In about a month I’m going to be celebrating the release of my new zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and to help me count down the days until the book arrives in the bookstores I’ve brought together some of the best zombie writers in the business. Each day in August I’m going to be interviewing a different writer for their take on zombies and why we love them so, and our lead off hitter is one of the pioneering greats of the zombie genre, the one and only David Moody.
David Moody grew up on a diet of trashy horror and pulp science fiction. He worked as a bank manager before giving up the day job to write about the end of the world for a living. He has written a number of horror novels, including AUTUMN, which has been downloaded more than half a million times since publication in 2001 and spawned a series of sequels and a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine. Film rights to HATER were snapped up by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Mark Johnson (producer of the Chronicles of Narnia films). Moody lives with his wife and a houseful of daughters and stepdaughters, which may explain his pre-occupation with Armageddon. His latest novel, TRUST, is currently available free online at www.trustdavidmoody.com.
David is, as I said, one of the pioneers of the zombie genre, and I can think of no one better to kick off a month of zombie mayhem than Mr David Moody.
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?
David Moody: Well thanks for having me here, Joe! I guess I’m best known for my AUTUMN and HATER books. The first Autumn book was a fairly straightforward zombie story with a few twists. Autumn took on a life of its own and went on to become a six book series and a movie. The series features your typical Romero shambling-type creatures, but – and here’s the first twist – they don’t eat flesh. I always thought that was kind of a weird thing for the living dead to do (and yes, I know that walking corpses is a weird thing in itself), but they don’t drink, don’t sleep, don’t use the toilet… why would they need to eat? Another difference with the Autumn books is that by the end of the first page of the first book, you’re dead or you’re a survivor – this infection doesn’t get passed by bites or scratches from the undead so a lot of the usual zombie clichés are avoided. Finally, I think the major difference between my zombies and everyone else’s is that mine change over the course of the books. They start off dumb and lumbering, but slowly regain an understanding of who and what they used to be. But their bodies are still decaying, so the only way they’re able to express their frustrations is to crowd around the last of the living and attack. 99.9% of the population are dead so, as you can see, the survivors don’t have that much of a chance!
People class the Hater books as zombie novels, but they’re not. They do have some similar themes, though, most notably the idea of ‘us versus them’ – regular folks like you and I having to fight for their lives against another version of humans. In this case it’s Haters versus the Unchanged. Haters cannot co-exist with the Unchanged and feel driven to kill them, whatever the cost. The idea behind the series was to look at a world where all the usual things we use to divide ourselves from other people – age, sex, beliefs, sexual orientation, race, intelligence, wealth – suddenly counted for nothing and had been replaced by a single new division, in this case, The Hate.
I think all zombie stories boil down to this central issue – it’s us against the rest of the world.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
DM: I’d like to think I’m prepared, but I’m not so sure. True story – when we moved house last year, I found myself genuinely considering the potential security of each home we viewed in the event of a zombie attack (and you’ll be glad to hear the house we eventually bought is the safest of all… a nice, secluded development, surrounded by high metal railings, limited access, a supermarket in walking distance, literally right on the edge of the city…).
You wouldn’t think it when you read my books, but I’m actually an optimist. My problem is I’m also a realist, and I don’t have a lot of time for the rest of the human race. I think that if the proverbial was to hit the fan, most folks would spend most of their time bickering, fighting and generally screwing each other over to survive. I think we’d wipe ourselves out before the living dead had chance to get their teeth into us.
Me? I think I’ll watch what everyone else is doing and do the exact opposite. If all the survivors are going one way, I’m heading in the other. I figure if I can find myself somewhere isolated and quiet, get enough supplies together to sit out, say, the next six months, by the time I next need to go out into the open, much of the initial threat will have disappeared – literally rotted away!
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.)
DM: Great question. How long have we got? I’m a sucker for honesty in zombie movies. Watching Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead was a life-changing experience for me, and it still holds up because it pre-dates all the expectations and clichés which have since plagued the zombie sub-genre. I’d struggle to choose a particular book (and we zombie authors tend to be a close-knit group, so I’m loathe to offend one at the expense of another!), but I’ll go for The World is Dead from Permuted Press – a great anthology from several years back. I’d also like to mention Before Dawn – a magnificent movie made here in the UK last year by Dominic Brunt. I recently caught a fantastic short online too – Cargo – which, in the space of a few wordless minutes, tells an incredibly heart-breaking zombie story. You can watch Cargo here.) I think the best zombie stories focus on the plight of the living rather than the horror of the dead.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
DM: Zombie kill as in zombies being ‘killed’ or zombies doing the killing? Whichever answer you’re after, I’ll go back to Romero. I’ll always have a soft-spot for the helicopter zombie from the original Dawn of the Dead – such an audacious, dangerous and ultimately pointless stunt! (In case anyone doesn’t remember, it’s the scene where Fran, Steven and the others are refueling their helicopter before they reach the mall… a zombie with a shockingly tall forehead climbs up onto boxes and receives a buzz-cut from the rotor blades). In terms of zombies doing the killing, I’d go for the tour-de-force at the end of Day of the Dead. Bub turning the gun on Dr Logan… Rhodes yelling ‘choke on ‘em’ as he’s torn apart… an astonishing sequence of kills.
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?
DM: That’s a really interesting question. Zombies have always been great to use as a metaphor for the times. They’re so adaptable and can be used to represent so much. To give a really pretentious answer to this question, I think it’s useful first of all to look at some of the reasons we give as to why zombies continue to have such incredible appeal. Here are some of my usual responses:
- the living dead are relentless, frighteningly unstoppable;
- they’re very different to us, and yet so similar too – they’re us minus the heartbeat;
- following on from that, we can easily become them and lose everything that makes us who we are as individuals;
- facing the living dead means we may have to ‘kill’ something which was once our lover/partner/child/parent etc.;
- they’re just so damn gross!
If you look at some of those reasons in light of the society we live in today, I think you can see both why zombies continue to be so popular, and something of what they tell us about ourselves…
- they’re relentless – we live in a seven day a week, twenty-four hour a day society now… someone, somewhere is always awake and usually wants us. There’s no way to relax or completely switch off anymore… you’re always being pursued. Just like in the Z-poc – you can’t afford to take your eyes off the ball. Do zombies remind us how relentless modern day life has become?
- our enemy are so different to us, and yet so similar – like terrorists, perhaps? When I was a kid growing up, it was the Cold War and our perceived enemy was the USSR – a vast, sprawling empire on the other side of the world. Today, our enemy may life next door to us… in the same house even. I think the living dead tap into this modern day fear.
- losing our identities – I don’t know about you, but it seems every time I turn on the TV or go online, someone’s trying to sell me something or make me dress in a certain way or eat a certain type of food… We’re bombarded with crap reality TV and mindless blockbuster movies… we’re being told not to think, just to comply. Don’t know about you, but I find that terrifying. I want to stay an individual, but it’s getting harder… It’s a struggle to not become a mindless clone of everyone else, like a survivor desperately fighting to avoid getting infected and becoming one of the dead.
- following on from that – the flip-side of that argument, perhaps – is that we’re constantly being told how to look and what to wear, that we’re always striving to reach the physical perfection sold to us by the cult of celebrity. Zombies just happen to turn all that on its head. There’s nothing refined or beautiful about the undead!
Do you see where I’m coming from? I think the living dead are particularly relevant right now because they tap into many of the fears we have as individuals trying to get through these strange days…
You can learn more about David Moody right here.