I love coming of age stories. I also love stories about characters who have their notion of loyalty tested to the breaking point. So I was very pleased when I found both in a book called Skin Trade, written by today’s guest in my countdown to the release of The Savage Dead, Mrs. Tonia Brown. The book takes place against the backdrop of the Great Undead Uprising of 1870, and features some of the best world building I’ve read since my first encounters with Cherie Priest and Robert Jackson Bennett. I loved the story, and was delighted to provide a cover quote for it. I have since made it a point to read everything of hers I can put my hands on, including her latest, Devouring Milo, which, while it doesn’t contain zombies, is nonetheless some of the coolest horror to come along in recent years.
Tonia Brown describes herself as a southern author with a penchant for Victorian dead things. She writes everything from humor (Badass Zombie Road Trip) to horror (Skin Trade) to steampunk (The Cold Beneath) to erotica (Lucky Stiff: Memoirs of an Undead Lover.) And yes, all of those books contain some form of zombie. Even her long running weird western webserial Railroad! has at least one undead character in it, though in truth Ched prefers if you call him not-dead. He’s not alive, yet he’s not dead either. She has also recently launched yet another webserial, Confessions of a Villainess, which follows the diary of super villain Sylvia Fowler as she laments her various and often failed efforts toward world domination.
If you haven’t read Tonia Brown yet, you’re in for a treat.
Joe McKinney: Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream. I’m glad you could swing by. You’re no stranger to zombie fiction. Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing? How do you approach the genre?
Tonia Brown: Thanks for having me, Joe! While I love traditional zombies, when writing I find myself leaning toward unusual forms of zombies and zombie tales. I like writing sentient zees or weird origins for the undead or strange ways of dealing with them. Such as Peter, the undead lover in Lucky Stiff, or in the Skin Trade, where folks hunt and skin zombies for profit.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
TB: Me? Prepared? Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. You see, there is a word for someone like me when the z-poc hits. That word is lunch. As for humanity, there is a word for you when I turn. That word is also lunch. See how easy that was?
JM: What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever? (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here. I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)
TB: “I’m running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein and I wanna know what the *&$% you are doing with my time!”
The original Day of the Dead. I love this film because it moves past the ‘origins’ phase which I think slows down most films. Then it moves past the ‘survivor’ phase, which can be enjoyable, I think is a bit overdone as well. This one throws you right into the ‘getting on with it’ phase of the z-pocalypse. It asks more questions than it answers, sure, but that is the whole thing about such a scenario—there are no answers, no matter how hard you look. The pilot had the right idea from the beginning. Leave it all behind and enjoy the time you have left.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
TB: The lawnmower scene in Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. (AKA Braindead) Just when you think our intrepid heroes are done for, and that the hordes of undead monsters will eat them all, Lionel comes out with that lawnmower strapped across his back and just starts hacking away at the lot of them. The blood! The horror! The awesomeness! Why did no one else think about a lawnmower? Everyone goes for a chainsaw or other gardening instruments. Trust Jackson to get weird about it. Bless him.
JM: I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us. Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period. Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past. Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life. What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?
TB: They say a great zombie tale isn’t about the undead but is in fact about the survivors. And aren’t the survivors always such unique cast of characters? The focus of these stories always seem to consist of completely different men and women that bring something exclusive to the clan. But what about the rest of us? We can’t all be sharpshooters or doctors or whatever else the story needs. So, what is left?
While the story may focus on unique survivors, the zombies themselves represent the average human. You know us well. We’re your neighbors and coworkers and the parents of your kid’s friends. We work for retail outlets and watch hours of TV and get very little exercise and eat things that are terrible for us. Most likely, we are, in fact, you.
I think that is why zees are so popular these days, because in those hordes we recognize ourselves. There is very little difference between the brain dead consumer and the shuffling, undead masses. Except maybe the smell. But then again…