ISU professor to explore fantasy’s dark side with “Red Moon”

By Katherine Klingseis, katherine.klingseis@iowastatedaily.com

In an airplane 30,000 feet above the ground, a crazed man bursts out of the lavatory and kills everyone on board. This is the opening scene of Ben Percy’s newest novel, “Red Moon.”

Percy, assistant professor of English, said that the novel is a supernatural thriller that tackles two of society’s biggest fears: infectious diseases and terrorism.

“I’ve always felt that the best horror stories somehow tap into cultural unease,” Percy said. “And, I was sitting down, trying to pick my brain for a horror story of this time, and the idea of an infectious disease wiping us out and the idea of us constantly cringing on a subway or in an airport in fear of terrorists, those are two of the nerves that seem to make us flinch most these days.”

“Red Moon” is about an infectious disease that affects 5 percent of the world’s population, Percy said. He explained that the disease in the novel is transmitted by an infectious agent called a prion. It originates in 17th century Scandinavia, and is first contracted by people who eat the flesh of wolves that are infected with chronic wasting disease, Percy said.

“Part of the winter solstice ceremony is to take in, to consume wolf meat — to take in their power and cunning for the long, dark, cold winter ahead,” Percy said. “During the ceremony, the disease is taken in by humans. It mutates.”

Percy said the disease causes increased levels of rage and hunger. To protect the rest of the world’s population, the infected people are monitored and given medication.

“All infected persons are registered and have to take a prescription drug called Lupex that emotionally deadens them,” Percy said. “They are marginalized. They are forbidden from holding political office. They are forbidden from being teachers, police officers, etc.”

Within the small group of infected people, there is a faction that revolts, Percy said. He explained that those who are infected with the disease, like the man on the plane in the opening scene, transform, but not necessarily into wolves.

“It’s more like a Jekyll/Hyde transformation,” Percy said. “There is some physical transformation, but it’s not like Team Jacob or anything.”

Team Jacob is a cultural phenomenon associated with the best-selling “Twilight” book series. In the series, Jacob Black is a werewolf who fights vampire Edward Cullen for the love of human girl Bella Swan.

Percy said the series did not inspire him to write “Red Moon.” In fact, he said that he has never read the series. He explained that he has just always been interested in horror.

“One of my earliest memories is pulling off the library shelf ‘The Universal Book of Monsters,’ and seeing Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman staring back at me, and being completely horrified and fascinated by the sight of him,” Percy said. “So, this has been a long time coming.”

Last summer, Percy began writing “Red Moon.” He wrote the first 65 pages, and sent the pages to his agent to get her opinion.

“She wrote back and said, ‘I actually think this is the best thing you’ve ever written and I want to try to see it now as a partial manuscript,'” Percy said.

With the addition of a 25-page pitch describing the character and narrative arcs, Percy’s partial manuscript was sent to publishers.

“Within a few days, we had offers coming in, and it went to auction,” Percy said. “That was a real surreal turn for me.”

Grand Central Publishing, which is part of the Hachette Book Group, won the bidding war. The Hatchette Book group has published works by many bestselling authors, including Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and David Sedaris.

The film rights to “Red Moon” have also been auctioned off. The Gotham Group, which produced “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” won the bidding war.

“They have attached the screenwriter Barry Levy to [‘Red Moon’],” Percy said. “Barry and I have been in touch for the past few months, just trying to distil the plot of this big book into a screenplay.”

Although the publishing and film rights have already both been sold, Percy has yet to finish writing “Red Moon.” He said that he is close to finishing the second part of the three-part book.

“[I have written] 440 polished pages,” he said. “I expect it to be about 600 to 650.”

Percy said he plans to finish “Red Moon” in the fall or winter of this year. He expects the book to be published in the fall of 2012. He also said that Red Moon will be marketed to a wide audience.

“The target audience is everyone — everyone who can stomach a little bit of terror,” he said.

(Posted originally on Iowastatedaily.com on July 4, 2011)

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