Q&A with Academy Award®–winner Guillermo Del Toro and Hammett Prize–winner Chuck Hogan

By Heather Wixson

Recently, publishers of The Strain, the upcoming vampire novel from the brilliant minds of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, sent Terror Tube a Q&A interview for us to share with our readers.  Please enjoy the following interview and look for more goodies from The Strain later this week!

Q: Guillermo, you’ve written screenplays and directed numerous movies, just to name a few of your many accomplishments. What motivated you to write a novel?

GDT: Well, it’s a different challenge, but I’ve always written short stories and then in my film work when writing storylines for movies, the storyline is a slightly “freer” form than screenplay writing. I have published some of my short stories in the past and it is my secret dream to write shivery tales for young readers. My favorite author in that sense is Roald Dahl, who mixed it freestyle between the grotesque and the magical. I love the short story form as a reader, but if a novel has a terse structure I find it far more immersive and fulfilling. Nevertheless some of my favorite authors-Jorge Luis Borges, Horatio Quiroga, Saki, among others-are masters of the short story form. The novel grew out of appetite and scope.

Q: You are one of the most extraordinarily imaginative and creative thinkers working in the arts today. What were some of the influences that have contributed to your success? Do you have a muse?

GDT: Curiously enough I regularly draw more inspiration from painters and books than I do from other films. Painters like Carlos Schwabe, Odilon Redon, Félicien Rops, Arnold Bocklin, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Thomas Cole, and many others never fail to excite me. On the book front there are just as many authors; Charles Dickens does the trick every time as do Oscar Wilde, Juan Rulfo, and Horacio Quiroga, among others.

Q: Many of your movies have centered on fantastical characters. Why did you choose to write your first novel about vampires?

GDT: All of my life I’ve been fascinated by them but always from a naturalist’s point of view. I wanted my first movie, Cronos, to be a rephrasing of the genre-I love the rephrasing of an old myth. When I tackled Blade II, I approached it with a myriad of ideas about vampire biology but only a few of those made it into the film. Tonally, the movie needed to be an action film and some of the biological stuff was too disturbing already. I love the idea of the biological, the divine, and the evolutionary angles to explain the origin and function of the Vampire genus. Some of my favorite books about vampirism are treatises on vampire “fact,” books by Bernard J. Hurwood, Dom Augustin Calmet, and Montague Summers.

Q: There are many stories, movies, and even television shows involving vampires. The Strain uses the idea that vampires are a plague, and that the lead hunter is a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control. What was your inspiration for this twist?

GDT: When I was a kid I loved The Night Stalker and I fell in love with the idea Matheson and Rice posited, of exploring a creature of such powerful stature through the point of view of a common worker, a man used to dealing with things in a procedural way. “Just another day at the job.”

Q: How did you and Chuck Hogan come together to write The Strain? How does your collaboration work?

GDT: It was a true collaboration. I had created a “bible” for the book which contained most of the structural ideas and characters. Chuck then took his pass on it and invented new characters and ideas. Fet (one of my favorite characters) was completely invented by him. And then I did
my pass, writing new chapters or heavily editing his pass, and then he did a pass on my pass and so on and so forth. This is the way I have co-written in the past. I loved Chuck’s style and ideas from reading his books and I specifically wanted him as a partner because he had a strong sense of reality and had NEVER written a horror book. I knew we would complete each other in the creation of this book. What surprised me is that he came up with some gruesome moments all on his own! He revealed himself to be a rather disturbed man!

Q: Chuck, Stephen King hailed your novel Prince of Thieves as one of the ten best novels of 2005. What was that like getting such extraordinary praise from this esteemed cultural icon?

CH: The mere fact that Stephen King had read something I’d written really blew my mind. And then to find out that he liked it-that I’d gotten inside the head of the man who has been getting inside of all our heads for all these years-was a unique thrill, and a real morale boost. I wrote him a rambling thank you letter that probably got tossed in the “crazy fan” file-but for him to use his position to champion the work of other authors tells you everything you need to know.

Q: What most surprised you about working with Guillermo Del Toro? Has working with him impactedyour own work? In your former career as a video store clerk, did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine working on a project like this-with a legend like Del Toro?

CH: I’d never coauthored anything, nor had I published a true work of horror before, and here I was embarking on an epic trilogy with a master of the genre. I probably should have been more intimidated-yet I felt an immediate kinship with the material, as well as true excitement at the challenge of bringing the story to life, both of which carried me through. Guillermo is a daunting first audience, and yet an incredibly generous collaborator. Not to mention an amazing resource: it’s just fun to have to ask him a question-say, about why the vampires run hot instead of cold-and know that, not only will he take me through their intricate biology, but he will embroider the account with corroborating examples from the field of entomology, marine life, and some arcane fact about the function of human blood platelets.

Q: Your previous novels, Prince of Thieves and The Killing Moon, probe the dark side of human nature. What draws you to this theme and to the genre of suspense?

CH: Crime and horror are both genres of existentialism, and I am drawn to stories of man at his extremes, of people who find themselves tested, haunted, or threatened. I believe a writer should challenge himself in his work just as he challenges the characters in his story-anything less would be inauthentic and dishonest. What I love about The Strain is that the journey of the story takes this maxim and multiplies it by one thousand.

Q: The Strain is the first novel of a trilogy. Can you give us a hint of what’s to come?

GDT: The second novel is rather crepuscular-mankind loses its advantage and we see what the future holds for the vampiric race while tracking the mythical origins of it all. We revisit familiar memories and learn more about Setrakian, and Gus leads us to an unexpected alliance. New York is under martial law and finding a way out of it becomes a major subplot. The third novel is absolutely enormous both in its implications and its reach. It rephrases vampirism in a completely fresh way.

Q: Will we see The Strain on the big screen anytime soon?

GDT: No, not film-far too compressed a form. I believe it would be ideal to create a limited cable series out of it and not to extend it into a network run, where characters die only when the ratings do.