When the world crashes, when everything you know disappears and you’ve lost what is most important to you, what kind of human will you be? That question is dissected and explored in the post-apocalyptic thriller, Wolves by bestselling author D.J. Molles.
I first started corresponding with Molles after I read book five of his The Remaining series. Of course, this was when he was still self-publishing and before his books finally rocketed to the New York Times bestseller status where they are today.
I’d been captivated by the bold way Molles operates within his stories. My initial intention was to post the conversation to this blog and to do what I could to draw attention to his work since he’d managed to change my opinion of the zombie genre in a massive way. The real reason I wanted to interview him was that I needed to find out what was going on in this guy’s head. My timing must have been right, because I was able to get him to leave the keyboard long enough to give me an interview.
Molles is drenched in talent and with each book his skill bubbles further to the surface in sharp prose and nimble plot twists. His writing is intense and he’s unafraid to rip off the outer layer of skin to reveal whatever ugliness is inside. Lucky for us fans, Molles is prolific, throwing down thousands of quality words but still, never keeping up with a readers’ desire to gobble them up. People have been waiting a long time for this book. I’m glad I can finally talk about it.
This is his first post-The Remaining, standalone novel, and when it comes to dystopian stories, Wolves is a seminal work. End of world tales are always full of violence and grief, but in Wolves, Molles kicks the hornet’s nest, then makes you stand there while they sting. And like everything Molles writes, the story and characters are sticky like epoxy – impossible to get away from, they follow you everywhere from the first page to the last and for days and weeks after. Hell, months after reading an advance copy, I’m still unpacking parts of what I saw and felt throughout the reading.
Here are two pieces of advice: First, make your friends read Wolves along with you because you’re going to want to talk about it. A lot. Second, carve out the time to read this properly. There are passages you’ll want to go back and read again, smart bombs of words and scenes that hit you in the chest with their impact. You’ll want to be paying attention.
I say a lot of nice things about this guy, but I’m not alone in my praise. Here’s what one of the heavyweights said about it:
“With Wolves, DJ Molles gives us a post-apocalyptic rescue thriller that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. A brutal tale wrapped like barbed wire around love, honor and a father’s love for his daughter. Highly recommended.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Kill Switch and Ghostwalkers.
Yep. It’s that good. Lucky for me, Molles once again, let me toss some questions at him. If you’ve read The Remaining, you’ll appreciate some of the comparisons you’ll find in Wolves.
**But before we get to the interview, I’m happy to announce that Blackstone Publishing has generously offered HARDCOVER COPIES of Wolves to THREE LUCKY WINNERS. All you have to do is read the interview and offer a comment to enter. The names of the three winners will be selected by random draw on Sept. 10, 2016. Good luck! (**Drawing is now closed. Winners were announced Sept. 10, 2016).
Here is the interview:
Q: First some background information – this novel stands on its own, but do you plan on more books in this world?
A: This is a standalone book. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t ever return to the world that I created when I wrote it. I’ve toyed with the idea of pursuing some additional stories surrounding one of the characters, but only in my head and there’s certainly nothing solid yet.
Q: At more than 180k words, this is a meaty story. Did you consider breaking it up into a series? If so, why didn’t you? Did you intend to write such an epic or did you just write until the story was done?
A: To give you an idea, The Remaining: Fractured was about 180k words, and the paperback was over 700 pages. Wolves is slightly longer. I thought about splitting it up, but it just didn’t feel like the right move for this story. I didn’t really intend for it to be so long, and I actually cut it down a bit. The draft that was first seen by publishers was over 200k words.
Q: How long did it take you to write? Were you writing this while The Remaining books were being republished?
A: I started writing Wolves after I self-published The Remaining: Aftermath, and before I started writing Refugees. I didn’t write the whole thing then, but just the first part of it before I returned to The Remaining, and I didn’t pick Wolves up again until after I’d finished with Extinction. Once I was able to give it my complete attention, it took about six months to finish. And then later on, I picked it up again to trim it down. All told, I think it took about nine months to write and edit.
Q: As a self-published author, you had total control over the cover art and I know you used your wife’s photography for many of the covers in the original Remaining series. Are you happy with the way Blackstone (the publisher) captured the essence of the book?
A: I actually really love the cover for Wolves, and the artist was very in-tune with my vision for it. I think the end result speaks for itself.
Q: Out of curiosity, did you ever read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series? Huxley reminds me of Roland and I wondered if you were influenced by that at all.
A: I just started the Dark Tower series a month ago (long, long after completing Wolves), so it didn’t have any influence on my writing. But wow, I’m loving the series so far. As far as Huxley and Roland, I see Roland as a much more mentally-stable character than I think Huxley is. Roland is almost super-human in the Dark Tower books, and I think Huxley is kind of the opposite—he’s very human. Human to a fault.
Q: When we meet Huxley, his lack of purpose and some of the things he does during this time, make him difficult to like. He seems ill prepared (heck he almost dies) and unsure of himself. There’s one moment when his mission grows clearer and, as a reader, you start to see him as the hero you want him to be. Thing is, when you look back on Huxley and the way he was in the beginning, he may have been the better man before he was changed so profoundly through his experiences. Am I way off base there or was that your intention?
A: That was absolutely my intention. In my original drafts, Huxley was actually a bit more of a controlling character, but I didn’t think that jived with his history, so I took a little bit of the backbone out of him. I wanted him to learn violence, to become that harder version of himself.
Q: I found many similarities between the themes in The Remaining and those in Wolves— Captain Harden, the main character in The Remaining and Huxley, the main character in Wolves, are two very different men, but they both have a mission, they both will do almost anything to accomplish their mission and because of their singular determination to succeed, they end up surprising themselves, maybe even begin to fear what they’re willing to do—things they might otherwise think of as immoral. While they are similar, Harden is far more prepared for the challenges he will face than Huxley is, but their internal changes seem equally profound. Is your message that you simply can’t prepare for these kinds of challenges … this sort of adversity is going to change you, no matter what? Or should we not make any comparisons between Harden and Huxley?
A: I think it’s natural for a reader to make comparisons, and as a writer, I encourage you to make those comparisons. Personally, I view them as very different characters, for several reasons. To me, the main difference between Huxley and Lee is that Lee did what he did for what he perceived to be the greater good. Now, one could probably make arguments about whether the ends justified the means, but I think the average person, as they finish The Remaining series, will agree with me that Lee made tough choices based on what needed to be done. For Huxley, things are much more convoluted, because he is really the only benefactor of his actions. So you have to consider that his actions are not for others, but completely self-motivated. Now, whether that ends up being good or bad is up to the reader’s interpretation, and also likely their own moral compass.
Q: Huxley isn’t the only man in this book who is on a mission. There are several other characters he goes up against, characters we as readers would label as “the bad guys.” Like Huxley and his friends, the men they run into are people who have done despicable things in pursuit of their goals, but when we actually meet them and find out more about them, you begin to see that when everything has gone to hell, the line between good and evil grows very thin. Are there really any bad guys in this story? Or are they all just men with different goals? I could go on and on about this aspect. It reminded me of Darabie and Harden… that it’s all kind of a matter of perspective.
A: It is perspective. But then again, I’m not one for moral relativism. If you look into the abyss, it may very well look back at you, but you can’t use that as an excuse to turn a blind eye. It’s important to be able to identify evil in the world, but we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t take the time to try and understand how it came to be. Which is a big part of this story. It’s about good and evil, yes, but also, their origins.
Q: At one point, Huxley’s mission seems to clarify. He’s no longer hesitant about what he wants and he convinces several people to go along with him on his mission. Circumstances quickly spiral and the mission seems to turn into an excuse to spread carnage. Is the lesson that this is what happens when men are convinced they are on the right side? Could Huxley have done anything to keep things more focused on his purpose? Or was it, as I suspect, hopeless from the start but he had to keep going once he started?
A: When I think about the things that Huxley and his group did, I often think about My Lai, 1968. It’s fairly common in humanity to rationalize away horrible decisions, even as you’re acting on them. How horrible the decision often doesn’t depend much on the person, but more on the circumstances. I’m not sure how much it has to do with truly believing you’re right. I think it’s more that you want to find some sort of moral loophole that makes what you’re doing okay. And I think that’s where Huxley was at when these things happened. I’m not sure he wanted to stop them from happening. But then again…were they wrong? Some of it, definitely. All of it? I’m not sure. It’s hard to draw a defining line there.
Q: When I’m writing a book, I generally look forward to rejoining my characters as often as I can. Wolves takes you to a very dark place and seems to grow darker and more hopeless as the story progresses. Was it difficult for you to go to the work each day? Did you listen to any particular music or do anything to get you in the mood?
A: It wasn’t hard. It was actually somewhat invigorating, though I’m not sure what that says about me! Maybe it’s a relief to get those things out of me? When you put them on paper, you get them out of your head. As for music, I’ll often listen to particular songs that get me in the mood for whatever I’m writing, but never really listen while I write. Oddly enough, I didn’t really have any music that made me think of Wolves while I was writing it, but recently I’ve heard a few songs and thought, “Wow, that would have been great to listen to while I was writing Wolves.” By the way, those were God’s Gonna Cut You Down by the great Johnny Cash, and Burning House by Cam. Not sure why the last one reminds me of Wolves. It just does.
Q: After reading Wolves, the story churned in my head for days afterwards. I still find myself thinking about it. Was it difficult for you to pull yourself out of the world you were creating?
A: More annoying than difficult. I wanted to think about that world, I wanted to figure out how it was going to end, how I was going to bring everything together, what I was trying to say. So real life sometimes felt like an interruption to those thoughts, but it was never difficult to break away when necessary.
Q: Fans of your previous series may be surprised to learn there aren’t any supernatural elements to this story. When I first heard the title, I expected Werewolves, or some other form of creature like that. Was that on purpose? Are you done with zombies?
A: I’d never say I was “done” with anything really, because I never know what mood will strike in the future. I know that I will return to the world of The Remaining at some point in time. I do not have any other “zombie” projects currently rolling around in my head, but that’s not to say it would never happen. And yes, Wolves was a break from The Remaining because I needed to do something different. Kind of like cleansing the pallet.
Q: Aside from Huxley’s wife and daughter, there are really only two women who play any significant role in Wolves and it’s hard to not make comparisons between the two. One of them we only know as the woman with the braid. The other we get to know much better, but it feels as if what happens to them in the end, is very similar. Am I making too great a comparison of them?
A: Often I stumble across meaning in my works and I don’t know whether I had intended it to be there subconsciously, or if it just was coincidence and seems significant in the re-reading. So I don’t think any reader can make a mistake by interpreting something a certain way—I think a good book should have some room for interpretation. I think with those two women, I needed a juxtaposition to Huxley’s wife and daughter. And I wanted to show the pervasiveness of moral degradation. It wasn’t an age thing, it wasn’t a sex thing. It was a human thing. I needed the woman with the braid and later, Brie, to fully paint the picture of decay.
Q: I bring them up because if there is any one character that drives home the role perspectives play in this story, to me it’s the woman with the braid. We never learn her name but with just one description, that of her crying, you open up so many possible angles to her. Can you talk a little about the role of women in your stories? Are they the conscience of Huxley and Harden?
A: That’s a very interesting question. I’m not sure the answer says much about Huxley and Harden. Probably more about me as an individual. I find it difficult to feel mercy or sympathy towards men, so I suppose this carries through into my writing. I think I wanted the woman with the braid to want to beg for mercy, but refuse to do so. I think that shows an ugly sort of strength. On the one hand, I almost felt proud of her, even though she was bad, because she was bearing through and not quitting. And on the other hand, I was slightly disgusted, that, even when she knew it was the end, she wouldn’t admit that she was wrong. She was still prideful. If that character had been a man, I do not think I would have felt the emotions that I felt while writing it.
Q: Huxley and Harden (there I go making comparisons again), both seem to feel as if they aren’t worthy of love. Huxley has already lost his family. Harden seems to have acquired one but denies himself any of the true emotions that go along with the love of family. Is it because their hearts are too hardened to have that kind of emotion? Do they need to shut out love to survive? Are love and survival in those worlds too disparate to have both?
A: I think with Harden, his lack of love is a matter of choice, a sort of self-imposed banishment from normality. He recognizes that love is comfort, and it changes the way that you think and the way that you operate. It’s easy to fight. It is not so easy to fight when you are also thinking about who is going to miss you when you’re gone. With Huxley, the situation is very different. Where Harden has the possibility of what you might call “new family,” Huxley’s entire focus is on the family that he lost. His wife and his daughter are the only source of hope and love he’s ever had, and they’ve been taken from him. So I think in Huxley’s case, he simply doesn’t have it.
Molles, thanks so much for indulging me with all of these questions. You’ve written an amazing book and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.
Here’s his official bio: D.J. MOLLES is the New York Times bestselling author of The Remaining series. He published his first short story, “Darkness,” while still in high school. Soon after, he won a prize for his short story “Survive.” The Remaining was originally self-published in 2012 and quickly became an Internet bestseller. He lives in the Southeast with his wife and children.