15th September 2018
Interview with Dean Tongue
Good afternoon - thanks for your time! Could you tell us about V is for Violence?
V is for Violence is about a female serial killer with a very serious hatred for men. She sleeps with her victims before slitting their throats (nice girl, huh?) There is no rhyme or reason to the victims that she chooses so predicting where she would strike next is impossible. She leaves a note at every crime scene to taunt the police and signs each one with ‘The Slither Killer’.
Two men's lives will change forever due to their involvement and interest in the Slither Killer - Detective Portway is the sexist woman-hating cop assigned to the case of tracking her down and Dane is a writer and an avid feminist with an obsession for serial killers, especially The Slither Killer.
The main thing I wanted to do with this book was create a very strong, complex female villain. She is one step ahead of everyone ALL the time. She’s sexy, intelligent, devious and very dangerous.
Do you think that strong female characters with depth are well-represented in fiction?
Not massively but I do think things are heading in the right direction. A good example of this is the transformation of the Lara Croft character over the years, she’s gone from a big-breasted bimbo in hot-pants running around shooting things to a smart, confident, kick-ass young woman in cargo pants and a vest top. These fantastic new Tomb Raider games spawned a great movie which highlighted this transformation brilliantly, Alicia Vikander playing Lara Croft to perfection and putting to rest those god-awful Tomb Raider movies of the past with Angelina Jolie.
I’d managed to forget all about those. Thanks!
They were truly awful weren’t they?! I remember being so excited to go and see the first one back in 2001. Me and a friend had a day off from college so we decided to go and see it at the cinema and we were so disappointed after it we actually felt angry!
I remember not wanting to go home having been so disappointed by a movie at the cinema, so we decided to pick another movie to watch before heading home. Luckily, the Ivan Reitman movie Evolution starring David Duchovny and Sean William Scott was playing the same day, and that was entertaining enough to send us home happy!
I think Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series of books was a great character too, again played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence in the movies, although they did knock the wind out of those movies by splitting Mockingjay into two parts, damn you Hollywood, you money grabbing gits!
I also think the box office success of the Wonder Woman movie is proof that people want to see women in a strong leading role, I know I do. I could never understand why Marvel have never given us a standalone Black Widow movie with Scarlett Johansen. It seems such an obvious choice but they never seem to take a chance on it. I also would have loved to see a standalone Catwoman movie with Anne Hathaway reprising her role from Dark Knight Rises, she was the best part about that movie by far.
So, all in all, I do feel that stronger female characters are starting to appear more in fiction and are being written in a more positive way. It’s up to us writers to continue with this habit and give these kick-ass women a bigger stage to play on.
Why do you think that Marvel are so reluctant to have a female-led superhero film? Do you think they’re waiting for the ground to be prepared by smaller, more independent artists?
It really is a total mystery to me. If they needed proof that a female-led superhero film would be a box office success, then they need look no further than DC’s Wonder Woman. So, Black Widow with Scarlett Johansen (who is a huge box office draw anyway) seems like a no-brainer. But I think they’re a few years too late with that movie now. They only seem to like doing the standalone movies when they ‘introduce’ us to a new character.
But the great thing about comic books is that there is a huge amount of history there, so many characters and storylines just begging to be made into a movie. There are still plenty of female characters they could introduce in their own movie – how about Arachne (a.k.a. the second Spider-Woman), or they could even introduce us to Bruce Banner’s cousin Jennifer, the She-Hulk. The list really is endless, Ms. Marvel, Photon, Thor Girl, Silverclaw, Songbird, Tigra, Titania, Ultragirl. There are even great female villains in the comics like Moonstone, Terminatrix and Nebula.
Whether Marvel ever pull the trigger on any of these is a mystery. At least we’ve got good old Jessica Jones with her own show on Netflix!
What do you think is the essence of an engaging crime thriller?
To me I like to be surprised, I like twists and turns. So, I tend to write that way too. There is nothing better than being genuinely shocked and surprised by something you read. I like unpredictability.
I also think a good villain is very important to any thriller: if there isn’t that sense of danger then there is nothing for the good guys to fear. But when that sense of danger is there then that’s what makes you care for the good guy and root for them to overcome dangerous situations.
Do you think villains work better when they have some overarching plan or when they’re motivated purely by impulse?
Great question! I genuinely think that both ways can work great, depending on the story they are involved in. I’ve written villains both of these ways, depending on the book I’m writing.
The great thing about an impulsive villain is that you really don’t know what they are going to do next and that unpredictability is exciting. How can you stop a villain when you don’t know what they are going to do next?
A villain with a precise end goal in sight is probably even more dangerous. If they believe in what they are doing 100% then it would be really hard to stop them. If they have planned things out perfectly then they would have predicted the movements of anyone trying to stop them before it’s even happened. An intelligent villain is a dangerous villain!
One of my favourite villains ever is the version of the Joker played by Heath Ledger. He was a great combination of both of these villains, as although he seemed crazy and unpredictable, he always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone and had so much planned out. Such a shame that he wasn’t alive to receive his well-deserved Oscar.
You’re a prolific writer of dark fiction. What draws you to write in this genre?
It’s just a genre I love, whether it be in movies or books. Some of my favourite movies are by Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher so I’ve always been influenced by those dark tales. Book wise, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk is another great example of this, the movie by David Fincher was even better.
I’m also a huge fan of graphic novels, so I think the way those stories are told and the violence they portray have a big influence over my writing. A friend of mine once said that he could picture some of my books as graphic novels due to their dark nature and comic book tendencies.
Most stories I think of in my head involve violence of some sort. That’s not to say I like violence or anything but it’s just a big part of the stories I write. My stories are dark, some darker than others. But at the same time, I sprinkle a bit of dark comedy into them as well.
What are a few of your favourite graphic novels?
I’ll always have a huge soft spot for The Crow by J. O’Barr as it was the first graphic novel I ever read. I’ve had it for years now and it’s still in immaculate condition, it really is a work of art. If anyone has seen and enjoyed the movie with Brandon Lee (I’ve never watched the sequels) then you really should check this out, if you loved how dark the movie was the graphic novel is even darker!
I love all of the Kick Ass graphic novels by Mark Millar, including the Kick Ass 2 Prelude: Hit-Girl. The balance of violence and humour in these books was so entertaining and I often find myself reading them over and over again with a huge smile on my face!
I really enjoyed A Dame to Kill For by Frank Miller but it’s the only Sin City graphic novel I’ve picked up so far, so that’s something I’m going to dig deeper into when I get a chance.
And the daddy of them all…. WATCHMEN. I just can’t praise Watchmen by Alan Moore enough, I really do think it’s that good. The thought and attention to detail are amazing, there is just SO much going on but it’s handled to perfection. The different ways in which he gives the characters depth is just brilliant and it really is unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
The bleakness of the ending really shocked me the first time (which is surprising given how bleak the rest of it is!) Why do you think people enjoy reading dark fiction?
I think people like the danger. It’s a glimpse into a violent, dangerous lifestyle which you wouldn’t want to be involved in yourself but find it so intriguing to spy on.
I mean, I’m sure people have watched the news and hear about someone doing something unthinkable to another human being and you just fantasise about what justice that person really deserves, rather than a shitty little prison sentence. Well, in dark fiction people can play out these fantasies, reading about people going out there and doing things you could only dream about gets people excited.
Do you think that taking physical punishment as justice into our own hands is part of being a human or do you think it’s to do with how isolated and alienated we’re becoming from other people?
I think it’s human nature to want to act out in revenge sometimes. I’m not condoning violence or anything, I’m just saying that it’s in our nature. If something happens to someone you care about your natural instinct is to protect them.
The world is a scary place and it seems to get worse by the day, I genuinely don’t understand people’s actions sometimes. When you hear of random acid attacks and things like that it makes you not want to leave the house sometimes. Why would people do this? And what would you do if they did it to someone you care about? Well, I know what the characters in some of my books would do…
As I’ve got older I try to ignore the news as much as possible. I don’t watch it on television and I never buy a newspaper. It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on, it’s just that sometimes it’s just too distressing to hear about. Ignorance is bliss sometimes.
I’ve often talked to my partner about making my own newspaper which only contains good news. There could be stories about people’s heroic actions saving other people’s lives, people doing things for charities, hell, even cute pictures of people’s pets! Anything to put a smile on people’s faces and make them feel good about life again.
That sounds like a really nice idea to add some positivity to the world. I hope you find the time to do it one day, though I guess it would take time from your novel writing!
You’ve garnered praise for the characterisation in your books. What do you think the key to writing a believable, strong character is?
Get in the character’s head! Seriously! I take myself to a dark place when I write as I genuinely put myself in their head and try to think how they would think. I just picture the scene in my head and imagine how they would react. So, for a lot of my books I’ve had to try and think like a serial killer!
I like to try and give characters a good reason for the way they behave, what’s happened to them to make them this way? I give all my characters a backstory in my head, even if that story doesn’t make it into the book I know it in my head.
I’ve received the most praise for the ‘Slither Killer’ character in my book ‘V is for Violence’. Many people have commented to me that they were so intrigued by her and found her a fascinating character. This was awesome for me to hear as that character is one of my favourite characters that I have ever written.
Are your characters based - even slightly - on people that you know or are they completely novel creations?
I can genuinely say that they are completely novel creations. I mean, as a writer I have sometimes drawn on my own experiences to help write a certain scene. The themes of bullying in my book ‘Victim of Modern Education’ I found turned out to be quite a realistic, harrowing read and this is because I have been on the receiving end of bullying in the past so I knew exactly how to write parts about bullies.
I did receive an interesting comment from a close friend regarding the character of Will in the ‘Polly the Paedophile Slayer’ series of books. Now if you don’t know Will, he’s an unpredictable, lunatic serial killer and my close friend commented that Will is just an exaggerated version of myself! I had to laugh, I mean I’m no serial killer, honestly! But I do suppose there are bits of humour and dialogue in my books where my own personality makes its presence known.
But other than that, all of my characters are total figments of my ever-growing imagination!
‘V is for Violence’ has been selected for discussion in a Goodreads group this autumn and you yourself are their Author of the Month. To what do you attribute this success?
Well, I have to thank the Goodreads group for that for giving me that opportunity. They mentioned at the start of the year that they were looking for candidates to volunteer for an Author of the Month scheme, so I put my name forward and they selected October for me. So, in October members of that Goodreads group will read ‘V is for Violence’ and then all put their honest reviews on there.
It’s a great opportunity which will give my book some much-needed exposure and of course those precious reviews which are so hard to come by as an indie author! I’m a little nervous about the results but excited that all those people will be reading my book. I hope they like it!
Outside of writing, what are your interests?
I’m a huge fan of video games. Video games are getting better and better these days and the storytelling in some of them is absolutely phenomenal. Games like the Uncharted series, the new Tomb Raider games and The Last of Us have all entertained the hell out of me for many hours. It’s not just about the gameplay, these games have incredible stories and the writers deserve more recognition for this.
I still haven’t finished The Last of Us. Having kids has put a serious dent in my zombie-slaying time. Can you think of any examples of games where the story has been bad? Not boring, but one that actually diminishes the game.
You need to finish The Last of Us! I’ve never known a game to evoke a true emotional feeling out of me like that game, and the ending is just perfect.
To answer your question though, yes, and this may be a controversial answer, but Grand Theft Auto 5. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination. The open world environment and the attention to detail are quite astonishing. But I just couldn’t get into the story in this one like I had with previous entries. With GTA 4 I was invested in the main character Nico from the very first cutscene. This one though, I just wasn’t feeling it.
Why do you think that was? What do you think it was lacking in its storytelling?
For me, it was just a lack of connection to the characters. In GTA 4 I was totally into Nico Bellic, the war veteran who was attempting to escape his past by going to America to meet his cousin, but his cousin is in trouble with loan sharks and mob bosses and Nico inevitably gets dragged into the trouble. But in GTA 5, the main three characters were just three scumbag criminals. I felt no connection and I didn’t care about them. Yes, Nico Bellic is a criminal in GTA 4 too, but I understood how he got there and why he did it.
I seriously went back to GTA 5 time and time again to try and play through the missions (rather than just prat around and get into police chases) but I just lost interest. I think it’s just a personal thing really as most people I know were fine with the story. But those same people have never played the Uncharted games or The Last of Us and I think I was just craving that feeling of actually caring about the characters I’m controlling, like I had in those games.
I’ve genuinely completed every GTA game apart from this one. I wasn’t a fan of switching between the three characters and I didn’t particularly like the three of them either. I just couldn’t get invested in the story whatsoever which is a shame because like I said, the game is a massive achievement in every other aspect. It just goes to show how important a good story is, whether it be in a book, movie or a video game.
I hope they shake things up a little for GTA 6, maybe the main character could be a female criminal for a change. Just a thought.
A “strong” female criminal?
Haha! Yes! I seem to have a thing for these strong female characters don’t I?!
But seriously, yes, I think it could work if it was done right. A young girl forced into a life of petty crime due to a family tragedy, then as she grows up the people she gets involved with become more dangerous and the crimes she has to commit become more risky. As she gets older and more of a badass, she works her way up the criminal ladder and eventually finds herself in a war with a mob boss for control of the city.
Sure, it’s a tried and tested story, but told from that different perspective could make it all the more refreshing and different. Hell, I might just write a book about it instead!
Sounds like you’re into gaming quite a lot.
I collect games consoles as well and have a very extensive collection dating back from the Atari 2600 right up to the PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Some of my personal favourite consoles over the years include the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64.
Another huge interest for me is travelling with my partner. I’m planning to combine my two main interests one day and travel to Japan, as the arcades over there look absolutely insane!
My other interest is reading. Any writer will tell you that reading is a very important part of writing. Just seeing how other writer’s approach similar scenarios can be very educational. I try to read as many books as I can by fellow writers. Recently I’ve read ‘A Young Man’s Game’ by Paul Blake, a fantastic spy thriller which I enjoyed very much. I also read ‘Set the Birds Free’ by fellow indie author R.S. Russo which is one of my favourite books I have read so far this year.
Paul’s thriller’s really great and he’s a nice guy too. I don’t know R.S. Russo at all, I’m afraid. What’s her work like?
Yes, Paul is a top guy and I really enjoyed reading his interview with you. I look forward to his sequel to ‘A Young Man’s Game’.
R.S. Russo’s work is great! Her latest book ‘Set the Birds Free’ is a brilliant read. I ended up staying up late one night to read it all in one go: I just had to see how it ended. It was right up my street, dark, fast-paced, great character development and some genuine surprises. I very much look forward to her next book.
Other than that, just interacting with fellow writers and readers on Twitter and Goodreads has recently become a big interest of mine. The writing community on Twitter especially is amazing, everyone is so helpful and supportive and full of great advice.
What do you think are the big obstacles to being a successful indie writer?
Just getting your book noticed is the biggest obstacle. It’s something I still struggle with to this day, but I realized early on that I’m no marketing expert. I found no pleasure in trying to constantly remind people that I had a book out so I just genuinely stopped doing it. Sure, I’ll always let people know when I’ve got a book coming out but as for advertising, it exhausts me.
I once described marketing on Twitter to a friend as ‘shouting into a roomful of people who’re already shouting.’
That’s a fantastic way of describing it! I just decided to stop shouting and sit down quietly in the corner until someone hopefully notices me!
I just don’t enjoy that aspect of it. I find the writing part easy, I love it. I can write and write and write and never get bored. I love designing my own covers too. The whole creative process to me is an absolute blast!
I’m just happy to keep creating and when someone does read my work and they actually enjoy it, well, that’s just the best feeling in the world and you can’t buy that.
I found that after my fifth book (I’m currently writing my twelfth), I actually uttered those famous words ‘I give up, I’m never going to make it’. Of course, we all may have different views on what ‘making it’ actually is but I’m sure with most writers it’s to be able to write full-time without the need for a day job.
That’s the big dream of course. So, when I said I’d had enough of writing I just settled into my day job and tried to forget about it. Who was I kidding? I was just cutting my nose off to spite my face. I HAVE TO WRITE. It doesn’t matter if I ‘make it’ or not, writing is just something I HAVE to do. The passion and joy I have for creating these books makes me immensely happy and it’s something I’ll never stop doing whether I ‘make it’ or not.
If people want to engage with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
I check my Goodreads and Twitter accounts on a daily basis, so if anyone wants to engage with me, that’s the way to do it! (@dean_tongue)
Goodreads has been great for reviews for me, I’ve received more on there than I have on Amazon and I love to read reviews of my books. I also love to read people’s reviews of other books too.
Twitter has been totally awesome too. Interacting with other writers on a daily basis is great as there are so many people going through exactly the same struggles with their books, so we’re all there to offer each other support and encouragement!
If anyone ever wants to chat to me about anything just tweet me! I’ll always reply!
Thanks very much for your time.