform well to the curriculum. I enjoyed horror film and practiced a fair amount of horror make-up in my teens. In Community College I studied Broadcast Communications. I learned a lot about Television production; about taking responsibility for whatever job I was assigned or being in charge of a crew, about writing, producing, and editing your product. Through my studies I scored a job as an editor for a local production company. I cut everything from instructional videos and commercials to weddings. The work was all analog, ¾ inch tape-to-tape machines, where even simple changes took a lot of time. This training made me a much better, faster, editor when digital became the norm. I entered San Francisco State University and earned a Bachelors degree in Cinema. The best part of Film School is meeting other creative people. The relationships I made at State are the most rewarding things to come out of that experience. Through those friendships, came most of my professional film work.
When did the writing bug hit?
At the age of nine, my teacher assigned us all to write in a journal everyday. We could write whatever we wanted but we had to do it every school day. I had seen Dawn of the Dead that summer so I started writing a fictional story that took place in that universe. My teacher quickly became concerned about the material I was writing. Explanations were made but my teacher gave me odd looks for the rest of the year. Later on when I found myself excused from High School, I ran off to live in Hawaii. I did a lot of introspective journaling when I lived there. I worked in a bar with a fake I.D. and met a lot of people from all over the world. I bought a slew of anthologies at a used bookstore and became exposed to all sorts of new works. It was there that I started to seriously try writing fiction.
Is this your first published work?
Yes. In a way publishing Rise and Walk was an experiment. I had heard about a lot about Print on Demand technology and sites like Iuniverse and Lulu.com. I did some research and became a believer in the process. I was finished with the novel and I didn’t feel like waiting through a submission process. Other published authors I knew thought I was very foolish to self distribute but I’m glad I did it. I do have to admit though; I was very lucky with Rise. I had the support of a lot of readers and advice from supportive friends.
Tell me about more about it - it was self published to begin with, how did it get to be picked up by a publisher?
A friend and fellow zombie author, Remy Porter asked me to endorse his book, Dead Beat. I liked his work and sent his publisher, A UK outfit called Wild Wolf, a blurb. Remy is an Englishman and I mentioned that I was looking to get the word out over there. Remy talked to his publisher and they made me an offer. Wild Wolf had their people do a re-edit to find all the mistakes that eluded my editing and Peter Fussey came up with the cover. I’m very happy with what they’ve done. I’m thrilled to have Rise and Walk available to you guys.
What kind of reaction/feedback are you getting?
I’m speechless at the acceptance this thing gets. The horror community is one of the most supportive groups any author could ask for. I would have been happy to have sold a few hundred editions but Rise has sold thousands in the US. I believe it hit the stands in the UK in April of this year so I don’t have any numbers yet but the Amazon rankings say that it is selling well.
The concept, as I understand is definitely going to make this a trilogy? How is the rest of the story arc coming along?
The original idea is three books concerning the mountain town of Whisper, of which Rise and Walk is the first. I am almost done with the direct sequel Rise and Walk: Pathogen, and a third book will follow. At the same time, I have been writing short stories that are a part of an anthology of the Rise and Walk events that take place in San Francisco. That anthology is going to be called Rise and Walk: Cerberus. When I needed a break from Pathogen, I would write a short that took place in San Francisco to distract myself. Every now and then the reader will find something in one book that references an event in another.
I should have been done a long time ago but had a lot of family issues that shut me down. My mother was stricken with Cancer about a year after Rise came out. She fought hard and beat it but it was a long fight. She was tough, but the experience was too much for her heart and she passed away just months after being declared Cancer free. I don’t talk about it much because it is hard for me. It was almost a secret for a long time because I didn’t want people’s condolences. But I am finding it easier to talk about now and my writing has defiantly returned. I miss that old lady.
How did the idea of Rise & Walk come about?
My older brother and I used to be something of extreme campers. Motorcycles, Guns, Beer and Four-Wheel Drive trucks were all part of the trips. We would go high into Northern California, into the Gold-country and drink, shoot and ride all over the place. It was very unsafe, but fun. I started thinking about what would happen if a zombie outbreak happened to a group of campers like ours. I had to tone the story down by taking away some of the guns that we’d normally have just for realism. But that was the genesis of the idea.
Some have questioned the realism of the men in Rise and Walk for having paramilitary skills and weaponry at a campsite. I can only say that there are people like that; I grew up with them, I went camping with them. I used to train with the practice bamboo swords and play paintball on weekends. When I go camping, I usually have a rifle, shotgun and pistol at the minimum. There are things in the deep woods that can hurt you.
Rise & Walk is a very fast and visual novel. It played like a film in my head when I read it - and it's a relentlessly paced read - any thoughts about adapting it as a movie?
The opposite actually, Rise and Walk was a screenplay I wrote when I was finishing Film school. The script was a little different because we had intended to shoot it ourselves. The main characters were all the same but the scope was a little smaller so that we could afford the shoot. It didn’t work out for a number of reasons and I lost quite a bit of money on the project. Never self-finance your films! I moped around for a couple of years and started to adapt the screenplay into a novel. It was my way of trying to make something positive out of the work. Adapting the screenplay was fantastic. I was able to use my imagination without worrying about our budget or how we would pull off an effect. I could give the work the scope I wanted but couldn’t afford in front of the lens.
I have since rewritten the screenplay to better reflect the novel. Some parts, like the opening chapter, were difficult to convey into the visual medium, but I think I pulled it off. The script has been optioned by Renegade Motion Pictures, the producers of the film Autumn. They are shopping it around now looking for funding. Autumn is based on a smash hit zombie novel by David Moody. He’s a bloke from your neck of the woods responsible for the highly successful Autumn books as well as the Hater series. David also began as a self distributed author and has been not only an inspiration to me, but has become a good friend as well. He gave me a generous blurb for the UK release.
Who would be your choice of director?
That’s a good question. Someone who understands a little about motocross bikes, guns, and grew up on eighties films like Red Dawn, Rambo, and Enter the Ninja. A woman perhaps; who grew up on those kinds of movies, because the person who directs Veronica and Nikki has to be able to treat the characters as real people, not just eye candy. Those girls don’t trip and fall when being pursued like some 50’s movie cliché.
Who are your influences, both writers and directors?
I grew up on a lot of different writing. I loved Hemingway as a teen and young adult but I wouldn’t try to write like him. He had his place in literary history and anyone interested in writing can benefit from an examination of his work. I owe a lot of my interest in writing to Hemingway. I also loved the pulp fiction of Don Pendleton’s Executioner series. I grew up reading that gritty fast paced action. I don’t know if the Executioner is a series that was available in the UK. It was big in the 80s and endures to this day. I would describe it as very similar to The Punisher from Marvel Comics. The Executioner was a bit rubbish, but it was fun in my teen years. I don’t want to sound like a fanboy but I enjoy Stephen King’s work very much and would call him an influence. I think I read The Stand five or six times in the past twenty years. His book, On Writing, is also a very helpful for the aspiring author.
George A Romero, of course has been an influence, but I wouldn’t say that his visual style stood out for me. It did in Night of the Living Dead, but not so much in the other zombie films. I appreciate the storytelling and subtext of his work as well as the indie spirit his films have come to represent. Visually I’ve enjoyed Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, Sergio Leone’s westerns, and Stanley Kubrick’s work among others. I love odd surreal stuff like Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, and Myra Darren’s Meshes of the Afternoon. Being exposed to films like that were some of my fondest moments of Film school. Both of those are available on YouTube. Film fans should check them out.
Why choose horror over any other genre?
Why not? I love horror. Only in the case of the Exorcist and Poltergeist, has a film ever really scared me. I blame that on growing up Catholic. The other horror films, Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm, The Evil Dead, various slasher films, never scared me. I would always ask myself, “What would I do?” Horror films are like a ride, a very fun ride, maybe that has something to do with how I paced the novel. Also, if you’re gonna try to make an independent film, horror has the best chance of breaking out and having an audience that will forgive lower budgets.
We've suffered the teen angst vampire trend, but the Zombies seem to be the new darlings of the industry, both in film with Romero doubling his original trilogy and fresh talent like Sean Cain, while on TV the Walking Dead is THE most successful cable TV show of all time? Are we seeing a new trend?
I for one am thrilled that the undead have come to Television. Ever since my first zombie experience, Dawn of the Dead in 1978, I wanted to see more. I think the open ending of that film really made me ask, “What are they gonna do now?” Peter and Fran flew off into the dawn and we didn’t know what would become of them. That’s probably why I wrote a continuation in my fifth-grade journal. I think viewers are interested in an episodic presentation of a post apocalyptic undead world. The Walking Dead has the budget and effects talent to show a worldwide outbreak in a way that will only bring in more viewers. There are a lot of zombie fans out there, the new media that’s out there, on Television, Film, or in print, is just going to create more fans.
Why do you think Zombies are so popular? Vampires may have a certain romantic charm and magnetism, Lee and Lugosi both played Dracula as an embodiment of sexual power - but zombies are just fetid and plain nasty. What do you think is the attraction?
You’re right. As an antagonist, Zombies rate very low on the intelligence scale. Their threat is in their numbers. Here is a massive force that ignores pain, fatigue, and the elements. They add to their ranks by taking your family and friends, if they aren’t already composed of your loved ones. They’re rotting, infected, slimy, and they want to eat you! The fear of being eaten goes back to our very primal natures; perhaps even to the knowledge that our distant ancestors were sometimes eaten by animals. The fear of death not being one’s final end, of walking around in a tortured shell, also claws at the foundations of many religious beliefs.
I do think that some of the attraction for the audience lies in the crumbling of society. Some may be entertained by the idea of the rules no longer applying to them. You always hear someone talking about how cool it would be to take refuge in a shopping mall. I think the audience finds some entertainment in seeing the protagonists act outside the laws of civilized society. Perhaps this kind of apocalyptic fiction also has something to do with fears of overpopulation and our modern world getting out of hand.
You also have to consider that audiences like a faceless, morally unambiguous enemy. Think about alien invasion films, HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, even the Storm Troopers from Star Wars, they’re all faceless enemies that the heroes can kill en masse without a second thought. No one worries about killing a Zombie because they are already dead. I happen to think that Zombies should be more complicated than that. You get to learn a little about my zombies before they return. My hope was to better illustrate the tragedy that each one represents; that these creatures were living, loving peoples at one point, now reduced to decaying ghouls. Living in a shopping mall ain’t so cool when you remember that the infected rotting masses outside were once just like you.
People have explored what zombies represent since their first cinematic outbreak. You have Romero’s symbolism of racism and fear of civil rights in Night and comments on consumerism in Dawn, corporate greed and fears of genetic manipulation in The Resident Evil movies, the threat of emerging diseases in 28 Days Later; which some argue is not a zombie film. Some writers don’t have a very clear symbolism of what the dead represent. Sometimes critics and film students use conjecture to theorize what an author may have been trying to say, or what symbolism a Director has created. Often times we may be giving the creator of a work too much credit and assigning false meaning that wasn’t by design. Sometimes Zombies are just the antagonists. As celebrated Psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud once said while making shit up in his head, Sometimes a Zombie is just a Zombie.
Beyond the Riseverse (your word, I believe) What comes next? Any other projects you've got upcoming?
I am working on a non-horror script that I can shoot myself or perhaps shop around. It may be called “The Boy She Used To Know.” It’s a sort of romantic comedy about a man and woman who reunite after film school. Its not horror, but it will take place during the filming of a zombie film. I can’t seem to escape the rotters!
I am also thinking about a sci-fi novel having to do with deep space travel and time dilation. But that is on the back burner for the present.
All images in this article were provided by Gregory Solis and have been used here with his kind permission.
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