Edward P. Cardillo, a member of the Horror Writers Association, writes horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. He is the recipient of three Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards as well as J. Ellington Ashton Writer of the Year 2013 and JEA’s Fire and Ice Award 2015. He has two novels and one short story in the Facebook Zombie Book of the Month Club Hall of Fame. By day, he is a clinical psychologist working in geriatrics as well as with children, teens, and adults with Down Syndrome and on the autism spectrum. By night, he writes for Severed Press and J. Ellington Ashton Press. He is a husband, father, pool player, and classic car enthusiast. Find out all about him and his work at edwardcardillo.com
I always wrote for fun when I was younger, mostly short stories and poetry in the horror and dark fantasy vein. However, once I decided to pursue a career in clinical psychology, my writing took a back seat for a while. Once I became established, the hunger to write returned, so I began to write again. Little did I know that what I was working on was my first novel. When I finished a collection of related dark fantasy/horror short stories, my wife ran it by a friend who used to work in publishing. This friend said I should try and get published, but that there was a better market for novels than short stories. So, I drafted a backstory, a family drama, linking the related short stories. The result was “The Odd Tales of an Old Man,” tales within a tale, much like Tales From the Crypt in style.
I began to search for agents/publishers and continued to write. Right about the time when our military was looking for Osama Bin Laden and suspected that he was hiding in the vast cave systems in Afghanistan, I was struck with an idea. I was watching the news one night, and I was listening to the reporter complain that our military couldn’t achieve maximum penetration of the cave systems due to limitations like dehydration, hunger, and such. So, the way my twisted mind works, I pictured the military herding hordes of zombies into the caves like cattle rustlers. Zombies are already dead, so there are no physical limitations. They never tire. They could just walk the caves and eat whoever they found. They would save American lives by keeping soldiers out of harm’s way, like a type of infantry drone. Hell, they could wander for months, even years and smoke out terrorists dug in like ticks. Hence, “Automaton” was born as a sci-fi/horror zombie novel.
An agent I was consulting at the time suggested that I enter a contest or two. She said that if I had placed in a contest, it would garner the attention of publishers. So, I entered “Automaton” as an unpublished manuscript into the Readers Favorite International Book Contest, a competition including unpublished, indie, and Big-5 authors from eleven different countries in various categories. While I waited for the results, I began writing “Automaton 2: Kafka Rising.” As it ends up, not only did “Automaton” receive the Honorable Mention Award in the Terrorist Thriller category in 2012, it placed with NY Times Best Seller Daniel Silva’s book and was the only unpublished manuscript that finished in that category. I quickly landed a contract with Severed Press for what became “I Am Automaton,” and “The Odd Tales of an Old Man” was picked up by the brand new J. Ellington Ashton Press. The unpublished manuscript “Automaton 2: Kafka Rising” went on to win Honorable Mention in the Readers Favorite competition in the Science Fiction category in 2013 and was published by Severed Press. “I Am Automaton 3: Shadow of the Automaton” won Honorable Mention with Readers Favorite in 2014 as a published book in the Terrorist Thriller category.
And so I was off and running, having established relationships with two excellent publishers, writing more novels, and getting involved in the Facebook Zombie Book of the Month Club, meeting readers and interacting, having a blast in the process. I do not have an agent, but at this time I have no need for one. I recently became a member of the Horror Writers Association, and I just attended NYC Comicon, helping out and autographing books in the HWA booth. This past summer I was invited to join a family-friendly charity zombie anthology called “Bite-Sized Offerings: Tales and Legends of the Zombie Apocalypse,” benefiting a wonderful girl with Down Syndrome, helping with her medical bills. I’ve appeared on Jackie Chin’s Zombiepalooza and JEA’s Wicked Little Things podcasts. In November, I’m going to be a part of Armand Rosamilia’s Winter of Zombie blog tour, and I’m going to be interviewed on his podcast as well. I served as a fiction workshop leader at The Bronx Loaf, a writers’ conference in New York City, helping inner city youth develop their work and identity as writers. “I Am Automaton” and “The Creeping Dead” were Amazon Best Sellers, “The Creeping Dead” selling over 4,000 copies so far.
Life is good.
I self-published “The Odd Tales of an Old Man” initially to garner reviews as a litmus test, to see if I “had the chops.” After receiving some very positive reviews, I decided to go the traditional route. Severed Press was actually my first choice, because they published precisely the books I wanted to write, and they had a good reputation. So, I was over the moon when I landed a contract with them in 2012. The benefit of a reputable traditional publisher is that they have a following, which helps sell your books. Severed Press has a tremendous following, which has been wonderful. After signing with Severed Press, I witnessed the birth of J. Ellington Ashton Press, an up-and-coming publisher with a family-style atmosphere. They’re going to be big as well, and I’m glad I’m along for the ride.
I was a plotter for the “Odd Tales of an Old Man” (now “Legend”) and the “I Am Automaton” Trilogy, was both for my vampire collaboration “Feral Hearts,” was a totalpantser for “The Creeping Dead,” and am both for the space opera I’m currently working on for Severed Press and the dinosaur collaboration with J. Ellington Ashton. A little bit of “pantsing” is good, because I think that it lends an organic feel to the writing. I was a total pantser for “The Creeping Dead” because it was a zombie novel taking place on the Jersey Shore, which has been my summer home-away-from-home since I was four-years-old. It came very naturally to me. No research needed; it was already conducted in my youth. I think that sci-fi needs more structure and planning. I tried to pants my current space opera work-in-progress, but I had to break down and storyboard it due to its complexity, just to keep characters, worlds, and subplots straight.
Zombies are fun to write about because, not only are they terrifying, they reveal truths about human nature through society’s reaction to them. When writing about zombies, there is ample opportunity for social commentary, which (being a psychologist) I enjoy including in all of my novels. In the “I Am Automaton” saga, the zombies represent an end-justifies-the-means approach to the war on terror. In “The Creeping Dead,” in which there is a zombie infestation of a Jersey Shore town during a superstorm, they represent the destructive power of nature. In “Feral Hearts”—a vampire collaboration with Amanda Lyons, Catt Dahman, Michael Fisher, Jim Goforh, and Mark Woods—the vampires represent the decadence of some of society’s baser instincts and the corruption of values. In my short story “Manly Monday,” a father-son tale in “Bite-Sized Offerings: Tales and Legends of the Zombie Apocalypse,” the zombies represent the corruption of the outside world threatening the sanctuary of the home.
It has certainly helped me develop realistic characters. I know people. I know how they present, warts and all. I know their quirks, their strengths, and their vulnerabilities. I’ve also included a Down Syndrome character in “The Creeping Dead” and an autistic necromancer in one of the tall tales in “Legend.” Psychologists appear in “The Creeping Dead” and “Feral Hearts.” However, most importantly, I know what frightens people. Being a psychologist who has treated anxiety and phobias, I know what buttons to push to really freak people out. I’ve had many readers say that my books had them checking in the closets and under their beds. I made a fellow horror author jump out of his skin during a certain part…
…of my family-friendly short story.
“Cardillo managed to create a nightmare that I won’t soon forget; I am not easily frightened but Cardillo left me checking in the closets and under the bed.”
-Anne Boling, Readers Favorite, about “I Am Automaton”
“While the book is a thriller complete with a healthy dose of sibling rivalry on one level, on another it is a sharp, and at times humorous look at modern American society. The satire is pointed and stinging and the emotions this book evoke run from hilarious to horrifying. It is a well written roller coaster ride.”
–Ray Simmons, Readers Favorite, about “I Am Automaton 3: Shadow of the Automaton”
“The book is fast, bloody, funny, and has heart. And that’s quite a lot to say about a book about brain munchers.”
–OutlawPoet, Amazon Vine Reviewer, about “The Creeping Dead”
Zombies are certainly possible. As a psychologist who was a director of the counseling/health center at a college, I’ve had training on pandemic response and infection control. However, due to the nature of physiology and its limitations, I do not believe they will be undead or reanimated corpses. If anything, they would be the result of something like the “Rage Virus” in 28 Days Later, living people who become violent. As the medical community develops vaccines and cures for diseases, nature invents more. It’s the perpetual struggle of man vs. nature, nature being viruses and disease.
I try not to design characters entirely after people I know. I base them more on personality types and subtypes, of which I have an endless mental library of reference given what I do for a living. Pieces of me appear in some characters, like Vinny and Tara in “The Creeping Dead.” I try to render characters with a realistic mixture of good qualities and weaknesses. I’m not a huge fan of “good guys” and “bad guys” as people rarely present that way in real life. Even good guys can be jerks at times, and even total nasties are nice to someone in their lives. Maybe even a few people.
“World War Z” would have to be my favorite zombie book. I love Max Brooks’ wit and humor. I also like the way the apocalypse is broken down into a collection of vignettes presented as news/press pieces from all over the world. It’s involved, yet it has great pacing.
My favorite zombie movie has to be the original Night of the Living Dead. The black and white is eerie, and I love the fact that the zombies look almost human. I’m not a huge fan of the ragged, flesh-torn skeletons that you see appearing more and more in the genre. I believe that the more human any monster looks, the more disturbing it is, like vampires or demonically possessed people. They are human enough that we can identify with them, thus triggering the primal fears of disease, death, loss of control, and being eaten alive. They represent a perversion of the human form. They represent something that we can become.
Always write. Never stop. When you finish one manuscript, begin another while you’re shopping the first one around. Don’t obsess about finding an agent, unless you want to approach big publishing houses. If you want to go small press, you don’t need them. There’s this myth that you can’t query publishers directly. Look out for open submission calls online; this is when a publisher tells you exactly what type of manuscript they want and when they want it. Many accept unagented queries, but make sure that is okay with the publisher first. On their websites they should outline their rules/conditions: types of queries (agented vs. unagented), manuscript format (if asking for a sample), email vs. snail mail submissions, etc. Make sure you follow each publisher’s rules to the letter. Oh, and learn how to write an excellent query letter. Writing query letters and novels involve two completely different skill sets. There are plenty of books and websites out there on how to write query letters. Read them all. Look at examples of both well-written and poorly-written queries. Don’t be afraid, once you believe you have a polished manuscript, to enter it into contests. Winning helps you get noticed, but read the rules and terms carefully. Some contests are scams.
I’m currently working on a space opera for Severed Press, which could potentially become a series, and a witch short story and dinosaur collaboration for J. Ellington Ashton Press. Also, even though I wrote “The Creeping Dead” as a standalone, I’m getting many requests for a sequel, which will happen after book one of the space opera is finished…if Severed Press agrees to it, of course.
(CHECK OUT THE GIVEAWAY HERE!) (CLOSED)
I am donating a Kindle version of “The Creeping Dead: A Zombie Novel” (Severed Press).
Synopsis: It’s the summertime rush in the Jersey Shore resort town of Smuggler’s Bay, as tourists flock to the beach, boardwalk, and rides…but it’s not all fun and games. As a superstorm looms, threatening to destroy the town, something else threatens the Bay…something lurking in the shadows…the creeping dead. As a mysterious infection spreads, the town must pull together if they are to weather the storm and survive a plague of living dead.
Why, a zombie, of course! Although my seven-year-old son, Alexander, wants us to be zombie pirates, so I guess I’m going to be a zombie pirate.
Thank you for having me!