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Interview: A Pair of Characters

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Today, I present you with a little something different: an interview with two crusty, surly Sergeants Major. One you know, from his role in The Gathering Dead series of books. The other makes his debut in the upcoming post-apocalyptic science fiction advenure, Earthfall.

In the left corner: Sergeant Major David Gartrell, still bloody and stinky from taking down untold numbers of stenches with everything from his AA-12 to an acetylene bomb. For those who might be interested, Gartrell is on the blond side, about five foot nine to five foot ten, and hardly an iron pumper…unless the heavy iron happens to be an M2 .50 caliber, in which case, he’s all over it. He’s a lifetime member of the NRA, and he subscribes to Guns & Ammo magazine under three different names, just in case he misses an issue.

In the right corner: Command Sergeant Major Scott Mulligan, also still bloody and stinky from his struggles against a pack of demented, cannibalistic survivalists in the shattered remains of San Jose, California. It should be noted that Mulligan is sporting the additional dimension of “battered.” Where Gartrell exudes a quiet sense of confidence and ability, Mulligan exudes a “I’m going to twist your head off and play some basketball with it” vibe that is made even more compelling due to his six-foot-six-inch height.

Stephen Knight: Hey, guys. Thanks for dropping by my mind.

Gartrell: It wasn’t voluntary.

Mulligan: Yeah, you really get off pulling the God strings, don’t you?

SK: Let’s, uh, let’s not make it too combative, okay?

Mulligan: Is “fuck you” being too combative? I got things to do.

Gartrell: What, another toenail painting session in your calendar?

Mulligan: Look, kid—you made it into print before I did, but I was thought up in 1983. Show your elders some respect.

Gartrell: Dude, we’re both in our early fifties.

Mulligan: Knight, can you make him sixty?

SK: I’ll make that a takeaway. All right, let’s get to it. Gartrell, what’s the worst thing about being in The Gathering Dead universe?

Gartrell: Gee, let’s think about that. [Pauses] Yeah, I’d have to say it’s the whole my-family-turned-into-zombie-things-after-I-wrestle-with-my-innermost-feelings-for-shooting-an-autistic-kid story arc you put me through. Thanks for that, by the way. You’re a sweetheart. If I were real, I’d pin you to a wooden chair by driving a sixteen penny nail through that tiny little bag that passes for your scrotum and light you on fire.

SK: Ah…ah, Mulligan? What’s the worst thing about the post-apocalypse world of Earthfall?

Mulligan: A distinct lack of tiki bars.

SK: Come again?

Mulligan: [Points to Gartrell] Listen, pal, you didn’t like it when he told you the truth, what makes you think my response is going to be happily received?

SK: Come on, Mulligan—

Mulligan: All right. Okay. Let’s see, I think I can work with this. You saddled me with a past that I have nightmares about. I’m trapped in an underground base with around three hundred and seventy five pinheads who are afraid of me, and the only person who really talks to me is a two-star general. Other than the expected lack of witty repartee such a relationship usually engenders—I mean, I’m sure all my off-camera scenes with Benchley consist of me smiling and saying such things like, “Oh, you really loved In-N-Out Burger? That’s great, sir,” and “You preferred the golf course at Fort Bliss as opposed to the one at Fort Knox, and gosh damn, you’re upset that the nukes came between you and your improving handicap?”—it’s a pretty morose existence you gave me. +1 for you being a dick, but -10 for blowing me up.

SK: Hey, you lived! And you didn’t even lose any limbs!

Mulligan: Yeah, but I was fucking unconscious when the girls in the SCEV were giving me sponge baths! What the hell is wrong with you? I mean, you give Mike Andrews a hot wife, and then you make her hate me for killing her parents, and then you force us serve on the same mission together. Thanks for that. You’re as much fun as a limp pecker at an orgy.

SK: All right, point taken. Sorry, guys, but making you suffer is what draws in the audience. Gartrell, would you agree with that?

Gartrell: What? Sorry, I fell asleep–is Mulligan done talking? For someone who’s supposed to be tall, dark, and silent, he sure does bitch and moan a lot, doesn’t he?

Mulligan: What’s the matter, Gartrell? Are you still upset that I was patterned after Charlton Heston, and you were inspired by a landscaper Knight worked for in 1981?

Gartrell: [To SK] Is this true?

SK: Well…physically, yes. You do look a lot like a guy I worked for back when I—

Gartrell: Wow. I guess any chance this interview might be therapeutic just went out the window. Really, Knight, how far under the water are you going to push me?

Mulligan: You want some advice? Put on some swim trunks.

Gartrell: Charlton Heston wore a hair piece. Do you?

Mulligan: You can try and pull my hair, but it’s gonna cost you.

Gartrell: What, you’re going to keep talking? I killed like eleventy-million carnivorous corpses, butt-wipe. You think you can intimidate me?

SK: Guys—

Mulligan: Gartrell, you couldn’t even figure out what to do if you suddenly found yourself trapped under a sleeping Armenian. Of course, I hear that kind of thing happens to you often. My tactical assessment: You need to stay out the Turkish bath houses.

Gartrell: Oh, yeah. Says the guy who took a multimillion dollar rig outside and drove it right into a freaking nuclear explosion. You’re a fucking rocket scientist, Mulligan. And you probably kept on talking as the shock wave rolled over you.

SK: Guys, guys! Time out! Look, let’s try this. Gartrell, are you ready for a sequel to The Rising Horde?

Gartrell: Screw that. Put me in a prequel to The Gathering Dead, where I’m still something like a human being. Give me some righteous snappy dialog with McDaniels, and explain just how the hell he and I got mixed up together again. I mean, I hated the guy. And you teamed us up? To repeat my esteemed colleague’s question, what in the hell is wrong with you?

SK: So, uh…a prequel, huh?

Gartrell: It would make some sense there, Copernicus. Call it something like The Day Before the Dead. Or even better, just make me the headline act: Dave Gartrell: Porn Star.

Muligan: There we go. Let him do the horizontal bop with a bunch of zombies. That’ll sell real well. We can give you a new nickname: “franchise killer.”

Gartrell: Y’know, I’m beginning to think you weren’t modeled after Heston, after all. I’m thinking you’re more like Piers Morgan, only in this instance, that left-wing douche bag lobsterback is eminently more entertaining to listen to.

Mulligan: Now, you listen to me, you sack of—

SK: Mulligan! Interested in appearing in a sequel to Earthfall?

Mulligan: Huh…you have me poised to get it on with a girl who’s half my age, and whose IQ is about four times higher than Gartrell’s. And she’s smoking hot. So unless I took a couple of rounds to my nuts in San Jose, what the hell do you think? Hell yes, I’m ready for a sequel!

Gartrell: Whoa, whoa…wait a second, here. This idiot’s going to get romantically involved…with something other than a blow-up doll? Are you kidding me, Knight? I mean, he practically has to pour alcoholic drinks into his right hand for two hours before he can get lucky solo, and now he’s going to get to have a relationship? Please tell me you modeled his future romantic partner after someone in keeping with his decade…Bea Arthur?

SK: I was thinking more along the lines of Jessica Alba, actually—

Mulligan: [Laughs] Yes! Hear that? Read it and weep, Smelly Gartrelly—the book comes out around February 15th. Though I’m sure reading isn’t high on your list of skills, so in your case, maybe you should wait for the audio book. I’ll try and get Knight to crack open the coffers so he can hire Jessica Alba to say my name all breathy and hot and stuff during the recording sessions. You’ll love it, trust me.

Gartrell: Knight…this ain’t right.

Mulligan: Oh, now he’s a poet. Here’s one you might like, tiny. It’s called “Fleas,” and it goes like this: “Adam had ‘em.” Impressed?

Gartrell: [Points at Mulligan] This guy is gonna get laid in the next book he’s in?

SK: Well…I haven’t decided it yet, I really only have a thumbnail of a plotline—

Mulligan: If I don’t get laid, I’m going to kill you. And everyone else inside of Harmony Base.

SK: But…but you’re not real, Mulligan.

Mulligan: I’ve haunted your dreams since 1983, pal. Think again.

Gartrell: Two can play that game, Knight. All I’ve gotten out of this duty is a quip to give a Ranger O-6 a lap-dance, and that ain’t cuttin’ it.

Mulligan: A lap-dance? Are you sure you’re not a Marine?

Gartrell: I don’t get laid in the next book, we’re done, pal. I’ll give you a case of writer’s block you wouldn’t believe. You won’t be able to write a fucking email by the time I’m done. [To Mulligan] And just to set the record straight, “Chuck Heston,” the books I’m in have sold over fifty thousand editions, print and ebook. Beat that.

Mulligan: Fight’s on, sweet cheeks.

Gartrell: Bring it, but it looks like I’ll have the tactical advantage: three novels and one novella. You’re just cutting your teeth on the first book, and there aren’t even any zombies in it. Well, except for yourself—I hear your emotional range is somewhere between “dead” and “comatose.”

Mulligan: I have a twenty-three year old who wants to jump me—all you have is an Atchisson AA-12. And as impressive a weapon as that is, I get to go out on missions with this girl…in a high-tech rig that has beds in the back. Beat that.

Gartrell: I fucking hate you.

Mulligan: Back atcha, champ.

SK: Oh, look at the time! Thanks for stopping by, guys. This’ll teach me to drink Suntory outside of Japan…

Gartrell: Oh, we’re done? Good. My pleasure to drop by. Kill yourself.

Mulligan: For the first time since this interview started, he actually said something I agree with. I’d only like to add the word, “soon.”

SK: You know, maybe I’ll do a Gathering Dead/Earthfall crossover. I’ll make you guys lovers. You can spend chapter after chapter taking steamy showers together. What do you say?

[Gartrell and Mulligan exchange disgusted looks.]

Gartrell: I get to be the top.

  1. MarcW
    February 11, 2013 at 3:15 am

    If Mr. Gatrell is in the position to grant any interviews, might that suggest there are further tales to tell? Hint, hint…🙂

  2. MarcW
    February 11, 2013 at 3:38 am

    Ok SK, have to admit my first post was knee jerk…before reading your interview with your characters. Now just read it… you are truly disturbed man! How do you live with these voices living in your head? I mean how do you manage to get any book out with guys like this bitching at you like this all the time? 🙂 Looking forward to your next book man. If not just for the entertainment value, just so you could appease these guys. not sure if you could get the books out quickly enough to make them happy. But it sounds like you should get them laid somewhere in the next story. Otherwise, you’d have hell to pay! Sorry if I doubted you. Didn’t know you had so much to deal with. Good luck on making your characters happy!

  3. February 13, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Very amusing interview. Two crusty senior NCO’s from different branches of the service going at it can’t miss. Both of these characters are well written in their different worlds and bring a realism to their respective stories that works very well. I have known men like these in the service and your portrayals are spot on. I look forward to the new novel and am excited about the prequel of The Gathering Dead that you and your character mention. Keep up the great writing Stephen!

  4. will allen
    February 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Sk, that was epic. And hilarious. Is this an example of the voices you hear in your head when you are writing?

    On a serious note, please do me a favor and skip the prequel. The thought of reading about Gartrell with his family before the end is just too painful to think about. Write something set after the Fall and for goodness sake, get Gartrell laid. I am also jonesing to see how Earthfall shakes out. Thanks for the peak.

  5. David W Southall
    March 20, 2013 at 3:35 am

    How about this pair doing film reviews in thier own unique lack of style? It would be great to read their views/disagreements on what they say they would have done in the lead character’s place in “Aliens” or “Battle ; Los Angeles”.

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