Savages by Greg F. Gifune, released last month by Sinister Grin Press, is one of those books that fires on every cylinder. For me, it satisfies on every level, combining great characterization with a suspenseful, well-paced plot that leaves the reader guessing at each twist and turn. Greg has penned a bloody, thought-provoking piece of survival horror fiction. This isn’t your average lost-on-a-desert-island story, and while I won’t spoil the fun here, I will say it’s one of the most original tales I’ve read in a long time.
I’ve read a few of Greg’s DarkFuse novellas and the man is simply a master of his art. He knows how to deliver a story and punch that story straight into your gut. His prose reads perfectly. His characters appear lifelike. And he brings the blood and gore we’ve come to expect as horror fans, especially in the case of Savages.
Of all the books I’ve read this year (all 57 of them according to Goodreads!), Savages currently ranks near the top. It is THAT good. It was a pleasure to interview Greg, and I hope you enjoy our conversation!
TIM MEYER: Hey, Greg! Thanks for stopping by. Your newest novel from Sinister Grin Press, Savages, is one of the best pieces of horror fiction I’ve read all year. I can’t recommend it enough. Let’s start by telling us what this novel is about and how you came up with the story.
GREG F. GIFUNE: Thanks for having me, and for the kind words regarding SAVAGES, glad you enjoyed it. Basically, the novel centers around a small group of people who wind up shipwrecked on an uncharted island in the Pacific. Initially, the small island appears to be uninhabited and their focus is on simply trying to survive their circumstances and, in ways increasingly disturbing, each other. But soon they realize there is someone, or perhaps something else there with them. And whatever it is, it’s anything but friendly.
TM: Lord of the Flies is one of my favorite literary novels. Savages carries many of the same themes, especially exploring the dark side of human nature when the proverbial shit hits the fan. What about this particular theme interests you?
GG: It’s also one of mine, and yes, there are certainly influences there. Another is James Dickey’s novel Deliverance, which I believe is one of the great American novels, and an astounding piece of work that has had an enormous impact on me and my writing. I think the theme itself interests me because I’m always fascinated with human nature, particularly under pressure. The concept of survival also fascinates me, and has appeared in my work before, although it’s (with a few exceptions) been in a more figurative sense, really. And as I’ve said in my work before, survival is a nasty business. I personally don’t find the concept of things breaking down to be all that interesting. What interests me is the impact it has on people and how it affects them. People, understandably, wrap themselves in a cocoon, and in their reality they are civilized and adhere to certain rules of conduct and thought. Problem is, that cocoon is very thin, and can be punctured easily, simply by removing some of the things we tell ourselves make us somehow superior and more sophisticated than, say, an animal in the wild. It’s a very fragile wall between living in a reality where there are rules and laws and imposed aspects of morality and ethical behavior generally deemed as acceptable in civilized society, and a reality where none of those things apply and it becomes instinctual, about survival at any cost. We tell ourselves that wall is impenetrable in the real world, not just in a physical sense, but in a mental, emotional and even spiritual sense as well. But it isn’t. We tell ourselves we’re far too evolved to behave like all bets are off. But we aren’t. While I intended SAVAGES to be a nod to some of the great drive-in horror movies of the 1970s (like Shock Waves, for example) and to some of the wonderful pulp fiction out at that time, I wanted it to still explore (in a serious way) the complexities of what happens when those rules no longer apply, and a handful of allegedly ‘civilized’ people are left to fend for themselves, with no choice but to fight for survival, not only against each other, but an outside predatory force as well.
TM: Savages has a lot of memorable characters. Which character is most like you, or are they all extensions of you in some way? Which character was hardest to bring to life?
GG: Thanks. I guess every character always has some piece of me in them, though some more than others. There are aspects of Gino, Dallas and Quinn in me, for sure, and I share being something of a wiseass at times with Herm, but most of the characters in SAVAGES are actually compilations of other people I knew or once knew. Herm and Gino were probably the toughest, because they’re the kind of characters that can very easily fall into cliché territory, and it was important to make them, like the rest of the characters, fully realized (if not wholly sympathetic), despite their shortcomings. Dallas is sort of the moral center of the group, so he was a challenge as well, because he needed to be strong in ways the others weren’t without coming off as holier-than-thou. Quinn was a challenge because I wanted her to be smart, badass tough, strong and capable without being unrealistic or cartoonish about it, and she has the greatest arc of all the characters, and that required showing how and why those things emerge in her, or why they exist in the first place, and how she juggles, and has this tremendous internal conflict between the intellectual parts of her being and the base aspects. So all the characters needed to be fleshed out into fully realized and complex human beings, or I don’t think SAVAGES would’ve worked.
TM: You write mostly horror and dark fiction – why this and not romance novels or dinosaur erotica?
GG: Clearly I don’t have the chops for dinosaur erotica, or I’d be doing that. Is that actually a thing now? Christ. As for romance, while I don’t write romance novels, if you take a look at a lot of my work, love is one of the themes I go back to again and again. I do write love stories in many ways. Twisted and dark love stories, but still. In terms of the darker aspects, if you think about it, most serious fiction, whatever label people want to give it, is dark. I don’t consider myself a horror writer, really, although I don’t shy away from that or have a problem with it at all, I just consider myself a writer. I write what I write and whatever category people want to put that in is fine. What appeals to me is the darker side of human nature and existence, but not because I get some thrill from it or find it appealing. I don’t. Anyone who has ever experienced real darkness in this life (and I have) doesn’t romanticize it. Trust me, there’s nothing cool or edgy about real, true evil. The only reason I continually crawl into the dark, is to hopefully find the light on the other side. Sometimes there is no light there. Sometimes there is. Either way, I’m looking to exorcise those demons, to get them the hell out of and away from me, and writing does that for me, at least to an extent. My work has sometimes been described as bleak and hopeless, but I reject that for the most part. Bleak? Yes, at times. Hopeless? No. There is always hope in what I write, I just don’t tie it up in a neat red bow or do Disney endings. I try to keep the work real, because unlike many writers, I don’t want the reader to suspend their disbelief when they read my fiction. I feel like if a reader has to do that, I’ve failed. I want the reader to believe what I’m telling them, I want them to buy what I’m selling completely, and without reservation. I want them to live it, to experience it in their own way, and the best way to do that is to delve into the darker aspects of existence.
TM: Writers that have influenced you the most?
GG: So many. I generally stay away from lists because I always forget people, but I’ll toss out a few. There have been numerous writers that greatly influenced me. All the existentialists, of course, big surprise there, right? Let’s see, who else. James Dickey, as I mentioned. Jim Thompson was another. Steinbeck for sure. Capote. Tennessee Williams. Virginia Woolf. Anna Kavan. John D. MacDonald. James Baldwin. Richard Matheson, Peter Straub. Also, David Lynch has been an enormous influence on my work as well, huge. There are so many more, but that’s a sampling.
TM: Do you prefer writing novels or novellas? If so, why do you prefer one over the other?
GG: I rarely make that determination. A piece is what it is. It’s either naturally a novel or a novella, and that’s how they come to me, usually. I let the piece dictate that. If it needs to be a novel, that’s what it becomes. If it needs to be a novella, it goes that way. I really don’t have a preference, I just want to write what I need to write and whether it’s a novel or novella makes no real difference to me.
TM: Do you outline? Plot as you go?
GG: I outline very loosely and keep notes (mostly for continuity and so I won’t forget certain things I want to include), but I don’t believe in rigid, by-the-numbers outlining because I find it confining and in direct conflict with my creative process. I do a loose outline so I know roughly where the hell I’m going, but I don’t force myself to follow strict outlines because I want the freedom to let the story and/or characters develop naturally. As long as I retain general control, I’m fine. Beyond that, I want to remain open to what the story or characters have to show me, and often, where they want and need to go, because it often isn’t exactly what I was initially expecting, and sometimes, it ends up being vital to the piece. That said, my finished work tends to be very precise. If something is in there (or not in there), it’s because I wanted and meant it to be that way. And it’s there (or not) for a reason.
TM: What’s the most personal work of fiction you’ve written?
GG: You know, that’s a tough one, because in all honesty everything I write is personal. If I don’t feel some level of personal connection to the work I don’t write it, because I really don’t see the point, and I have a hard time staying interested in it. If someone wants to strictly be a storyteller, that’s fine, I have nothing against that, but that’s not me and not what I do. I write to entertain, sure, and (hopefully) to move people and make them think, but I also write for selfish reasons, frankly, primarily to purge, and (again, hopefully) heal myself and explore things and areas I need to delve into for any number of reasons, so if a piece can’t do that for me, or offer some sense of discovery and teach me something, if it doesn’t tie into some larger whole I’m trying to put across with all my work, I generally have little interest in it. That said, I think GARDENS OF NIGHT, THE BLEEDING SEASON and SAYING UNCLE are probably the most personal works I’ve written. But again, everything I write is personal, it’s just a matter of degrees.
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