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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Interview with David Gunn

Order “Death’s HeadHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch the “Death’s Head” Video HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of "Death’s Head"

For reasons I can’t explain, I overlooked David Gunn’s debut novel “Death’s Head” when it was released earlier this year. While the book was flawed, I had about as much fun with “Death’s Head” as I’ve had with any novel this year and I wanted to know more especially since there was so little information on the author or how the book came about to begin with. Admittedly I was a little worried that an interview wouldn’t happen since I couldn’t find any other interviews online, but surprisingly, not only was I able to get in touch with Mr. Gunn, he was actually more than willing to cooperate. So I sincerely appreciate David Gunn taking time away from his busy schedule to talk about his enigmatic background, his debut novel and The Aux series, and address a few issues I had with “Death’s Head”. The end result is an interview that I think readers will enjoy for its bluntness, the earnestness of someone who’s obviously a fan of the genre, and for its mysteriousness:

Q: Your debut novel “Death’s Head” was released in May 2007 for both the US and the UK and seems to be getting a pretty positive response. Before we delve any further into the book, I just wanted to get the question about who David Gunn is out of the way, since what little information is out there is a bit on the mysterious side. For instance, according to the Transworld press release, you’ve “undertaken assignments in Central America, the Middle East and Russia (among many other places)”, are “happiest when on the move and tends not to stay in one town or city for very long” and “has an impressive collection of edged weapons and sleeps with a shotgun under his bed”. I understand that you can’t or don’t want to talk about certain aspects of your life, but can you tell us anything about your background?

David: I’m a fairly private person. But what I can say is I come from a family that has been military for generations. I did my weapons training early. I grew up around weapons. I spent my late teens doing combat training and climbing up and down mountain sides with rucksacks full of bricks. I’ve been to some interesting places and done some interesting things. Some legal, some not so legal. Friends of mine have been shot. Friends of mine have died. Beyond that, I’m not interested in saying.

Q: Fair enough. Considering your anonymity, how do you plan on handling your promotion, both online and in person? I know that you have a MySpace page and Transworld has a mini-site, but will you ever have your own David Gunn/The Aux website and what about book tours, et cetera?

David: MySpace generates messages for people wanting to discuss the books. As for the rest, all the interviews I’ve done have been like this. It works for you and it works for me. At the moment I’m in Asia. A few months ago I was in Central America. I’ll probably be in Moscow within the next few months. Email and the internet have revolutionized communication. They’ve also revolutionized other things. I could probably scoop your whole life and tie it with a bow in a couple of days. (As you could someone else’s… As I’m sure you know how this stuff works). But a lot of people don’t have any idea how vulnerable 24/7 search capacity makes them.

One thing is changing. Combat’s going commercial. War’s gone back to being the business it always was. Only these day’s you’re not a mercenary, you’re a contractor and you’re sub-contracted through a holding company and your ultimate employer has complete deniability. (And probably no idea how much shit this lets him deny.) In that sense, Sven’s quite old fashioned. He’s also old fashioned because he’s using projectile weapons. The next generation of weapons we use will turn your guts to water, make you vomit and fry your skin, probably without leaving a mark. But the mental trauma will still be with you for life.

Of course, those weapons exist in Sven’s world already. The U/Free has them. Sven’s emperor, however, is much too mean to splash out on ‘non-lethal hardware’ when the traditional stuff comes so much cheaper.

Q: Focusing back on “Death’s Head”, can you walk us through how the book came about, from its conception, through the writing/editing process, shopping for a publisher, why you settled with Transworld/Del Rey, and finally, to seeing your novel on bookshelves?

David: I was down with a fever and hallucinating in a skuzzy hotel in Central America. There’s a scene in "Death’s Head" where Sven is scraping sh*t off a mattress with a knife and crawling across a floor on his knees to vomit in a lavatory. That was for real. I was out of my head for about five days and somehow Sven came out of the experience. It took me twelve weeks from start to finish writing the book and then I sent it off to an agent who sold it to Transworld/Del Rey.

Q: That’s pretty impressive. After reading your debut, which blends science fiction, military procedure, and cyberpunk, I was reminded some of Neal Asher, Richard K. Morgan, Glen Cook’s Black Company books and a bunch of videogames such as Halo, Gears of War, StarCraft, Doom and Half-Life. Of course, that is mainly speculation on my part so just where did you draw your inspiration for “Death’s Head” and why?

David: Never read the Glen Cook books, but sounds as if I should. Read the first Richard Morgan and, I think the third (it had aged surfer dudes in it). I like Neal Asher, who just goes for it full on and doesn’t let up. Read one of Asher’s while trapped at an airport and the time just flicked by. Mostly, I have to say, the influences were film, computer games and the stuff that was spinning round like shrapnel inside my own head. Plus, the story came fully formed. So much so that I don’t think I was even consciously thinking about it when I was getting it down on a laptop. I’d get up, write, have a drink, write, eat something, write, have a drink, write…

At one point, when I was writing it, a cleaner came into my room at the hotel, took one look at the sheets I’d washed in the bath, the general chaos, and me sitting there hammering keys on an old laptop. And left. Think she just thought it wasn’t worth the effort.

Q: One of the most enjoyable aspects of “Death’s Head” was Sven’s personality/perspective, which is very straightforward & sarcastic, and, in my opinion, sort of pokes fun at how a first-person narrative is told and the military in general. What were your intentions with the way you wrote Sven and how much of him comes from your own experiences?

David: All of the good stuff about Sven is me. The rest is, obviously, someone else… I like first person because it’s very immediate. And it all happens in the present. So you just see it all through Sven’s eyes as it happens. I’m not sure it pokes fun at the military. Like the police, the guys on the ground in the military develop a sardonic way of looking at the world. You have to. It’s the only way of staying sane.

Q: On the flipside, background information was a bit hard to come by in the book, and was one area that I had difficulty with. I believe you’ve signed a three-book deal and “Death’s Head” is just the beginning, which sort of explains the lack of info-dumping, but what are your thoughts on this matter? And since we’re on the subject of sequels, what exactly are your plans for The Aux series, and can you share anything about the upcoming books such as projected release dates, tentative titles, plot ideas, et cetera?

David: Problem is, you know and I know what Sven knows. And what Sven knows at the moment isn’t very much. He’s been in the Legion since he was twelve; he’s only just found himself co-opted into the Death’s Head. Of course what he knows is limited. It’s risky for a writer to do that, but you have to understand that I was channeling Sven and it all seemed to make sense at the time. As the books go on, Sven will discover more and so will the readers. In the second book you find out stuff that’s not in the first. And anyone who knows their military SF or how fantasy works will see that lots of framework is in place for later books. There’s General Jaxx’s relationship with the emperor. Aptitude’s parents are still in prison. There’s the whole Sven/Shil thing. There’s no way that’s the last we’ve seen of the Ferox

Writing it was insane fun. I just wrote the book I wanted to read. I didn’t think, God it needs depth, let’s put in some galactic politics. Sven doesn’t give a shit about that stuff. It’s there, but not obviously. At least not yet. Also, Sven’s totally unaware just how big the galaxy is. And he’s going to get a shock when he finds out just how small a part his emperor has in the whole machine.

Q: Going back to your debut, what was the most challenging thing about writing “Death’s Head”? What about the most rewarding?

David: Staying inside Sven’s head was challenging. It would have been easy to cheat and move outside it a bit or make him get a mental upgrade or given him a fact-dropping intelligent side kick. But these guys are just grunts and Sven is just a grunt who’s a bit better at killing than those around him. So now he’s a grunt with a smarter uniform and the others have a chance of staying alive. If he doesn’t get them killed first.

Q: Personally, I liked the UK cover a lot better than the US one, but what did you think of both of the covers, and what are your thoughts on the topic as a whole?

David: Think the US one wanted to push the military angle. I like them both. The British one is very stark and a simple image. Weirdly, everyone thinks of the totenkopk (the death’s head) as a Nazi emblem but it was used by the Black Brunswickers at the battle of Waterloo, the Imperial Russian army in World War 1, and a British cavalry regiment still uses it! You can actually trace it back a good 250 years.

The US one works for me, and lot’s of people miss the skull in the sand at Sven’s feet, which is a bit tough to see.

Q: Yeah I didn’t see the skull in the US cover. Thanks for pointing that out. So overall, how would you describe “Death’s Head” to someone who hasn’t heard of the book?

David: It’s classic military SF, with a twist. Sven’s brutal, vicious, and honorable to a fault. "Death’s Head" does exactly what it says on the tin.

Q: Moving on, anymore it’s pretty common to see novels adapted into different formats such as movies, comics, videogames, and TV. Has there been any interest with your book so far and if so, can you give us any details?

David: There’s been some film interest (or so I was told). And people have muttered about possible computer games. But I think it’s all early days. Really like the idea of a comic. The book's entirely visual. My only regret is not knowing there was a graphic novel series called Death’s Head before I wrote the book. Personally, when I wrote DH I saw it as a computer game. I was playing Doom back in the days it was still Wolfenstein. Yeah, I know Doom and Wolfenstein are technically different but the heritage was there. I’d love to see Sven in a first person shoot-em-up.

Q: A first-person shooter is definitely what I was envisioning when reading the book. Staying on this subject, what would be your dream adaptation?

David: For the film it’s got to be Vin Diesel for the part of Sven. Only I’d want him from about five years ago. Which means I’d probably need someone else. I’d want to do the script. Just as I’d want to do the comic book or story line the computer game. I don’t have a wish list for the characters because I had no actors in mind when I wrote them.

Q: You just mentioned writing a movie script, comic book or videogame story. Any other medium or genre you’d like to try?

David: Immediately after I delivered "Death’s Head" I was offered the novelization of a major computer game on the back of "Death’s Head" which is a pretty big break for someone who hadn’t even got Sven published yet… I really wanted to do it but I had a whole run of more boring stuff that didn’t relate to the Sven side of my life and had to pass.

What I really want to do is write a film and then make a computer game out of that. Unless it’s the other way round… Start with the computer game… I had Sven kicking his way round the rubble in my head for a while before I went down with a fever and decided to write the book. Don’t think I knew it was Sven, but I did know I had some pretty weird stuff going on in there...


Reanimated said...

Hi Robert!

Very interesting interview. David Gunn sounds very mysterious in that secret operative kind of way.

I started to read Death's Head but couldn't get into it (i'll get back to it soon). So now I'm working on THIRTEEN by Morgan. So far it's pretty darn good.

Sci/fi is very new to me so i'm testing the waters abit. I was kinda hoping to win that last Neal Asher giveaway cuz of your praise of his novels. Now i'm even more interested.

Keep up the awesome work, dude.


Robert said...

Reanimated, glad you liked the interview :) David's definitely an interesting fellow and I enjoyed chatting with him.

I'd definitely give the book another shot, but you can't go wrong with "Thirteen" or any of Richard K. Morgan's novels at that matter. Neal Asher is also recommended as is Peter F. Hamilton. I'm sure there are lots more out there you should be checking out as well, but I'm not much of an expert in science fiction ;)

As always, thanks for the support and much love & respect!

Anonymous said...

I loved Deaths Head in the same way I loved Alterd Carbon and The Skinner. But I agree with Reanimated Gunn does sound like some kind of Spec Ops agent!

(I bet he hasn't got an invisible car though, like in Brosnans last Bond movie - thank God).

Robert said...

Whatever Mr. Gunn's job is, I'm sure it's quite interesting ;) At least he has time to write and I just heard that the second book has been delivered to the publisher!

Alec said...

I just had an interview with David, and I am starting to think the he is simply a Random House author that writes these books to blow off steam. I think I might hunt through their roster for a couple likely suspects...

Anonymous said...

If you liked the Death's Head novels you'll love ALF Warz: The Iron Sergeant.
Same hard charging first person narration, lots of guns and cool vehicles, plenty of action and excitement.
Sure to please any Death's Head fan.
Available from Amazon and Smashwords.
Unlike 90% of indie published books this one has (Thank God) been professionally edited and it shows.
You can read the first couple of chapters for free.

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