When I got wind of the new novel by Bryan Alaspa called VICIOUS, I was immediately intrigued. The synopsis reads thusly:
IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A QUIET, RELAXING, WEEKEND GETAWAY…
The cabin is not deserted. It is the summer retreat of Jeremy Liden, an author who has just started to taste the fruits of success and the good life, which includes the summer cottage in Wisconsin. The same weekend Jeremy and his friends decide to get away from it all two dogs seek shelter beneath the summer house porch. Two dogs who have been trained to fight. Trained to Attack. Trained to kill.
What Jeremy and his friends find at the house is sheer, snarling terror, and as things get desperate, they begin to wonder if they will ever get out alive.
Nature made these dogs, but man made them VICIOUS.
As one can see, the book shares some common ground with my own PROGENY, so the idea of being able to view those elements as an outside observer was appealing. In Bryan’s novel, a writer decides to celebrate new found success by having some buds over to his brand new summer cottage in the wilds of Wisconsin for a two week celebration. Wouldn’t you know it, a pair of ferocious fighting dogs has taken up residence under the house, leaving no way out, while, PROGENY, for those not in the know, deals with a band of hunters on the run from a very angry Bigfoot during a violent storm. Desperate, they force their way into the remote home of a reclusive writer, who is enjoying a casual evening by the fire with his young son and a local woman.
I got in touch with Bryan to talk shop a bit and found him to be an amiable and passionate chap with whom, not surprisingly, I shared much in common. Bigfoot was a natural choice for my external threat, but I found it interesting that Bryan would take on the challenge of making dogs his antagonists. It brought to mind several experiences of my own where dogs had been frightening, even terrifying. Living in the rural south, I’ve seen more than my fair share of mean dogs. When I was a boy, there was a pack of dogs -all local pets who had for whatever reason gone wild- running around the mountain community where I lived. I awoke one Saturday morning to the sound of gunfire. I looked out the window to see my father standing about twenty-five feet from this enormous mongrel, pumping bullets into it. Stunning experience. It had attacked our family dog and when Dad tried to scare it off, it turned on him as well. But I didn’t have that context at the moment of awakening. In many ways, that was a little death for my innocence.
I asked Bryan about his choice. “Actually, the dogs in the story are Presa Canario dogs and I got those dogs from a story that happened years ago. Let me go back a bit. I had always wanted to do a “man against nature” story where some kind of monster or beast was keeping a small group of people trapped in a house. I just couldn’t figure out what it would be. I toyed with Bears – even thinking maybe I should set it in the Arctic and make it a polar bear. I even thought about Bigfoot or something.”
(Great minds, etcetera. )
“Then, one day, while working at a local library, I saw a book about this incident in San Francisco. A couple who were lawyers for a white supremacist who ran a dog-fighting ring were taking care of these two Presa Canario dogs. The woman had taken them up to the roof for a walk and when they came back down a neighbor was trying to get into her apartment and the dogs got loose. They tore this woman apart. And when I saw the photos, I knew that this was the animal that would terrorize my main characters. Now, I firmly believe there are no breeds that are inherently bad, so I struggled to show, within the book, that it was man who turned these dogs bad, but if there was a breed to turn bad, the Presa Canario, or Canary Island dogs, would be a very hard one to defeat.”
Bryan’s current facebook profile photo shows him holding a cute little pup, so I figured he must be a dog lover. “My fiance and I have two dogs” he explained, “A cockapoo and a pomeranian. I have had a dog most of my life. I had a dog growing up and had a dog for 15 years – she died in 2011. I have even stood beside the road protesting pet stores that buy from puppy mills. So, I am a very dedicated dog person. I am a big animal rights person. Writing this novel was tough, I have to say, but I really tried to convey that it was not the dogs doing this because of their breed or anything – but because a twisted human turned them into something dangerous. I don’t want to give away anything, but there are also two endings of the novel because of my love of animals and dogs in particular.”
I can attest to that being a challenge-making your main antagonist not only terrifying but also sympathetic. Still, it’s not much of a stretch to comprehend that this animal we call Man’s Best Friend could swiftly turn a corner into absolute paralyzing ferocity. With Bigfoot, I had a certain amount of leeway; as a whole, the public is still divided about the possibility of its existence, much less whether it’s docile or savage. Though I researched what are believed to be the common behavior patterns of the alleged creature pretty thoroughly, I’ll be the first to admit; I had the freedom to pretty much build the beast’s psychology to suit the story.
Almost everyone loves dogs and has longstanding good will toward them. There’s even a lovable German Shepherd in PROGENY. I wondered if it was an emotional experience to write about dogs as killers. “Yes, it was an emotional experience. I mean, I struggled with this book. I first started writing it all the way back in 2007. I started it, then stopped for a time. Then I picked it back up and wrote some more, then put it aside and wrote other things. Then, oh, I can’t really remember, but around 2009-ish, maybe, I picked it up again and said, “Let’s push through with this one and get it done.” And I did. Then I put it aside and had plans, several times, to just release it on my own, publish it myself, but I always hesitated. I told several people I thought Vicious might be a novel that never gets published. Then, I saw this opportunity from SalGad Publishing and thought – OK, let’s see if they like Vicious and, well, here we are. And within the story the characters do struggle, as well. Several times we hear their thoughts and they have discussions over the fact that these dogs have scars on them and have obviously been abused, but, at the same time, they are fighting for their lives. At some point you have to put your sympathy on hold just to stay alive.”
Like VICIOUS, PROGENY’s path to publishing was unpredictable and at times, harrowing. It’s one of many of my works that began life as a screenplay. However, as I fleshed out these characters and found them blossoming, I realized the only way I would be truly satisfied with their journey and their changes was if I gave them the proper attention and “fullness” if you will, of a novel.
Bryan and I both write horror because that’s what gets our blood pumping. His attempts at explaining why this is ring eerily familiar. “I write suspense and horror because suspense and horror has always been what interested me. And I mean, going back to an early age, which maybe means I was a twisted kid, I don’t know. The first novel/movie I remember being truly fascinated with was JAWS. I read it way ahead of the intended demographic for that book. Then, when I was in 6th grade I picked up Stephen King’s CUJO (a book that my current novel is getting a few flattering comparisons to) and loved it. From that point forward, I was a Stephen King nut. A couple of years back I was online chatting with a group of friends and they asked what book I was working on and I was researching a violent crime (I write some True Crime non-fiction as well as my fiction work) in Iowa where an entire family was butchered in the early 1900s by someone wielding an axe. They were butchered in their sleep. Well, my friends were horrified and one asked “Bryan, why can’t you write about flowers, puppies or bunnies or something happy?” I thought about it and said, “Because I have to write about the things that interest me and unless the flowers are poisonous and the bunnies and puppies rabid – they don’t interest me enough to write about.”
I couldn’t say it better myself.