Several months back I had the pleasure of previewing Ty Schwamberger’s zombie novella, THE FIELDS. I’m asked to do a lot of advance reviews, and unfortunately I have to turn a lot of them away. After all, nobody wants their name out there on a real turkey of a book. But sometimes, I get surprised by how good a book is, and writing the advance review becomes a real joy. Ty Schwamberger’s THE FIELDS was one of those books. You can pick up a copy here and here. You can check out Ty Schwamberger online here.
Here’s what I said in my review:
“If Nathaniel Hawthorne had known anything about zombies, this is the kind of story he’d have written. I’m not joking. This is some genuine old school horror. With The Fields, Ty Schwamberger has given us a crime so horrendous it’s impossible to look away. The sins of the father. A deal with the devil. It’s all here. And Schwamberger makes it look so frustratingly easy. This is one hell of a good story.”
This is pretty far afield (excuse the pun) of your run of the mill zombie novel. This book is something special. In fact, it’s so good that I asked Ty to join us here at Old Major’s Dream for an interview. So, without further ado, please welcome Ty Schwamberger, author of THE FIELDS.
Joe McKinney: Ty, thanks for joining us here at Old Major’s Dream. It’s good to have you.
Ty Schwamberger: Thank you, Joe. It’s a pleasure and honor to be here.
JM: You’ve just written a wonderful novella called The Fields, and I want to talk in detail about that here in a bit. But first, I wanted to find out a little about the man behind the book. Who is Ty Schwamberger?
TS: Wait a sec…is this a job interview? I’ve always dreaded when some chubby, horribly-dressed supervisor on the other side of the desk would ask that question. Guess it’s a good thing I like to talk about myself. *grin.
So, ‘Who is Ty Schwamberger’? Let’s do a brief overview… I grew up in the small town of Covington, Ohio (not, Covington, Kentucky), which is north of Dayton, in between Toledo and Cincinnati. I have two wonderful parents that have always supported anything I wanted to do with my life (well, except when I wanted to start a paper mache business, specializing in a macabre version of taxidermy). I went to college and got a BA in History (humm…a history degree, a novella about the mid-1800s…foreshadowing, perhaps?). After 2000, I petered around with some substitute teaching, then got into accounting (which, unfortunately, I still do as my ‘day job’). Fast forward to early 2008…I’m sitting at the ol’ day job, bored, when an idea pops in my head. I had always loved the slasher films of the 1980s (thankfully, my parents were pretty lax on the material I viewed), had just read Offspring by Dallas (Jack) Ketchum and Cuts by Richard Laymon. I thought to myself, “Hey, I can write some sick stuff, too” and away I went to pound out 100k words in exactly 90 days. Looking back, it sucked, but that is where I got my start. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I’ve only been doing this for a little under four years. But, as ‘they’ say, hard work tends pays off.
JM: And The Zombie Feed Press…you’re the managing editor, right? How did you and Jason B. Sizemore start working together?
TS: Yup, I sure am. But, before I answer your question, I’d like folks to be aware of something. Yes, I am the managing editor of The Zombie Feed Press, and yes, The Fields was published by TZF. However, I finished writing and Jason accepted the novella about a year ago. I didn’t actually take over the imprint until a few months ago. Just a tidbit I’d like to make sure folks know.
Now, onto your question. I met Jason a few years ago at a convention. I found him to be a super nice guy that obviously loved what he was doing. You could tell it in the way he talked about the books he was publishing. I believe I picked up my first Apex book at that Con. Over the next few years, we’d see each other at conventions, started chatting over email, and eventually, started talking about me writing something for him. That’s how I came to write The Fields. Then, a few months ago, he asked me if I’d be interested in running TZF. I thought about it for a brief moment, then jumped on it, like a zombie crushing its prey to the ground, chomping down on its skull.
JM: But editor is just one of the many hats you wear. You’re also a writer, and a damn good one. So tell me about your novella, The Fields. It’s not your typical zombie story, is it?
TS: Thank you for the kind words, Joe. I try to diversify myself as much as possible. Being editor on anthologies, writing novels to short stories, optioning stories for film, writing non-fiction articles, etc. Just like investing, you don’t want all your money all in one stock. Instead, you’ve got to branch out, take some risks. It’s the only way to go in this business.
I think people that take a chance on The Fields will find that it’s anything but a typical zombie story. It takes place in the mid-1800s, on a southern plantation, right after the slaves are freed. Yes, there are zombies in the book, but it’s so much more than dead crazies running around and munching on people’s brains. Sometimes, when I really think about the story, I can see how it almost turned into a commentary on yesterday and today’s social climate: racism, greed, morals. It’s a coming-of-age story, with zombies. And because the story deals with real-life issues, I think it makes it that much more frightening.
JM: Horror fiction, especially as it’s written in America, has always seemed to be a fairly accurate barometer of how feel about ourselves as Americans. Washington Irving’s stories, for example, which were written about the time of the American Revolution, seem obsessed with the idea of what it means to be an American. Hawthorne and Poe, each in their own way, dealt with the emerging American sense of identity. And the trend continued into the 20th Century, as writers such as a Fritz Leiber dealt with the horror of urbanization and Stephen King with the increasing marginalization of the American small town identity. Assuming all that’s true, and horror fiction really is telling us something about ourselves as Americans, what do you think The Fields is telling us?
TS: I won’t be as poetic in my reply, as you were in your question, Joe. Simply: “we” screwed up. Explorers came into this land looking for riches, religious freedom, and a new route to the Far East, whatever. They pillaged and plundered the Native American’s land, then started in the early 1600s bringing people over from Africa, then later up from Central and South America. They forced these people to work their land. It was greed in its darkest sense – to rape the now slaves’ lives for profit. That’s what it was all about. The almighty dollar. But, at the root of it all, was the injustice of land owners thinking that they, being white, were far superior to their dark-skinned counterparts. This jacked-up way of thinking continued through Emancipation, the civil rights movement, and even today.
So, what does The Fields tell us? Simple. The people that founded this country screwed up back then, and we continue to do it today. We, as a country, are just a little better at hiding it some 400-plus years later. What better way than to use the current zombie craze to bite, err, slap people upside their heads, hopefully making them look at things “the right way”. Ok, rant over.
JM: What really grabbed me about the book was the sense of inherited guilt, the sins of the father visited upon the son. This is all the more striking because the main character, Billy Fletcher, seems to be a well-meaning individual. He’s sincere, at any rate, in wanting to avoid the cruelty his father visited upon the slaves. How did that element of the story develop for you?
TS: I didn’t want the story to just be: Billy sees the tobacco plants dying and decides to reanimate the dead slaves to work again in the fields. I needed something deeper. That’s really the base of the story, where it all begins. A slave, Samuel, is Billy’s friend when he was a young boy, before the slave is beaten to death by Billy’s father. We are all, in at least some way, a product of our environment. But, it’s after this slave’s death, that Billy starts to think that this way of life isn’t right and that he never wants to be like his father. Of course, it’s after his father’s death and while looking over his now dying fields, that Billy is confronted with a decision that will force him to look at his own morality, and ultimately have to decide between what right and wrong.
JM: Joe Hill once said that the devil is present in every story ever told. He’s that character who somehow manages to bring the worst out of every other character in the book. That function here belongs to Abraham, right?
TS: You’re exactly right. I could have written the story with just one main character, Billy, but wanted to add another dimension to it. I think the emergence of a stranger, Abraham, at Billy’s front door, offering salvation (in more ways than one), helped bring a more sinister feel to the story. Abraham, who looks very similar to Abraham Lincoln, is the devil’s messenger. And, as many of us believe, the devil makes his presence known, sometimes in very unique and hidden ways.
JM: I’ve always loved the voodoo zombie, ever since I came across W.B. Seabrook’s “Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields” back in my high school days. Though most of my own zombie fiction has dealt with the viral-based Romero-type zombie, I keep hoping for a resurgence of the voodoo zombie. What do you think? Has our modern fixation on mounting social pressures and disease and diminishing resources made the Romero zombie the revenant of today, and in the process made the voodoo zombie obsolete?
TS: Funny you mention the voodoo zombie. My first experience with this type of the undead came by watching “The Serpent and the Rainbow”. I don’t remember exactly what year I first saw it, but the movie came out in 1988 and I was born in 1977. So, regardless, I was pretty young. Actually, this is only one of two movies that I can honestly say ever scared me. I remember watching it at my grandma’s house after everyone else had gone to bed. Part way through the movie I was so scared I had to turn the tv off. I don’t think I slept very well that night. I watched it again about a year ago and found it just as freaky.
Ok, back to your question… Simple answer is, no. The Fields is the first, and so far the only book-length zombie story I’ve written. I had always wanted to write about zombies, but wanted to do something different with them. I think that’s the fun thing about writing about our undead brethrens. You can do pretty much anything you want with them. You could write about any character, or in any setting, and make them or their surroundings filled with hordes of brain-hungry monsters. The classics – werewolves, Frankenstein, witches, vampires (which, I suppose, actually are zombies), mummies – are all great, but I think the scariest is still the zombie. Heck, besides traveling to Salem, Transylvania or Egypt, most people can walk or take a quick drive down the street to their local cemetery and conjure up all sorts of images of the dead scratching and clawing their way out of their eternal resting places.
JM: How about zombie fiction in general. What do you see in the genre’s future?
TS: I think the authors that have previously written about zombies, including yourself, have laid a great groundwork for the subgenre to keep ambling along. Add in some cool recent zombie movies, a kickass television show, some new books and I think zombies will be around for a bit longer. Having said that, everything has its ups and downs and I’m sure we’ll see a slight decline sometime in the near future, but just like the undead, the books and movies will keep coming back again and again. There’s no way to stop them. People shouldn’t bother trying. Unless you give one a nice headshot. But, personally, having now written a zombie book, I’d like to steer clear of that messy demise.
JM: How about promoting The Fields? Any chance you’ll be swinging by a store near one of our readers?
TS: As I answer this, I’m right in the middle of trying to line up a few signings. It’s still too early to say for sure, but fans can always see what I’m up to at: http://tyschwamberger.com.
JM: Ty, thanks a bunch for visiting Old Major’s Dream. It was a real pleasure having you here. Best of luck with The Fields. I think you’ve got a winner on your hands.
TS: Thanks again, Joe. This has been a lot of fun!