Hunter Shea has had a slow summer. Normally he releases 12 books over a three-month span (or at least it seems that way), but this summer it’s only two: The Dover Demon, through Samhain Horror, and the book we’ll be discussing today, Tortures of the Damned, a novel, released through Pinnacle, about a doomed cluster of reporters forced to cover Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
I’m kidding (sort of).
TOTD ventures into post-apocalyptic thriller land, but I don’t think post-apocalyptic accurately covers things because the book begins pre-apocalyptic in a New York City suburb. Full disclosure: I’m not quite through TOTD, but I’m easily more than 70 percent done, and I’m digging it. Without spoiling anything, TOTD focuses on a loving family (mom, dad, four kids) and their resourceful neighbors hunkering down in a fallout shelter during some sort of chemical/bomb attack on the city/country/world? It’s hard to say at this point. I still don’t know what the hell happened! But when our intrepid heroes emerge from the bunker, they encounter what would be otherwise friendly city creatures—rats, dogs, Italians (I’m kidding! I’m Italian so I can make that joke)—gone berserk! Attacking and biting anything that moves!
What struck me as most scary was the book’s beginning, when New York City falls under attack. Hunter’s a New Yorker, and I’m from neighboring New Jersey, and we both experienced 9/11 somewhat firsthand simply because of our proximity to the attack. Naturally I was drawn to that upon reading TOTD and asked Hunter about how the worst terrorist attack on American soil impacted him and his writing.
Q: Were you in New York City on 9/11/2001? If not, where were you and what’s your most vivid memory of that day?
Hunter: I was at work in CT when the planes first hit. Once we heard on the radio that other planes were missing and the towers collapsed, I got in my car and sped home like the devil was on my tail. My house has a view of Manhattan, and we watched the smoke billowing with fighter jets screaming overhead. Friends and family all gathered there to watch the aftermath and wonder what was going to happen next. It was scary as hell. One of my best friends was working in the area and we couldn’t locate him. Phone lines were down. We thought this was just the start of the end of everything. And through it all, my kids were only 4 and 2 and we took turns keeping them away from it all so for them, it was just another day. The one good thing to come out of it was my friend checking back in 2 days later. I don’t think we ever breathed a bigger sigh of relief.
Q: How did 9/11 influence you in writing Tortures of the Damned?
Hunter: It taught me that we’re never, ever safe. We live in a very dangerous world. Living so close to a major target has changed my view of everything. I refuse to be lulled into a false coma of numbness, nourished by a steady diet of Kardashians, Donald Trump pretending he can be president and social media. There’s real danger around us all the time. The weapons unleashed in Tortures of the Damned exist. They’re on the black market right now. Any lunatic with enough cash can get their hands on them. A 9/11 event will happen in the U.S. again. Let’s all just hope Tortures of the Damned, as crazy as it sounds, isn’t a glimpse into a crystal ball.
Q: What is it about apocalyptic novels that appeals to both readers and writers? And with so many out there, how do you make them fresh?
Hunter: I think there’s a big obsession with them right now because we’re all uneasy. Despite the news telling us things are better, we’re not stupid. I grew up with air raid tests every month, the tail end of the Cold War all too real. What we see today makes me even more uneasy. Maybe we read and watch these stories to prepare ourselves. How would we react? What would we do? I know there are some folks out there that dig them because they hope it will happen. They picture themselves alpha male/female types that can take on the end of the world and spit in its eye. As a nation, I believe we’re at a glass half full period. You’ll know things are turning around when there’s a resurgence of what they called in the 80s tits and zits movies and stories with brighter endings.
As for making a post apocalypse story fresh, I think if you strip out zombies, you’re already ahead of the curve. You need to add a dose of hyper realism and a dash of the fantastic to grab the reader by the throat and scare the bejeeezus out of them.
Q: Do you have a favorite apocalyptic-themed novel? If so, which one and why?
Hunter: I absolutely love The Stand, especially the extended version. But my favorite is Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. Why? Because McCammon’s work in the 80s and 90s is some of the best horror fiction ever written in any time period. He can take an impossible premise and make it seem real. His writing is that good.
Question from Hunter to me: Now, since you live in Jersey, I have one question for you – is your go-bag stocked and ready and do you know where to hide your head when the shit hits the fan?
Matt: Whoa! What the hell is this?! I wasn’t expecting an inquisition! But to answer your question: I’d be screwed if the shit hit the fan right now. I don’t even have a 12-pack of bottled water in my basement. The closest I’ve come to witnessing first-hand the degeneration of society was the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out power to my house for two weeks. I am ill-prepared. But after reading Hunter’s book, and given our country’s inexplicable apparent willingness to help Iran develop a nuclear bomb, I’ll be going to the grocery store tomorrow, and bottled water will be on the top of my list.