A Special Interview Featuring Joe Lansdale, Carrie Ryan, Jonathan Maberry, Gregory Lamberson and Shawn Chesser

Well tomorrow is the opening day for The Savage Dead, and that means my Zombie Masters Series is coming to an end…so I decided to go out with a bang!  Today I am bringing you a huge multi-author interview featuring a few of my favorite writers.

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First off, we have Joe R. Lansdale, one of the most popular writers working today.  He was there at the beginning, when our modern idea of the Romereque zombie was just starting to see print, and he has continued to lead the way as the master and innovator of the genre.  But this is Joe R. Lansdale we’re talking about, so mentioning only his zombie fiction is sort of like saying Ray Bradbury wrote about rockets and leaving it at that.  He’s mastered crime fiction, the weird western, steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, and of course horror.  Like Bradbury, Lansdale is one of the finest short story craftsmen in modern American fiction.  And that’s not blowing smoke either.  Lansdale really is that good.  He’s won nearly every genre award out there, and has fashioned a body of work that looms large in every genre in which he’s worked.  I’m honored to have him here as part of this series.

I also got lucky when Carrie Ryan agreed to join me here for an interview.  On her website, Carrie describes herself this way:  Carrie was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. During her time in high school she was: vice president of her class, a cheerleader (no, seriously), captain of the field hockey team (one of only two teams in SC—her team was always state champs) and founder of the girls soccer team (she played on the boys team for a year until the school created the girls team, which, by the way, went from losing every game its first season to being ranked fourth in the state Carrie’s senior year!). She also wrote her first short story, Crab Shell Angels, for Mrs. Carter’s class on Southern Fiction.

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On weekends she read. Everything from Sweet Valley High to Romance to Christopher Pike. As far as her parents know, she never threw a party while they were out of town (*cough*).

Deciding to try a different climate, Carrie went to Williams College (go Ephs!) home of the purple cows—no, seriously, that’s their mascot. She played field hockey and lacrosse for a year before becoming involved in student government and other nefarious organizations. She also spearheaded a project to renovate and re-open the local student pub. She was an avid mountain biker and a member of the Williams Cycling Team (their jerseys were white with purple cow spots—they were easy to pick out of the peloton).

During the various summers Carrie hiked the Wind River Wilderness Mountains with NOLS, worked as an intern at the Greenville County Coroner’s Office, worked on a Mayan archeological dig in El Peten, Guatemala, and taught SAT prep for The Princeton Review.

As it turns out, Massachusetts, while amazing, is cold much of the year. So after graduating and dabbling in an internet start-up (it was 2000, everyone was doing it) she moved to Middleburg, Virginia and worked at the Foxcroft School. That’s where she finished her first book and wrote her second. She tried to convince agents that they really wanted a sensual western historical romance, but they were quite adamant that they did not. So she decided to write chick lit. Unfortunately, most chick lit showcased exciting city life and Carrie’s life was pretty boring in the Virginia countryside. So she came up with the brilliant plan of going to law school and getting a job in a big city so she could have an exciting life to draw from.

And if that didn’t work out, at least she’d still have the legal career to fall back on. It was at Duke Law School where she met her fiancé JP, a speculative fiction writer who taught her all about true love. JP is the one who convinced Carrie to go to that first zombie movie, which for the life of her she can’t remember why—she must have still been trying to impress him because Carrie has disliked all horror movies since the Poltergeist incident of 1983. The remake of Dawn of the Dead fascinated Carrie and JP fanned the fires with more zombies movies and a timely gift of The Zombie Survival Guide (which he read out loud to her every night).

After graduating, they moved to Charlotte and embarked on a plan to get serious about writing. Carrie tried to write her chick lit but that market was dead and she liked young adult books so much better. After a few false starts, JP convinced Carrie to write what she loved and she started writing about zombies. There are so many movies about the days and weeks after a zombie apocalypse, but Carrie wanted to know what happened much later—generations later. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is her first published novel and she’s excited to be writing even more novels set in the same world.

That’s how Carrie describes herself; but me, I just call her awesome.

Next up we have my good friend, Jonathan Maberry.  Jonathan burst onto the writing scene with his Pine Deep Trilogy back in 2006 and hasn’t looked back since.  Like Lansdale, Maberry is a major threat in a number of formats, everything from short stories to novels to non-fiction to comic books, and Lansdale again, is a master of martial arts.  That last part is no exaggeration either.  Jonathan is an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th degree in kenjutsu. In 2004 he was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.  Today he’s best known as the hardest working man in horror, having cranked out so many dazzling hits that I sometimes find myself wondering if he doesn’t have a whole basement full of clones working on stuff simultaneously.  I’ll guess we’ll never know, but at least we get to benefit from his tireless imagination.  At let’s face it, isn’t the world a better place with guys like Joe Ledger and Sam Hunter in it?

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Described by Fangoria Magazine as “the sort of force that dark fantasy and horror are lucky to have,” my next guest is the one and only Gregory Lamberson.  Gifted with the art of storytelling, both on the page and in film, Lamberson is a two-time IPPY Gold Medal winner and three-time Bram Stoker Award finalist. Rave reviews of his work have appeared in Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. All of his books are available in print and as e-books, and some are also available as audio books. In 2013, Medallion Press will publish Lamberson’s novel THE JULIAN YEAR, the first TREEbook, which will employ revolutionary time-triggered branching technology.

Lamberson’s novel PERSONAL DEMONS, winner of the IPPY Gold Medal for Horror, is the first volume in the action packed occult detective series “The Jake Helman Files,” published by Medallion Press. Other books in the series include the zombie novel DESPERATE SOULS, the new Cthulhu themed COSMIC FORCES(nominated for Superior Achievement in a Novel by the Horror Writers Association), and TORTURED SPIRITS, which is scheduled for October 2012. PERSONAL DEMONS, DESPERATE SOULS, and COSMIC FORCES are also available as audio books from Audible.com, and TORTURED SPIRITS will be as well.  So keep your eyes out for those, because everything Lamberson touches seems to turn to gold.

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And last but not least I’m offering up Shawn Chesser for your reading enjoyment.  Shawn is the author of the Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse Series, a run that so far includes five of the best military zombie writing out there, including Trudge, Soldier On, In Harm’s Way, A Pound of Flesh, and Allegiance.

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Through a combination of tight, well-structured plots and fully realized characters, Chesser has emerged as one of the top Indie writers in the business.  He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two children. He studied writing at Harvard on the hill (PCC Sylvania) many years ago. Shawn is a big fan of the apocalyptic horror genre. Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy and George Romero are strong influences. When not writing, Shawn spends the rest of his time doting on his two children and doing whatever his wife says.  But his wife let him off the hook long enough to come play with us today, so let’s get started, shall we?

 

 

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?

Joe R. Lansdale:  I was attracted to this branch of monsters when I was a kid. The zombies then were not the eat your flesh kind. They strangled usually. My favorite old zombie film is I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. Later, I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD shortly after it came out, and that bent me seriously. I never really thought about writing zombie fiction, and I think it was an accident I wrote the first piece. I loved Westerns and horror, and an old movie titled CURSE OF THE UNDEAD had impressed me. It was a Western vampire movie, and these days it would seem tame. I had seen it a few times and just loved the whole idea of it. I decided I wanted to write a horror western, and I decided to combine the idea of zombies/ghouls/vampires/witchcraft and Lovecraftian  monsters. But it had a zombie vibe and is usually thought of as a zombie western. It’s amazing to me how much of an impact it has had on the field. I thought of it as a simple, pulp style, comic-book piece. I had great fun writing it, and also wrote a screenplay. It was optioned many times, and the film rights were finally bought by a French film company, Vertigo, and they never made it. So they have the rights, and it’s too bad they never filmed it, and they don’t have any interest in letting any one else have it. Or didn’t it. Maybe that’s changed now. I also wrote an off-beat science fiction western titled ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADIALLAC  DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS.  It was originally a non-zombie science fiction tale with a modern western tone, but it died on me. And then I was asked to write a zombie story for Skipp and Spector’s BOOK OF THE DEAD, and I added the zombies in. They worked perfect. It’s still one of my favorite pieces. It’s a mixture of parody, pastiche, and at the time some original ideas  that have been co-opted by a lot of other writers and film makers. Besides those stories there have been others, including another story about my Western character with another take on the zombie theme, Deadman’s Road. I even wrote a kind of two people having trouble with their marriage, but it takes place in a zombiefied universe. And there are others. Christmas With The Dead, which my son adapted to a low budget film that’s a lot of fun. I don’t know exactly how many I’ve written about zombies. Seven or eight, I think. I don’t have plans to write others, as I’m kind of worn out on the whole zombie thing. But I never say never.

Carrie Ryan:  When I first became obsessed with zombies, most of the stories I found focused on the actual zombie apocalypse itself, right when the world becomes irrevocably altered and humanity has to figure out how to adapt and survive (which I love!).  I was curious what it would be like if you’d not only been born and raised in a world with zombies, but if your parents and grandparents had too.

So I set my first novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, about 150 years after the zombie apocalypse when zombies are just a fact of life (though still threatening!).

 Since then I’ve written two sequels (that take place about 20-30 years later) and many short stories (that take place everywhere from right at the zombie apocalypse itself to just before the events in The Forest of Hands and Teeth).

One of the best aspects of zombies as a creature is that there’s really no canon and so every author is free to experiment.  For my world I decided to go with a mix of both fast and slow, non-sentient zombies.  To me, the scariest thing about zombies is that they seem like they should be so easy to kill: they’re mindless creatures who can’t work together or use tools.  And yet, they’re impossible to escape.  You can’t outrun the fast ones and with the slow ones, when you have to stop to sleep or eat or whatever, they keep moving which means eventually, they’ll always catch up.  Once you’re surrounded by sufficient masses, you’re pretty much hosed.  That’s the kind of desperate situation that I love to write about.

Jonathan Maberry:  I’ve been writing about my life-impaired fellow citizens for quite a while. I took my first swing at them in a nonfiction book, THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS’ FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD, which was published in 2000 under the pen name of Shane MacDougall. The book examined various kinds of monsters –folkloric and fictional—including various kinds of zombies. I discussed other aspects of the zombie phenomenon in a series of nonfiction books I wrote for Citadel Press: VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THE CRYPTOPEDIA, THEY BITE and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE.

Then in 2006-08 Pinnacle Books released my Pine Deep Trilogy (GHOST ROAD BLUES, DEAD MAN’S SONG and BAD MOON RISING), which was about various kinds of vampires preparing to make war on humanity. Some of the vampire subtypes closely resembled the Romero zombie. In 2008 I did a nonfiction book, ZOMBIE CSU: THE FORENSICS OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which I interviewed over 250 experts in various fields (from molecular biology to Homeland security) about how the real world might deal with a zombie plague.

Based on some of the research I did for Zombie CSU, I decided to write my first full zombie novel, PATIENT ZERO for Griffin. It was a techno-thriller with special ops against terrorists with a zombie plague. That book was the first of a series of thrillers featuring former Baltimore detective Joe Ledger; and though the other books dealt with non-zombie threats, I return to the zombie plague in CODE ZERO, the sixth book, due out in March 2014.

I’ve done one zombie comic so far, MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, and it was a fun collaboration with Seth Grahame-Smith (PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES), David Wellington (MONSTER ISLAND), and Fred Van Lente (COWBOYS AND ALIENS).

I’ve also written a four-book post-apocalyptic zombie series for teens: ROT & RUIN, DUST & DECAY, FLESH & BONE and FIRE & ASH (all from Simon & Schuster). That series is now being developed for film.

Griffin wanted me to do more zombie novels for adults so I did DEAD OF NIGHT for them in 2011; and I just turned in the sequel, FALL OF NIGHT, scheduled for next August. Legendary horror filmmaker Eric Red (NEAR DARK, THE HITCHER) is writing the screenplay for DEAD and plans to direct.

And I’ve done a slew of zombie short stories, some for adults, some for teens. Some of them have been gathered into an audio collection, HUNGRY TALES (Blackstone).

Gregory Lamberson:  Thanks for including me in the dream.  I’ve written four books which could be classified as zombie tales.  The first was Johnny Gruesome, about a heavy metal obsessed teen who’s murdered and returns from the grave to kill a lot of people; it’s as much a slasher story and an EC Comics story as a zombie deal.  Two of my five Jake Helman novels have pitted Jake against hordes of voodoo “zonbies,” and I was delighted to feature old school zombies instead of flesh eaters.  A variation, “aqua zonbies,” make an appearance in the fifth book in the series, Storm Demon, which Medallion Press publishes this October.  My novella Carnage Road is the only one I’ve written that sticks to the world George Romero and John Russo created, and it’s one of my favorites.  It’s about two bikers traveling across America during the zombie apocalypse, and it’s really about humanity.   This one was just optioned as a possible movie or TV series with me attached as co-writer, so with any luck I’ll be thinking of new ways to creatively kill the undead for a while.

My main concern is always the protagonist – Jake Helman, Boone and Walker in Carnage Road, and Tony Mace in my werewolf series The Frenzy Cycle.  If the reader doesn’t really care about your leads and what happens to them, they’re not going to give a damn about the threats they face.  In most of my books, I look for a way to spin traditional monsters and mythology.  Jake Helman has faced zonbies toting machetes and machineguns, a Lovecraftian beast with ties to Christian beliefs, and angels and demons who behave like gangsters, and my werewolves have a pretty unique mythology.  Carnage Road is really the only thing I’ve written where the monster follows the tropes of a given subgenre, but the heroes, who are really antiheroes, are where I departed from the norm.

Shawn Chesser:  My pleasure, Joe! You’ve probably heard other writers in the genre say they were inspired by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Well, you can count me among them as well. My Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse universe is full of the same type of flesh eating zombies as in the movies I grew up watching. Except for the really young specimens and the newly turned, my living dead are fairly slow and tend to catch the living by surprise or by overwhelming them in large numbers—hordes and mega-hordes in my novels. Like Romero’s, some of my zombies possess snippets of memory, but in the STZA universe, don’t really utilize them to any kind of advantage… yet.

Joe McKinney:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

Joe R. Lansdale:  Humanity would win. You just wait them out. They rot. That’s the conclusion in CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, the film version. If  humanity can gather and wait, it ends. Unless it’s in the air, then we have a new problem. Frankly, I don’t lose sleep over the zombie apocalypse.

Carrie Ryan:  If the zombie apocalypse started right now, I’d be screwed.  At the last place I lived I could have probably survived a bit (I even wrote a story based on that idea: What Once We Feared, but now I live in a one story house with thin windows and little food.  Plus I’m close to a city – if I made it out alive it would be because of sheer dumb luck.

I like to believe humanity would eventually win in a zombie apocalypse, but really it depends on what kind of zombies you’re dealing with.  If it’s disease based, there should statistically be an immune segment of the population.  If the zombies rot, eventually the large masses will “die” out (can you tell I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking through all of this?).   And in the end, my hope would be that at least some groups of humanity could find pockets of safety – I’ve always thought Curacao would be a great place to ride out the zombie apocalypse.

Jonathan Maberry:  If there was an outbreak of the zombie plague, I think we have a shot –as long as they’re slow shufflers and not the Olympic Zombie Spring Team. The fast-onset, fast-running zombies is a no-win scenario. Movies like 28 Days Later and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead show that pretty well. But with the slow zombies –we can get in front of that. Cell phones would allow us to take pics and videos, send and share information, reach out to emergency services, warn our friends, and otherwise survive. Also, we’re sensitized to medical threats and we tend to respond faster now than we did, say, ten years ago. So, yeah, I think we’d survive.

Survival would bring with it a retaliatory attitude and deep paranoia, so having survived we might be in a medically-based version of Big Brother.

Gregory Lamberson:  Joe, I am not prepared.  I don’t own any weapons, and my cupboards are bare by the end of the week.  I know from watching cable TV that there are others out there who are prepared, but frankly, those are the last people I want to see surviving over the rest of us.  Or maybe they deserve to make it for keeping their feathers numbered in case of just such an emergency.  I’m an atheist, but the zombie apocalypse just might change my views on religion, and if a deity decides it’s time for us to go, the least we could do is follow his or her wishes, right?

Shawn Chesser:  I’m prepared for the worst. However, I try to hope for the best. I guess that’s a yes. Humanity certainly has a way of overcoming most adversity… so yes to that as well, unless they’re the fast 28 Days Later buggers. I can’t say with a degree of certainty that we’d be able to survive the turbocharged, rage virus infected type of creatures, so let’s put an asterisk next to the last yes.

Joe McKinney:  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.)

Joe R. Lansdale:  My favorite is NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the original. It was such a game changer, and it scared the hell  out of me. It still creeps me. I also like both DAWN’S OF THE DEAD, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Though it’s low budget, I find CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD a strange zombie film, not such much a horror film, but an odd and unique sort of film, made on a shoe-string. But there’s a prejudice in that. It’s my story, my son’s script, my friend Lee Lankford directed, and my daughter did part of the music in the film. But I do think the way it’s approached is what makes it unique.  I also like ZOMBIE with Richard Johnson, an Italian film. It’s scummy and fly specked and really creepy; has a real feel of disease about it.

Carrie Ryan:  I have to give a nod to the remake of Dawn of the Dead because it was really my first introduction into zombies and started my obsession.  But I also love the original Night of the Living Dead.  Mostly because when I first watched it, I hated it.  I was enraged with the characters and their inability to work together – they made such stupid decisions and by the end I thought they all pretty much deserved to die.  But then I heard George Romero speak and he explained that his intent with the movie was to point out that we as humanity have failed to work together to solve large and serious world problems like hunger, poverty, etc. 

That was a huge eye opener to me and suddenly I saw the movie in an entirely different light.  We were supposed to be that frustrated with the characters — that was the point. It was the first time I realized that a storyteller could want you to dislike a character and I loved that.

Jonathan Maberry:  I often have multiple favorites, with individual works held in esteem because they touch a certain nerve or speak to me in a specific way. That said, here are some favorites:

Favorite zombie novel is DEAD CITY by Joe McKinney. It’s a ‘get off your ass and get it done’ book. The hero is a cop and he survives because he uses that skill set. Too often a professional is presented as clumsy, stupid or ineffective. In Dead City we see a law enforcement professional who survives because of his training, even when everything else is falling apart. The author doesn’t waste half of the book having the character stand around and philosophize in situations where action is what’s required. And the action in the book is nonstop.

Favorite zombie anthology: BOOK OF THE DEAD, edited by John Skipp and Craig Specter. This book was released in 1989 and is pretty much the foundation upon which all zombie literature has been built. Skipp and Specter brought together Richard Laymon, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Steve Resnic Tem, Les Daniels, Douglas E. Winter, Joe Lansdale, Robert McCammon and other serious heavy hitters in a batch of stories that is as timely and readable now as they were upon publication. The editors are often criminally overlooked when people talk about zombie pop culture. They planted the seeds in the minds of many, many writers.

Favorite zombie movie: the unrated director’s cut of Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. I love slow zombies on TV and in books, but I like the higher-energy thrills of the fast ones on film. And, the cast is superb, the soundtrack is killer, the effects terrific, and the pace breakneck.

Favorite zombie TV: It’s a dead heat between THE WALKING DEAD, which is brilliant and so much fun, and DEAD SET, the BBC miniseries about the zombie outbreak happening during the filming of the TV show Big Brother. Funny, bloody, scary and so well-written.

Favorite zombie comic: Robert Kirkman’s THE WALKING DEAD runs neck-and-neck with the first of the Marvel Zombie stories, back when they were part of the Ultimates universe.

Favorite zombie short story: “What Maisie Knew” by David Liss. Elegant and disgusting –two words that seldom fit into the same description, but they work here. David is best know for his Edgar Award-winning historical mysteries, so when he did this story he came right out of left field and blindsided folks.

Gregory Lamberson:  For decades my favorite zombie flick was Dawn of the Dead, but now Shaun of the Dead equals perfection on my scale.  Besides, I can watch Shaun with my whole family; my daughter is too young for the stronger stuff, and zombies really disturb my wife.  As far as novels go, I have two favorites: Dead City, which has a fantastic pace and a really good depiction of how the apocalypse all goes down, and The Sinister Mr. Corpse by Jeff Strand, which is as funny as you would expect.  I forgot who wrote Dead City.

Shawn Chesser: The remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead really grabbed me when it came out. The credit sequence at the beginning when Johnny Cash sings ‘When the man comes around’ is priceless. I could watch that all day. Ving Rhames also did a great job of portraying a LE member trying to cope with a seemingly impossible band of survivors. Now I’m not sucking up here, but your Apocalypse of the Dead was one of the first eBooks I ever downloaded and read on my first iPhone. I’m a helicopter and aviation buff so you had me hooked with the first couple of paragraphs. Hopefully, one day I’ll hone my prose to maybe approach something close to your caliber of writing. Congrats to all of your success! OK that was sucking up. I was a fan of the Zompoc before I started writing about it… so I’m allowed that…aren’t I? Another book that resonated with me early on is Stephen King’s ‘The Stand.’ I loved the whole good versus evil scenario. I really got into the characters and enjoyed the vivid, yet bleak, depopulated landscape King describes so well. Another post-apocalyptic favorite of mine is Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road,’ his descriptive style of writing had me feeling cold and hungry during the entire read.

Joe McKinney:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

Joe R. Lansdale:  ZOMBIE, the Italian film is full of them. And there’s kill scenes that the zombies provide, like the one where they pull the character’s eye in a sharp fragment of lumber.

Carrie Ryan:  Oooh, that’s a tough one! There are so many! I’m definitely a fan of the lawnmower scene from Dead Alive.  But I think a scene that’s always stuck with me is when they have to kill the mom in Shaun of the Dead.  Especially because so much of that movie is hilarious, that particular scene becomes such an emotional gut punch.

Jonathan Maberry:  My fav is Bub’s revenge on Captain Rhodes for the murder of Dr. Logan. It was the first time I rooted for a zombie. And I’d like to think that Bub is still out there, wandering the wastelands and maybe evolving into something new and interesting.

Gregory Lamberson: I think machete head in Dawn of the Dead is the most iconic, but I thought Romero came up with some great ones in Survival of the Dead, which I love dearly and deserves to be seen by as many people who tune in to The Walking Dead every week.

Shawn Chesser: The newborn Z in the Dawn of the Dead remake is one that really sticks out in my mind. Even though you don’t actually get to see the baby being put down, the fade to black followed by the echoing gunfire paints the picture. I have a few scenes scattered throughout my series where kids kill, and also are killed themselves—both by zombies and humans—and as a result, I have received a couple of good natured tongue lashings.   

Joe McKinney:  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?

Joe R. Lansdale:  I think it’s the idea of our culture eroding, changing. I think we go through these periods, and then we find that we have changed with it, or at least the next generation in line has. And then it’s their turn. I think boiling this complex, technological world down to something simple is part of it. People would like for it to be simple, and on some level the idea of the whole thing collapsing, even with zombies, is appealing to some; same impulse for the goobers who run around in the woods in camo- pants hoping the government would collapse. If it did we’d all last about fifteen minutes, and for those who might last, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun as a movie, and you might not be the hero of the event.

Carrie Ryan:  What I love about zombies is that as a metaphor, they can be used to mean so many things!  Look at George Romero who used them to criticize consumerism and our inability to work together to solve large problems.  Danny Boyle used zombies to chronicle fear and/or mistrust of scientific experiments in 28 Days Later.  In Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, the zombies are essentially emotionless shells.

Personally, I love zombies as representative of a fear of life unlived or unexamined.  When we refer to someone as a zombie at work or school, we mean that they’re just going through the motions.  There’s no thought or passion or even purposeful intent in their actions.  At least in my own writings, zombies exist for existence’s sake.  All they do is occupy space: they don’t think or love or feel or care or plan.  How is that different from a lot of the living who wake up and go through the motions of life without conscious thought?  Without questioning?

They say that whenever the economy crashes, the popularity of zombies increases.  There’s a part of me that wonders if that’s because people are suddenly shaken out of their comfort zones.  They can’t just continue as they had before and are forced to re-examine their lives and their priorities.  They’re forced to figure out what separates them from someone who just occupies space.   I think zombies remind us that we’re still alive and we should treasure that.

Jonathan Maberry:  There are so many reasons why zombie fiction and movies work and except for the shallow few, mostly it’s because it pushes some emotional, psychological or cultural buttons. Subtext has become the text in zombie pop culture. That said, the things about the genre that appeals most to me are the debates over issues like the definition of what makes us human, the value of human life, the right to survive, and exploring the line between the needs of immediate survival and the preservation of civilized societal values.

For example, in my ROT & RUIN novels he older brother of the protagonist teaches his younger brother that zombies were once people. They had lives, dreams, loves, families, expectations. All of that was stolen from them by a plague. They each died afraid and in pain. They are victims of a disease. Even though we have to fight the zombie, and kill it to survive, we can’t at any time disrespect it or what it was. To do that is to perpetuate a process of dehumanization.

Gregory Lamberson:  Zombies are popular because they’re reflections of ourselves.  Romero and Russo hit on the perfect formula, and every good zombie story someone creates, in awhatever medium, tells us something about ourselves, and that’s why such seemingly limited characters are actually limitless.  Bub listening to a Walkman or thumbing through a Stephen King novel says it all.  Zombies are obsessed with the same things we are (other than human flesh), and seeing continue our daily pastimes conveys the same sort of revealing satire as watching the apes in Planet of the Apes behave like humans.  These images tell us we build our lives around some pretty silly materialism and habits.  Because zombies are us, the idea of being eaten by them is a lot more frightening than being eaten by dinosaurs, sharks, or Martians.

Shawn Chesser:  I think we are all facing a new type of world filled with a lot of uncertainty. In a way some of us are already living in a post-apocalyptic world; one where war is an ongoing occurence and everyday life has been turned upside down. Earth is becoming incredibly crowded and our resources are in danger of being stretched very thin or even running out eventually. Then, we are bombarded on a daily basis with news of the next… near-miss asteroid fly-by, coronal mass ejection from the sun, bird, or bee die off, etc… Maybe the masses find some comfort in reading and watching post-apocalyptic entertainment because it’s a way absorbing information that they may have to fall back on later. At any rate, like I said earlier, I’ll prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Thanks for presenting me with the opportunity to babble away at you, Joe.

Thom Brannan and D.L. Snell

Today I’m bringing you a bit of treat.  This is the first of two multi-author interviews, and I decided to make that pairing D.L. Snell and Thom Brannan, two writers who have managed to join their voices into a perfect chorus to form the Pavlov’s Dogs series, which features genetically engineered werewolves against zombies.  Having read the books in manuscript form I can tell you they are a high-octane thrill ride you do not want to miss.

Up first in our little round robin is author Thom Brannan.  Thom has got one of those man’s man kind of biographies that makes readers salivate over what insights he is going to give us in his fiction.  The man has been a submariner, a nuclear operator, an electrician, and has even worked on an offshore drilling platform.  Looking at this guy’s resume you just know he’s got a whole host of stories waiting in the wings.  He now lives in Austin (again, there’s that Texas and zombies thing; go figure!) with his wife, Kitty, a son and a daughter, and a cat and dog.  In other words, he’s a man with his hands full.

But he’s got another label to put into his biography, and that is literary detective.  You see, one of our most promising voices in zombie fiction, Mr. ZA. Recht, was taken from us way too soon. Recht left his Morningstar Trilogy unfinished and until Thom came along, it looked like it would never be finished.  But Thom, with the blessing of Recht’s family, friends and publisher, went through all of Recht’s notes and outlines and rough sketches and managed to create a thrilling conclusion to the series that had fans like me cheering his name.

But Thom has also worked on another amazing zombie novel with my other guest for today, Mr. D.L. Snell.  David and I go way back.  David was one of the first writers to comment on my novel Dead City, and shortly after his reviews came out online, I contacted him with a good old-fashioned thank you note.  We started trading emails, and a tight friendship grew from that.  I have cheered him through the many novels and short stories he’s published since, from Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines to his recent works, Pavlov’s Dogs and The Omega Dog.  And believe me, at the rate he’s going, there are going to be a lot of hits coming.

So, please, give up a big welcome for Thom Brannan and D.L. Snell, zombie masters.

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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?

Thom Brannan:  My first foray into writing all things zombie was ghostwriting the finale to Z.A. Recht’s Morningstar Strain trilogy, Survivors. Since then, I’ve been kind of fascinated by how a zombie apocalypse would change the status quo. Not in the now, of course… the apocalyptic factor tends to make shreds of the status quo. I mean, of the future us.  And like my Worthy Opponent, D.L. Snell, I very much like to see how the new kid on the horror block fares against established monsters, which led to Pavlov’s Dogs and The Omega Dog.

D.L. Snell:  Thanks for having me, Joe! Love your site, love your books.

I’ve written quite a bit of undead fiction since publishing my first zombie short story in 2005, titled “Limbless Bodies Swaying.” Most of my zombie work since then has centered around a “versus” concept: zombies vs. superheroes, zombies vs. vampires, and more recently in PAVLOV’S DOGS and THE OMEGA DOG, zombies vs. werewolves.

Seems cruel now, but as a kid I was fascinated with pitting bugs against each other in a coffee can: black widow vs. scorpion; ants vs. potato bug; ants vs. scorpion vs. potato bug… vs. rising water level. Sadly, none of these matchups escalated like I’d hoped. They were all… pretty lame. I feel the same way about movies with a versus theme, actually: they’re all so terribly B-rated.

So when I bring the versus concept to my zombie fiction, I strive to create stories that don’t simply cash in on the two monsters fighting in a coffee can. I like to throw humans in the middle and make the story more about them, more about their reactions and their actions and their emotions and their betrayals and alliances and their struggle to survive and to cope with the very act of surviving. Some of these people just happen to be able to turn into werewolves.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

TB:  Oh, heavens no. I’m not prepared for my microwave to fail, much less a zombie apocalypse. I think something like that would get its hooks into humanity pretty quickly. The news would be all over it, and like Peter Clines says, after the first announcements, you can pretty much assume any place with its own parking lot looted. There’s also denial. As a culture, we’re all about the ZA, but who in their right mind would believe it’s actually happening?

This is why the tale of the everyman survivor is fascinating. We’d like to believe we’re that guy (or gal, whichever) who doesn’t have a special skillset but somehow makes it through the collapse of everything. That’s why readers like Ken and Jorge in the two Dogs books, that’s why people identify with Jack, the main character in my other novel, Lords of Night.

DLS:  I am not prepared. Most people aren’t. I think our chance of winning depends a lot on the type of zombie—fast, slow, smart, brain-dead, or in the case of THE OMEGA DOG… shapeshifting. It also greatly depends on the type of infection. How does it spread? How fast does it spread? Where has it spread to already? Is it something we’re able to vaccinate or otherwise cure? In THE OMEGA DOG they find out the virus itself has become… a sort of shapeshifter. What are the ramifications of that?

Of course, our reaction to the outbreak will also help determine our fate. How fast can we quarantine it? If we can’t quarantine it, can we devise strategies to eradicate it? If we can’t eradicate it, can we “quarantine” ourselves on some island or farm, or in some hidey-hole? And in isolating ourselves, do we have the supplies and resources we need? Are the resources we have renewable? How long will the supplies last, and are we able to restock?

I do know the human race is incredibly robust. It can be extremely difficult to kill a person, and it’s even harder to kill off our entire race. Of course, we have weak spots, don’t we? Stab me in the heart or hit a major artery. Blow my brains out. Deprive me of water or air. Shift the poles on me.

But for all that, we’re resourceful, we’re hardy, and despite all our issues with communication and tolerance and selfishness, we do have the capacity to work together for the common good.  We’ve been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years. So I imagine we have a good shot at winning the war against zombies.

It just depends on whether or not they hit a weak spot.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie book, movie, short story, whatever?  (Please feel free to ramble as much or as little as you like here.  I’d love to know why that story or movie or whatever grabs you.)

TB:  I might be in the minority, but Land of the Dead is one of my top zombie movies. It sits just behind Shaun of the Dead, I think. LotD is one of those that is what I said just a minute ago, a film that examines society at large after the ZA. It’s so close after that people are still clinging to money and power and status; the people at the top still manage to do nothing, while the people who really power the enclosed society, the workers, slog for little and get no recognition for it.

As for favorite zombie book, it’s either Jason S. Hornsby’s Every Sigh, the End, for it’s completely unconventional take on the why’s and wherefore’s of the ZA, or it’s Dave Dunwoody’s Empire duology, because that’s another example of what Land of the Dead does, only several hundred years in the future.

DLS:  Of course I have a lot of nostalgia for the classics, all the early Romero films. Joe, I absolutely loved your book APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD. I was lucky enough to read an earlier draft of this, and I was floored. Here it was, the first truly great zombie epic. It reminded me of how books like THE STAND and SWAN SONG made me feel, and I loved it.

And THE WALKING DEAD, in my opinion, is probably one of the deepest zombie-themed stories you’ll find onscreen. I really do enjoy that show, and it’s mainly because of the characters and all the terrible suffering they endure. And the headshots. The headshots are great too.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

TB:  I’m not sure if this means people killed by zombies, or the other way around. Shit. Tell you what, I’m going to go with… Ash vs. Resurrected Evil Ash in Army of Darkness.

DLS:  WALKING DEAD fans who aren’t caught up, look away now, because I’ve never been so affected by the death of a zombie as I was by the deaths of Sophia and Merle.

JM:  I’ve always felt the best and most effective horror is trying to investigate what we think of ourselves and what it means to be us.  Washington Irving’s tales, for instance, generally grapple with the question of what it means to be an American in the post-Revolutionary War period.  Nathaniel Hawthorne battled with the intellectual promise of a nation rising to international credibility while simultaneously choking under the yolk of a Puritan past.  Stephen King made a name for himself chronicling the slow collapse of the American small town way of life.  What do you think the zombie and its current popularity is telling us about ourselves?

TB:  It’s fear. A lot of Americans don’t have the worries our forebears did. Technological and medical advancements have made life longer, injuries and conditions less life-threatening, and things more plentiful. What I think makes the zombie so fascinating to us at large is that anything we’re working on these days could be Frankenstein’s creature, coming back to do us in. Nanotechnology, custom-made viruses (virii?) or just our further understanding of all the things we do not understand in the universe. The more we learn, the less we know.

And like so many others have said, the zombie is us. I know I’m taking it out of context, but Corrosion of Conformity said it best in “Infinite War,” I think: become the enemy to defeat yourself.

Well, this was fun. Thanks for letting me spew nonsense here, Joe!

DLS:  A lot of different things. We’re afraid of destroying ourselves. We’re afraid of other people. We’re afraid of getting sick. We’re afraid of losing everyone and everything we’ve ever loved. We’re afraid of losing civilization and law and order and humanity itself. We’re afraid of what we’re capable of doing to survive—fearful of what we’ll become as a repercussion. Most of all, though, we’re afraid of death.

I once heard a wise man say our biggest, most destructive sin is greed. But to me greed is largely an exaggerated unwillingness to die. We want more, because more increases the likelihood we’ll survive. What is comfort if not freedom from danger and pain?

So in a major way I think zombies illustrate our ugly, vicious, selfish drive to keep on walking… even when everything that made us human has long ago died.

You can check out their books Pavlov’s Dogs and The Omega Dog here, Thom’s books here, and David’s books here.

Rachel Aukes

The Savage Dead is just a few days away now, and I figured I would celebrate by showing off my latest discovery in the zombie genre.  My guest today is Rachel Aukes, author of the absolutely brilliant 100 Days in Deadland.  I got a chance to read 100 Days earlier this month as part of an article series on new book marketing Rachel and I wrote together, and after reading Rachel’s book, I knew she had a place here.

Rachel writes speculative fiction to the tune of science fiction, dark fantasy and horror, and writes in those same genres, but with a romantic twist, under the pen name Berinn Rae.  Born and raised on a farm in Iowa, she boasted the biggest comic book collection in town.  She is a skilled pilot and dog lover, and managed to work both into 100 Days in wonderful ways.

She is one to watch, ladies and gentlemen.  But for now, take a moment and read what she has to say on zombies.  Then go out and buy her book!

The Savage Dead is just a few days away now, and I figured I would celebrate by showing off my latest discovery in the zombie genre.  My guest today is Rachel Aukes, author of the absolutely brilliant 100 Days in Deadland.  I got a chance to read 100 Days earlier this month as part of an article series on new book marketing Rachel and I wrote together, and after reading Rachel’s book, I knew she had a place here.

Rachel writes speculative fiction to the tune of science fiction, dark fantasy and horror, and writes in those same genres, but with a romantic twist, under the pen name Berinn Rae.  Born and raised on a farm in Iowa, she boasted the biggest comic book collection in town.  She is a skilled pilot and dog lover, and managed to work both into 100 Days in wonderful ways.

She is one to watch, ladies and gentlemen.  But for now, take a moment and read what she has to say on zombies.  Then go out and buy her book!

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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?

Rachel Aukes:  Thanks for having me, Joe!

I’m one of the newbies here, with only one zombie novel out (more on the way!). When it comes to the genre, it’s simple: I write what I’d like to read. I want a story I could lose myself in, even if only for four hours. We’ve all read books like that. You know the one where you read, oblivious to running children and bored pets, until you finish the last sentence and just lean back and close the book with a sigh. Yeah, that’s the one.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

RA:  I’d survive only if I had plenty of luck and good friends on my side. I’m not nearly prepared enough for TEOTWAKI. I live in a Des Moines suburb (would love to move out to the country) and have nothing but a bug-out bag ready. I’m a pilot, so if I can get to a plane, I can get to a better location to ride out the apocalypse.

As for humanity, we’d fare poorly. I’m a realist and see how easily the world as we know it could collapse. Most wouldn’t survive. Morals and scruples would fall by the wayside. Civilization would fall back to a feudal system, and slavery would no doubt rear its ugly head again. But we’d survive and rebuild.

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.)

RA:  I could really ramble here, so I’ll just shoot of my top three that come to mind:

The First Days by Rhiannon Frater. Jenni and Katie made me fall in love with the zombie genre all over again.

A tie between Dead City by Joe McKinney and The Remaining by D.J. Molles. Their characters are real: they make mistakes, injuries knock them down, and they struggle with what it means to be human in a post-apocalyptic world.

The Gathering Dead by Stephen Knight. Damn, the guy knows how to slam a visual into your head.

For TV, I’ll throw on The Walking Dead to the list. They must be doing something right because every time I tell myself they’re about to jump the shark, they pull me back in.

For movies, I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor of Shaun of the Dead. I can watch it over and over and still laugh. Please, Simon Pegg, make another zombie film (funny, serious, it doesn’t matter)!

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

RA:  I’d have to say my favorite is when Columbus kills the zombie clown in Zombieland. It’s a monumental kill because he finally overcomes his greatest fear (clowns), signifying that he’s reached the point in his life he can take on anything. Oh, and I hate clowns.

RA:  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?

As I mentioned above, our easy, comfortable lives are dependent on a fragile system (which we seemingly have no control over) that could fall down like a house of cards. Economics, environment, biology…all pose risks to our world. The news drills this message into our brains every day. Zombies give us an outlet to ask ourselves the tough question. What if shit hits the fan? What would you do? What should you do? Zombies give us a “safe” way of thinking about a real world that could be far scarier than any horror novel. 

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?

Rachel Aukes:  Thanks for having me, Joe!

I’m one of the newbies here, with only one zombie novel out (more on the way!). When it comes to the genre, it’s simple: I write what I’d like to read. I want a story I could lose myself in, even if only for four hours. We’ve all read books like that. You know the one where you read, oblivious to running children and bored pets, until you finish the last sentence and just lean back and close the book with a sigh. Yeah, that’s the one.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

RA:  I’d survive only if I had plenty of luck and good friends on my side. I’m not nearly prepared enough for TEOTWAKI. I live in a Des Moines suburb (would love to move out to the country) and have nothing but a bug-out bag ready. I’m a pilot, so if I can get to a plane, I can get to a better location to ride out the apocalypse.

As for humanity, we’d fare poorly. I’m a realist and see how easily the world as we know it could collapse. Most wouldn’t survive. Morals and scruples would fall by the wayside. Civilization would fall back to a feudal system, and slavery would no doubt rear its ugly head again. But we’d survive and rebuild.

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.)

RA:  I could really ramble here, so I’ll just shoot of my top three that come to mind:

The First Days by Rhiannon Frater. Jenni and Katie made me fall in love with the zombie genre all over again.

A tie between Dead City by Joe McKinney and The Remaining by D.J. Molles. Their characters are real: they make mistakes, injuries knock them down, and they struggle with what it means to be human in a post-apocalyptic world.

The Gathering Dead by Stephen Knight. Damn, the guy knows how to slam a visual into your head.

For TV, I’ll throw on The Walking Dead to the list. They must be doing something right because every time I tell myself they’re about to jump the shark, they pull me back in.

For movies, I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor of Shaun of the Dead. I can watch it over and over and still laugh. Please, Simon Pegg, make another zombie film (funny, serious, it doesn’t matter)!

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

RA:  I’d have to say my favorite is when Columbus kills the zombie clown in Zombieland. It’s a monumental kill because he finally overcomes his greatest fear (clowns), signifying that he’s reached the point in his life he can take on anything. Oh, and I hate clowns.

RA:  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?

As I mentioned above, our easy, comfortable lives are dependent on a fragile system (which we seemingly have no control over) that could fall down like a house of cards. Economics, environment, biology…all pose risks to our world. The news drills this message into our brains every day. Zombies give us an outlet to ask ourselves the tough question. What if shit hits the fan? What would you do? What should you do? Zombies give us a “safe” way of thinking about a real world that could be far scarier than any horror novel. 

Max Booth III

Max Booth III is the author of four books: Toxicity (Post Mortem Press, 2014), a black comedy crime novel; The Mind is a Razorblade (Kraken Press, 2014), a neo-noir horror novel; and two story collections, True Stories Told By a Liar (Numen Books, 2012) and They Might Be Demons (Dark Moon Books, 2013). He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.  Since 2011 he has been the Assistant Editor of Dark Moon Digest, where I first got a chance to work with him on my zombie short story, “Bury My Heart in Marvin Gardens,” and has edited four anthologies: Zombie Jesus and Other True Stories (Dark Moon Books, 2012), Zombies Need Love, Too (Dark Moon Books, 2013), So it Goes: a Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2013), and Long Distance Drunks: a Tribute to Charles Bukowski (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, 2014).  He has worked as a cashier, merchandise manager, inventory control specialist, copy editor, and hotel night manager. He currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with his life partner and dachshund.

As a San Antonio native, Max is of course part of the whole Texas thing going in the zombie genre.  (Readers of this series of interviews will probably know what I’m talking about, especially after my interviews with Rhiannon Frater, Bowie Ibarra, and Stephen Knight.)  His previous efforts on the zombie front have been as editor and short story writer, but he has recently penned a longer work called Black that has earned him a place among the zombie masters in this series.

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So please welcome Max Booth!

 

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?

Max Booth III:  Thanks for having me, Joe. It’s an honor to be here. I’ve written a few zombie short stories here and there—most notable, probably, would be my short story, “In the Attic of the Universe,” which was published by Post Mortem Press in their New Dawn Fades anthology back in 2011. It tells the story of a father living in the attic of his house with his infant child during the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. The undead practically surround his house, but he’s still lucky enough to slip out a few times to make food raids at various stores. On one of these grocery trips, however, he is bitten. So now this guy is infected with the zombie virus but he also has this infant child in his care. There’s no one else that can take him. If this guy dies, which is inevitable, then the baby also dies. The only question is, does he allow the baby to live long enough to be eaten by his own father, or does he end the child’s misery before it’s too late?

Another notable zombie story of mine is a novella called Black, and it will be published this October by Hazardous Press. It is a western story about a gunslinger who, no matter how hard he tries, just cannot die.

I like to approach my zombie writing with the zombies not being the main focus. I find the humans and their survival entirely more interesting than the disgusting walking meatbags trying to eat them.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

MB:  If we’re talking slow, Night of the Living Dead zombies, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll win. For one, our military is just way too powerful at this point, and two, everyone and their mother is prepared for the zombies to rise. They won’t last five minutes before we start blowing out their brains. I think, in a way, we sort of want that to happen. Because, deep down, we are all lunatics.

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.)

MB:  Movie: 28 Days Later. Whenever I say this is my favorite zombie movie, there’s always a 50% chance that I am going to get punched in the face afterward. Some people go nuts when others recognize 28 Days Later as a zombie film, and I find that fact completely hilarious. But regardless, 28 Days Later was a damn good horror flick about zombies. No, they weren’t traditional zombies. But so what? Fiction is about being creative, trying something new. Coming up with different approaches. And that’s exactly what 28 Days Later was. Something new, and it was awesome.

Book: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell. This book is beautiful, absolutely beautiful. It is intense, brutal, and so damn mesmerizing. Imagine what would happen if Cormac McCarthy wrote a zombie novel, and you get The Reapers Are the Angels.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

MB:  Easy. The lawnmower scene from Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC1d7dw24Gg

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?

MB:  Sometimes I wonder if our zombie obsession is just us daydreaming about a world where we can straight up murder people without consequence. But that thought is ridiculous and terrifying, so let’s just say…uh…consumerism!

That was Max Booth III ladies and gentlemen.  Check him out on Twitter at @GiveMeYourTeeth and on the web at http://www.TalesFromTheBooth.com.

 

John L. Campbell

John L. Campbell is the Amazon Horror bestselling author of Omega Days, as well as two collections of short stories, and The Mangroves, a novella of World War II terror.  An Active Member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Campbell’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, and he is currently working on the next novel in his zombie apocalypse series.  He lives in the New York area with his family.

ImageI was lucky enough to get an opportunity to review his zombie thriller, Omega Days, for its upcoming 2014 release from Berkley/Penguin and I just knew I had to have him in this series.  Check Omega Days out when it’s released, and then look for its sequel, Ship of the Dead.  You won’t be disappointed.

You can visit John at www.johnlcampbell.com.  But for now, enjoy what he has to say about zombies and the apocalypse.

 

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?

John L. Campbell:  First off, thanks for having me.  It’s great to be here.

I want to tell a compelling story.  I frequently remind myself that zombie readers aren’t just about zombies, they’re readers, and readers want a satisfying tale populated with characters they care about, whether they’re heroes or villains.  Next I try to give zombie aficionados what they’re looking for; immersion in an apocalyptic setting filled with as many “dead moments” as I can muster (there’s a lot of zombie fiction out there which is oddly short on zombies, and I think that frustrates zombophiles.)  I love presenting up-close and juicy encounters, but I also go for the wider scenes, the big Cecil B. DeMille productions with casts of thousands, hoping to stagger the reader under the full impact of the undead taking over a world which was once ours.  Finally, I have to like the story, or it won’t move beyond the jump drive.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

JC:  A food stockpile courtesy of a wholesale club, a full fuel oil tank, a house on remote property and a tidy little arsenal… I’d probably make it until a sushi craving drove me out into the arms of the horde.  As for humanity, I think the zombies would take the lion’s share, disease and failing infrastructure most of the rest.  A fraction of us would survive, provided we could learn (quickly!) to take responsibility for ourselves and not sit around waiting to be saved.

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.)

JC:  Dawn of the Dead. 1978, hit me hard in my early teens.  It was the first “modern” zombie flick I had seen, and I was thrilled with the concept of self-reliance through firepower, and killing bad guys without consequence.  Especially since they were slow, and as long as you were smart, you could stay alive.  It’s still my favorite zombie movie.

Favorite book; the 1989 anthology Book of the Dead.  John Skipp and Craig Spector assembled the short story talents of King, McCammon, Ramsey Campbell and others, had George R. Romero pen the forward, and turned the zombies loose.  Perhaps what resonated most for me, and still does with today’s zombie short fiction, was the rich, seemingly endless variety of approaches to the same topic.  What could be better than hearing someone else’s opinion on a subject you love?

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

JC:  I’m split on this.  The helicopter blades taking off the top of the zombie’s head in the original Dawn of the Dead was hokey and wonderful.  In Season 2 of The Walking Dead, the “Stab-the-Zombie’s-Brain-through-the-Eye-with-a-Windshield-Wiper-Handle,” after it pushes its face through the glass, is a memorable kill.  There’s just something about that level of determination to get at prey, even as your face is peeled away.  That impresses me.

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?

JC:  We’re not really challenged as a society anymore, and I see our once-competitive nature fading.  Everyone is a winner, no one can be made to feel uncomfortable under any circumstances, and our lives are just a click away.  There’s no need to ever leave the couch.  Zombie fiction presents a very specific challenge to the everyday person; What would you do if…?  That’s the attraction at the core of the genre.  When a reader leaves a comment on a story along the lines of, “Your character was stupid…he wouldn’t have done that,” it makes me smile, because I know I’ve done my job.  What the reader is really saying is that in those circumstances, he wouldn’t have done that, and this means they became so engaged that they put themselves into the story.  That’s a win, and that’s why the genre is so popular.  It gives the average person the chance to think about what life would be like off the couch…fighting zombies.

Check out all of John’s books here.

Harry Shannon

Everybody’s experience is different, I’m sure, but for me, breaking into professional publishing was like transferring to a new school in the middle of the semester.  I knew absolutely no one.  I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know the cool kids, and I certainly didn’t know who to look out for.  It was a little intimidating to say the least.  Lee Thomas was an early mentor.  So too was Lisa Morton.  But the person who really did the most to teach me the ropes, who really spelled it all out for me, was Harry Shannon.  I’ve never forgotten the debt I owe him.

That was almost ten years ago.  Since then, Harry and I have become fast friends.  We’ve cheered to each other’s successes, and even gone in together on a few projects.  Most notable to today’s interview was a story he sent me for my freshman effort as editor, the zombie anthology Dead Set.  Harry, and his co-author, Steven Booth, sent me a wonderful story called “Jailbreak.”  It told the story of a young female sheriff and her deliciously dangerous prisoner on the first night of the zombie apocalypse.  I found it fast paced and highly charged with sexual tension, always a great combination for storytelling.  What’s more, it bore the stamp of a seasoned pro working his craft in top form.  I was delighted to include it in Dead Set.

And then, a few years later, I got an email from Harry letting me know that he and Steven were expanding the story into a novel…and they wanted me to write the introduction for it!

I was overjoyed.  And upon reading it, I was stunned.  In turning the short story “Jailbreak” into the novel, The Hungry, Harry and Steven turned Sheriff Penny Miller into one of the most original, and certainly one of the hottest, female leads in zombie fiction.  The Hungry has since turned into a series of outstanding adventures for Penny Miller, and has earned my friend Harry Shannon a place as zombie master.

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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?

Harry Shannon:  My first zombie made a cameo in the first draft of Night of the Beast, way back in the 1970’s. He had been a small-town Grocer, and a mentor to the lead character. He died and got his ass changed. The horror of his sudden transformation from a beloved friend to something to be feared gave me chills. I’d read about zombies of course, and seen some films, but that was the first time I’d ever written about one. Created one of my own. By the way, I’m a big fan of the traditional American variety–slow, rotting, voracious and unrelenting.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

HS: One hopes. I think so. We are certainly rehearsing for it often enough. We are all survivalists now, or at least joking about becoming one. People have taken every unknown terror and bogey man and stapled it to the zombie trope. Plagues, economic ruin, the collapse of civilization, terrorism, Fascism, communism, it is all there in The Walking Dead and the best of the zombie fiction out there is always still deeply human. The zombies are just standing in for our fears–good stories are always about interesting human beings.

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.)

HS:  My favorite zombie film is still the original, black and white Night of the Living Dead. I play it most every Halloween while passing out candy. It seems so ridiculous at the beginning, the wooden acting, the awful score…yet once I hear “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” I shiver. The Monkey’s Paw is still probably my favorite zombie short story, in part because the creature only has to knock to give us nightmares. I’d also have to give Honorable Mentions to the homage of Pet Semetary, 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (original), and The Walking Dead series, which keeps hooking me every season, even though I think I’m burned out on it. And of course your own Dead City series, Jonathan Maberry’s recent YA stuff, the list goes on. It’s an embarrassment of riches these days.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

HS:  That is a very tough question. If I had to choose one…Damn, maybe I can’t do that. So here are a couple off the top of my head. The poor man having to put down his buddy in the department store office, back in the original Dawn of the Dead. Having to sit there waiting for a good friend to turn. It’s just heart breaking. And then there’s that little girl eating her parents up in the pitch black basement in the original NOTLD. That one for the same reason. The black and white print makes that image unforgettable. If we saw a bunch of fake gore in color it probably wouldn’t disturb me half as much.

For all the silliness The Walking Dead has pulled off some amazing kills the last two seasons. Michone severing the head of a zombie but garrote comes to mind…anyway, I’ll stop. It seems I can’t choose one, but I’m seeing a pattern when I ponder scenes that have impact on me other than inspiring wild laughter. One thing always gets me. It is the deep angst of killing your own friend or loved one that never seems to grow old. Perhaps that is the true horror of zombies–not that we come back, but that we must help each other die.

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?

HS:  I agree, Joe, and I would even go a step further. I see the zombie genre as primarily an existential exploration. After all, as Clive Barker once wrote, horror is just another way of writing about the divine. Zombies go back to Jewish legend of the Golum, down through Frankenstein to George Romero and King. The fear of dead coming alive again peppers our distant past and pops up in cave paintings. So the tales persist, they are in our DNA. Sure, as you note, as time goes on the background eventually changes. That part evolves, and as you so succinctly point out, consistently reflects our present circumstances–cultural and otherwise.

We may set out to weave fiction about death, but we inevitably turn the camera back on ourselves. On the very meaning of life. Because in the end, horror is mostly about what it means to be alive…and then to ultimately and quite unavoidably have to die.

In that way horror is oddly Buddhist. It embraces the reality of suffering, seeks a way to rise above pain through the release of attachment, explores the attainment of compassion and wisdom for at least one of the characters. And generally the ultimate ascension is just to release all that nonsense and try to live in the moment. And so it is with a good zombie story. Maybe it is awfully pretentious of me to read all that into one manner of telling a tale, but both horror and crime noir drag me back again and again because they both entertain me and mean something. They are about something. They touch on cruelty, temptation, courage, endurance, and facing down existential dread to finally know peace.

As for the zombie craze going on today, I’m sure glad it’s here, because all four of the The Hungry books, which I’ve coauthored with Steven W. Booth, have been a lot of fun to write. Dead and Gone had some zombies in both the novel and movie versions. PAIN was a full on zombie book, sardonic and violent and all about obsession and compulsion. Believe me, I have a lot more zombies living my head.

I think zombies, as I said earlier, somehow allow us to explore timeless human stories in a very visceral (pardon the pun) way. Our characters face the worst stuff reality can throw at them. They struggle to remain human in the face of a relentless evil. The zombie herds are not the point; they are just the situation these complex people find themselves in. T

Today, times are still tough. We face economic and cultural threats to the continued supremacy of US empire, serious economic inequality here at home, terrorism in our cities and abroad, a crumbling medical system, major social changes, legal decisions that contradict basic convictions for some people…Hell, a whole host of new fears.

So is it any wonder we’re overrun with zombies? Those seemingly inexhaustible bogeymen that never fail to teach us both who we are, and what we may yet become if we just stand firm? I love zombies. We can learn a lot from our breathing-challenged brethren. All we have to do is listen.  This was fun, thanks for asking me to join in the discussion. Hey, and best of luck with the new novel!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my friend and mentor, Harry Shannon.  Check out his books here, and visit him online here.

Craig DiLouie

My guest today is a very dear friend, Mr. Craig DiLouie.  Craig and I go way back to the early days of Permuted Press, back when it was still being run out of Jacob Kier’s garage.  Since that time I’ve watched him hone his craft and become one of the premier thriller writers of our generation.  He’s tackled zombies with his books Tooth and Nail and The Infection.  He’s done the straight up psychological thriller with Paranoia.  He’s done military sci-fi comedy with The Great Planet Robbery, and his latest, Suffer the Children, nearly tore my heart out.  And in between all that he’s even managed to write several works of non-fiction on lighting and electrical design.  Talk about versatile!

But that’s Craig DiLouie.  When you read him, you get the sense that he can pretty much do anything.  I envy writers like him, so easy to read, so fertile of imagination.  He makes it look easy.

But here’s the thing about Craig.  He is totally sincere.  You cannot be in his presence long without realizing this.  He’s one of the good ones, and that’s the main reason I agreed to join with him and Stephen Knight (you can read my interview with Stephen Knight here) for an upcoming zombie novella project called THE RETREAT.  (You can check out Craig’s intro to that project here.)

But for now, please enjoy this interview with my good friend, Craig DiLouie!   

 

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?

Craig DiLouie:  Thanks for having me, Joe! I’m the author of the bestselling zombie novels TOOTH AND NAIL, THE INFECTION and THE KILLING FLOOR. These novels have garnered hundreds of positive reviews from authors like yourself, readers and magazines and websites such as FANGORIA, and they’ve been published in English, Spanish, French, German and Russian. My work differentiates itself from other novels in the field through its gritty realism, original concepts and extreme action. 

My new apocalyptic horror novel, SUFFER THE CHILDREN, is coming out from Simon & Schuster in March 2014. Later this year, I’ll be working with you and Stephen Knight on a new self-published series of novellas. (Check out Craig’s official announcement of that project here.) I also blog about all things apocalyptic horror at www.craigdilouie.com.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

CD:  It would depend on the type of zombie we’re talking about. The zombies in my stories run and infect through biting. In that type of situation, humanity would have a very hard time surviving. In that situation, the best way to prepare is to take a yoga class so you’re flexible enough to kiss your own ass goodbye.

As for me, I don’t have a bug-out bag or anything like that. My city just went through some major flooding that resulted in the evacuation of 10% of the population and jeopardized the reliability of power and water citywide, and I was faced with a lot of interesting decisions to ensure my family had everything it needed. While I haven’t gone all the way and prepared for apocalypse, I do believe it’s common sense to make sure you have everything your family would need to survive for a week on its own.

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.)

CD:  My tastes as a reader and writer tend toward the epic. For me, the biggest turn-on about zombies isn’t the zombies, it’s the zeitgeist. It’s the apocalypse and how ordinary people respond to crisis and its impossible choices. It’s not the excitement of being the last man standing, it’s the horror of being forced to fight to survive when there might no longer be much to live for anymore.

As a reader and writer, I also prefer stories about people with zombies or some other apocalyptic threat, not the other way around. For me, character must come first. The reader must care about the survivors.

Some of my favorite stories are your zombie series, Joe, with its realistic depiction of how the police would deal with a zombie apocalypse; HATER by David Moody, with its mind-blowing twist, and RUN by Blake Crouch, which is sort of the American version of HATER; Adam Baker’s series, which offer brilliant thrillers; DUST by Joan Frances Turner; ONE by Conrad Williams; THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell; ON THE THIRD DAY by Rhys Thomas; and HANDLING THE UNDEAD by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Man, I can remember standing in a bookstore ten years ago and seeing DEAD CITY and Brian Keene’s work and that was about it. Now there are tons of great choices for readers and opportunities for good writers.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

CD:  I loved the movie WORLD WAR Z, not really caring how closely tied it was to the book. The movie has an epic feel and is filled with amazing set pieces. Pretty much the entire film would qualify as my favorite zombie kill scene.

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?

CD:  I think the surge in interest in the zombie apocalypse has more to do with the apocalypse than zombies. In the 1950s, we had Martians, in the ’60s, dystopia, in the ’70s, environmental collapse, in the ’80s, nuclear war, in the ’90s, killer viruses, in the ’00s, zombies. Today, many people feel that things are getting worse and that there’s little they can do about it. Add in things like bird flu and global warming to the normal pressures of holding a job and paying the bills, and there’s a lot of angst in modern life. Reading zombie stories offers a dramatic release. By reading survival horror, people confront danger/death and survive it. By reading an apocalyptic story, they experience the catharsis of “throwing it all away” and the true horror of losing everything that matters to them. As for zombies, well, they’re just scary and fun. Not only has the world ended, but your former neighbors are hunting you. These are the levels of psychic engagement I look for as a reader and try to work into my stories as a writer—personal, in-your-face horror combined with the awe and titillation of the end of the world.

 

That was the one and only Craig DiLouie, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps the nicest guy you’re ever likely to meet.  I had a great time hanging with him in New Orleans, and I’m looking forward to the next time our paths cross.

Now that you’ve heard what he has to say about zombies, go check out his books.  Oh, and I strongly urge you to follow his blog.  He has developed some of the best content on any author-driven website out there.

Patrick Freivald

In my day job I’m a patrol supervisor for the San Antonio Police Department, and my duties sometimes carry me through a remote part of the west side of San Antonio.  The area is in marked contrast to the rest of the west side, which is a dense hive of businesses and older, and mostly low-income neighborhoods.  But the area I’m talking about is a wide expanse of farmland, and it’s absolutely beautiful, especially in the evening when the sun casts long shadows over the onion fields and darkness pools in between the rows of the pear tree orchards.

I mention all this because in the center of one of those onion fields is a large oak tree, several hundred years old, and beneath that tree is a small apiary.  You have to know it’s there to spot it, and I suspect most people who pass that way never even notice it.  But I do, and every time I pass it by I can’t help but think of today’s guest, Mr. Patrick Freivald.

Patrick has to have one of the most interesting biographies of any horror writer working today.  He’s a teacher who specializes in robotics, physics, and American Sign Language.  He also coaches an award winning robotics teams.  All of that is pretty freaking cool, to be sure, but on top of everything else, he raises bees.  I read from time to time on Facebook of his honey haul, and my mouth starts watering.

And you know, I haven’t even gotten to the part where I talk about what an amazing writer he is.  His books Twice Shy and Special Dead are absolutely fascinating takes on the zombie genre, and demonstrate, to my mind any way, an empathy for the teenage condition rarely found in fiction.

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This guy has got both sides of his brain working overtime, and I guarantee you he’s a name you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the coming years.

So, here he is, Patrick Freivald!

 

 

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?

Patrick Freivald:  I like to turn it on its head. There are a lot of stories out there that fall into one of two types: (a) the apocalypse is happening and people are trying to survive, and (b) the apocalypse has happened, and in the dystopian future people are trying to survive. I wanted to write about a world where zombies exist, have destroyed swaths of humanity, but outside of those areas of destruction, life has continued in an almost normal manner. It’s a bit like a tsunami or earthquake that destroys one region while the rest of the world just keeps on truckin’. The details of the rest of the world interest me.

My published zombie fiction details the life of an ordinary high school junior whose controlling mother has forced her to join the emo crowd because their fashion sense covers up the fact that she’s a zombie. (Ritalin-like injections give her the ability to resist the urge to eat her friends… mostly.) I wanted to be true to the tropes of the genre while at the same time turning them on their head, and to juxtapose the normalcy of ho-hum life with the absolute, chilling terror of the walking dead.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

PF:  Am I prepared? Probably. I live in the middle of blissful nowhere, with a huge garden, limitless fresh water, and great lines of sight. The Redhead(tm) and I live out of the garden all summer, and can what we don’t eat fresh so we can eat all winter, too, and there are loads and loads of deer (not to mention rabbits, squirrels, etc, etc.) Being a beekeeper, I have access to near-unlimited calories, as well as the wherewithal to make alcohol (for sterilization or consumption), vinegar, candles, and medicine. It wasn’t on purpose, but I’ve ended up in an area particularly suited to surviving the end of the world as we know it. Now if we can only survive Washington, D.C….

Would humanity win? That’s hard to answer, because there are many types of trope-fitting apocalypses. (Apocalypti?)

Slow zombies: Yes, at least in first world countries. I have no doubt that the modern military could and would contain outbreaks with brutal efficiency. We might lose towns, neighborhoods, maybe even entire cities before we get a handle on the situation, but we’d contain and destroy them. (If everyone who dies becomes one regardless, that’s more problematic, but not that big of a deal. New social norms could all but eliminate the problem side of that arrangement.)

Fast zombies: Same answer, with more losses.

David Moody-style plague: No. With just about everyone dead before the zombies even rise, humanity would drop below population viability even without counting the ravening hordes of violent, hungry dead people.

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.)

PF:  Oooh, mean question. I love the unique-but-still-faithful-to-the-tropes nature of the Autumn series by David Moody. Jonathan Maberry’s Dead of Night is fantastic for its portrayal of zombies that are aware of everything they do, but can’t control themselves–perhaps one of the most chilling ideas I can imagine. I enjoyed the heck out of your own novella, The Crossing, for a great taste of the interaction between Free America and the Quarantine Zone, and because it dances around both major types of zombie stories. For sheer frolicking good fun, you can’t go wrong with the zombies-and-superheroes action of Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

PF:  It has to be the rooftop shootings in the Dawn of the Dead remake. The pairing of what should be a terrible and inhuman activity with a party-like atmosphere marries so perfectly with Down with the Sickness as covered by Richard Cheese that I can’t help but love it. Paired with the fantastic Johnny Cash opening credits, they make for two of the best montages in zombie history.

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?

PF:  Zombies are interesting because they carry with them a moral ambiguity that you can’t shake. The allegory can run all over the place–from decaying inner cities to sweatshop-driven commercialism to nanny-state totalitarianism to terrorism–but the fundamentals of the modern zombie require us to consider that yes, they may be dead, but they were and perhaps are human. They may be trying to eat your face or your children, but they were once a person with human dignity, with hopes and dreams and loved ones, and in destroying them we destroy a part of ourselves. Even if we have no choice.

 

Patrick is one of my favorites in the genre, and I strongly urge you to check out his books here.  Then go here to read his blog, where he’s putting on a blog series of his own in which he demonstrates a mastery of editing skill. 

Oh, and don’t forget, while you’re picking up some of Patrick’s books, make sure and pre-order your copy of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead.

Rhiannon Frater

After I posted Dana Fredsti’s interview (you can check out Dana’s interview here) she contacted me to say that I ought to expand the title of this series of interviews to include both Zombie Masters and Zombie Mistresses.  She quickly added that not all women would be okay with the title Mistress of anything, so I ought to be careful how I apply it.

Now I have no idea which title Rhiannon Frater would prefer, but frankly, she’s so damned good at what she does that she can take any title she wants.  Like having her book The Last Bastion of the Living named as Barnes & Noble’s Best Zombie Book of the Decade, for example.  (Here’s a link to that article, and it’s an honor I couldn’t agree with more.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Rhiannon Frater, she is the award-winning author of the As the World Dies trilogy (The First Days, Fighting to Survive, Siege,) and the author of three other books: the vampire novels Pretty When She Dies and The Tale of the Vampire Bride and the young-adult zombie novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. Inspired to independently produce her work from the urging of her fans, she published The First Days in late 2008 and quickly gathered a cult following. She won the Dead Letter Award back-to-back for both The First Days and Fighting to Survive, the former of which the Harrisburg Book Examiner called ‘one of the best zombie books of the decade.’

There’s that phrase again!  Best zombie book of the decade.

You’d think she’d get used to hearing that.

If you haven’t read her (and if you’re a zombie fan I can’t imagine she’s slipped under your radar this long) I strongly urge you to do that right after you read this interview.  She will not disappoint!

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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?

Rhiannon Frater:  Thanks for having me!

Well, first off, I try to approach the scenario as realistically as possible. How would ordinary people really respond to a zombie rising? Everyone has this grandiose idea that it would be fun to run around killing zombies and living free of modern constraints, but logically a lot of people would be shattered emotionally and psychologically by the loss of their loved ones and way of life.

So then the question becomes how do you continue to survive in the face of such misery and fear?

The human spirit is very resilient, so that’s what I try to concentrate on.

I used to work for a governmental consultant agency and dealt with disaster relief programs across the state of Texas. The stories of survival and how people dealt with life-altering events really touched me. That was the main inspiration for the As The World Dies trilogy.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

RF:  I’m definitely not prepared. I’m not even sure how you could be fully prepared. What sort of zombie are they? If they’re like the World War Z film, we’re all screwed. I am a Texan. I have my weapons. I have a big SUV, but I can’t say I’m prepared.
Humanity would eventually win. I have no doubt about that. How long it would take would depend on what type of zombie we’re dealing with. The slow shamblers would rot away very quickly, especially in the Texas sun. A viral-type zombie would be much harder to deal with, though they would probably starve to death in a few months’ time.

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.)

RF:  My favorite zombie film is Night of the Living Dead because it just hits it out of the ball park on all levels. The setting, the characters, the story, the actors, the social commentary, etc… It’s so disturbingly creepy in black and white. The relentlessness of the zombies is also quite perturbing. It just gets so much right about people in adverse situations and how things can go horribly wrong.
I also like the female characters in the movie. A lot of people concentrate on Barbara, but Judy was a really great supporting character. I liked how she ventured out with the men to help fuel the truck. It didn’t end well for her, but that would be the reality of the zombocalypse. People would make brave choices and end up dying.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

RF:  When Anna takes out that massive female zombie in the Dawn of the Dead remake. That was just gross and amazing.

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?

RF:  Honestly, I believe zombies are tapping into our inherent unhappiness with how complicated our lives have become. We work horrible hours, rarely take vacations, struggle with money matters, and because of the new media we’re constantly bombarded with what’s wrong with the world.  I read a recent study that says that people are chronically depressed because of the 24-hour news cycle. The media decides what we see and so they stir us up with tsunami of negative news. They like scaring the hell out of us.
So, there are all these people wishing for some sort of dramatic reset and zombies promise just that. The fantasy is that somehow we’d be the ones surviving and creating a new world. Of course, most of us would be lunch, but we don’t want to believe that.

Even in the zombie genre there are incredibly negative tropes that are continually hit upon because we think they’re true. We’re doomed to lose. The worst enemy is humanity. It goes on and on.

Yet, we look at history and humanity is all about survival through community. The first thing people do after a natural disaster is group together to survive.

So what do zombies say about us?

That we’re not very happy with our society right now.

 

Check out Rhiannon’s blog here, and then go buy her books here.

And while you’re at it, make sure and pre-order your copy of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead.

Roger Ma

I’m excited to bring you today’s guest on my countdown to the release of my upcoming zombie novel, The Savage Dead, because Roger Ma is a total badass.  I mean a real life badass.  As in he could tie you into a pretzel before you knew how truly screwed you really were.  What’s more, he’s turned his rather considerable real life fighting skills into one of the most valuable zombie books ever published, The Zombie Combat Manual.  Roger Ma specializes in hand-to-hand combat against the undead. He is the author of The Zombie Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Living Dead. His new book, The Vampire Combat Manual: A Guide to Fighting the Bloodthirsty Undead, focuses on surviving an attack from a hunting succubus. He is the founder of the Zombie Combat Club and the Vampire Combat Club, organizations that focus on battling the undead without the aid of a firearm. He was recently featured as a zombie expert on the History Channel documentary “Zombies: A Living History.” He currently trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

I first met Roger in Long Island back in 2011.  We were on a zombie panel together (along with Jonathan Maberry, Scott Kenemore, and S.G. Browne) and it was probably the best zombie panel on which I’ve ever served.  Just look at us!

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(The panel, left to right:  Joe McKinney, Jonathan Maberry, S.G. Browne, Roger Ma, Scott Kenemore.)

Check out what Roger has to say about zombies, and then go check out the Zombie Combat Club online.  It’s a great site.

But first, meet Roger Ma, zombie ass kicker extraordinaire!

 

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? 

Roger Ma:  Thanks for having me, Joe!  When it comes to the genre, I’m very much a traditionalist, in the sense that I adhere very closely to the Romero canon – shambling, formerly human creatures that want to devour your flesh, not just your “brains.”  When it came to writing about the living dead, I wanted to combine my love of the martial arts and hand-to-hand combat with zombies.  Living in New York City, I was never much of a “gun guy.”  And what do they tell you to do when you encounter a zombie?  “Shoot them in the head.”  So I thought, “Well, what if I don’t have a firearm?  What if you run out of ammunition?  What if I need to keep silent?”  That’s how The Zombie Combat Manual was born.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

RM:  It depends.  As far as humanity winning, it depends on how quickly everyone, state, federal, and local governments, recognize the situation and address it immediately.  If we do that, we’ve got a good chance.  If we don’t, we don’t.  As far as myself, it also depends.  I’m in fairly good cardiovascular shape, specifically out of my fear of needing to trek miles on foot in order to escape a threat, undead or otherwise.  However, I also live in one of the largest metropolitans in the world, so if this start here, it will be hell on earth trying to get out, literally.

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.)

RM:  My favorite zombie media are the ones that introduced me into the genre.  For movies, it was Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.”  My father took me to see it in the theaters when it was released.  I was 8 years old.  I haven’t been the same since.   Ever since then, at least several times a year, I’ll dream that I’m in a mall that’s teeming with zombies.  It’s a dream that I both love and loathe.  For zombie books, again, the book that introduced me to the literary zombie genre was John Skipp’s short story anthology “Book of the Dead.”  I remember seeing it in Forbidden Planet in Greenwich Village as a kid, and thought “people actually write stories about zombies, too?”  In fact, chatting about it with you makes me want to pick it up and read it again.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

RM:  Wow, just one?  That’s really tough.  If I were to pick just one, I would probably have to revert back to “Dawn.”  The scene where the zombie is climbing over the crates to get at Stephen as he fills the helicopter with fuel, and the rotor blades slice off the top of the zombie’s head.  I remember seeing that in the theater and going mental.  What’s great about it also is that Stephen doesn’t have to do a thing – the undead leads itself to its own demise.  Smart and energy efficient.   That’s one of the points I try to stress in my book and when I talk to people about the best “zombie weapons.”  The best weapons are those that require you to exert zero energy while still accomplishing the task at hand.  Sure, you can crush a bunch of zombie skulls with a crowbar or impale their brains with a katana, but how long before your energy levels give out, and then what do you do?  Wouldn’t it be better to have them walk off a building’s ledge trying to get at you?  People sometimes forget about practicality and want to go in beast mode.   That works until you gas out, which we all will do against an opponent that doesn’t tire.

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?

RM:  The zombie genre is one of the most malleable when it comes to subtext, we all know that.  It can represent consumerism and hive mentality, like in Romero’s work, and it can also represent one of many different fears.   Fear of death, disease, aging, plague, anarchy, that’s pretty obvious.   What’s not so obvious is what we represent in the undead scenario.  It’s my belief that if there’s one thing that we as a society are feeling now more than ever, it’s a lack of control.  I know that there are times when I myself feel like I’m barely able to process everything that’s going on around me, and that I’m holding things together by bare threads.  There’s also this feeling that whatever we do, however well we study, plan, and prepare, we are at the mercy of powerful forces that have a grip over society, be it financial, governmental or cultural, and that its sheer luck that we continue to plod along unscathed.  “There but the grace of God…” and all that. 

The zombie enables us, to a certain extent, to take that control back.  To be the hero.  Very few other genres, particular in horror, enable you to do that.  You’re not going to go toe-to-toe with an Ancient One, alien, or a spectre.  You can with the zombie, and that is incredibly empowering.  It’s like that old joke about the two guys who encounter a bear in the woods.  You don’t need to be faster than the bear; you just need to be faster than the other guy. 

Check out Roger Ma’s books here, and while you’re there, don’t forget to pre-order your copy of The Savage Dead.

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