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Jeremy Wagner
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Caught In A Mosh: Jeremy Wagner’s “Rabid Heart”

| November 6, 2018 | 0 Comments

Jeremy Wagner (photo Stephanie Cabral)

Many know Chicago legacy death-metal band Broken Hope’s guitarist Jeremy Wagner for his music. But some of you may not know that Wagner is also an accomplished fiction writer who has just released a new horror novel Rabid Heart (Riverdale Avenue Books). The 258-page post-apocalyptic nightmare tells the tale of a worldwide pandemic that infects people with a Necro-rabies disease, turning them into zombies. Influenced by Stephen King’s The Stand, George Romero’s Day of the Dead and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Rabid Heart takes the reader on a thrilling white-knuckle ride. The book’s protagonist, Rhonda Driscoll, is a strong female character in the vein of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise, and Uma Thurman’s The Bride from Kill Bill: Volume I. As the chief lyricist for Broken Hope, Wagner has penned hundreds of lyrics about death and gore. However, Wagner’s fiction writing travels a more cinematic path and his new book is ultimately a human story with the themes of love and hope at its core. We talked to Jeremy about his literary influences and the new book.

Mosh: How did you come up with the plot for Rabid Heart?
Jeremy Wagner: It all started when I was writing a short story for an anthology called Hungry for Your Love from St. Martin’s Press. The story I started writing was actually Rabid Heart, and I intended it to be just a short story, 5,000 words or less. After a couple of weeks, it was growing and growing to the point of 30,000 words. So I put Rabid Heart on the side, and I went back and wrote a brand new short story, which was a zombie short story about Haitian voodoo. That’s the story that got published (in the anthology), and it’s called Romance Ain’t Dead. When that came out, I had another novel called The Armageddon Chord, and I got a book offer for that right away. Right around 2012 as I was going to start back on Rabid Heart, Broken Hope came off our hiatus. So for six years, I’ve just been doing Broken Hope. I’d been working on Rabid Heart and making revisions over and over. It wasn’t until this past year I really got it into good shape and got an editor to work with me and polish it up. I got a new book deal with Riverdale Avenue Books, and here we are. Rabid Heart came out worldwide on Oct. 4, and it’s been great.

Mosh: Rabid Heart reminds me a lot of  The Stand. Did Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft influence your writing?
JW: Especially with this book. My two favorite horror movies of all time are George Romero’s Day of the Dead, and Tom Savini, he remade George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1990. So those two movies definitely had an influence on Rabid Heart. Even 28 Days Later, the movie, really had an interesting angle. And when you talk about books, H.P. Lovecraft when I was a kid was definitely an early influence, just as Stephen King was. On the subject of Stephen King, Rabid Heart is not even a quarter of the length as The Stand, but The Stand as a setting, a post-apocalyptic world, that had an influence on me for sure. That stuff always appealed to me, and I never had a chance to write that kind of story before. So, all those inspirations I just mentioned in one shape or form played a role, even a catalyst for the setting of Rabid Heart.

Mosh: Has fiction writing and metal always been your two biggest passions?
JW: Absolutely. I always tell people that writing came before music. I started writing fiction at age five. When I got into my teen years is when I got into being a guitarist. I heard Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and I wanted to play electric guitar and make a band and do this. I was so into metal. I look at writing fiction and being a metal guitarist as, every time I think of the two I think of the yin and yang sign, white and black together. One is writing fiction, and the other is writing music. The two go together. And the two take a lot of time to follow those passions. I really love doing both.

Mosh: Did you base the book’s strong female protagonist, Rhonda Driscoll, on someone specific?
JW: Sigourney Weaver definitely comes to mind as one of my all-time favorite super strong leading women characters. I think I had Sigourney Weaver in my subconscious. I have respect for Uma Thurman as well. Another [actress] who is someone I really admired since I was eight or nine was Jamie Lee Curtis, just because of her role in Halloween. Sigourney Weaver’s the bad-ass part of Rhonda Driscoll, the gun-wielding type. The Jamie Lee Curtis side is a side of Rhonda Driscoll as well, someone who is traumatized and in survival mode. She’s definitely a mix of those two screen characters. Then I go into my personal life. I was raised by a single mom who raised me and my younger sister. And my mom was a really strong woman. My mom came from a family of 10 kids, so I had all these aunts who I always admired. Many women in my life at a young age also encouraged me to do what I do now, which is read a lot of books and write. My life has had profound female influences in it in such positive ways. So, I take all of that and inject it into Rhonda Driscoll.

Mosh: How do you think you’ve gotten better as a writer since your first novel, The Armageddon Chord?
JW: My skills and the time I’ve put into writing, I think, has been really rewarding and has served me well as a writer as far as getting better at my craft. As I’ve written new fiction and gone back to revise Rabid Heart, that’s how it became a better book, by editing and revising some things. Between my dialog and trimming the fat, [that] has helped me get razor sharp and [become] a better novelist in that respect. Things I take with me are these quotes from authors I really admire. For example Elmore Leonard, a legendary crime writer. Someone asked him, “How do you write such page-turning novels?” and he said, “I cut out all the boring parts.” So I always have that in front of my mind now. When I’m revising, if a part’s not working, that gets cut right out.

Another thing is Stephen King and others say, “Write what you know.” And I always try to come at it in a character’s point of view, [with] at least some experience from my life that’s woven into the story. It’s like being a guitar player, which I am. When I started playing guitar, I just did it every day non-stop. Practice makes perfect; same with writing. If you write a million words of fiction, at one point you’re going to start getting better.

Mosh: Explain the contrast between writing gory lyrics for Broken Hope compared to writing fiction novels.
JW:  If you look at my lyric writing and my novel writing there’s a common [theme] which is it’s all horror fiction. I always look at my lyrics in Broken Hope that I’ve always done as micro-fiction stories. They’re very super condensed, and they have to work within a framework of the length of music. A Broken Hope song is three minutes long; I offer lyrics that will fit in the three minutes of music. The difference also is, you got 15 little short stories in a Broken Hope album, you got a full-length novel, which is much longer, much more dramatic. You have a story arc; you have a beginning, you have a story arc ending and a lot of complicated characters. With Broken Hope lyrics, I go straight for the jugular; it’s an adrenaline shot at the heart. Because with those little micro-horror stories, I’ve got to get to the point really fast with the story I’m telling. Sometimes it’s super sick, and sometimes it’s tasteless and really offensive. And I’m not doing that to create controversy, that’s not what I’m trying to do. With a novel, I really like to tell the story and get into the minds of the characters. That’s not to say I don’t use those tools when I write a novel. I use gore as a tool, blood as a tool, and horror and terror elements.

Mosh: What are Broken Hope’s plans?
Jeremy Wagner: We did a tour in Europe in August, and we played a bunch of really awesome festivals, and we did dates in between the festivals. We didn’t make a big deal out of it but still incorporated this in the promotion, which is basically celebrating 30 years of Broken Hope. We came home and everyone just scattered into the four winds. All the other band members have other obligations and other things they’re doing. Damian (Leski) has Gorgasm, his other death metal band and they’re on tour in Europe. Diego (Soria), our bass player, is still in Cattle Decapitation and he just went on tour in Japan. Mike (Miczek) our drummer, he’s in a Chicago band called The Atlas Moth, and they’re on tour with Paradise Lost. And Matt (Sziachta) our other guitar player, is a full-time guitar teacher. Right now, there’s nothing going on. We constantly get offered to do stuff. But I think maybe in 2019 we’ll see where we are writing-wise. That will be the priority, to try and write another album. I’ve got some riffs I’ve been hammering out. But it’s going to take everybody coming off everything else they’re doing.

Mosh: What are some of your upcoming writing projects?
JW: My first novel, The Armageddon Chord, my new publisher bought the rights to the artwork, and that’s coming out re-released with a new cover in December. One of my book projects is something I’m doing with chef Curtis Duffy. He’s one of the most famous chefs in the world. He’s probably one of Chicago’s most famous chefs. The restaurant he had called Grace was one of the most revered and amazing restaurants in the country. There’s a documentary that you can watch on Netflix called For Grace, which goes into Curtis Duffy’s building of this famous restaurant. His life story is really compelling. The documentary skims over the surface of his life story. He asked me to write a memoir about his life story. So, this will be my first non-fiction book, my first biography of anybody. Then, I have another full-length novel that’s completed, and it’s one of the most horrifying stories I’ve ever written. It actually takes place in Chicago. I’ve never written a novel that took place in Chicago. I’m super excited about this next book.

Visit Wagner’s Amazon page or Bucket O’ Blood Books & Records to get Rabid Heart and for more information on his other novels.

-Kelley Simms

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