Welcome, one and all, to another author interview! Today, I’m welcoming horror/sci-fi author Doug Goodman to the site. So, let’s get straight into it!
Doug, for those unfamiliar with you and your work, can you give readers a quick introduction?
I come from an outdoors background. I grew up in West Texas where we did a lot of camping and was an Eagle Scout, and I’ve carried that into my adult life as a search and rescue volunteer. That appreciation for community service and the outdoors and being around animals is what fuels a lot of my writing.
Today, we’re mostly going to be talking about your latest novel, Zombie Dog, which is the third book in the series of the same name. Now, the series follows Angie and her dog Murder as they hunt zombies. What makes this interesting is we do have cadaver dogs in real life. Can you explain what a cadaver dog’s job is?
I’d love to. I specialized in cadaver dogs (or human remains dogs as they are also known) in search and rescue. Human remains dogs are special dogs that are trained to find deceased people. They fulfill a very distinct need in that they help bring closure for many families, but they are also important to law enforcement.
How long have you been a human remains dog handler yourself, and how did you get into this line of work?
I was a human remains dog handler and trainer for more than ten years. I don’t have a dog that I’m training right now, but one day I’d like to introduce another dog to human remains detection. I am fascinated by working animals and that relationship between human and animal where a task needs to be fulfilled, and only through the relationship can it be accomplished.
How do you go about training a dog for this task, and how much real life training makes it into the Zombie Dog series?
To train a cadaver dog takes a lot of time and dedication. For a new handler, it can take two years or more, and most of that time is the handler learning to read his/her dog. That sounds crazy, but it’s very true. When you are doing this line of work, you need to be able to say with complete confidence that your dog has located (or not located) human remains. That has huge implications. It isn’t something you do once or twice and say, “Hey, Rover’s got it. We’re good.”
At its core, cadaver dog training is teaching a dog the distinct smell of human remains (such as blood, tissue, and bone), and then once the dog has learned that human remains are a good thing to find, it’s all about making it a game of finding those scent sources. This is the same technique that Angie uses to teach her dog, Murder, to track zombies. A lot of this series is based on my experiences as a human remains dog handler. I actually got the idea for the story during a search exercise. I was watching the trailing dogs tracking a person, and I was trying to come up with a new twist to throw on the human remains dogs. I thought, “what if the source walked away, like in trailing dog exercises. Now, what kind of dead person would walk?” Ha!
What makes it even more interesting is how to train a dog to distinguish zombie remains from human remains. See, zombies are created by a mutated version of the emerald wasp. If you don’t know about emerald wasps, you should look them up on the internet for a wild time. These wasps “zombify” cockroaches and lead them to their dens. So those wasps have become much larger and now use dead people the same way that emerald wasps use cockroaches. Murder is trained to find the wasp, which is how he finds the zombie.
My understanding is that the simulated decomposition scents used in training are only available to a select number of people, as opposed to simulated narcotic smells which are much more widely used. What people have access to these training tools, and do you know how they’re created? Do they cover a range of decomposition levels?
Pseudoscents are commercially available, but there is a lot of debate over their effectiveness as a training tool, so most handlers I know stay away from it. Believe it or not, the most effective training tool I’ve encountered is placenta, but handlers have to be ready for it. That stuff stinks!
Is there an ideal type of dog, either in breed or personality, that works well in this line of work, and does Murder fit this mold at all?
That’s a good question, and one I field a lot whenever I speak to people about search and rescue or zombie dogs. I’ve met and trained a lot of different breeds of dogs do this work. The bottom line is that any dog will do a much better job scenting than us humans. Their nose is more powerful and more complicated than ours. Let me give you a quick example. If I blindfold you and put a plate of spaghetti in front of you and ask you what you smell, you’ll probably say spaghetti. But a dog would say he smells the peppers, the basil, the tomato, the paste in the noodles, and he may even smell a bit of the jar that held the sauce or the box that contained the noodles. Their noses are that amazing. It really is unbelievable what a dog’s nose can do.
As long as a dog has the drive to do the work, then I don’t see why they can’t. I’ve met Labrador Retrievers that have no play drive or shepherds that turn their noses at the smell of human remains, but I’ve also worked with little mixed breed dogs that you couldn’t conceive would ever work in this field, and they eventually went on to certify in human remains detection.
Zombie Dog also features curanderos, which are Latin American native healers. What inspired you to include this type of healer in the book, and did you have to do much research into them?
My love for curanderos began with Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Última. And like a lot of Texans, I know people who have been impacted by faith healing, so once I realized that a curandero would be part of the story, I wanted to make sure I did it right. I spoke to friends and family and did a fair amount of research into them. The curandero in this story is a real special character. Not only does he help Angie solve this mystery of weaponized zombies being used by gangs, but he also is critical in healing her and Murder, too, because the relationship between Angie and Murder is so important to the series.
How important is the relationship between Angie and Murder to the overall story? Does their finding a connection for a large part of the narrative, for example?
Their relationship is the emotional anchor to the stories. I think that is what sets these books apart from so many others I’ve read. I’ve found that there are basically only two or three types of “dog” books. There’s the children’s book like Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows. Then there the memoir book like Marley and Me. But when it comes to adult action and adventure, or mystery, novels, the dog takes a back seat to the story, or the relationship between the person and the dog is only relevant until a love interest enters the story. Each one of the books in the Zombie Dog series is about the changing relationship between Angie and Murder, and I’m real proud of that. They are the two primary characters.
What can readers expect form the books in terms of genre conventions? Do they lean more towards supernatural or mystery elements?
I call them “light horror” because most people want to know if the zombies are going to be gnawing on somebody’s head. There are dark elements, and especially in this latest book more than any other, there is an “ew” factor that comes up, as early as the first chapter. And there are ghosts and faith healers and witches. But this has always been done with as much of a brush of realism as I can add to the stories.
As for mystery, this book is centrally a mystery more than the first two. Angie is on police task force that is trying to figure out how zombies are being weaponized and who is doing it. She gets to work with some real interesting people, like a police officer named Cut and Shoot. And as always, part of this mystery cannot be solved without Murder’s nose. But he and Angie have to communicate the clues to each other, and seeing how they work through those clues is half the fun.
How graphic are the books? Should readers expect there to be a lot of bloodshed?
No. I wanted to take zombies in a different direction. Three years ago when I started writing these books, blood and gore felt overdone to me. I was more interested in how zombies worked. Why do they need to eat people? How are they moving around? What is their purpose? I also wanted to know what a real government response would look like. I realized that it would be primarily a local government response, with cities and counties working together to solve the problem rather than a giant military, martial law scenario. I discovered that by focusing on those key questions, I could bring something entirely new to the zombie tale.
Do you have a favourite scene from the books that you can share some details of?
I have many favorite parts in Zombie Dog, but one that stands out to me is the night search in downtown Houston. What makes it interesting is that for the first time in the series, there are more zombie dog handlers than just Angie. Angie certifies two other teams: Team Kali and Team Chainsaw (aka, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a Belgian Malinois, naturally). The three teams are searching for zombies in cemeteries and among the skyscrapers, which is pretty cool in itself, but the City of Houston has a bit of a twist to it. As many people who live there know, the city is full of underground tunnels, and the search takes the teams down into these tunnels. It gets jumpy down there.
Do you plan to continue the series after Zombie Dog, or will this end the story as a trilogy?
I definitely plan to keep going. I am working on the sequel, Drowned Dog, as we speak. Fingers crossed, it should be released in Spring 2019.
Outside of Zombie Dog, you have also worked with Severed Press on a number of titles. How did you come to work with this press house, and how has the experience been so far?
I’ve really enjoyed working with Severed. They like publishing about monsters, and I like writing about them, and that’s really how we got together.
One of your early titles, Dominion, deals with a post-apocalyptic world where animals have transformed into human-hunting monsters. What inspired this book?
I’ve always looked at the animal kingdom and just marveled at its power. As humans, we have this amazing brain that more than anything else seems to keep us floating above the animals, but I really got to thinking about that Bible verse, about God giving man dominion over the animals, and I wondered what would happen if he took that away? How would humans survive if they were no longer at the top of the food chain?
Do you have a favourite monster in the story?
That would have to be The Warden of the West, a kind of a SUV-sized dog/wolf creature that hunts the kids the entire length of the book. But really, I fell in love with all of them. I enjoyed coming up with this “hell’s menagerie” of monstrous animals. How could I make a squirrel or rabbit something that hunts humans? What would that look like? I mean, seeing a bear or an eagle is easy, but what about cats and cicadas and cockroaches and all these others?
In Kaiju Fall, we’re following a city that has to deal with the aftermath of killing a Kaiju. I really liked the idea of this one, as I’ve often wondered what cities are supposed to do with the bodies of these huge creatures when they’re taken down. Were questions like that what made you want to write this story?
I wrote this one after Hurricane Ike hit my home of Houston. We went through a lot in the recovery, which got me wondering what it would look like when a city rebuilds after a kaiju attack. So many factors feed into this. What are the public safety effects? Would people be allowed back into their homes, or would they be turned away? What if the monster had parasites, like so many animals do, or what if other scavengers came after it, all while the city is trying to rebuild. My God, what happens when those bones settle? Do they hit your house? I loved writing that one.
Is this more of a throwback to the old kaiju movies, or does it have some modern touches to it?
Less of the old kaiju because it is so much about the aftermath. You don’t have the classic giant battles between skyscraper sized monsters. But when I looked at your average Texan, especially as I’d come to learn about them through these shared reconstruction experiences, I found that story much more interesting. I wanted to know about that dude who has his family home that’s been in the family for generations, and who now has a giant carcass leaning over it. What does that guy do when people tell him he can’t stay in his home anymore, and how does he respond when a second kaiju attacks and everybody tells him to get out of Dodge. I’ll give you a hint: some people decide to sit through the hurricanes from their front porch rather than evacuate.
Kaijunaut, while sticking with giant monsters, takes place on another planet, as a team of NASA astronauts investigate for traces of an ancient alien civilization. Now, you work for NASA. Was that useful in ensuring authenticity when it came to exploration in this book?
What was real funny was me taking this story to a few engineering friends of mine, and like I’ve said, I like some element of realism, so I took this book and gave it to them, and we sat at lunch and they laughed and said “throw this out, throw this out, that’ll never happen, and what were you thinking?” But at the end of the day, what is left in there feels pretty realistic, for a story about people on an exoplanet fighting for survival against kaiju monsters.
Did writing a story on another planet prove more difficult that your Earth based stories, or did the setting offer some more freedom in terms of what you could do?
The world building was fun. I had to think through the science of how the planet would work. What would the gravity be like, is the oxygen breathable? I kept imagining giant mountains that suddenly topple because of the kaiju buried underneath them. Man, that was fun.
Shark Toothed Grin intrigued me because it deals with a wereshark. I’m a big fan of were-creatures in general, and this is one that you don’t come across too often. So, what made you decide on using a wereshark?
I’ve always been a huge fan of lycanthropes. They are probably my favorite monster. I really liked the idea of using an island as a setting, and I thought “what better way to terrorize people on an island than with a wereshark?” What was cool there was figuring out the wereshark’s abilities. You know, werewolves are supposed to have heightened senses and strength, right? Well, the senses of a shark are different, so instead of being able to smell a steak half a mile away, the wereshark had electrosensory perception and could hear people’s heartbeats and listen to the electric currents in buildings.
How well do you think a wereshark would do if pitted against the more commonly found wolf shifters?
The fight would be intense. I think they are both evenly matched in strength, speed, and sheer terror. The winner would probably go to whoever was smart enough to bring silver to the fight.
As mentioned above, you work for NASA in your day job. Can you tell us a little about that? How did you get involved, and what is it like as a place of work?
I got involved because I applied for a job with what I thought was a little mom and pop store. I was right out of college and truly ignorant of these things. I never in my mind would have thought that one day I’d be working for NASA. So when I was interviewed by Hernandez Engineering, I didn’t have big expectations. But I had a baby and needed a job. When I drove up along the space center, I was in heaven. It was a good fit, and I’ve enjoyed working here ever since. I’m a technical writer at the Johnson Space Center. I’ve floated around from working ISS to Shuttle Upgrades to Shuttle archiving, and now I work in the small business office. I love it.
You have also appeared in a number of anthologies. Do you have a favourite anthology appearance, or a story you’re particularly proud of?
I wrote this one story called “Queen Anne’s Corpse,” and I was paid $25 or $30 for it. Not much, but paid, right? A week after I got my check, I saw this whiskey from Scotland called “Queen Anne.” I felt like fate had directed me to this fine Scotch. I don’t think it’s just the taste of victory, but that is the sweetest liquor in my cabinet. I’ve had it for years, and it only gets better with time.
What is the best advice you can give to writers that are just starting out in the business?
Just keep writing. If you didn’t write today, go write something, but don’t hesitate. You only get better at this by writing.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by today. Do you have any final messages for readers? Where can they go to find out more about you and your work? Feel free to link to anything you want.
Thank you for having me. This has been fun. Please check out Zombie Dog, out October 13th on Amazon, and look for the sequel, Drowned Dog, out in Spring 2019. My website is dgoodman1.wordpress.com and my mailing list is here. I promise I don’t bite and I don’t spam. I use it for book announcements and the occasional free story that I like to send to readers.