Did you happen to catch my interview with Weston Ochse? In that interview I talk about sitting with Wes at the HWA’s table at the Book Expo America convention, which remains one of my favorite events I’ve ever attended…for several reasons.
First off, I got to meet a lot of people I now hold as dear friends. (I remember sitting in the little backseat of Lisa Morton’s short crew pickup, my knees crammed into my chin and a pile of boxes leaning against my head, talking with Gene O’Neill about his history as a boxer, for example.) It was my first introduction to major conventions and all that they can do for an author’s career; which is, believe me, an article all unto itself.
Secondly, it introduced me to life as a professional writer, which at the time, I’ll honestly say, I didn’t put in the same sentence with my own literary efforts. But Lisa Morton helped to change that. This was the woman who pulled me aside and said she thought I had a promising career ahead of me. She was, in so many ways, the gatekeeper for my transition from interested hobbyist to pro. I can’t thank her enough for giving me that early confidence. I’ve often wondered how you can repay that sort of early helping hand up, and the only thing that comes to mind is mentorship. Lisa was there for me when there was no formalized such thing as a mentorship, and I have tried to emulate that same voice of confidence and experience when I myself became a mentor. I can think of no higher words of praise to say to a senior fellow than thank you; and to you, Lisa, I say a sincere and honest “Thank you! You rock!”
She has won her share of Stoker awards. She has turned out stories that challenge our view of how things should be (Don’t believe me, check out her story “Sparks Fly Upwards” – it’s one of my favorites.), written novels that reimagine our idea of the monster, and highlighted the fact that women deserve a bigger presence in the horror genre. (To this day I would love to see Lisa Morton write the feminist take on the Last Girl trope. I would stand in line for that short story.) And in the course of becoming a leading voice in the horror community, she has also managed to become the leading authority on Halloween. That’s not hyperbole, either. She really is the world’s leading authority on Halloween. (Check this out to see what I mean.)
But enough of that. I can go on all day about Lisa Morton, because I love her so. All you really need is to read her, and I’m presenting that opportunity now. Please enjoy!
Joe McKinney: Thanks for joining me here on Old Major’s Dream. I’m glad you could swing by. You’re no stranger to zombie fiction. Would you mind telling the folks out there a little about your zombie-related writing? How do you approach the genre?
Lisa Morton: I’m occasionally shocked to realize that I’ve written enough zombie short fiction to fill a book! Most recently I’ve been part of the two shared-world Zombie Apocalypse anthologies edited by Stephen Jones, and I’m currently working on a tie-in novel called Zombie Apocalypse: Washington Deceased.
Zombies are us, with our personalities scrubbed out and replaced by the most basic, most primitive of needs (to feed). They’re not sensual and intelligent like vampires, savage like werewolves, or mysterious like ghosts; they’re just blank. Because of the blankness, they’re like the horror equivalent of an erased blackboard that you can write anything on. Religious allegory, political commentary, social satire…the zombie story can easily become any of those.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
LM: Sorry, but I don’t see us taking great care of the joint without zombies; they’ll just make the final fade-out happen a little faster. I might last a little longer than everyone else, but I have an unfair advantage (as do you!): We’ve spent more time thinking about this stuff than everyone else.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever? (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here. I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)
LM: I’ve got to go with Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. I saw it in on opening night, when I was in my second year of film school. A teacher’s assistant who knew I liked horror insisted that we go; I’d somehow never seen Night of the Living Dead, and had absolutely no idea what I was in for. And yeah, it pretty much destroyed me. I didn’t sleep that night. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It took me a while to realize that what bothered me wasn’t even so much the idea of the hungry dead as it was the living survivors, sealing themselves away in a shopping mall. One of the great scenes in movie history for me is when Fran, the female lead, kind of wakes up and says, “What are we doing here?” Horror movie as rejection of consumer society…I’d certainly never imagined anything that subversive.
I also have to give a shout-out to the follow-up, Day of the Dead, which I think is an extraordinary and underrated film. The way Day suggests that the ultimate breakdown comes as the result of a battle between right (the military) and left (science) seems more and more prescient.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
LM: Does it have to be a zombie being killed, or can it be zombies doing the killing? If it’s the latter, I’m going with the end of Day, when the zombies rip apart the military leader Rhodes who screams “Choke on it!” while he watches parts of himself being eaten. I even love the way Romero cuts back a couple of times to parts of Rhodes being dragged around the abandoned facility by listless zombies.
JM: I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us. Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period. Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past. Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life. What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?
LM: That we fear we are being erased by the very culture that tells us to be unique, that sells us products by subtly preying on our fear that we’re really not different at all. That dread of conformity works two ways in the zombie mythos: By turning the dead into one big, indistinguishable hungry mass, and by suggesting that the living are nothing but walking meat lockers. It strips intellect, emotion, and self from all of us, and replaces it with nothing but consumption and gore. Yeah, that’s pretty terrifying.