S.T. Campitelli is a first-time author; The Fall is his first book.
He is an educationalist by profession, a linguist, and has continuing addictions to both reading and movies with a clear bent towards the post-apocalyptic, historical fiction and non-fiction, and Scandinavian crime.
He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his family, and he is neither waiting nor prepared for the impending Apocalypse.
Sci-Fi & Scary: First off, thank you for agreeing to an interview. I’m happy that Terry Tyler introduced us!
S.T. Campitelli: Me too!
Conversion is your debut novel and the first in a planned series. If you had to distill the essence of your novel down to something you could say in one breath, how would you describe it?
S.T. Campitelli: Threat, mission, relationships. It’s about people trying to survive in a harsh world but not losing sight of their humanity… or trying to keep a hold of it. (That’s one breath!)
How many books are you planning for The Fall? And how much of the second one do you have already written?
S.T. Campitelli: I’m looking at doing three books. Conversion is the first with the theme of change; the world has undergone conversion, not only by The Fall event itself but by virtue of being set in 2052. Reversion is the second and it looks at how it has all gone further backward after book 1 – I won’t give away how, people will need to read it, but there are both physical and psychological elements of reversion. Redemption is the proposed third book which looks to have themes of how people redeem themselves or situations. I have just recently finished writing book 2, very exciting, and it is currently with beta readers and goes to an editor after that. Looking to publish it by end of 2019.
I really like your website: https://thefall-book.weebly.com/ . You’ve really made it a rich experience for people thinking about checking out your book. The Pre-Fall timeline was especially neat. Was this something you had planned from the get-go to do? How much time did it take? Also, thank you for your glossary of terms. I’m the type of person that googles way too much when she reads, so that was extra helpful.
S.T. Campitelli: I’m really glad you like it, thank you for saying so. I’ve put a lot of work into it and yes, I wanted it very much to be that rich experience you mention and did plan that from the very start. One of the things I love when I’m reading a great book is when the author supplies extras – timelines, glossaries, history, backstory etc. It opens up the world they have created even further and makes it more real. It lets me immerse myself in the experience, not just the storyline which, for me anyway, adds volumes to the story itself – it takes it from a 2D story to a 3D experience.
Harry Harrison’s brilliant Eden series had a huge impact on me as a younger reader and is the perfect example of this. Set in an alternate Earth world where evolution occurred differently to what we know, it presents sentient lizards as the dominant species over primitive humans, and the last section of the books is given over to extensive glossaries, linguistic analysis, history, a brilliant visual dictionary of the various genetically altered dinosaur-type animals. I was so absolutely impressed by this, just blown away at the realism. Tolkien did the same with his Middle Earth world, George Martin too. It creates a ‘real’ world in which you can not only read about but feel you’re actually in – it makes it more tangible and as a result, you find yourself caring more for it. This also tends to be a feature of longer books, or series, this larger, more immersive, world creation. I wanted to have that for my Fall series and so have put a bit of time into the website providing those extras.
Are there any post-apocalyptic tropes that you deliberately tried to avoid in Conversion?
S.T. Campitelli: Yes. From the outset, I planned to have virus-infected beings but I wanted to avoid the zombie/vampire tropes. I do enjoy both but didn’t want to write about them in this series. I wanted ‘my’ infected beings to be fast, very dangerous and a little different. Which leads me to the second trope I wanted to avoid. For the most part, the infected beings in almost all of the post-apoc stories I’ve read or movies I’ve watched portray the story from one side – the non-infected human side. And they also tend to portray the infected merely as cardboard cutout clichés, pretty much there to do two things – attack people or be killed. I wanted to go beyond that. So, I wanted to have at least part of The Fall told from the infected perspective – well, not told as such as they don’t speak, but perceived. In doing so, I wanted to take their role in the story beyond that of just being target practice or providers of scary moments.
Apart from that, I pretty much employ a fair few of the classic post-apoc tropes. One of those is that the infected only come out at night. I had a long hard think about this, as that is a bit of a cliché trope itself, but I made a very deliberate decision about it as I wanted The Fall to be a very clearly dichotomous world represented literally and metaphorically by the day-night divide, yet with shades of grey as represented by the people who are in it. I hope that makes sense.
Who would you cast as the three most prominent characters in your book if it were optioned for film?
S.T. Campitelli: Oh god. First, I’d just be overjoyed if it were made into a film… or series! I have been told the writing is very ‘visual’, that’s it’s easy to see the world of The Fall as you read. That was intentional on my behalf, I set out to write it that way – dialogue-heavy with descriptive world-building. I also tried very hard to write how, I think, people actually talk. So, to that end, I hope one day it would end up in film. Gee, absolutely honestly regarding your question, I don’t know – boring answer, sorry. But I do think it would need to be set in Australia and the lead, John Bradley, would need to be Australian. Ummm… Eric Bana? I reckon Eric is a brilliant actor with great range, able to play characters with great shading and nuance. I tried to write John Bradley that way – an academic who doesn’t think like most people in this world. He questions things others don’t, asks questions others won’t, perhaps makes choices most wouldn’t. I think Eric would be perfect. He’s also from my hometown of Melbourne where the book is set. And he is mad about the same AFL team as I am. Yeh, he’d do… Eric, are you reading this?
Writing a novel is a huge deal! There’s so much research, planning, editing, etc that goes into it besides the actual writing. What was the toughest part of it all for you?
A challenge is making sure the thing hangs together at the higher level – across the story, so to speak. It needs to hold together as a big picture story arc with a view to what has already happened and what might happen in the future of the story. In a longer series, there are always wider ramifications to the decisions you make, the people you kill off, the intrigues you (hopefully) set up. But then you have to be across the small things as well, the micro. You know, on this page she has her helmet off and is holding it, yet on the next page, it’s on her head; on page 78 you wrote he lost his pistol yet on page 90 he’s shooting it – that type of thing. You need to be very aware of both the big and the small.
The other thing for me was that the world had to make sense, it had to be believable and real. So, I had to keep coming back to questions of, ‘yes, but how would that happen?’ ‘Is that realistic?’ ‘How does that work?’ Just because it’s set in the future and is (nominally) sci-fi, it doesn’t mean just anything can happen – I had to avoid what I call the ‘flying car’ syndrome, i.e. it’s set in the future, we can’t do that thing now, well let’s just say we can. For me, it still has to be grounded in some sort of reality. So, I did a LOT of research (at last count, my bibliography is well over 200 items) as I very much wanted it to be believable, doable and based in real technology, biology, geography, and psychology. It’s not to say that I genuinely believe a virus could turn people into the ‘jacks’ of the Fall, but I hope I have painted a scenario in which it is at least believable.
Your bio says you’re into “post-apocalyptic, historical fiction and non-fiction, and Scandinavian crime”. The “Scandinavian Crime” is very specific – what is it about crime novels from that area that you enjoy that sets them apart from other crime novels?
S.T. Campitelli: They are very gritty and populated by very real characters. There’s that realism theme again. I also find that part of the world exotic. Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series was a very big influence on me in terms of writing style and his portrayal of strong female characters – I’ve tried to do that in my books. One of my character’s names in The Fall is a nod to him. Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg, Mons Kallentoft, Hakan Nesser, Jo Nesbo and Peter Hoeg are all great examples of what I believe is called ‘Nordic noir’. They’re often characterized by flawed, very nuanced characters, they’re quite dark. I tried for that with some of my characterization and explore it a bit further in book 2 and will stretch it in book 3. The central ‘bad’ character in this respect is the Headhunter. I didn’t want him to be a cliché bad guy, I hope he doesn’t come across as such, but I tried to present a bit of that noir nuance and shade to him that I think comes out more in book 2.
What are the 5 best movies you’ve seen in the last 2 years? (Doesn’t matter if they’re old or new.)
S.T. Campitelli: Oh, OK, nice a movie question! Here we go. So, I’m gonna stretch this one coz you gave me the option of old, thank you, and just give you five of my favourite movies and yes, I have watched them all in the last 5 years, coz I have this thing about re-watching movies I like. No surprise that post-apoc features first. Mad Max 2, The Road Warrior is simply my favourite ever movie, full stop. It ticks every box for me and is as about as close to a perfect movie as I can think of. Mel Gibson is utterly perfect in this role (and he had a legit Aussie accent back then) and the twin antagonists of The Lord Humungous and Wez, are sheer character brilliance. Everything about MM2 works for me: the look, the setting, the costumes, the wasteland, the vehicles, the dialogue, the music score, the story, the simplicity of it yet the layering to it – it all just stands up so well and I don’t have a single bad thing to say about it. I have had an ongoing love affair with MM2 since 1981.
Planet of the Apes original is my second. I love this movie and cannot believe it when I hear of it being disparaged or people calling the ape masks awful – it’s a brilliant movie that absolutely still stacks up – absolutely crushes its Tim Burton remake. When the astronauts first land on the place, it’s so threatening and alien. It made a huge impression on me as did the Omega Man, another great Charlton Heston PA movie. And the ending! Wow! Damn you all to hell! Whatever else you say about Charlton Heston and what he became in his later years, he made some inspired movie choices.
The Thing (John Carpenter’s 1982 version, goes without saying) is my third. Again, casting; Kurt Russell is perfect in this role. Some people are made for roles (more on that coming) and he just nails this (as he did Snake Plissken in Escape from NY, another great Carpenter movie). The special effects in The Thing are extraordinary. 1982, pre-CGI, and they have to literally make everything. Again, I can’t believe it when I read of people calling the effects in this cheesy. They are brilliant – the alien is never the same thing twice in this and can be anything – what a great basis for a storyline.
Aliens is my next one. Casting strength again – Sigourney Weaver played perhaps the first true really strong action/SF female lead and in the process set the tone and standard that women can do this every bit as good as men and she frickin’ hammers this role out of the park. I’m sure Linda Hamilton based her Sarah Connor T2 portrayal on Ripley. Again, there’s nothing bad about this movie. Like T2 over T1, it probably goes beyond the movie that spawned it, though many might disagree. The xenomorphs? Brilliant.
So, for my last movie I’ll change genre tack completely and go with The Godfather. I’m gonna cheat a little and get in a two-in-one here and say Coppola’s re-chronologised synthesis of GF 1 and 2 is a work of pure genius. Again, casting; wow, who else but Al Pacino could have played Michael Corleone as well? Robert De Niro, brilliant. Marlon Brando – ditto. And if you’d said that James Caan could play an Italian convincingly, most would have laughed. Yet, he nailed it.
I’ll wrap it up with nods to Rollerball (original), T2, Apocalypse Now, Predator, Zombieland, The Exorcist, Shaun of The Dead, The (original) Poseidon Adventure and … I’ll stop here. You should have said a top ten…twenty…
Okay, given that this interview is happening in part because Sci-Fi & Scary is concentrating on Australia for September, I’ve got to know – What is your favorite legend/myth from your country?
S.T. Campitelli: I’m going to answer this in an indirect way. We have lots of Aboriginal Dreamtime myths and legends which have a very specific and important place in indigenous Australian culture. I don’t particularly have a favourite but they are wonderful stories that have only really relatively recently been given the attention they deserve in this country. I have tried to bring in indigenous Australian culture into The Fall but not being indigenous myself I am quite conscious of cultural appropriation. So, I’m mindful about what I write and how I use it and try to keep respect at the forefront of what I’m doing.
The central featured walled community in The Fall Book 1 is called Kulin Wallcom which is an acknowledgment of the Kulin Nation, a nation of Aboriginal Indigenous Australian tribes living in the area we call Victoria. A central character in the books is an indigenous Wurundjeri man – Jimmy Peace – a brilliant, strong character. We still have quite a way to go in this country about redressing wrongs done to our First Nations peoples and I guess this is my small way of doing so.
Any authors/specific books from your country that you would point readers at?
S.T. Campitelli: An Aussie Indie author I want to give a shout out about is JJ Shurte and his book Days Too Dark. He has a nice gritty way of writing, he’s very good. In terms of published authors, Liane Moriarty is quite brilliant. She wrote The Husband’s Secret, which is simply compelling, and Little Big Lies which was made into a mini-series, which I’m yet to see, but was put into a US setting. I found that understandable but was disappointed as I would have loved to have seen the series set in Australia.
Liane writes as a quintessentially Australian author – she has a very Australian ‘voice’ and turn of phrase, and we are similar ages so her perspectives and lines are very reflective of the era she (we) grew up in. I can really connect with how she writes, her dialogue and phrasing – it’s soooo Aussie! That’s why I was a bit disappointed about the setting choice with the LBL series. Again, I get it, but if The Fall ever gets brought to film, I hope it is made as an Australian story.
Is there anything you’d wished we asked but we didn’t? Now is your chance to ‘ask’ and answer it.
S.T. Campitelli: I’ve indulged a bit in giving extended responses so people may well be sick of me by now. But I will say one thing – readers can best help Indie authors by talking about our work, or giving authors a forum as you are doing right now. The best thing they can do is to review our work, blog about it, post it online, talk about it, give interviews. Thanks Lilyn!
Melbourne, 2052, two years since The Fall.
A wave of infection, the Jackson Virus, has swept the world, leaving in its wake a terrifying apocalyptic wasteland populated by wild cleanskin survivor groups and the ravenous, infected night predators – the jacks. In this nightmare landscape, one of the last remaining sanctuaries is Kulin Wallcom, a community enclosed by a 10-metre wall patrolled by what’s left of the military. The wallcoms are the last remaining bastions of defence and security in a world gone over the edge.
But the people of Kulin can’t stay behind their wall forever.
Recovery expert, John Bradley, is part of a major operation into the wasteland looking to not only ensure the survival of Kulin by bringing back critical supplies from the abandoned Southstone Supermall, but, more crucially, to also locate and extract the only person left who may be able to reverse the tide of infection.
However, the mission faces danger at every turn. It seems to be compromised from the inside, Southstone is thought to be an impossible target overrun with infected, and wasteland survivor bands, led by the psychopathic wasteland leader, the Headhunter, are bent on making sure the operation has to fight each step of the way to get back to the wallcom before nightfall.
Because that’s when the jacks come out.
And they will find you.
Welcome to the world of The Fall.
Lilyn G is the founder of Sci-Fi & Scary, and leader of the Coolthulhu Crew. She does book and film reviews for both genres the site focuses on. Her tastes run towards creature features, hard science fiction, and lots and lots of action. She also has a soft spot for middle-grade fiction that rears its head frequently.
She is also a co-founder of Ladies of Horror Fiction, though she has stepped down to regular crew level.
Feel free to chat her up on Twitter as long as you aren’t hitting her up to review your book.