A Reader’s Guide to Dead World

A Reader’s Guide to Dead World
By Joe McKinney

Featuring everything you ever wanted to know about Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesh Eaters, Mutated and the other stories making up the Dead World Series.

I didn’t set out to become a writer.

Growing up, I used to write the occasional spooky tale, drafting it out longhand with a cheap ball point pen on a yellow legal pad. Once the story was finished, I’d tear out the pages, staple them together, and leave them on the corner of my desk for a week or so before throwing them away. I never placed any significance to what I was doing. I never had any intention of doing anything with my stories. Writing wasn’t something I saw myself doing one day. It was just something I did.

And then, in the winter of 2003, I became a father. I remember leaning my head against the glass, looking in on the nursery, watching my baby sleep. Proud as I was, I felt this overpowering need to preserve the essence of the man looking in on that nursery, because I knew that one day, the little girl sleeping in there would want to know something about her father that growing up with him and living under his rule would never teach her.

Sometimes a thought like that is merely an impulse, a momentary thing that slips away like a dream upon waking.

That wasn’t the case with me. Over the next few months the thought continued to gain traction, until I couldn’t keep it in any longer. I took up my pen and my legal pad and got to writing. Eventually, I did about eighty pages of an SF novel called THE EDGE OF THE MAP. It was high space opera in the classic 1950s vein. And it was pure crap. Every time I started writing I wondered what in the hell I was doing. I wondered why I bothered. Not a word of it felt genuine.

And even worse than that, I wasn’t doing a thing to answer the original impulse that made me want to start writing in the first place.

Briefly, I considered taking up painting.

But then I realized that if I was going to do this thing right, I needed to be true to what I loved. Love, after all, was what this was all about.

I grew up on a steady diet of monster movies and horror fiction. My first literary infatuation was with horror, and it occurred to me that if I had any chance of doing this thing the way it ought to be done, I needed to write what I loved. DEAD CITY, my first published novel, sprang from that decision.

I was lucky DEAD CITY landed when it did. It put me on the crest of the zombie revival that began around 2005 with Brian Keene’s THE RISING, and because DEAD CITY came out through a large publishing house, I was able to get some good exposure. The book sold well, which in turn led to a career in writing.

DEAD CITY has since grown into the Dead World series, which to date includes four novels and half a dozen stories. The novels are easy to come by, the stories less so. At least for the time being. But even if you haven’t read the stories, or in case you missed one of the novels, there’s no need to worry. I wrote each and every entry in the series in such a way that a reader can come to any novel, any story, in any order, and still feel like they’re caught up with the overall storyline. This makes it easy on the reader coming to the Dead World for the first time, but has also caused more than a few readers to ask what I think the overall series’ preferred chronology is. So, just because I like doing things like this, I’ve put together a little reader’s guide to walk you, the reader, through the Dead World I’ve created. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, while at the same time providing useful information. If you have specific questions, please feel free to add them to the comments section below. I’ll answer those questions in full, without regard to spoilers.

Enjoy your tour.

DEAD CITY

DEAD CITY (Pinnacle; November, 2006). Reprinted with a new cover and the first five chapters of APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD (Pinnacle; November, 2010).

Why zombies?

To answer that, I have to turn back to the summer of 1983. I was fourteen. That summer gave me two landmarks in my education. The first was George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a movie that scared the ever-loving crap out of me. I watched it one night on cable and slept cradling a baseball bat for the next month. I dreamt of the living dead circling my house in the night, rattling the walls with their endless moans, forcing their way inside. No movie had ever done that to me before. Very few have done it since.

And then, just when I thought I had learned what real scary was, Hurricane Alicia made landfall. I grew up in Clear Lake City, a little suburb south of Houston. We were just across the lake from the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel and the numerous shrimp camps down in Kemah, and we were square in the bull’s eye of the storm.

I spent all night in a closet, listening to the storm trying its hardest to rip my house from its foundation and send it sailing off like a kite. The next morning, I went to the front door and looked out over a sea of caramel-colored water. Every roof was missing shingles. Trees were toppled. Cars and trucks were submerged to their roofs. I saw a water moccasin glide through the swing set in my neighbor’s back yard. And at the entrance to my subdivision was a shrimp boat that had been carried seven miles inland by the storm surge. The destruction was staggering, and for a boy of fourteen, it felt a bit like the world had been turned upside down.

Of course, my fear didn’t last long. Later that day my best friend came by in a canoe and we paddled all around the neighborhood, acting like river explorers heading up the Amazon in search of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was a blast.

But even as the fear of those two landmark events subsided, my fascination with them was growing. And so when I sat down to write a story about how terrifyingly complex the world had become for me as a brand new father, I found myself turning back to the two most frightening encounters of my youth.

The Rise of the Zombies

A basic principle of disaster mitigation theory is to plan for the disasters you’re most likely to face. It does little good for a police department in North Dakota, for example, to plan for a hurricane. But here in San Antonio, we are only 170 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. That makes us far enough away from coast to avoid all but a few gusty rain storms, yet close enough to act as the evacuation point for every coastal city from Brownsville over to New Orleans. So when the San Antonio Police Department trains for hurricanes, they train for the near total evacuation and relocation of multiple coastal cities, including some, such as Houston, that are nearly three times San Antonio’s size.

The mission is enormous, requiring all the logistical planning of a military invasion – only in reverse – and the analogy was not lost upon me when I started thinking of a cause for my zombie outbreak.

Before the action in DEAD CITY begins, Houston has been hit by four major hurricanes. The first of these storms was a Category 3 storm named Gabrielle that fizzled to a tropical storm just before making landfall. Most of the population in the Houston-Galveston area, which all together totals about 5 million people, did as they were asked and evacuated in anticipation of a huge storm. But when Gabrielle turned into a lot of nothing, most of those who evacuated felt cheated and stupid for wasting their time. And then, a week and a half later, a second mandatory evacuation order was issued, this one in preparation for Hurricane Hector. With Gabrielle still fresh in everyone’s mind, the vast majority of the Houston-Galveston area refused to evacuate.

Hector knocked Houston back on its heels. The storm did enormous damage, managing to flood most of the sea level communities between Galveston and South Houston, where the vast majority of the nation’s oil and gas and chemical plants are located. Millions of people were trapped as the flood waters carried spilled oil and chemicals into the flooded suburbs. All electrical power was knocked out. Fresh water was unavailable. The city’s sewage lines back-spilled into the flood waters. That sewage mingled with the oil and the chemicals from the refineries and the drowned bodies that were rotting in the scorching Texas summer.

The federal government has a long tradition (one going back at least as far as the Johnson Administration) of getting caught with its pants down when it comes to disasters in the Gulf of Mexico, and then following up that negligent lack of preparedness with painfully slow and inadequate follow up. It’s just the way things go, and in the Dead World, Hurricane Hector was no exception. For a critical span of eight days, local authorities received only token aid from Washington. And when the federal government finally did decide to act in a meaningful way, it was too late, for Hurricane Kyle was waiting just offshore, and it was bigger and badder than Hector ever thought of being.

Kyle tips the scales. The storm surge is immense, and it floods the entire city. So severe is the flooding that most experts believe Kyle permanently alters the shape of the coastline. What was once the nation’s third largest population center is now at the bottom of a very shallow sea.

In the midst of all the destruction and suffering, the military begins evacuating refugees by the hundreds of thousands to San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force Base. But what nobody realizes at this early point is that some of these refugees are infected with the necrosis filovirus, a hemorrhagic fever akin to Ebola, Marburg and the Crimean-Congo viruses. The necrosis filovirus is a level 4 biosafety hazard, but unlike its more well-documented cousins, the necrosis filovirus is incredibly fast-acting. Whereas a person who contracts Ebola or Marburg is likely to exhibit a headache, backache and other flu-like symptoms within five to ten days, a person infected with the necrosis filovirus will begin to show symptoms within a few hours. Complete depersonalization and aggression and a near invulnerability to pain manifest themselves very rapidly, turning the infected person into what is essentially a zombie. The illusion is all the more complete when you see the clouded pupils and encounter the smell of rotting flesh. The only difference between the zombies in the Dead World and the zombies developed in the Romero mythos is that the Dead World zombies are living people.

It doesn’t take long for the infected to be taken to San Antonio’s numerous hospitals, where the infection spreads rapidly. As DEAD CITY opens, the infected are already overloading the hospitals and spreading out among the general population. The Outbreak, as the first wave of the zombie apocalypse is called in the Dead World universe, is underway.

Eddie Hudson

The narrator of DEAD CITY is Eddie Hudson, a young patrolman, husband and father stationed on the west side of San Antonio. Eddie’s nothing special. He’s not a very good shot. He has no special knowledge or skills. And he’s certainly not the brightest bulb in the box. I’ve read several reader responses on Amazon and other book forums that see this as some kind of deficiency, but I think those readers miss the point. This is not a book, after all, about kicking tons of zombie ass. Sure, a lot of zombie ass gets kicked, but that is incidental to the main point of the book, which is to show both the fragility of our modern day world and to suggest a possible remedy for that fragility.

I’ve read several other zombie novels that feature main characters that are unmitigated bad asses – Jonathan Maberry’s PATIENT ZERO and J.L. Bourne’s DAY BY DAY ARMAGGEDON come immediately to mind – but I didn’t want that for DEAD CITY. I wanted someone who could stand in for the reader, someone with whom they could identify rather than hero worship.

There is a medieval play called EVERYMAN. Most people who took a freshman year English Lit class are probably familiar with it. The play opens with Death informing Everyman his time is up, it’s time to go. Everyman pleads to stay. Death tells him no, he has to die, but if he can get somebody to come with him, he’s welcome to bring a companion. One by one, the allegorical figures of wealth, friends, family and all the others turn their back on Everyman, saying they’d gladly go with him on a journey of life, but not of death. Eventually, only Good Deeds agrees to go with Everyman into the grave, and it is through a combination of Good Deeds and contrition that Everyman eventually ascends to heaven. Nearly everybody gets that the play is an allegory meant to show the importance of confession and penance in the Christian’s journey to salvation. But Everyman is also, in many ways, the basis for Eddie Hudson’s journey through the first night of the zombie apocalypse.

Eddie’s journey takes place over three acts. In the first act, most of the San Antonio Police Department, and in fact much of the City’s ability to respond to any sort of crisis, is completely destroyed. Eddie Hudson has grown used to being part of a large army of sorts, with the full might of the Department ready to come to his aid at the touch of a button. That is gone at the end of the first act.

The second act opens with Eddie emotionally adrift. With all of his former advantages gone, he doesn’t quite know what to do. And then, while wandering through the ruins of a gas station in his old patrol district, he finds his best friend and former partner, Marcus Acosta. Eddie and Marcus are basically a variant of the Odd Couple. Eddie is a family man, with all the attachments and sense of obligation that implies. But for Marcus, the end of the world means nothing more than the end of alimony payments. Still, they are best friends, committed to each other’s welfare.

But friendship can only take Eddie so far, and like Everyman before him, eventually he has to go on without Marcus at his side, and at the beginning of the third act we find Eddie standing alone once again, surrounded, facing down certain death. Of course he manages to escape (he is narrating the story first person, after all, so you know he has to live through it), and his experiences here in the third act prepare him not only for his reunion with his wife and child, but also for his ultimate redemption. And now that he has achieved control over part of his world, the real challenge of rebuilding that world begins.

The parallels to Everyman are pretty obvious. Both characters get their friends and resources stripped from them by events outside their control. Gradually they are left with nothing but themselves, and their ultimate salvation dependant upon their actions.

But despite the parallels, DEAD CITY is by no means a religious allegory. It’s a purely secular book. My intention in DEAD CITY was to show how thin the veneer of our society really is. And you don’t need a zombie apocalypse to prove that. Even a localized disaster can serve to show that our control over our lives is tenuous at best. But unlike a flood or a forest fire or a train wreck, only a zombie apocalypse can turn one’s friends and family into insensible agents of destruction, and that’s why Eddie Hudson has to fight a city full of zombies.

A Note on the Geography of DEAD CITY

Before I leave off Eddie’s part of the story I need answer one of the most common questions I get about DEAD CITY. If you were ever in the Air Force, chances are you’ve been to San Antonio. And nearly everyone, even the non-Air Force types, has heard of the Alamo. In fact, tens of millions of Americans have visited it since the late 1960s. In other words, San Antonio is well known to a great many Americans, and even a great many foreign travelers.

Quite a few have contacted me and remarked that, while they know San Antonio well, they don’t recognize most of the street names I reference in the book.

They’re quite right.

In fact, though the locations I describe are well known, and in most cases easy to recognize, I’ve given them different names.

I did this for two reasons.

The first reason is that I was completely ignorant of professional publishing and its rules when I wrote DEAD CITY. I didn’t know the rules about using real places fictiously, and so I figured that if I didn’t know if it was okay to say a particular incident occurred at the corner of Zarzamora and Culebra, I probably shouldn’t do it. My reasoning was that I was writing about a big city. What was the harm in making up a few street names?

The second reason is a little more complex. The San Antonio Police Department has very specific rules about its officers writing for publication. Not only do they take a suspicious view of officers giving away police tactics and procedures, but they also want to preserve their valuable relationship with the public they serve. I had nightmares of some community activist throwing my book at the feet of City Council and saying, “So, this is what the San Antonio Police Department thinks of my neighborhood!”

I did not want to explain that scene to Internal Affairs.

So, I made up some street names. The places are real, but they’re called by different names. The first line of the book is a good example. The empty parking lot near the corner of Seafarer and Rood is actually the empty parking lot near the intersection of Roanoke St and Culebra. I think there’s an Auto Zone there now, but at the time I wrote DEAD CITY, it was a vacant lot.

So, where did the names come from?

Well, at the time I wrote the book, I was finishing up my master’s degree in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio. I was reading a lot of poetry, preparing for my comps. If you want to find your way around DEAD CITY, don’t bother with a map. You’ll have better luck with the table of contents of The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Survivors

“Survivors,” originally published in Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology, edited by Joe McKinney and Michelle McCrary (23 House Publishing; February, 2010).

I didn’t write DEAD CITY with the intention of turning it into a series, mainly because I find most series annoying. Sure, The Lord of the Rings was cool. I also liked the Dave Robicheaux books by James Lee Burke. But with nearly everything else, the magic that worked in the first book tends to become tedious and annoying about midway through the second book.

Even still, I get why authors love to do them. First and foremost, they make money. A lot of readers, I guess, enjoy the comfort of covering familiar ground. I don’t begrudge them that. Hell, I followed Buffy through all seven seasons. I even kept on with Angel after that. So I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with covering familiar ground. It is what it is. Sometimes it works. Publishers know this, and so they encourage their authors to turn good ideas into lucrative franchises.

I have nothing against making money. In fact, I rather enjoy making money. But there has to be more to it than that. If money was all there was, storytelling would be down there on the very bottom of the career ladder. It may be that Stephen King makes so much cash he needs to build a warehouse out back just to store it all, but we can’t all be Stephen King. Most writers, in fact, make a shockingly low wage. The figures get even more embarrassing when you start figuring the actual money earned per time spent writing. It’s a wonder really, that anybody does this job at all.

But we do it. And every year, hundreds of thousands of authors submit their manuscripts to publishers in the hopes that they will be able to do it too.

I can’t speak for any one else, but for me, the physical process of creating stories is hugely rewarding. There are innumerable hours spent in frustration and self-doubt, but there are also those wonderful moments when all the cylinders are firing and the story is pouring out of you and feel like you’ve lost yourself in your imagination. Those are the moments that keep writers coming back for more of this abuse we call writing for a living.

Writing a novel, even when it comes with white hot moments of excitement like I’ve just described, is mentally exhausting. When I was done with DEAD CITY I developed a sort of separation anxiety. Though I didn’t have any real desire to revisit Eddie Hudson, at least not right away, I did want to go back to the world I had created. Houston, after all, was still underwater, and though San Antonio was mostly cleared of the infected by the end of DEAD CITY, other parts of the Gulf Coast were not so lucky. There were other parts of Dead World that needed exploring, and for that reason, I began to think of the possibility of doing a series of books, each one following a different set of characters through some other part of Dead World. That way, I could assuage my separation anxiety without doing the very thing that so frustrated me as a reader. I could have my cake and eat it too, in other words.

Meanwhile, I was writing other stories and publishing them here and there. One of the stories I published after DEAD CITY was a vampire tale called “Down in the Cellar” in Nights of Blood 2: More Legends of the Vampire, edited by Bob Nailor and Elyse Salpeter, and released by 23 House Publishing. I was impressed by the way 23 House did business, and I wrote Mitchel Whitington, the managing editor, to let him know. As it turns out, Mitchel enjoyed my story a great deal, and had tracked down a copy of DEAD CITY as well. He told me he was getting a zombie-themed anthology together and asked if I’d be interested in co-editing it with a fabulous lady named Michelle McCrary, organizer of the Shreveport Zombie Walk. I agreed right away.

As I was thinking of the short story I would write for the book, I kept coming back to one of the major criticisms I received of DEAD CITY. Eddie Hudson’s story was one of redemption, and to tell that story I needed a compressed period of time. One night was just about perfect for my purposes. (Remember Scrooge’s surprise in A Christmas Carol: “And the spirits have done it all in just one night!”) I could have ended the book after Chapter 33, but I felt like I wanted to show the change in Eddie after the one night of hell described in the rest of the book, which is why I included Chapter 34.

That told the story the way I thought it should be told. But, as I mentioned earlier, quite a few readers thought differently. They wanted details of the six weeks that pass between Chapter 33 and 34. I felt for them, because I wanted to write about that part of the overall story, but my instincts told me that Eddie Hudson was not the right person to tell of that confusing time. That part of the story would have to wait.

And then Dead Set came along, and I saw my chance to tell the story of those missing six weeks.

Hence we have “Survivors,” my contribution to the anthology.

The main character is James Canavan, a Marine corporal from Houston on assignment in San Antonio. Canavan and his platoon have been tasked with a very simple mission. Their lieutenant is pinned down with a few survivors. Canavan is to take his men into downtown, rescue the lieutenant and any uninfected survivors, and get them to safety.

But of course nothing is ever as easy as it sounds, especially when there are hundreds of thousands of zombies flooding into the area. Despite deploying prodigious amounts of firepower, Canavan’s squad is soon torn apart, and Canavan himself the sole survivor. While trying to fight his way back out of the compromised area, he encounters a woman who is dying in the bombed out ruins of a bank. Amid the swirling dust and the moaning hordes of zombies, the two share a tense and bitter moment that changes Canavan forever.

When I wrote “Survivors,” I knew the main thematic drive had to be one of survivor guilt. The missing six weeks from DEAD CITY were a time of rebuilding, or at least an attempt at rebuilding, and survivor guilt is an unfortunate symptom of that process. After all, there can’t be a need to rebuild without an equally strong sense that something has been lost that is worth rebuilding. Those who live through traumatic moments of loss know this. They know there is a drive to throw oneself headlong into any kind of mind-numbing labor, and that that labor is at once an urge to destroy oneself while at the same time building up the memory of those who have died.

What was needed, I decided, was an outsider, someone who could bring in a firsthand account of what happened in Houston, while also commenting on the deep sense of loss continuing on through the rebuilding process.

That meant telling a very dark story, which certainly describes James Canavan’s adventures in San Antonio.

Ethical Solution

“Ethical Solution,” originally published as “People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies,” in The Harrow, Volume 10, Number 5 (2007).

There is an elementary school teacher in DEAD CITY named Ken Stoler, and if Eddie Hudson were here with us today, he would tell you that God never made a sorrier sack of shit than Ken Stoler.

Stoler and Eddie spend the middle third of the book arguing about the philosophical and moral implications of a world populated by zombies. Eddie, being who he is, finds the conversation rather pointless. But Stoler won’t let it go. He has discovered that the zombies closing in around them aren’t really dead, as Eddie believes. They are very much alive, but infected with a disease that eats away their minds so that they are, for all intents and purposes, completely depersonalized. They feel no pain, only aggression, so that they will continue to attack even when mortally wounded.

Eddie never does see Stoler’s point. For him, it is a matter of kill or be killed. The zombies don’t allow him another option, so he intends to be the one doing the killing.

Stoler, on the other hand, absolutely refuses to heap violence on the zombies. “You wouldn’t kill someone just because they have the flu, would you?” he argues.

“I would if they were trying to eat me,” Eddie counters, rather petulantly, and rather ineffectively. He lacks the mental horsepower necessary to debate Ken Stoler, and they both know it. Stoler hopes to use this to his advantage and convert Eddie to his cause. He wants to quarantine off the entire Gulf Coast region and put pressure on the government to research a cause for the disease turning the infected into zombies. Every single infected person, he argues, deserves to be rehabilitated. We can no more hold them criminally liable for their acts of murder and cannibalism than we can hold an insane person responsible for murdering someone.

That, of course, is not an effective argument to use on a cop, and though Eddie tries to respond in an intelligent manner, all he ends up doing is tripping over his tongue. And when Ken Stoler leaves the book, it is none too soon for Eddie Hudson.

Ben Richardson

After DEAD CITY had been on the shelves for a few months, I started getting emails from people who loved Ken Stoler. And just as many from people who hated him. No one, it seemed, was on the fence about him, which is exactly how I hoped he would come across. Ken Stoler generated so much attention, in fact, that I decided to put his ideas to the test.

But, as in “Survivors,” which would come along two years later, I sensed that Ken Stoler wasn’t the right person take the test. At the end of DEAD CITY, Ken Stoler has gone on speaking tours, and manages to make quite a few friends, and just as many enemies…much as his character did with DEAD CITY’s readers. The way I looked at it, I had created a wide world outside the confines of DEAD CITY’s covers: Why not bring in a fresh batch of characters, nearly all of whom are caught up in Ken Stoler’s cause? Sending them back into San Antonio would give me a chance to color a little doubt into Eddie Hudson’s version of events, and it would also give me a chance to show how the rest of the country had been affected by the Outbreak.

And it would give me a chance to introduce a man destined to become one of the most important characters in the whole Dead World series.

Ben Richardson.

Ben is single, mid-thirties, smart, but not pompously so. He’s a staff writer for The Atlantic. He was born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, just like Janis Joplin, and when the first reports of cannibalism started coming out of Houston right after Hurricane Mardell, Ben went into action. He made a decision right then to write the definitive history of the Outbreak, covering every aspect of the zombie plague, from the lofty, but ultimately empty, speeches on the White House lawn to the plight of the lowliest individual hiding out in the back alleys of a ruined town.

Just before the events in “Ethical Solution,” which takes place about eight months after Eddie’s ending to DEAD CITY, Ben Richardson gets wind of an English professor from the University of Texas at Austin named Dr. Sylvia Carnes. Dr. Carnes has bought Ken Stoler’s cause hook, line and sinker, and now she plans to take a chartered bus through the military quarantine that surrounds San Antonio. She has about forty students with her, each one a member of the local chapter of People for an Ethical Solution, and a court order authorizing her to enter the quarantine zone. The idea, she tells Ben, is to show the rest of the country that the infected – she refuses to call them zombies – can be handled in a humane way by normal people. This, she hopes, will open the door to meaningful research into a cure.

Ben Richardson is naturally skeptical. He and Sylvia Carnes fall on opposite sides of the issue, but he nonetheless maintains an open mind, and convinces her that he should come along on her expedition into San Antonio.

One of the complaints I got from San Antonio locals who read DEAD CITY was that I didn’t mention many of the city’s wonderful landmarks, such as the Alamo. Well, okay, I said. You want the Alamo, I’ll give you the Alamo. So the basic plot of “Ethical Solutions,” if you know anything about the Battle of the Alamo, wasn’t hard to imagine. The more important part of that story was the way the debate between Sylvia Carnes and Ben Richardson develops. They cover quite a bit of ground during “Ethical Solutions,” but even still, neither character is any closer to winning over the other by the end.

Real agreement, in fact, wouldn’t happen for another eight years – and three books – later, when the two of them met again in the crumbling ruins of St. Louis.

But that’s a different story.

APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD

APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD (Pinnacle; November, 2010).

DEAD CITY was meant to show a very private view of the apocalypse. Hence the first person narrative…the constant focus on the family…the mounting sense of claustrophobia…the book’s events spanning a single night. All those elements were a deliberate part of the overall point of view.

But when I sat down to write the next book in the series, I felt I had to go the other way. I needed to cut a wide path. I needed to show the zombie apocalypse going global. I envisioned multiple groups of characters fleeing the advancing zombie hordes, seeking shelter in the frozen expanse of the North Dakota Grasslands. In my mind I saw a huge novel, both in scope and in size, an homage to the giant Stephen King horror novels of the 1970s.

Turns out, my publisher was thinking along the same lines. The folks at Kensington called me and said, “What do you think about writing an epic?”

“An epic?” I said.

“Yeah, you know, a huge book. Really do it up. Blow the whole world up, that kind of thing. A really epic book.”

Now, I have a confession to make: flagrant misuse of the word “epic” is a pet peeve of mine. Aloud I told my publisher of my idea and shared in his enthusiasm that we were going to be in business again; but inside, I was groaning, for I knew then that people would erroneously pin the tag of epic on the book that was to become APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD.

Why does that bother me so much?

I’m glad you asked.

The Nature of the Epic

Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey – those were epic poems. Virgil’s Aenied, Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost – all epics.

Stephen King’s The Stand – not an epic.

Joe McKinney’s APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD – also not an epic.

Why?

You see, we’ve gotten sloppy with our genres these days. And I don’t mean genre as in horror, or science fiction, or romance. I mean genre in the more traditional sense. Genre as it pertains to specific literary forms, such as comedy, or tragedy, or even in slightly narrower poetic terms, such as the elegy, or the ode.

I was trained to read literature as an academic. Dealing in the finer points of literary terms was my stock and trade for a good long while. And when you talk about literary terms with the familiarity that some people reserve for sports statistics, you can’t help but make an inward flinch whenever somebody misappropriates a significant term.

Hence my consternation with the inappropriate use of the term “epic.”

For too long we’ve called books epic because they’re huge. Somebody puts out a 700 page novel and the next you know it’s being called the next big epic fantasy, or SF novel, or whatever.

But epic should – and does – mean more than simply big.

In traditional academic terms, an epic is a long, narrative poem defining the significant heroes and historical context of a nation. That is why Homer’s epics focus on the exploits of Greek heroes such as Odysseus and Achilles and Agamemnon. That is why Virgil’s Aeneid tells the story of Aeneas, who escaped the fall of Troy in The Iliad to become one of the founding mythological figures of Rome. That is why Dante’s The Divine Comedy populates the afterlife with real people from Italy’s warring city states. That is why Milton’s Paradise Lost can be read as a commentary on England’s brief flirtation with a purely legislative government under Cromwell.

Epics define the culture and the values of a nation. And, as you will no doubt remember from your freshman year Intro to British Literature, they have a number of other distinct conventions meant to telegraph the work’s genre to its reader.

For example, they begin in medias res, or, in English, “in the midst of things.” This is why Star Wars started with episode 4…and you can pause here to pat yourself on the back if you clicked on this before you finished the sentence.

True epics can also be read as maps of a given culture’s cosmology. Reading an epic, you not only learn the limits of a culture’s physical world, but their spiritual world as well. That is why Dante’s The Divine Comedy takes us first through hell, then purgatory, and finally to heaven. Milton’s Paradise Lost is also a clear example of this.

Also, epics use things such as heroic epithets and catalogs and godly intervention and long digressive passages. And their authors generally telegraph their intentions to write epics early in their career by first earning their writing chops with pastoral poetry.

That does not apply to APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD. I didn’t do any of the things outlined above. Neither did Stephen King in The Stand. Neither did Robert Jordan in The Wheel of Time series. Neither did any of the other modern scribblers you can think of. In fact, about as close as any American author has ever come to writing a true epic is Melville with Moby Dick.

(You in the back. Sit down and stop waving your hands in the air in protest: Lucas never finished the Star Wars series, and if it ain’t finished, it ain’t an epic. I’m not budging for Edmund Spenser, so I’m sure as hell not gonna do it for George Lucas. You can’t move me on that point.)

And here’s why Moby Dick is as close as an American author has ever come to the epic. Epics encapsulate the sum total of a nation’s experience, and the way they do that is by being encyclopedic. In other words, they absorb all other poetic forms current in their day and age and therefore make them subservient to their narrative.

Melville does this with drama, with biblical exegesis, with shipping, with science, with action, with comedy, and on and on.

I was aware of all this when I wrote the outline for APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD. I knew the book would – undeservedly – be called an epic. And for that reason, I threw in a couple of nods to those who, like me, cringe at the misuse of the word.

The most conspicuous of these nods comes on page 320 and 321 of the first Kensington edition, when Ben Richardson quotes some of the bad poetry he’s seen pinned to the shirts of various zombies they’ve encountered.

Students of English epitaphs will notice several vaguely familiar poems, the most obvious of which are for William Bunn and the dentist John Hannity. Both of these poems, and several of the other zombie-themed epitaphs quoted in this section, are loose adaptations of famous folk rhymes from the British Isles. I expect my English and Irish cousins will recognize the rhymes before most American readers, simply because the poems are a part of their culture and not the American one, but just in case some American reader figures it out first…Bravo to you! You got the joke.

The Quarantine Authority

I’ve already mentioned that Ben Richardson is one of the most important characters in the entire Dead World series, and here’s the reason why.

Ben, aside from being an active participant in the book’s events, is also my stand in. Ben Richardson began the post-apocalyptic phase of his life as a journalist, determined to describe every aspect of the zombie apocalypse in what he intended to be the definitive history of the zombie apocalypse. When APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD begins, Ben is already in the process of compiling his book. Not only does he narrow in on the specific human cost of the tragedy, but he writes with authoritative skill on the political machinations behind the cataclysm. Through him, and specifically, through his journals, we learn the shape of this world that is devolving into anarchy.

In the early days of the Outbreak, the only thing that divides the American people from complete destruction is The Gulf Region Quarantine Authority. These men – and yes, they are a not so thinly veiled commentary on the U.S. government’s pathetically inept approach to illegal immigration – are basically the modern day equivalent of the Little Dutch Boy with his finger in the dyke. They are a Band-Aid for the patient who is rapidly bleeding to death.

Here’s what Ben Richardson has to say about them:

From the notebooks of Ben Richardson.
Houston, Texas: July 5th 5:40 am

We’ve got about twenty minutes until takeoff and I wanted to jot down a few notes about the quarantine zone. Sometimes I find it hard to wrap my mind around how big it is. The logistical scope of the project is simply staggering.

Back in its heyday the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency patrolled the 2,000 miles of border land between the United States and Mexico. Of the Agency’s 11,000 agents, more than 9,500 of them worked along that 2,000 mile stretch of desert. They hunted drug dealers and illegal aliens with a huge array of tools, everything from satellite imagery and publicly-accessible webcams to helicopters, horses, and plain old fashioned shoe leather. Even still, the border had more holes in it than a fishing net.

In comparison, the Gulf Region Quarantine Authority only has a wall of some 1,100 miles to patrol. The wall stretches from Gulfport, Mississippi to Brownsville, Texas, paralleling the freeway system wherever possible to aid in the supply and reinforcement of problem areas. The GRQA keeps this stretch of metal fencing and sentry towers and barbed wire secure with just over 10,000 agents, most of them former CBP and National Guardsmen and cops. They are aided at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and in Mexico by federal troops.

Yet despite their numerical advantage over the old U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, their job is infinitely harder. Nobody in the old CBP thought too much of it that a steady stream of illegals got through the border every day. They just shrugged and went on with life. But the GRQA can’t afford to let even a single zombie through their line. That would spell disaster. The pressure is high, the price of failure is apocalyptic.

Their job terrifies me. These guys are frequently posted outside of major metropolitan areas where the zombie populations are thickest. Day and night they have to listen to that constant moaning. They have to stand by and listen to the plaintiff cries for help from the Unincorporated Civilian Casualties, the Gulf Region Quarantine Authority’s official designation for the people who were unable to make it out of the quarantine zone before the walls were put up and who were sealed inside with the zombies. Hearing all that noise for just a few weeks is demoralizing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hear it every single day for months and years at a time.

Even worse, I can’t imagine what it would be like to grow used to hearing it.

It is little wonder that so many of the GRQA go AWOL at least once or twice a year. Or that they are never punished for it when they do. Most don’t even get their pay docked.

And it’s no wonder that the leading cause of death among GRQA agents is suicide.

Actually, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often than it does…

The Chosen One

Playing opposite Ben Richardson is the Dead World’s second most important character, Nate Royal.

Nate is an unlikely hero. When we first meet Nate, he’s a small fish in a small pond. He’s sitting on a park bench, watching the world go by, feeling impotent and angry at the deal he’s been given, when suddenly he sees the sexy young wife of the town’s leading attorney. Nate, who’s dealt with this woman before, zeroes in on her as the cause of all his problems, and he sets out to abduct her.

This is our introduction to Nate Royal, and from the start we find him difficult to like. But then something happens. Nate gets attacked by a zombie. He’s wounded, and because he’s heard on the TV about what happens to people who get infected by a zombie, he slinks off to die in a neighbor’s tool shed.

Only Nate doesn’t turn. He is immune to the necrosis filovirus. When the military doctors who have set up shop in the area discover his unusual condition, they pack him off to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Once there, Nate meets a military doctor named Mark Kellogg, and while the two of them never really become friends, they do develop a unique relationship.

Kellogg is an intellectual. He’s a military officer, true, but he doesn’t think of himself that way. In his mind, he’s a doctor who just so happens to wear a uniform to work. Kellogg ends up taking Nate under his wing, and as the two men get to know each other, the novel’s key theme of rejecting nihilism comes to the forefront. Because Nate is most certainly not an intellectual, he lacks the specialized language to discuss nihilism like a philosopher. He only knows what he feels.

This presents Dr Kellogg with an obvious problem. Nate Royal, because of his immunity, represents humanity’s greatest hope. And yet Nate, who so despises the universe’s seeming lack of concern for his fate that he seeks comfort in suicide, is unwilling to play the part of hero. Their relationship is as much of a statement on the way an older generation attempts to hand the baton of responsibility off to the next as it is a rejection of the classical hero archetype. Nate is definitely not a hero, and yet is called upon to play the part. If APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD had been a World War II story, he might have reluctantly lived up to the challenge. But I don’t think modern American culture quite believes in heroes anymore. Comic books are more popular today than ever before. So too are songs and movies about superheroes. And yet, time after time, those same modern offerings on the hero give us flawed characters that don’t live up to what’s expected of them. The phenomenon even extends into politics, where Barrack Obama failed to live up to the media image of hope and change that propelled him into office. I’ve been watching this trend develop over the last decade or so, and perhaps that explains why I selected a hero who not only rejects the role of hero, but can’t even be convinced to take on the challenge reluctantly. Time and again, Dr. Kellogg has to lift Nate up and push him in the right direction. And can one truly be called a hero if there is no free will involved in the actions that would traditionally qualify one for hero status?

The Persistence of Jonestown

The original title of APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD was Resistance. I changed the title after a lengthy and at times heated discussion with my editor and agent. Though I’ve come to like APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD as a title, I still, in many ways, prefer the original title. Resistance is not quite so in your face, and it conveys the book’s central theme of rejecting nihilism. Each of the book’s character sets – Michael Barnes and Ben Richardson; Dr. Mark Kellogg and Nate Royal; Ed Moore and Billy Kline; Jasper and Aaron; Colin and Kyra – are engaged to some degree in playing this theme out. When I was plotting out the book, I knew I wanted to end with a microcosm of the apocalypse. I also wanted that ending to speak directly to the theme of nihilism. And, as has become my modus operandi when I need to craft major plot elements, I turned to my youth for inspiration. What I found there was Jonestown.

I was ten years old when the news broke about the mass suicides down in Jonestown. I remember watching the seemingly endless footage of dead, rotting bodies stacked on top of each in the ditches surrounding Jonestown, my parents on the couch behind me too horrified to snap to the fact that their ten year old kid probably shouldn’t be watching such things on TV, and feeling completely repulsed. How, I asked, could so many people just give up on life? How could one man convince so many people to do something so ridiculous?

Those questions stayed with me, even as I made jokes with my friends about drinking the Kool-Aid. Over the years the legacy of Jonestown continued to bother me. I read a great deal about Jim Jones and his followers and the final days there in the jungles of Guyana, and I’ve never made any secret that I drew a great deal of the conclusion of APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD from that research, but in all my studies I never found an answer to my original question. I found lots of wild ass guesses concealed as educated theories, but nothing that really, solidly, answered the question.

I think we have a deep-seated need to belong somewhere. We’re social animals, and in many ways, successfully fitting into our given society is emotionally healthy. But beyond fitting in, we also want to know that our lives have value, even if we never grow rich or get famous or add to the collective knowledge of mankind. Cults of course provide for this by a creating the illusion of family, a sense of inclusion. Gangs do the same thing. So does high school football, and turning out in droves to support a pro sports team, or blogging, or belonging to professional organizations and gardening clubs. The point is we seek out ways to be included. That’s a healthy instinct, up to a point. The problem with cults like the People’s Temple or Heaven’s Gate or political institutions like the Nazi Party is that our desire for inclusion gets easily perverted into a rabid sort of fervor that grows beyond our individual ability to control. And when that happens, all hell breaks loose.

At one point in APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD, Dr. Mark Kellogg tells Nate Royal, “We are put into this hostile, alien world as isolated individuals. We can learn to like other people, even love them, but we can’t ever truly know them, and so we remain isolated. We’re not allowed to know why life has meaning, not for sure anyway, and yet we feel compelled to create some sort of answer. It’s an absurd downward spiral of impossible things, and yet it’s our lives.” And Nate, with dawning comprehension, asks, “So what does that mean? Are you saying that a world based on bad reasons is enough?” The two men eventually decide among themselves that this is so. A world based on bad reasons is enough. Their answer makes sense within the context of their relationship, but falls short of satisfactory when put in light of the events at Jonestown, and the fictional counterpart of those events as they occur in the novel.

APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD doesn’t provide any real answers. Indeed, I don’t know if there are any. But each of the characters in the novel tries to wrestle with what happens at the Grasslands in their own way, and maybe one of the book’s readers will find a branching off point that helps them to answer the real life mystery of why good people can abruptly lose their minds, as happened in Jonestown.

We shall see.

But for now, the mystery of Jonestown persists.

FLESH EATERS

FLESH EATERS (Pinnacle; April, 2011)

For about a year after DEAD CITY sold to Kensington, I did nothing but write short stories. I was cranking them out at a fevered pace, sometimes as many as three a week, and selling most of them. It became almost like a drug for me.

“Ethical Solutions” was a product of that addiction.

And then, at the end of that year, my agent came calling for another book. “A sequel to DEAD CITY, maybe?” he asked.

As I said, I never had any intention of becoming a writer. I just wanted to write. I hadn’t given any thought whatsoever to another book. I told him my thoughts on sequels and he seemed disappointed, but asked what else I had.

I didn’t have anything written, but I did have an idea for a police procedural set against the backdrop of a pandemic flu outbreak. “I could expand that story idea into a novel,” I said.

He liked the idea, and I got to work on Quarantined, my second novel. The book sold, and went on to garner a Stoker nomination from the Horror Writers Association for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

But the thrill of selling a second novel, coupled with my agent’s interest in another zombie novel, got me curious about the rest of the world I had created in DEAD CITY. Specifically, I turned my attention to Houston. I had left most of the city under water, and because the city had been evacuated so poorly, and then shut off behind quarantine walls shortly afterwards, all the treasures of the nation’s third largest city lay ripe for plundering. All those banks with their vaults full of cash…all those museums with their walls covered in priceless art…all those jewelry stores with their diamonds on display…they got me thinking. Imagine someone desperate enough, someone skilled enough, someone brave enough…they could run the Coast Guard blockade out in the Gulf, scuba dive into the flooded ruins, and take anything they wanted. All they had to do was avoid the soldiers guarding the walls and the nearly two million zombies still wandering inside the city.

From that, the third book in the Dead World series was born.

Disaster Mitigation

I knew I wanted a heist story to act as the plot’s spine. Originally, I planned to have a team of four men and women scuba dive into the flooded city, grab the cash, dodge a few zombies, and maybe make it out alive. Along the way, they would do battle with the Quarantine Authority and a wild bunch of gangsters. It was going to be great fun.

And then, after I started writing out my plot synopsis and my story outline, I realized I was making the same mistake I’d made with THE EDGE OF THE MAP, my failed SF book from several years earlier. The heist story I’d envisioned didn’t have anything authentic to it. Sometimes a writer’s best ally is that little voice inside his head that yells “Bullshit!” and luckily mine was working that day.

Luckier still, I listened.

Once again I turned to my personal experiences. Living through a hurricane was one of the most frightening events of my life, while the weeks I spent working in the shelters after Katrina and Rita were some of the most exhausting I’ve ever spent. It occurred to me that if I was going to write an effective storyline, it would have to involve those two elements. I decided I would tell the story of how the first zombies appeared and spread to the rest of the Gulf Coast. I would tell the story of the hurricanes that sunk Houston and created the Dead World. I would tell, in other words, a prequel to DEAD CITY.

Oh, and there would be a heist in there as well.

The Crucible of Duty

The main character of FLESH EATERS is Eleanor Norton, a sergeant with the Houston Police Department’s Emergency Operations Command. She is also a wife and a mother. As the storms roll in and the City of Houston begins to fall apart, Eleanor is caught between her job and her family, unable to devote her complete attention to either. Aware that she is spreading herself too thinly, Eleanor confronts head on the novel’s main theme: What is duty?

As the novel begins, Eleanor thinks she has a handle on this question. She has done her homework and has thoroughly prepared her family to shelter in place during a hurricane. Her husband and daughter have more than enough food, water, and medical supplies to get them through a few weeks without power and running water. Eleanor, in fact, has made preparation a near obsession. But, as she finds out, mere preparation is insufficient. There is a greater danger than raw sewage and flood waters, and its name is boredom. While she’s at work, her family is stuck at home, literally unable to leave their front door, and while they have plenty to eat and drink, the perpetual boredom leaves them angry and restless.

Meanwhile, at work, Eleanor is being pulled in a hundred directions at once. Because of its unique placement near the nexus of Houston’s freeway system, the University of Houston’s campus is turned into a refugee center. As the nearly 2.5 million people living between Galveston and the City of Houston proper flee northwards, the sick and the old and ill prepared stop at the campus for protection. The shelters quickly swell to unmanageable numbers, which leads to many more problems, such as dysentery, cholera, starvation, and a host of sanitation problems and medical shortages generally found only in third world nations. Between salvaging boats to evacuate the refugees and struggling to maintain order, Eleanor spends long hours, and sometimes days on end, at the campus. When she returns home, which is surrounded by flood waters, she finds that her husband and daughter have been fighting their own battle with boredom, and that their resentment of her apparent freedom has reached a boil. Being home soon becomes as much work as being at her job.

But Eleanor isn’t the only one dealing with the seemingly mutually exclusive demands of first responder work and family life. Her boss, Captain Mark Shaw, has been passed over for promotion to Deputy Chief, and feels that his assignment at the Emergency Operations Command is basically the department’s way of putting him out to pasture. But when the hurricanes hit, and his command post at the University of Houston campus becomes the only legitimate police authority in the area, Captain Mark Shaw finds himself the man on top, the place where the buck stops. He is confronted not only with the demands of organizing the shelters and the evacuation of those shelters, but also of being the father. Shaw’s two sons are both Houston Police Officers, and he knows that there isn’t going to be much of a future for them. The city they’ve known as home all their lives is, after all, under water. Once the disaster is managed, his two sons will almost certainly be out of work with everything they own washed out to sea. As Captain Shaw sees it, he has two duties: evacuate the citizens who have entrusted him with their safety and see to it that his sons are provided for after the disaster has passed.

It seems like an impossible task, but Shaw has a plan. Through his connections as head of the EOC, he has learned of a local bank with 7 million dollars in cash abandoned in its vault. The bank is flooded and the property and the money declared a total loss by the insurance companies. He sons are able to recover the money. Now, the only task is getting out of Houston alive.

Of course the zombies make that difficult. And when Eleanor Norton learns of the heist, the Shaws find themselves stuck between survival, doing their duty to the refugees, and looking out for their own futures. In a lesser man, this wouldn’t be a dilemma at all. Self-interest would take over and the problem would work itself out. But Captain Mark Shaw is not a lesser man. Some men have religion, Captain Mark Shaw has duty. He is deeply conflicted by his role in the bank heist, and this proves to be his crisis of faith, for he sees the money as his greatest sin and at the same time the key to providing for his family.

It is an issue that only becomes murkier as he and Eleanor Norton battle it out in the flooded ruins of Houston, but their debate on duty does place FLESH EATERS squarely into the overall theme of family and community that runs through every work in the Dead World series.

MUTATED

MUTATED (Pinnacle; September, 2012).

The first three books in the Dead World series are generally lumped into the post-apocalyptic class of literature, and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t bother me in the same way that calling APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD an epic does. But even still, I feel compelled to point out that none of the first three books are truly post-apocalyptic. They are, more properly, disaster stories. Apocalyptic stories. The “post” part of the post-apocalyptic tag is missing.

Until MUTATED I hadn’t played much with the world after the zombie outbreak. My short story “Dating in Dead World” covered some of that ground, but there’s only so much you can do in the limited space of a novella. I wanted to show, in detail, where the scenarios I had put in place would lead. So, in MUTATED, we have the Dead World approximately eight years after the events in APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD. It is now a world of abandoned cities and crumbling roads and a population so decimated that a traveler can walk for days without seeing another human being. And it is the Dead World’s final word on post-apocalyptic events.

Post-Apocalyptic Landscapes

For as long as I can remember I’ve thrilled at the sight of abandoned buildings. Something about those dark, empty windows, the vacant doorways, the sepulchral quiet of an empty train station or hotel lobby, spoke of discontinuity, and of trauma. There was a vacancy in those wrecks that evoked loss and heartache and the memory of dreams that have fallen by the wayside. They were a sort of negative space in the landscape, symbols of our world’s mortality.

And then zombies came along, and I fell in love with them for many of the same reasons.

But here’s the thing.

It took me a while – as a writer I mean – to figure out that abandoned buildings, and even abandoned cities, don’t just appear because a horde of zombies happen to show up. Sure, most everybody gets eaten, and so you end up with a lot of buildings and very few people, but it goes a little deeper than that. Zombies and abandoned buildings, it seems to me, are actually two sides of the same coin. Aside from the obvious similarity – that they are both miserable wrecks somehow still on their feet – both are symbols of a world that is at odds with itself and looking for new direction. And in that way, zombies merge symbolically with the abandoned buildings they haunt in ways that other monsters never really achieve with the settings of their stories.

But just because the zombie and the abandoned building are intimately related symbols doesn’t mean that they function in exactly the same way.

Consider the abandoned building first.

When a building dies, it becomes an empty hull, and yet it does not fall. At least not right away. Its hollow rooms become as silent as the grave; but, when you enter it, its desolate inner spaces somehow still hum with the collected sediment of the life that once thrived there.

When we look at graffiti scrawled across fine Italian marble tiles, or a filthy doll face up in a crumbling warehouse parking lot, or weeds growing up between the desks in a ruined schoolhouse, we’re not just seeing destruction. We’re also seeing what once was, and what could be again. In other words, we’re seeing past, present and future all at the same time.

The operative force at work here is memory. Within the mind, memory links past, present and future. But in our post-apocalyptic landscapes, our minds need a mnemonic aid…and that aid is the abandoned building. The moldering wreck before us forces us to consciously engage in the process of temporal continuity, rather than simply stumble through it blindly.

Put another way, we become an awful lot like Wordsworth daydreaming over the ruins of Tintern Abbey. Like Wordsworth, we’re witnessing destruction, but pondering renovation, because we are by nature a creative species that needs to reshape the world in order to live in it. That is our biological imperative.

And so, in the end, the abandoned building becomes a symbol of creative courage.

But now consider the abandoned building’s corollary, the zombie.

Zombies are, really, single serving versions of the apocalypse. Apocalyptic stories deal with the end of the world. Generally speaking, they give us a glimpse of the world before catastrophe, which becomes an imperfect Eden of sorts. They then spin off into terrifying scenarios for the end of the world. And finally, we see the survivors living on, existing solely on the strength of their own wills. There are variations within the formula, of course, but those are the nuts and bolts of it.

When we look at the zombie, we get the same thing – but in microcosm. We see the living person prior to death, and this equates to the world before the apocalypse (or the ghost of what the abandoned building used to be). We see the living person’s death, and this equates to the cataclysmic event that precipitates the apocalypse (or the moldering wreck of an abandoned building). And finally, we see the shambling corpse wandering the wasteland in search of prey, and this equates to the post apocalyptic world that is feeding off its own death.

It is in this final note that the symbolic functions of the abandoned building and the zombie diverge. As I’ve mentioned, the abandoned building, so long as it stands, calls to our creative instincts to rebuild. But the zombie, so long as it stands, speaks only to our ultimate mortality.

And so, the ruined hotel or office park becomes our mind’s cathedral, the spiritual and creative sanctuary of our memory, while the zombie becomes the devil that drives us into it.

I see a satisfying sense of symmetry there.

Old Friends

Writing MUTATED gave me the chance to tie up a lot of loose ends from the previous books. For example, the last time we heard of Ken Stoler, he was leading a national campaign to protect the rights of the infected. Dr. Sylvia Carnes, the University of Texas English professor and acolyte of Ken Stoler, was last seen driving off in a chartered bus after losing all her students to an ill-fated trip into San Antonio. And when we said goodbye to Ben Richardson and the rest of the escapees from the Grasslands cult at the end of APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD, they were walking into a military convoy. So not only is MUTATED unique in that it is the only truly post-apocalyptic book in the series, but it is also the only novel in the bunch that can truly be called a traditional sequel.

The book begins with Ben Richardson, who never quit working on his history of the zombie outbreak. Since escaping the Grasslands at the end of APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD he has crisscrossed the United States, searching out survivors and gathering their stories and writing about his observations. Excerpts from his book are peppered throughout MUTATED, and from those excerpts it becomes clear that Richardson knows his work will never be finished. The idea of writing the book has become his crutch, the one thing that enables him to get up every morning and go on living in a world that has otherwise lost its meaning for him.

And then, while hiding from a roving band of zombies in the ruins of St. Louis Pizza Hut, he runs into Dr. Sylvia Carnes. She’s in the company of two young women and two bodyguards. Unbeknownst to Richardson, Sylvia Carnes and her group have fled a compound run by Ken Stoler in order to meet up with a doctor who may have developed a cure for the necrosis filovirus.

But the world Carnes and the others have escaped into is not so simple. Stoler’s community is at war with a man known as the zombie king. This man, whose skin has turned a dark red from rosacea, has built up an army of zombies and uninfected human soldiers. The Red Man also wants to capture Carnes and her people. Thrown together in the ruins and dodging common foes, Richardson and Carnes join forces, and together they go on a quest down the Mississippi River to find the man who just might be able to save the human race from itself.

A Note on the Dead World’s Geography

The Mississippi River was a deliberate choice for Richardson and Carnes’ quest. Not only is it an iconic American landmark, and not only is it the roadmap for Huckleberry Finn’s far more famous quest, but it also happens to be dead in the middle of the continental United States.

Go back through all the stories in the Dead World and you’ll see that they all converge on the middle of America. While no one part of the United States is more or less American than any other part, the Heartland is just that…the heart of America. Taking the story to the Heartland is a metaphor, really, for the series’ overall theme that our survival is based on our ability to form a strong, healthy community.

Walking With Zombies: A Natural History of the Undead

Let’s talk about zombies for a bit. In the Dead World, the necrosis filovirus spreads through exposure to the bodily fluids of an infected zombie, and the usual vector is a bite. The virus causes the complete depersonalization of the infected person, essentially turning them into a zombie.

It does not kill them, however. The living, infected person exists as a mindless husk, intent solely on aggression. They can’t care for themselves in any meaningful way, and they have no sense of danger or the ability to avoid it. And in most cases, they are so badly injured by the contact that caused their initial infection that secondary infections are rampant. What this means in practical terms is that most of the infected die off very soon after getting infected, either from their initial injuries, injuries incurred while hunting for food, or from the food itself that they eat. Imagine a zombie feeding on something that’s been dead in the middle of the road for a few days and you can see what I mean.

In APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD, Ben Richardson and Michael Barnes get trapped on a rooftop. While looking over the side of the roof, Richardson realizes that the zombies below are using strategy to flush out prey. The shock is nearly too much for him. He had been so certain that the infected needed to be exterminated outright after his trip to San Antonio with Dr. Carnes in “Ethical Solutions” that he had ceased thinking of them as humans. But now, watching them use strategy, all his certainty disappears.

But what he doesn’t realize, at least right away, is that the zombies are changing the longer they live. To be sure, the change is a gradual one. But it is happening.

The zombies Eddie Hudson and Eleanor Norton face are all Stage 1 zombies. These zombies are freshly infected and almost completely depersonalized. They are incapable of reason, and have no capacity to anticipate the actions of others. In some cases, they are so far gone that they can’t even recognize other zombies. Most of the time, these zombies are the traditional slow movers of the Romero movies. There are a few, however, who are capable of moving with great speed. Eddie Hudson calls these fast movers. These are infected persons who were in excellent physical condition at the time they were turned and who were infected by injuries so minor that their ability to move around was not impaired. Luckily, they are few and far between.

Assuming a zombie survives his or her first eight months or so of undead life, they begin to change into Stage 2 zombies. These are the zombies that Ben Richardson and Michael Barnes face in the flooded ruins of Houston. They are capable of using simple strategies, such as cooperative hunting, to corner prey. In most cases, Stage 2 zombies are still slow moving.

It is extremely rare for a zombie to advance beyond Stage 2, but a few live long enough to manage it. Stage 3 zombies have regained a great deal of their fine motor skills and are even capable of approximating language through grunts and primitive gestures. Dr. Mark Kellogg experiments with a few Stage 3 zombies in APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD. They are rather like trying to keep chimpanzees as pets, he realizes. Left alone for too long, they can, and will, break locks, feign injuries or sleep, and in some cases respond to their names and other verbal cues. They are, however, still aggressive to a fault, and unable to contain their impulses.

Before the Red Man (so named because of the rosacea that has turned him a burgundy red from head to foot) no one envisioned a stage 4 zombie. The idea of someone completely, or even mostly, regaining their sense of self after being infected seemed too implausible to be considered a threat. But that is exactly what the Red Man is, a stage 4 zombie. The Red Man has regained nearly all of his memories and his sense of self, but the necrosis filovirus has left him hopelessly insane. It has also given him the ability to communicate through normal speech with his army, and through grunts, smells and moaning, with the zombies. He is the next step in evolution in this world made up of two different species of humanity.

The Red Man’s only natural enemy is the man who doesn’t play by the rules that have made him MUTATED.

Nate Royal Returns

Nate Royal, for all his many faults, is immune to the necrosis filovirus. This puts him in direct opposition to the Red Man: the man who becomes the ultimate zombie versus the man who can never become a zombie. They represent opposite ends of the spectrum, and a meeting between the two is inevitable.

While hiding in an abandoned farmhouse from an army of zombies, Ben Richardson and Sylvia Carnes witness Nate Royal’s first confrontation with the Red Man. What they see is impossible, at least according to the rules by which they’ve come to live. It also opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. A man immune to the zombie virus could redefine the struggle they have spent their lives fighting for.

The only trouble is Nate himself.

Nate has never had things very easy. Dr. Mark Kellogg was able to help Nate along, but only after many hours of shared suffering and individual attention. Now that Kellogg is gone, Nate is like a compass needle spinning aimlessly around the dial, trying to find his true north.

But Nate remains vital, for even after all these years, he still carries the flash drive that Dr. Mark Kellogg put around his neck just before he died. Contained in that flash drive is the answer that humanity has been waiting for, the cure to the necrosis filovirus. The trouble is that Nate has run out of gas, spiritually speaking. Dr. Kellogg’s guidance has brought him only so far. And now, eight years after Kellogg’s death, Nate finds himself once again ready to give it up and die.

And then he finds Ben Richardson. While the two of them are floating downstream on the Mississippi, Nate rediscovers the true north he has been missing. He takes from Ben Richardson the guidance he needs to confront the Red Man.

Whether, ultimately, he is successful, depends on your point of view. What kind of future do you want?

Dating in Dead World

“Dating in Dead World,” originally published in THE LIVING DEAD 2, edited by John Joseph Adams (Nightshade Books; September, 2010).

“Dating in Dead World” is the last entry, chronologically speaking, in the Dead World series. The main character is Andrew Hudson, the baby Eddie Hudson spent a night of hell trying to rescue in Dead City.

It’s been almost twenty years since Hurricane Mardell swept through Houston, flooding the city and giving birth to a virus that turns the living into the walking dead. The world has been overrun by zombies and left in ruin. But there are still groups of people left alive, and they are carving out an existence in the wasteland.

Some of the survivors have moved into protective compounds, but Andrew Hudson wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in one of those. He was raised as a street urchin out in the ruins of San Antonio, where he makes a living as a special courier between the strongholds of the dead world’s warlords. During one of those runs he had the good fortune to meet the daughter of the area’s most powerful warlord, and he won her heart.

Now, they’re going on their first date. How hard could that be, right? Kids have been dating forever. Well, when taking your date out involves high speed pursuits through zombie-infested ruins and being used as pawns in an underhanded power grab scheme, nothing is as easy as it seems.

“Dating in Dead World” was written right about the same time that Kensington Publishing came asking me to do another zombie book. I had made a few readers mad with the ending to Dead City, and I wanted to address the criticism before I went on with the rest of the series.

And that meant writing about Eddie Hudson again. The thing to remember about Eddie Hudson is that he is not a reliable reporter. Most people get that wrong about him. He’s deeply fractured by the events he recounts in the novel, and the optimism he expresses at the end of the story is…well, let’s just say he’s not telling you everything. He’s telling you about the world he wants to believe in, not the world as it really is. “Dating in Dead World” came from that issue. And because “Dating in Dead World” was written to refute Eddie Hudson’s optimism, the logical lead for the story was Eddie’s son, Andrew Hudson. So this story really becomes as much a conversation between father and son as it does a commentary on the Dead World series itself.

John Joseph Adams, editor of THE LIVING DEAD 2, asked me where “Dating in Dead World” came from – not just the idea for the story, but the personal background of the story. I think the answer hinges on personal accountability. I find it impossible to respect people who can’t accept responsibility for their actions. That’s something I learned from my dad, and something I’ll always be thankful for.
Case in point: He gave me some important advice on personal responsibility. Right before I left for my first date, he gave me the only bit of parental sex education I ever received. “Remember this,” he said. “You will be held personally accountable for everything that happens to that girl from the moment she leaves her front door to the moment she walks back in it. Conduct yourself accordingly.”
It wasn’t until after I’d written “Dating in Dead World” that I realized I was channeling that advice. I guess it took.

Read Andrew Hudson’s take on his first date and see if you don’t agree.

Toward a Preferred Chronology

People keep asking me if they need to read the Dead World in a certain order. With the exception of MUTATED, I’d so no. You can read any piece in the series in any order and still come away with a perfectly clear understanding of what’s going on. And come to think of it, you could even read MUTATED first and still have that understanding.

So the simple answer is no, there is no preferred chronology. Read on. Enjoy yourself.

Okay, that was for all those folks who are completely new to the series. The rest of you, those who have read at least one of the books and are looking for some insight into the rest of the series, what follows is for you. If you want to read the Dead World series the way the author would like the series read, this is it:

FLESH EATERS

DEAD CITY

SURVIVORS

ETHICAL SOLUTIONS

THE CROSSING

APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD

MUTATED

DATING IN DEAD WORLD

Leave a comment

107 Comments

  1. Jim Weaver

     /  December 23, 2010

    You’re without a doubt one of the finest writers working in the horror genre today, Joe. Can’t wait to see what you come out with next! And much thanks for this lengthy and informative background on your zombie books. I’ve just started Apocalypse of the Dead, and I’m loving every minute of it.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  December 23, 2010

      Thanks Jim! I appreciate that! Those are some really kind words, and I’m humbled by them. Thank you. Hope Apocalypse of the Dead keeps you coming back for more.

      Reply
  2. joemckinney

     /  December 28, 2010

    A lot of people (my wife among them) have told me that Barnes is their favorite character in Apocalypse of the Dead. Some, however, are upset that he falls under Jasper’s sway. I understand that. But the thing about Barnes you have to remember is that he is emotionally exhausted. You may remember in the opening chapter when Barnes is looking down on the refugees as they are being shot by the Coast Guard and he feels something go numb inside. This is the beginning of the exhaustion I mention. Later, Richardson makes comments about how many of the Quarantine Authority troops end up going AWOL, or worse, commit suicide, because of the daily stress of their job. This is another indicator that Barnes is wearing thin. Then we have the scene where he beheads the bandit trying to kill him and screams at the head. Yet another brick in Barnes’ wall. The journey across the country wears Barnes down past his breaking point, ultimately culminating in the bedroom of the RV where he kicks the corpse of the man who has eaten himself to death.

    Jasper’s great skill is to recognize that special trait in everyone that defines them. He realizes that Robin is a natural born teacher, that Kyra is a natural born messenger, that Sandra Tellez is a natural born medic. He has that ability to look deep into someone, and in many cases, deeper than the person themselves can see. There is a scene where Jasper and Aaron are watching Barnes’ group through the one-way glass. Remember that? Aaron says he sees a natural leader, a fighter. Jasper turns to him and says, “Is that what you see? I see exhaustion.” Jasper finds the key to turn Barnes right there. When they finally meet, in the Pavilion, Jasper makes good on this observation and speaks to Barnes’ exhaustion. That is why I waited until that moment to provide Barnes’ flashback to his brother’s death.

    Ultimately, Barnes and Ed Moore are opposites. Both start from similar backgrounds, and both are forced to lead a ragtag army of survivors through a countryside full of zombies, but they end up on opposite sides of Jasper precisely because of the issue of emotional exhaustion. Barnes has been fighting a long time, and his natural response to exhaustion is to fight even harder. Ed has had things a little easier. He is exhausted, due to his age, but he is far from emotionally exhausted, and that is what gives him the reserves to resist Jasper.

    Reply
  3. Victor

     /  January 26, 2011

    Hey Joe,

    I found Apoc of the Dead on one of my zombie book binges and fell in love, so I immediately sought out your other two books “Quarentine” and “Dead City” both of which I equally enjoyed. So, suffice to say, I loved this blog post but it’s left me with a question.

    I see that you have delved into “Dead world” a few more times in the form of short stories published in various places. What I want to know is, are you (or they), ever going to publish them together in one volume? I’ve bought a few short story collections in my time but I just never get into them enough to read each and every story contained. I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I’d hate to buy three different collections for one story and thats it.

    Not to make myself sound super important or anything. I mean, if thats what I have to do, then I’ll do it. But if they’re going to be published together, somehow, then…well, awesome.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  January 26, 2011

      Victor,

      Thanks a ton, man! I’m really excited you’re enjoying the series, and that you’re excited to get into the short stories. I do actually have a short story collection coming out in 2012, called Nightmares and Grimoires. It will contain four zombie stories set in the Dead World universe, “Survivors,” “Dating in Dead World,” and “Ethical Solution,” plus a story to be published later this year called “Chinese Passage.” Keep checking up with me here on my website for an announcement on when that collection will be published. And thanks again for reading. I really appreciate it.

      Joe

      Reply
  4. Brad

     /  February 16, 2011

    I just came across one of your books, Dead City last week. I read it in a setting and ran out the next day to get a copy of Apocalypse of the Dead. I have read 25 zombie books in the last year and you are in my top three now. Great book. I’ll be sharing it with my friends on Goodreads.com. I am looking forward to your next one in April, and like the previous poster i am excited to see that your short stories are coming out in a single collection soon.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  February 16, 2011

      Fantastic, thanks Brad. Feel free to post on Amazon as well. Amazon reviews are always helpful. And just out of curiousity, who are the other two on your short list?

      Reply
  5. joemckinney

     /  February 16, 2011

    Ah, excellent writers, both of them.

    Reply
  6. Christina

     /  February 20, 2011

    I just finished two if the Dead City series, it was amazing. The books gave me a few restless nights of getting up to look in the backyard for the zombies LOL… Thank you waiting for the next!!

    Reply
  7. Zombies are the coolest of monsters (we’ll ignore my friend’s comment of “Oh, so you’d like to be chomped by a zombie then?” So uncool!). Really enjoyed DC & AOTD. Brain Keane writes great zombies also, and you two are my favs so far! I’ve been spreading the word

    Angela

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  March 28, 2011

      Thanks Angela, glad to hear it! Yeah, Brian is a great author. I love reading his stuff. I think Ghoul is my favorite of his. Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  8. Jon

     /  April 1, 2011

    Read Dead City & thought good read right up their with Brian Keene, hope he comes out with some others, moved on to other books then read AOTD and Flesh Eaters back to back (several late nights). OUTSTANDING especially FE…Eleanor Norton what a main character and Chief Shaw what a reluctant villain. Complex characters in a very complex environment. Well done!! Unfortunately now I have to wait a explicit year for Zombie King. Well I still can read Quarantine & your short stories to tide me over. Great I love to see new authors hit the scene because they have the raw energy of a stage one Zombie…If you have the time how about a big Vampire book that shows them as truly evil and not the teen heart-throb of today.. Stephen King (Salem’s Lot) and Robert McCamrom (They Thirst) did it up right. Regardless, I’ll read whatever your write.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 1, 2011

      Jon,

      That’s a great email! Thanks, man! I appreciate it. I’m glad you like FE. I really enjoyed writing both Eleanor and Shaw. It would be great to reconnect with Eleanor sometime soon….maybe there’s another story in there somewhere. I agree with your choices of vampire stories, by the way. I hate the Nancy Boy vampires too. Next up is a mummy story, then a ghost story, but after that, who knows, a vampire story could be fun.

      Thanks again for contacting me,

      Joe

      Reply
  9. Eli

     /  April 3, 2011

    Hey Joe, i just got done reading “Apocalypse of the Dead” and it was my first book i have ever read of yours and it was outstanding, although i was sad to see Barnes fall to Jasper’s silver tongue it made a lot of sense at the same time, i’m also glad that you didn’t have Ed beat a trained military officer alone at the end of the book, overall i am impressed with your writing and i’m wondering if you will ever continue the Story of Jeff, Kyra, Ben Richardson, and the Ed? Thanks great books!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 3, 2011

      Thanks Eli! Glad you liked the book! And yeah, I do have plans to continue the story I started with Apocalypse of the Dead. I don’t know when right now, because I have several projects due in the immediate future, but it will happen. Thanks again for the kind words!

      Reply
  10. Kristen

     /  April 5, 2011

    I bought Dead City almost by accident. When I read the summary of the book I kept it in my Amazon shopping cart. When I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. I bought Apocalypse of he Dead when I was halfway through Dead City. I just finished Apocalypse of the Dead. I was ecstatic when I saw that there were 2 more books in the series and even more so when I realized that I have 3 books of short stories that have Survivors, Ethical Solutions and Dating in Dead World in them. Your books bring the readers right into the stories and make them feel like they are there with the characters. They let you experience the desperation and panic that the main characters go through. Excellent writing! Bravo!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 6, 2011

      Kristen,

      That’s great! I’m glad to hear you found my books. I used to work in a book store and I know the thrill of picking something up by accident, only to discover something I later grow to enjoy. I got to know the writing of John Irving that way. I’m really excited to hear you got a copy of my short stories. Where did you find Ethical Solutions, by the way?

      Joe

      Reply
  11. J J

     /  April 6, 2011

    OK, so I’ve now burned through Dead City, Apocolypse and Flesh Eaters and am ‘hungry’ for more. Can’t praise your stories enough, they have an amazing atmosphere about them that sends shivers down my spine as I read. The neighbourhood dogs barking in the distance now fill me with a wondering dread, is there something coming out of the woods? I just wanted to thank you for your books, coming from the UK I’ve often imagined that should an outbreak occur, we’d be as isolated as Houston is behind the wall. Your writing definitely struck a chord!

    Enough gushing from me, hurry up with the Zombie King!! Perhaps you could pen something that ties together all of the survivors across the series, would be great to “meet” them all again.

    Best wishes
    J J

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 6, 2011

      Hey J J,

      Thanks a ton! That’s great to hear. I’m glad you liked the dogs braying in the distance. That’s always been a favorite image of mine. And I’ll get busy with The Zombie King. No worries.

      By the way, I was in Brighton early last year and fell in love with the town. My wife and I had a great time.

      Thanks again for reading!

      Joe

      Reply
    • JJ, just read your post and had to say something.. I grew up in Manchester and after watching Dawn of the Dead at 7 years old allways had it in the back of my mind..”what would I do if it actually happened?”… because in the UK its not legal to have a firearm it allways sat in the back of my mind that theres no way to survive such a disaster.. well I moved to the States about 20 years ago and I sleep well at night knowing theres a .45 in the safe and plenty of ammo.. Joe’s books have sure made me a might nervous at night when I am reading but whats in the safe calms me down.. what a great author.. Im reading David Moody’s Autumn series now (fantastic read).. (sure wish those guys had guns though)…

      Reply
  12. Brittany

     /  April 6, 2011

    I happened to be walking around a bookstore one day looking for a new book to read and I stumbled upon Dead City. I have been a zombie fan since before I can remember and read practically anything I can get my hands on about them. I have read both Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead and I have Flesh Eaters currently in transit :). I absolutely love the series and can’t get enough of it. I’m out of Tulsa, OK, so having the setting so close to home makes it that much more enjoyable. I can’t wait to start Flesh Eaters and I look forward to reading more from you!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 7, 2011

      Brittany,

      Thanks for letting me know you’re enjoying the series. I love hearing that people are connecting with the books. That’s especially cool that you found them by accident. I love finding new authors that way. Hope you enjoy Flesh Eaters!

      Reply
  13. David

     /  April 8, 2011

    Hey, I just wanted to let you know I love your books. I first read Dead City right after it came out, my sisters friend let me borrow it and I loved it. Then just this year I was working at borders and put Apocalypse of the Dead on the shelf and realized it was your book and bought it on the spot. Just finished Flesh Eaters and have to say it was amazing. Keep up the great work can wait for Zombie King to come out. Thanks for the amazing books!

    – David

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 8, 2011

      Thanks David! I’m really happy to hear that. Having worked at a B&N many years ago, I know how it is spotting something by chance when you’re shelving. Too many times I brought my paycheck home in a bag. Thanks again!

      Reply
  14. Lynn Prince

     /  April 17, 2011

    Gush, gush. I can’t really add much to the high praise of everyone above; but I agree wholeheartedly. I just sent you an email, as follows:
    I just found Flesh Eaters during a random, “Sigh, I need a book and nothing sounds good” trip the other day. Suffice it to say I am ENERGIZED about your books and hunting them down like a rabid wombat. My question? I can’t seem to find your presence on Facebook?

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 18, 2011

      Thanks Lynn! I appreciate that. I got your email and I’ll send you the link to my FB page. Thanks again for taking a chance on my books. I’m excited to hear you enjoyed them!

      Reply
  15. Hi Joe! Took your advice and started with Flesheaters before Apocalypse. I have to tell you that I have had to put the thing down a couple of times because I’ve wanted to throttle someone in that book! I’m probably too naieve, but I was waiting for Anthony to redeem himself…kept waiting for it…right up to the moment he attacked Eleanor. Now I’m just waiting for him to die hideously. I hope it is as satisfying as I am imagining! I was actually shocked when Capt. Shaw joined in trying to kill Eleanor. I just didn’t see that coming. Not because I didn’t think he had it in him, but because of everything he had said and done up to that point! I had to go back and re-read the paragraph to be sure it was actually the captain. Did he snap? In the midst of all that craziness and death, you would think that people would hold life more sacred. I think I need to work on that naieve thing. Anyway, I’ll be back with more thoughts after I finish…right now Jim and Madison are in trouble!

    Reply
    • Joe McKinney

       /  May 12, 2011

      Tammi,

      For me, Captain Shaw was on the rails as far as his destiny was concerned. I couldn’t feel him acting any other way. He was so absorbed with his sense of duty, first to family, then to honor, that anything between his family and their continued existence was going to become his enemy. Right or wrong, Eleanor falls into that category, and so he has to attack. Anthony is in a slightly different position, as he and his brothers are really the two sides of their father, and for me, that means that neither one is capable of true redemption. But that’s just me.

      Joe

      Reply
      • tammicole1968

         /  May 17, 2011

        Well, I got to finish Flesh Eaters over the weekend and had to let it settle before responding. I see your point about the Shaw’s and I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing given the circumstances. You certainly turned the situation around on me and I actually ended up feeling sorry for them. I loved the switch-a-roo with the backpack! Thought that was very fitting after all Eleanor and her family had to endure. All in all, this was a much more tense rollercoaster ride and I actually did put it down a couple of times. Once because a situation with the characters frustrated me and once or twice because the situation was just so tense I needed a moment to regroup! So, kudos and thank you for another GREAT read!!!

      • joemckinney

         /  May 17, 2011

        Wow, Tammi, thanks! I appreciate that. I think my favorite part of that book to write was the scene on the roof at the end. The last forty or fifty pages pretty much came out in one sitting. Thanks again for the kind words. That means a lot.

  16. Dash

     /  May 17, 2011

    Big fan of the Dead World books, interesting behind-the-scenes stuff here. (And I had no idea there were short stories set in that milieu, too.)

    I do find it somewhat amusing to see that you are a “Literary Classics” geek, with your talk of the proper use of the word “epic”. That’s just so typical geek behavior, when we debate endlessly what, exactly, we mean by “space opera” or even “science fiction”.
    It’s more amusing when one takes into account that you are constantly mousing the word “apocalypse” in this post. Like epic poems, apocalyptic fiction refers originally to a very specific type of literature originating in a certain area.

    Just like the word “epic,” however, “apocalypse” has come to have different meanings over the years, so it’s rather something of a fool’s errand to get too precious about the word’s original meaning. Or any word, really. But ranting about it is a very geeky thing to do. I once listened to a professor do a whole hour on what a “saga” really was and how we were misusing the term. And that Armageddon was supposed to be a place, not the battle that occurs there. But, you know, things change and so do words. Dig my dope, dude?

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  May 17, 2011

      Ha! Excellent point! And yeah, you got me there, literary geek all the way. And you nailed it with the use of the word Apocalypse. Well done!

      Reply
  17. Eric

     /  May 24, 2011

    Joe,

    I just finished Flesheaters, which I had been looking out for after reading Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead at the end of last year, I very much enjoyed all three for a variety of reasons. Having lived in the Clear Lake area for the first 25 years of my life, I think that is why I enjoyed Flesheaters so much; I don’t have to visualize where the characters are, I’m out and about on a regular basis right where the action is taking place. And I’m right with you on your experience with Hurricane Alicia, being only 6 years old when the storm hit, it was the largest distructive force I had experienced and it made quite an impression on me. So I am really looking forward to Zombie King, sounds like a post apocalyptic nightmare that will be a great read. Speaking of post apoc. books, I read a great one while I was waiting for Flesheaters to come out, “The Passage” by Justin Cronin. I don’t know what you read in your spare time, but it’s pretty awsome, and he has a love for masterful epic works like I can see you do. Thanks again for the great books

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  May 24, 2011

      Eric,

      Thanks for the kind words! Great to meet someone from Clear Lake. I went back for the first time in probably 20 years recently and I couldn’t believe how overdeveloped everything was. I remember, many years ago, there were huge empty tracks of swamp-like land everywhere. I can’t even begin to count how many summer days I spent wandering through those swamps with my dog. Now the area is nothing but houses as far as you can see. I got to read an advance copy of The Passage, and you’re right, that was a fantastic post-apocalyptic thriller. One of the better ones.

      Reply
  18. Jim

     /  July 9, 2011

    Joe.

    I’m a retired 25 year police Detective vet of the San Diego Police Dept. 100% Disabled with an on the job injury I’m afraid. I LOVE to read and I just accidently fell across your works when I bought my new Kindle. Anyway, I bought your 1st 3 plus Quarantined. I’m just a bit confused though. Where is the Zombie King book and how do I get it????

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  July 9, 2011

      Hey Jim,

      Thanks for contacting me. Good to meet a brother in blue. The Zombie King should be out by this time next year. I’ll announce it here.

      Joe

      Reply
  19. ra

     /  August 19, 2011

    I would love to read more about Andrew Hudson, before or after Dating In a Dead World takes place.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  August 19, 2011

      Cool, thanks! Well, I think I might be able to do something with that. And, the option on the movie rights was just sold on that story, so who knows, maybe there will be a movie of it soon!

      Reply
  20. Reese Indianer

     /  August 30, 2011

    First off i never realized zombie novels were so common, I thought max brooks was the only one when I first read the survival guide, then i came across your book apocalypse of the dead at a library and have been hooked, i literally read that in 2 or 3 days! Then I won some money on a scratch off, and went and bought dead city and flesh eaters. This time i tried taking my time hahaha, only reading at breaks at work or in bed at home. And I finished it within 4 or 5 days. I’m going to start flesh eaters tomorrow hopefully if all goes well. Next I must get quarantined I CANNOT get enough of this!!! Your books are so realistic its ridiculous. I can picture everything so vividly and perfectly in my mind, from the debris to the gore, to the characters and the zombies themselves. Cant forget the destruction either. I figured id leave a message since it appears you reply. I respect you for that. I also respect you for the fact that you have such an amazing gift of using words and metaphors. I cant remember exactly but i think it said, “Death spoke through her eyes” In dead city. That just gave me goosebumps, I’m going to get that tattooed on me somewhere. Also, are you familiar with max brooks? If so you should know they are filming a world war z movie. Its on his website. Its starring Brad Pitt and some other big names. I just want to thank you for the great reading material, you are truly one of a kind. I am looking forward to Zombie King!! I hope it comes out sooner than later!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  August 30, 2011

      Hi Reese, thanks for the kind words. I’m really glad to hear that you’re enjoying the books so much. And to think, all because of a lucky scratch off ticket! That’s a new one for me, but something I can appreciate. I hope you enjoy Quarantined. It’s actually a murder mystery set against a pandemic flu outbreak, and so not a zombie book, but still a work of which I am very proud. And yes, I’m very familiar with Max Brooks. What an amazing writer. Whenever people ask for recommendations on who to read in zombie fiction he always tops my list. Thanks again for reading!

      Reply
  21. reese indianer

     /  August 30, 2011

    did my post get approved?

    Reply
  22. Derrick Williams

     /  September 6, 2011

    Hey Joe. I’ve read Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead, and Flesh Eaters. They are are fantastic books. Realistic, interesting, and life like. The characters you have created are very believable. If a zombie outbreak were to occur I think it could be similar to your works here. That said, I’m looking forward to your next book, but I would also love to see a movie faithfully based upon dead city. It was my favorite of the three, and since it was fairly short adapting it to the big screen shouldnt be too hard. Good luck with any future stories you create.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  September 6, 2011

      Thanks Derrick. I would love to see a movie version of Dead City myself. The book has been optioned three times, but alas, so many things can, and do, go wrong during the process. The script is usually the easy part. Unfortunately, movies are basically art by committee, which means that a ton of different people have to all want to go in the same direction, which rarely happens. Who knows, though? One day maybe.

      Reply
    • I agree, and wouldnt it be great if George A Romero was directing with Tom Savini doing the special effects..

      Reply
  23. Samantha

     /  October 18, 2011

    I LOVE YOUR BOOKS! They really put u in the shows of the people your are following. Lokking forward to any more of the Dead City collection to come :)

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  October 18, 2011

      Thanks Samantha! I love hearing that. I’ll be releasing a collection of all my zombie stories in March, 2012 called Dating in Dead World and Other Stories, and then THE ZOMBIE KING, the fourth book in the Dead World series, comes out in September, 2012. Thanks again for making me smile!

      Reply
  24. Joe,

    I wanted to express my admiration for your zombie fiction. I am a long-time fan of zombie films, from the pre-Romero voodoo flicks of Hollywood’s Golden Age through to the recent revival led by quasi-zombies as in 28 Days Later. Although I’ve read SF and fantasy fiction my entire life, only recently have I gotten into horror fiction, and I have very much enjoyed your Dead World series. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

    I have always felt that the best horror fiction — ESPECIALLY zombie fiction — uses the terror element (zombie, vampire, werewolf, etc.) in a ‘man vs. nature’ style. In both your stories and Romero’s films, for example, the zombies are forces of nature, like the floods caused by your Dead World hurricanes. That is, though potentially deadly, they are impersonal menaces, like trees felled by wind. The most salient dangers to the characters come from their fellow men, not from the zombies, just as Cary Grant’s sheriff in High Noon is ultimately placed in danger by his fellow townsfolk’s fear and cowardice at least as much as he is endangered by the gunslingers riding into town.

    If you accept my thesis, do you think about this man vs nature framework consciously when you write? More broadly, what frameworks and themes do you seek out, if any, in the genre literature you yourself read?

    Best regards,

    M. G. Saldivar
    Tallahassee, FL

    (Born and raised in Brownsville and a former resident of Austin)

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  November 2, 2011

      M.G.,

      Thank you so much for this. You really put a lot of thought into this, making it a real pleasure to read. So, first off, it’s great to meet you. Second, thank you for your wonderfully kind words. They are much appreciated. And third, let’s talk about your ideas:

      I do accept that the man vs. nature conflict is a natural one in zombie fiction. Though I have read, and enjoyed, plenty of zombie novels and stories where the zombies are actually re-animated demons or something similar (Brian Keene’s wonderful books The Rising and City of the Dead come to mind), my personal favorites are the “forces of nature” you describe. This, of course, highlights your second point that our greatest danger actually comes from our fellow men. The fourth book in my Dead World series, THE ZOMBIE KING, is going to tackle this second point head on, though I think you may be surprised by the direction I take it. Hint: There’s going to be an intelligent zombie. I believe the conflict in THE ZOMBIE KING (sorry I can’t go into any depth on the plot, but I don’t want to give away spoilers before it’s published) is a logical outgrowth of the zombie world I’ve created, but we’ll see if readers agree. I hope they will.

      As for larger themes and frameworks, well, I personally love to see deeply conflicted characters. That’s why I like to write about cops who are torn between their oath to serve and protect and their atavistic impulses to rush home to their families. That kind of conflict, between our higher principles and our family, really makes a character come alive for me.

      Joe

      Reply
  25. I’ve read several excellent stuff here. Definitely value bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you set to create any such excellent informative website.

    Reply
  26. Joe,

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your books thus far! I can’t wait for Zombie King to be released. Being a microbiologist, I am curious on how you picked a filovirus for the cause of the zombie origins and ability to infect others. I would have maybe guessed you might pick a more common virus that is know to particularly affect the brain and central nervous system – maybe an altered form of rabies perhaps. Can you shed some light on your choice there? I would be very grateful.

    Cheers,
    Mark

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  February 21, 2012

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks for your patience on my reply. I’ve been mulling your question over for several days now, trying to give you a thoughtful answer…as a man of your professional credentials would no doubt expect to receive. Alas, I don’t think I’ll be able to provide you with a terribly sophisticated answer. When I was looking for a disease to cause my zombie outbreak, I had a short list of requirements. First and foremost, it needed to be highly contagious, with blood and saliva being the main vectors. Secondly, it needed to fairly unique…as in different from other zombie stories. And lastly, it needed to cause complete depersonalization in its victims. A rabies-like virus was a natural choice, as you indicated in your comment, but unfortunately, 28 Days Later beat me to it. As I had recently read Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and remembered some of the passages in which he described the depersonalization of the EBOV victims, it was a quick step from that to using an EBOV-like virus for my books. Probably not as sophisticated a response as you would like, I know, but that was my thought process.

      Hope that helps,

      Joe

      Reply
  27. Joe,

    I think you’re being too modest… First, even if you’re not a biological scientist by training, you STILL did more research than many writers (especially in the zombie milieu!). Also, as a longtime fan of all kinds of speculative fiction, I think the level of detail you provided in your answer to Mark illustrates that a ‘precipitating event’ (in this case, the zombie virus of your universe) need not be overly complex… I think it was SF author (and award-winning SF editor) Ben Bova who wrote in one of his ‘how to write SF’ books that the best stories SHOW you how the [star drive/laser cannon/artificial brain/whatever] works/acts/affects people rather than dwelling on describing WHAT the ‘thing’ is… (Of course, I’m not a fan of writers who spend Dickensian amounts of wordcount describing ‘stuff’ so I’m biased…)

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  February 22, 2012

      Hey, that’s great advice from Bova! I was remembering it wrong recently when I attributed it to Hugo Gernsback. The way I remember it goes like this: “Don’t tell me how the Farkel Drive works. Tell me what it feels like to sit behind the controls!” That excellent advice aside, I think a lot of readers today expect accurate details from authors. I know I feel that way when reading, or watching, a police procedural. Hopefully there was enough true facts in my description of the necrosis filovirus to give readers the willies.

      Reply
  28. Thanks for the background and commentary! I was really just interested in how you came to arrive at that particular virus for the cause of the zombie epidemic. I worked on Ebola Virus (glycoproteins) in the past, so coming across the necrosis filovirus in your books did indeed give me the willies! In any event, keep up the good work and let me know if you will be having any author-related events in Houston.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  February 27, 2012

      Wow, you’ve actually worked with the stuff??!! Scary! I may have to hit you up for expert assistance if I ever decide to go deeper with the necrosis filovirus. Thanks again for the kind words.

      Reply
  29. John B

     /  March 20, 2012

    I recently found out about your books (after reading Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon collection), and I took a recent road trip to Galveston (then New Orleans then back home to San Antonio) as a chance to read them. Three books, three days (Dead City, Apocalypse, Flesh Eaters). You blew me away! I told wife, brothers, best friend, and Facebook friends that they have to read it. Three of the best books I’ve ever read, let alone zombie-genre. And you’re from San Antonio, to boot (incidentally, was it Huppertz Elementary to which Eddie and Marcus fled?)!!

    I love what you’ve created, and aim to buy the short story collections to which you’ve contributed (especially those with Dead World stories…)

    I can’t wait til September! Thanks for what you do.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  March 21, 2012

      Hey John,

      Thanks so much for this! That’s some huge praise and I really enjoyed your kind words. I too love to read while on the road and I always seem to associate those reads with the places I visited while reading them.

      Great guess on Huppertz Elementary. Actually, that school is a combination of several San Antonio schools, both old and new. I think the school I had foremost in my mind, though, was Thomas Jefferson High School. I called it an elementary school mainly because I wanted to avoid anybody guessing what I was up to.

      Thanks again for the great note, and I hope you like MUTATED as much as the first three books.

      Joe

      Reply
  30. Jeff H

     /  March 22, 2012

    Howdy Joe,

    I came across Apocalypse of the Dead recently at a used book store. I have in the last several years become a fan of the zombie genre in all its media forms, particularly the video game Left 4 Dead, the films Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, and the Walking Dead (first the show and then the comic). I have not seen any of Romero’s films, but they have been on my to watch list. I have an undergrad in philosophy, and once we had a long debate about zombies, particularly their origin and the ethics of killing them. I was the only one arguing in favor of the virus as a cause (the rest said it would be dark magic or sorcery) and that as the virus kills the person, their soul no longer resides in the body so it is acceptable to destroy them (take that Ken).

    I am an avid reader, and I usually I read for pleasure at least an hour a night. Usually once a week I find myself in a book store, and I have several years worth of reading material that I haven’t touched. I mainly read science fiction and fantasy with a little bit of thriller thrown in. The only horror I have read before Dead City was the Odd Thomas series, which I would argue goes more into the supernatural thriller category, but I digress.

    I saw Apocalypse and read the back cover. I have not read any zombie fiction in novel form, and with my current obsession with Walking Dead, with season 2 ending I was feeling a sore lack of zombies in my life. I was intrigued by a zombie novel, and was disappointed when I found out it was the second book, but just recently at another store, I found Dead City. I started reading and was hooked. As a current resident of Houston (though only for a few more months) and someone who has most of their family in San Antonio (though I grew up in Austin, but both my parents are from there, my mom from out in the country close to Lavernia, and my dad from the south side, close to WW White and Rigsby) I was thinking about where the heck would I and my family go when the zombie virus infects. I really could feel the frustrations of Eddie, so similar to Rick from Walking Dead, and it was nice to be inside his head to hear his account of those feelings. The zombie action was good, but also as in Walking Dead, it is second the characters. I will definitely be checking out the rest of Dead World.

    Are there any plans to publish a collection of all your Dead World short stories? I would love to read those too, but trying to track down all these horror compilations might be too tough.

    I hope you don’t mind all these comparisons to Walking Dead, which has become my favorite show on tv, maybe of all time. Do you watch it, or read the comic?

    Anyway, this has been an overly long response that I hope conveys my enjoyment of your work, and I hope to read Apocalypse and Flesh Eaters soon so I can be ready for Mutated when it comes out in September. I will definitely recommend the Dead World series to my fellow zombie aficionados. Thanks for your writing, keep it coming!

    Jeff H

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  March 25, 2012

      Hey Jeff,

      Great letter! Thanks so much for this!

      I grew up in Clear Lake, just south of Houston, so it’s good to meet another Texas zombie fan! And you’re Dad’s from the WW White and Rigsby area?? That’s really cool. One of the best BBQ restaurants ever (THe Gonzalez Food Mart) is located close to there, and whenever I find myself down around that area I get a craving for brisket!

      Actually, you’re in luck on the short stories. I’m currently putting together a collection of all my zombie short fiction called Dating in Dead World and Other Stories. It will bring together all of the Dead World stories and a good many others that aren’t part of the series per se. I’m putting the finishing touches on that now, doing story notes and an introduction, etc., and the book should hit stores sometime toward the end of this summer. With luck, it’ll be here by the time September rolls around, if not earlier.

      And I certainly don’t mind the comparisons to the Walking Dead. It’s a great graphic novel series (I’ve been less impressed with the TV show, mainly because it doesn’t follow the graphic novels very closely, which is a pet peeve of mine) and is, in fact, one of the landmarks of the zombie genre. So, no, I don’t mind the comparisons one bit. It’s great to be put alongside such prestigious company!

      Thanks again for all your kind words and thoughtful letter. I enjoyed reading this!

      Best,

      Joe

      Reply
  31. Chuck L

     /  April 7, 2012

    Hi Joe – love your writing. I’m hooked, it’s so gripping. I have Flesh Eaters, Dead City, and Apocalypse. I just finished Apoc and already want to start over with reading all three. I randomly stumbled across this page while looking for more of your stuff. This guide is great and I’m happy to see there are more pieces to the series. I’ve been able to find everything except Ethical Solutions. Can’t find it anywhere. Any suggestions? Please keep up the amazing work!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 7, 2012

      Hey Chuck,

      Thanks for the great note, and a huge thank you for tracking down my short fiction. I’ve always considered myself a short story writer at heart, so it makes me glad that people enjoy the short stories. Right now, the only copy of Ethical Solutions available is an early version titled “People for the Ethical Treatment of Zombies,” originally published in The Harrow, an online magazine. Here’s a link to that early version:

      http://theharrow.com/journal/index.php?journal=journal&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=2119&path%5B%5D=587

      An up-to-date version will be appearing in my upcoming collection of zombie short stories, called DATING IN DEAD WORLD AND OTHER STORIES. That should be coming out in July of this year.

      Thanks again for the kind words. And please, let me know what you think of the story.

      Best,

      Joe

      Reply
  32. Helen Dyer Dagley

     /  April 18, 2012

    Since you are the father of two young children have you considered writing a fantasy for younger readers? Seems like today’s best sellers are children’s books. The Harry Potters. The Twilight trilogy. The Hunger Games trilogy. Have you thought about it? Bet you could. Helen Dagley. (I grew up in Sweetwater with your mother-in-law. She and I were avid readers. We read all the classics while in junior high. One of our teachers had a fit because we were reading Steinbeck.)

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  April 18, 2012

      Helen,

      Great to meet a friend of the family! And yes, I have given this a lot of thought. I have several ideas sketched out in notebooks at home. Who knows, maybe in the next year or two I’ll get to work on those. But you’re absolutely right. The YA market is incredibly hot right now.

      Joe

      Reply
  33. Helen Dagley

     /  April 19, 2012

    Joe, Helen Dagley again,
    I live in the country about 34 miles from the nearest bookstore, Hastings, in Greenville, Texas. The next nearest is Barnes & Noble in Garland. I called Hastings and they only had three of your books in stock and only one copy of each. (Dead City, Flesh Eaters, and Apocalypse of the Dead) I had them put those on hold and special order another set of the three. The rest of your books were not available to order through their system.
    I called B&N in Garland and they only had one of your books in stock–Flesh Eaters. He said he could special order the other two the ones I had already ordered through Hastings, plus The Red Empire and Other Stories. He told me Quarantined was out of print but available through Nook download. I asked why Quarantined was oop since it was nominated for the Bram Stoker award and he said most people download their books now.
    I got on the Internet to see what Amazon.com offered. Quarantined new in paperback is priced at $186.11 and used pb is $28.34. Dead City, new in pb was listed at $999.99. I hope that is a typo.
    I am not opposed to buying a reading machine, but I arrange to have two books a month shipped to two men in prison in Alabama. They love horror and want copies of your books. They can’t have reading machines. Or computers.
    I also have a son in Delaware with Peter Pan Syndrome who wants me to send copies to him. (He played with Pat when they were little but I doubt Pat remembers him. He might because Jeff remembers Pat.) (We used to live in Austin where I made a career of attending UT. I was a drama major who ended up being a registered nurse, which makes as much sense as a master’s degreed Eng maj working in the SAPD.)
    Anyhow, did you know how hard it is to find your books, and do you have any suggestions?
    Thanks, Helen

    Reply
  34. Helen Dagley

     /  April 19, 2012

    Joe, I printed out all 35 pages of “A Reader’s Guide to Dead World” and am very favorably impressed with your writing. Looking forward to reading your actual books, even though zombies arn’t my thing. I think good writing transcends genre. You are a good writer. I like what you said about people being isolated individuals, never really knowing each other, and that you were inspired to write to show your baby a side of yourself that she would not see in your officlal role as Daddy.
    I wish I had a way to show you and T the side of your m-i-l that lies hidden in my memory of the two of us as young girls, wondering what the future held for us and giggling over which boys we thought were cute.
    I wanted to be an actress and she wanted to be an artist. She’s more of an artist than I am an actress, although I always said the best acting is done at home, especially in a marriage.
    helen

    Reply
  35. Helen Dagley

     /  April 21, 2012

    Joe, never mind answering the other two messages. (Or this one.) I know you are very busy. I do remember what it was like to work a full time job, spend time with the family, and write.
    My son has had better success than I had locating your work on Amazon.com.
    My husband came home and put the donkeys back in their pen, so I was able to leave today (without taking them with me) and go to the Greenville Hastings to buy the three books they had in stock. I’m reading Flesh Eaters now. It’s a real page turner, and I am enjoying it. I hope that your out-of-print books will be reissued eventually. You are a very good writer…otherwise I wouldn’t be reading horror. Helen

    Reply
  36. Kyle

     /  June 12, 2012

    Hi I’ve read in order Flesh Eaters, Dead City, and finally Apocalypse of the Dead which is by far my favorite of your works! I was sad Barnes joined Jasper I kinda liked picturing myself as badass Barnes but he did make an awesome bad guy in the end. I just wanted to thank you for all the entertainment your stories provided and to wish you all the best of luck on your future endeavors. I’m really looking forward to Zombie King which of course comes out some time in September (I’m shipping out to boot camp in September) but if it comes out after I leave the first thing I’m doing when I get back is buying it and reading it.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  June 13, 2012

      Hey Kyle,

      Thanks so much for the kind words! Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the books so much. And I know what you mean about Barnes. I really enjoyed writing his character. I would have liked to see what would happen if he’d joined up with Ed Moore rather than face off against him. The thing is, I knew from the start that Barnes was a man working beyond his limits. There was simply no way, psychologically, that a person could continue at the level he was operating on. Jasper’s great ability is to see through to the core of people, to really understand their weak points. And he sees through Barnes’ veneer. As strong as Barnes is, as tough as he is, ultimately, he’s no match for Jasper.

      A word about The Zombie King. After much discussion with the publisher, and with the buyers from several major outlets, the title has been changed to Mutated. So, if you go to Amazon, you’ll find the fourth (and quite possibly the final book in the series) under the title MUTATED. It’s a long story, but the publisher felt that MUTATED would sell better, and, after much soul searching, I agreed that MUTATED was a better fit for the theme of the book. The book comes out September 1, 2012, but will probably be available in most bookstores a few days (or even weeks) before that. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find a copy before boot camp starts. Regardless though, thanks for serving this country through the military!

      All my best,

      Joe

      Reply
  37. Kenny

     /  July 7, 2012

    Hi Joe,
    I’m Kenny. I am a native of San Antonio and live in the downtown area. I just finished Dead City and all I have to say is Damn. That was arguably one of the best zombie novels I have ever read. It was thrilling and how close it hit to home was just like wow.

    I read the Guide to Dead World and what you said about Geography in Dead City. It took me a while to catch on about the street names, but after a while I pieced it together. But I have a question. I’ve been trying to draw a map of Eddies adventure from the westside of the City to Downtown. Since he started on basically Culebra, is the fire station that Eddie takes the survivors too, is that the one on Culebra and Zarzamora? Next to Little Flower?
    Sure seems like it was.

    Seriously bro, if they make Dead City a movie, it could totally work. Its arguably perfect.
    Btw, any chance of any more zombie novels based in San Antonio? Cause seriously you got it.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  July 7, 2012

      Kenny,

      Very well done, sir! You nailed it. That’s the very fire station I had in mind. Also, just because you’ve already figured out so much, I’ll tell you that the elementary school at the beginning is actually Loma Linda Elementary.

      As for making it into a movie, well, I have my fingers crossed. It’s been optioned three times, so hopefully the fourth time will be the charm. Thanks for all your kind words on this. I’m really excited you liked the book. None of the other novels in the series take place in San Antonio, however, several of my zombie short stories do, most notably “Dating in Dead World” and “Survivors.” Both will be included in my upcoming collection, Dating in Dead World (due out later this year from Creeping Hemlock Press), which brings together all of my zombie fiction to date.

      Thanks again!

      Joe

      Reply
  38. Paul M. Zagyi

     /  July 22, 2012

    Dear Mr. McKinney,
    I am an aspiring writer interested in writing stories such as youself. I have no writing experience but have an idea and plot and charactor list for a book. If you could, please give me any advise concerning how to go about my project in order to complete a readable and publishable book. I think that you are one of the very top writers in this genre and anxiously await your next book in the Dead World series. Any and all information and advise would be greatly appreciated. Thank you sir, for your time. Sincerely, P.M. Zagyi

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  July 22, 2012

      Hey Paul,

      Glad to hear you’ve caught the writing bug! It’s a wonderful thing, the writing life. As you can imagine, there is a huge amount of material out there on how to take a concept from a nacent idea to a fully produced, saleable manuscript. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the subject, not to mention seminars and workshops and conventions and everything else. So, in the interest of keeping this at a manageable length I’ll offer the one piece of advice that has helped me the most. Outline, outline, outline. Work the story out from beginning to end and put that down in an outline. Nearly every professional writer out there outlines to some degree or another. For some, it’s just a few scant lines describing where each chapter is going. For others, like me, the outlines are exhaustive. My outlines for my novels routinely go anywhere from 60 to 90 pages and contain not only details on the plot, but also character histories and rough drafts of scenes, etc. Once you’ve outlined your work, write a little each day. Set an attainable, realistic goal, such as a minimum of 500 words a day, and stick to it until you’re done. Once you’ve got the story finished, or at a minimum put it through a few drafts, look into some of the more reputable workshops. There are dozens, depending on what kind of writing you’re doing. These workshops will help you hone the story to its sharpest edge. From there, do your homework on publishers and agents. I strongly urge you to pursue the traditional publishing model of getting an agent to represent your work with one of the major New York houses. Don’t be taken in by vanity or subsidy publishers, of which there are many.

      Good luck!

      Joe

      Reply
  39. Jeff H

     /  July 23, 2012

    Howdy Joe,

    Awhile back I read Dead City, and really enjoyed it and commented on here about it. I have just finished reading Apocalypse of the Dead and Flesh Eaters. Great follow-ups, each had its own elements that contributed to the fabric of the dead world.

    In Apocalypse, the idea of the quarantine breaking down is terrifying, but even more so is what people do when it happens. Gaines as an anarchist was pretty frightening and I knew bad things were afoot when Jeff’s group encountered them. He reminds me somewhat of the Governor from Walking Dead, though very different. More terrifying was Jasper. As a religious person myself, it is very dangerous when cults of personality become intertwined with religion, and one leader twists the faith of their people into something like a suicide pact. You did a great job of developing Jasper over time from a seemingly good man who cares for his people but with undertones of a crazed dictator. It was easy to imagine how attractive the Grasslands would be after all the craziness of surviving the outbreak and the break-down of the quarantine. It really upped the ante from Dead City, and was thrilling and terrifying.

    Flesh Eaters I also enjoyed and terrified by. Both the account of the storms, the initial confusion of the rise of the infected and the failure of response by the government all made a perfect storm of terror. The tension was palpable as the situation spun out of control and everyone was just trying to get out alive.

    One question I have about the series, what year does the outbreak happen? In both Dead City and Apocalypse, I didn’t catch any hints as to the date and assumed it was around the modern time. In Flesh Eaters, a few things, such as Eleanor saying she was a little girl during Rita and Ike and the reference to a recent movie as being way in the past. My guess is the 2020’s. Did you intentionally leave the date vague until Flesh Eaters? I just want to know the year, so I make sure I am nowhere near Houston that year!

    Thanks for the great reads, I look forward to the upcoming sequel and short story anthology.

    Reply
  40. Hey Jeff,

    Wow, your comment is the kind of letter author’s dream of getting! Thanks so much for reading so closely. You are absolutely correct that I left the date of the events intentionally vague…that is, until Flesh Eaters. And Eleanor is the key to dating the series. She was a little girl during Rita, which came in 2010, and she’s in her mid-30s during the events in Flesh Eaters, giving us a date sometime in the mid to late 2020s for the Dead World series. Excellent deduction on your part!

    Thanks again for the kind words!

    Joe

    Reply
  41. Howdy Joe,
    After randomly acquiring Apocolypse of the Dead audio book on a long road trip, you got me hooked. I just finished Dead City on Google Play in a single sitting, er…laying down (much to my wife’s chagrin at 4am when I was still going) – I haven’t done that in years!

    Besides being great books that explore areas of the zombie genre I’ve never seen before (PETZ – hilarious and scarily believable at the same time!), I also appreciate your willingness to go the extra mile by writing the above readers guide and answer your fan’s questions. I had a few, but they’ve already been covered thanks to this!

    I am curious how you feel about eBooks, though. It seems like an author like you is perfect for that model (mix of short stories and novels in the same world, embracing fan interaction, great fan loyalty). I’d love to just buy your whole collection and read (and re-read) it over time, adding new works as the come out, but it looks painfully difficult to assemble. I’m guessing you don’t have complete control of this, but in the future I hope you insist on it. I am looking forward to your short story collection and hope that you are able to release some of the other short stories digitally in the future!

    On a side note, I grew up in Clear Lake (CLHS ’95) as well and live in Central TX now. I got quite a kick out of seeing the mention of El Dorado and Bay Area Blvd, which was very close to our home. I’m looking forward to Flesh Eater’s setting in Houston next – should bring back some more memories!

    Thanks again for taking the time to interact with us and keep up the great work!

    Chris

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  August 4, 2012

      Chris,

      Thanks, man! Great to meet a fellow Houstonian…and from Clear Lake no less! That’s great. I’m glad you’re enjoying the books. You should get a kick out Flesh Eaters (hopefully!) as Houston really gets it in that one. I do mention Clear Lake a few times in that one as well.

      As for ebooks, yes, this is tied in with my contract at Kensington. Unfortunately, most larger New York publishers are reluctant to give up ebook rights in a contract. There’s just far too much money involved. That said, I’ve got the fourth book in the series coming out in September, and my collected zombie short fiction later this year, and perhaps I can talk the publisher into putting them all together into an ebook series. It shouldn’t be that difficult for them…their willingness to do so would be the only stumbling block.

      Thanks again for the great letter. I really appreciate it!

      Joe

      Reply
      • Just finished Flesh Eaters as well..good stuff. Kind of funny that Eleanore ended up being ok with using the money for her own family’s benefit. But then again, there were several character “flips” that I found surprising (like Mark Shaw). Also funny that it ended on 290, considering I drove it yesterday :)

        Good luck with the publishers. I really hope the industry starts embracing the digital revolution and I’ll be waiting to buy when they do.

        Chris

  42. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for that. Glad to hear you liked Flesh Eaters. I’ve heard that before about Eleanore, but I guess I never really saw her character as making a strange reversal. Like Shaw, her primary motivation is saving her family…that’s there from the first line of the book. Eleanore first takes the money from Anthony in order to confront him with it, but then realizes that holding on to it is the only way she can keep leverage against him. In the end, after seeing the quarantine wall going up, she realizes that no one is ever coming back to Houston again. At that point, for her anyway, it’s not a question of whether taking the money is right or wrong, only that taking it will save her family…which is her prime directive. The same goes with Shaw. Remember, he’s bad from the first moment we meet him. The very first time he appears, he and Anthony are planning the theft. His directive is protecting his family, same as Eleanore, and at the end, he goes after Eleanore because she knows what his family as done and that gives her the power to put them in jail. As far as he’s concerned, she can’t escape alive.

    Reply
  43. Mike

     /  September 22, 2012

    Joe,

    Just finished Apocolypse of the Dead, and found it to be extremely entertaining. Barnes was my favorite character, at least, until the end. Hope one day this stories might hit the big screen and can’t wait to read the rest of your novels. Thanks for this page as well really shows how much this genre means to a fellow fan.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  September 23, 2012

      Mike,

      Thanks! Yeah, Apocalypse was a fun book to write. And Barnes a fun character. There are times I wish I could have let Barnes and Ed Moore team up. I would have loved to see the two of them tear through zombie country, but it wasn’t to be.

      Thanks again for the kind words!

      Joe

      Reply
  44. Joe, I just found your books and I am really loving them! You are an excellent writer. Your style is very engaging, and I’m able to lose myself in the book. As a bonus, I’m from south of Houston (Lake Jackson), and born in Webster. So, your books have brought me extra delight. Great job and keep them coming!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  October 1, 2012

      Jennifer,

      Thank you! So glad you’re liking the books. You know, I went back to my old home in Clear Lake (we lived in Brook Forest when I was growing up) a few months ago for the first time in probably fifteen years. I couldn’t believe how developed everything was. I remember passing through whole stretches of nothing to get from Clear Lake to Clear Creek to Webster to Kemah, etc., but it all seems connected these days. Anyway, so glad you liked the books. And you might be interested to know that I’m not done destroying my old stomping grounds. I’m currently developing a werewolf novel that takes place in around Clear Lake High School back in the early 80s.

      Reply
  45. Joe,

    I bought ‘Mutated’ in e-book last month and I wanted to re-read ‘Flesh,’ ‘City’ and ‘Apocalypse’ before diving into ‘Mutated’ for the first time. ‘Flesh’ and ‘City’ in particular raised an issue that I’ve thought about previously when reading post-apoc (and related) fiction and I hoped to get your thoughts.

    In his post-apoc novel “Dies the Fire,” S. M. Stirling had a scene where a group of characters facing a terrible catastrophe are considering what to do to escape and thus save themselves and their families (at least for a little while longer). I won’t go into the plot points in case someone reading this has not read DtF and wants to avoid spoilers but the would-be survivors have a decision to make: *if* the disaster that has just befallen them is long-term, then the plan they have devised could mean their salvation. If the disaster is short-term and civilization survives after all, the steps required to carry out their plan would make them not only laughingstocks but also non-violent felons.

    One of the characters speculates that disaster survivors are often survivors not because they have special skills or training, nor even because they are particularly lucky, but because they decide, “I am in real danger. I have to act.” The people who die, in contrast, may well be otherwise very competent but who nonetheless think “I’ll stay with my snowbound vehicle – someone will be along soon” or “I’ll ignore the evacuation order and stay in my home – the flood won’t make it this far inland” or – perhaps – “That can’t possibly be a zombie; I’ll just stand here and figure out what’s going on.”

    Although different authors and the stories they write tackle this ‘decision point’ issue differently, upon reflection, I’ve realized that my favorite works of horror and science fiction – the stories and novels I re-read every few years – address this decision point directly (if not explicitly). “These corpses really are coming back to life” or “These aliens really are invading” or “This virus really is destroying civilization” is followed not ONLY by a great plot and interesting characters but is predicated on the protagonist(s) deciding, “I *have* to do _this_ or _that_ will happen.”

    This is all my long-winded way of asking how you, as an author, think about this decision point when you map out your own stories. Does it emerge organically from the scenario that you have sketched out, or does it precede your development of a plot? (Or, if you think I’m full of crud, I’m happy to hear your thoughts about that, too.)

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  November 26, 2012

      What a fantastic note! Thank you so much. And yes, you’ve touched upon probably the single most important aspect of survival…the will to survive. As a matter of fact, I’ve thought long and hard on this topic, and I even wrote a guest blog for the Zombie Research Society’s website on it. Check this out:

      http://zombieresearchsociety.com/archives/9523

      As to the question of how I address it in my writing process…well, I’m afraid I can’t give a very definite answer. You asked if it emerges organically, and I suspect that it does. It really depends on the character. You see, I outline everything I write in detail long before I actually start writing the book. Some of my outlines have gone as much as 70 to 90 pages, and almost always have extensive notes on character development. Each character comes out differently, naturally, and so each will have their own “think like a survivor” moment. I think that’s probably as close as I can come to an answer to your question. What do you think?

      Joe

      Reply
  46. Bri

     /  November 24, 2012

    Joe,
    I am currently a college student who is writing a paper (ha as i write this reply) about your book Flesh Eaters. I am slightly addicted to Zombies and the Zombie Genre and this is my sencond paper I have manages to write about them. I’m thinking about writing a novel discussing zombies and how they symbolize society starting with George A Romero and working forward. If this actually happens could i contact you for a source?

    On a completely different not, i have really enjoyed the police aspect you have added into this story. Most Zombie movies/ books i have watched/read haven’t included this aspect. they usually only deal with joe schmoe. I would also like to thank you for including the above article it has really helped me write my paper!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  November 26, 2012

      Bri,

      Thanks so much for this! I’m excited you’re enjoying the books, and that the reader’s guide has been helpful. And yes please, feel free to contact me for your paper. I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

      Joe

      Reply
  47. Richard Sternberg

     /  December 6, 2012

    Dear Joe,

    I had a smiliar late-night ‘Night of the Living Dead’ experience as a young lad to you, and have loved zombie fiction since. I’m a huge fan of your writing and so grateful for the world of zombies you have created – it’s given me much joy over the past few months – you have entertained and enlightened me.

    Thank you!

    Richard

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  December 7, 2012

      Richard,

      Yeah, Night of the Living Dead seems to connect so many zombie fans. What great memories I have of being terrified by that film. And thanks for your comments on my writing. This made my morning.

      Have a great weekend!

      Joe

      Reply
  48. Reese

     /  December 8, 2012

    Hey im kind of confuzzled, what exactly are SURVIVORS, ETHICAL SOLUTIONS, and THE CROSSING? I didnt know about them up until now, I doubt you remember due to all of the feedback you get but i left a comment on here talking about how awesome your work is, so hello again. Also I thought the new book was going to be called zombie king? Forgive me for my ignorance. But now that i know its out i have to get it. Thanks for your time.

    Reese

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  December 8, 2012

      Hi Reese,

      No worries. I’ll try to correct the misunderstanding. First of all, as to The Zombie King, that book was publishing in September under the title MUTATED. Publishers are notorious for wanting authors to change titles right up to the point of publication, which is what happened here. The publisher’s Sales and Marketing Division felt that MUTATED had more curb appeal than The Zombie King, and asked if I would change the title to that. The short stories you mentioned (Survivors, Ethical Solution, etc) will soon be available in a single volume of my collected zombie fiction called DATING IN DEAD WORLD. That book is in the final stages of production and should be ready to go early in 2013. I’ll keep everybody posted here on my website. Also, please feel free to hit me up on Facebook, which is another easy way to get in touch with me.

      Joe

      Reply
  49. I enjoyed reading the article. I am fascinated with zombies
    and love zombie movies myself. It’s too bad they don’t make zombie
    movies as nice as the Night of the Living Dead. At least, the
    Walking Dead Series is still around.

    Reply
  50. Hi Joe – love your zombie books, can’t wait for the next one (there will be a next one, right??).
    Also know what you mean about writing for money. Hmmm…if we all wrote for money, we’d be even poorer. I work full time as a nurse (in Aussie) and write whenever I can, with some books published by a small publisher, and others books I have self published. Maybe one day I can write for a living – gotta have
    a dream right? Meanwhile, keep writing – love your zombies! (zombies are the coolest of the monsters, BTW ).

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  February 2, 2013

      Angela,

      You can count on more! As a matter of fact, there will be another one coming out in September called THE SAVAGE DEAD and I’m starting a new series for Kensington for next year, so there’s plenty more to come. Thanks for letting me what you thought of the books!

      Joe

      Reply
  51. Thanks Joe. I’ve put that title up on my calender.

    Reply
  52. Douglas

     /  June 26, 2013

    Loved the books! Finishing up Mutated right now which is fantastic! So many great characters throughout the novels. I have wondered what it would be like to read the dead series from an antagonist’s perspective. I thought Randall Gaines from Apocalypse was such a crazy character. It would be interesting to read from his perspective during the zombie apocalypse. How he became the outlaw biker, how he tracked down the other characters. It would be an interesting development and work with the leading character being the human waste he was. With that being said keep up the excellent writing and look forward to your future work!

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  June 26, 2013

      Douglas,

      Thanks so much for the kind words. There’s good news to come for the Dead World. I’ll be filling in gaps in the series with several upcoming works, and it looks like all the short stories and novellas will be available very soon. I may even take up your excellent suggestion to write from Randall’s POV. Thanks for that!

      Joe

      Reply
  53. Jon

     /  September 13, 2013

    Joe just finished The Savage Dead…Those are some durable Zombies you created. A fantastic story as always…Don’t want to say too much about the story and accidentally spoil it for other readers, but great characters and story! I saw some similarities between Captain Mark Shaw and Pilar that I thought was interesting. Bottom line a great book that combines law enforcement, action adventure, and horror in one book. Next time I’m on Padre Island surf fishing, I’ll pay more attention to what washes up on shore. Thanks for a great story, keep writing and I’ll keep reading

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  September 29, 2013

      Thanks so much Jon! Thrilled you enjoyed the book. And you’ve brought up an excellent point about the similarities between Pilar and Captain Shaw. There is definitely something there.

      Reply
  54. ashley ravidutt

     /  September 29, 2013

    Hi Mr McKinney

    I would just like to know if MUTATED is the last book in the Dead World series or if you plan on expanding upon Nate Royals role and the Cure for the Necrosis Filovirus in more books?

    P.s Your books are so addictive I cannot imagine an end to the series, keep up the excellent work.

    Reply
    • joemckinney

       /  September 29, 2013

      Hi Ashley,

      Thanks so much for the kind words! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series so far. To answer your question, no, Mutated is not the end. I still have lots of parts to the series I want to fill in, and I do intend to pursue Nate’s storyline out beyond Mutated. I’ll be working on those books over the next few years, so there should be plenty more goodness to come.

      Thanks again,

      Joe

      Reply
  1. Lincoln Crisler – Author, Editor, Reviewer, Live-Action G.I. Joe » Blog Archive » Joe McKinney’s <i>Dead World</i> Series – Lincoln Crisler » Lincoln Crisler - Author, Editor, Reviewer, Live-Action G.I. Joe
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