The countdown continues! We’re now exactly thirty days away from the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and I’m using today to highlight one of the most compelling new voices in horror and bizarre fiction, Mr. Shane McKenzie.
I first met Shane when I served on the planning committee for the 2011 World Horror Convention in Austin. At that time I’d heard Shane’s name mentioned a few times by writers I admire, but I hadn’t seen his stuff yet. Then I met him and his enthusiasm and energy were contagious. When he’s around you can’t help but smile. And he’s smart as a whip too. Few horror writers of Shane’s generation are as well read and as thoroughly versed in the genre’s history.
But there’s a danger to people like Shane. You meet them, and you really, really like them. And then you finally get a chance to read them. That’s the danger right there, because there’s always the chance that their stuff will suck. Luckily, that isn’t the case here. Shane is, I’m happy to report, as badass on the page as he is in person. Late last year I got to write the introduction to his novel Addicted to the Dead and I was honored to do so. Shane takes a bizarre approach to zombies and he never pulls his punches. A native of Austin, Texas and a huge sports fan, Shane is proof positive that the horror genre will have legs for decades to come.
Please welcome Shane McKenzie!
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?
Shane McKenzie: Thanks so much for having me on, Joe. When I decided to write a zombie novel, I knew I had to do something different. Not just because the readers would be bored with the same old same old, but because I would have been bored writing the damn thing. In my opinion, we don’t need a long drawn out story about how the zombies came to be anymore. We don’t need the characters discovering that only head trauma will kill them. We know, okay? Does it really matter if the zombies came to be because of a virus or a curse or radioactive gas? I know I don’t care. When it’s all said and done, it’s still a zombie story. Are they slow or are they fast? I don’t really care! Just get on with it already.
So, I decided to switch the roles. In my novel Addicted to the Dead, people eat zombies. Zombies are not vicious flesh-eaters, they’re just living corpses, terrified of the living. I started with that idea, and then just built the world around it. There’s no explanation as to how zombies are around. It’s just known that if you die, you wake up. The zombie meat works as a vaccine. People don’t want to walk around after they die, they want to rest in peace, so they add zombie meat to their diet. But I didn’t feel that was enough. So I thought maybe the meat is addictive if eaten in large quantities or if it’s properly aged. So zombies become walking drug factories. The “meatheads” are a lot like traditional zombies, just emaciated, desperate addicts that only have one thing on their mind: eating meat.
Effective zombie stories, whether it be movies, television, or fiction, has to be about the people. The zombies are there, yes. It’s because of the zombies that the people are acting the way they act, doing things most would consider to be uncivilized or downright nasty. But the story has to be about the people and their journey. That’s what we connect with. But don’t get me wrong. A nice gory death scene is always appreciated.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
SM: I am not prepared at all. I don’t have any guns, or any weapons at all really. Yeah…I’d pretty much be screwed if zombies decided to happen. Maybe I should get a set of samurai swords for my family. Or some shotguns. Or shotguns that shoot samurai swords. Or dogs with bees in their mouths so that when they bark they chew bees at the zombies.
I do think that humanity would eventually win. There would be widespread panic, a lot of people dying at first, but over time, we would take back control. Unfortunately, I also think there would be a lot of human on human violence. There would be murder, rape, theft, etc. After the initial panic, it would probably be other humans you need to worry about more than the undead. Because let’s face it…people suck. Especially in large, panicked groups. A desperate human can be a monster.
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.)
SM: Man, that’s a tough one. I was obsessed with zombie movies as a kid. All three of Romero’s Living Dead films were huge for me. Especially Dawn of the Dead. I would fantasize about what I would do if I was stuck in a mall with zombies surrounding me. As a kid, it didn’t seem scary at all. It seemed like it would be bad ass, really. I was too young to worry about the fact that if the zombie apocalypse happened, most of the people I know and love would probably be dead. That being stuck in a place with flesh-hungry corpses surrounding me would be dangerous. All I could think about was how cool it would be to have KB Toys to myself, or the video arcade, or the comic book shop. I think the first zombies that actually scared me were from Day of the Dead. They just had a very specific, creepy look and feel to them with their extended brow ridges and meth mouths.
Then I saw Return of the Living Dead and Return of the Living Dead 2. I just loved these movies because they were so much fun. Zombies actually rising from the grave was something I always loved. The scene in the graveyard when the gas is crawling across the ground and then the zombies start crawling out will always be one of my favorite scenes of all time from any movie.
When I got older, I discovered Dead Alive and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. These films took it to a whole other level for me. Ultra gory, tons of fun. It was because of these films that I started seeking out foreign films and the more hardcore stuff. I can watch these movies all day long. It cracks me up that Peter Jackson went on to direct the Lord of the Rings movies after watching Dead Alive.
My favorite modern zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead. I just think it’s brilliant. So many classic moments in that film. They didn’t waste time telling how zombies came about. The main characters don’t even realize it’s happening until the world has already gone to shit. I love that they come up with a plan, and that it’s an awful one. Let’s travel all the way across town, just to lock ourselves in a pub. Brilliant! That’s exactly the kind of plan that two normal guys would come up with.
All of that being said, it was Michael Jackson’s Thriller video that had the most impact on me. Maybe it’s because I was just the right age, I’m not sure. But that video is what started my obsession with horror. Back then, Michael Jackson was the coolest guy possible, at least to me he was. So maybe from that point on, my mind associated horror with “cool.” I’m really not sure. But I watched the video and the making of the video over and over again. The werewolf transformation in that video is fantastic, still holds up today. The zombies were scary…even when they were dancing. I truly believe that it was the Thriller video that led me on the path to becoming a horror writer.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
SM: I think it’s a tie. The lawnmower scene in Dead Alive and the eye poke scene in Zombie. The lawnmower scene has to be the bloodiest scene of anything ever. The eye poke scene blew me away when I first saw it. It was just so slow, and you were sure that once that splinter got close enough to the eye, there would be a cut away or something. But nope. We see the entire slow penetration. Oh yeah.
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?
SM: First of all, we are obsessed with the end of the world. How many times was the world supposed to end now? I admit I even bought into some of the 2012 hype. I don’t know what it is about humans and thinking that our time on this planet is finite. Maybe it’s because the dinosaurs went extinct, so we think our race must be temporary too? Or maybe it’s just because of religion? Who knows.
Beyond that, I think the zombie apocalypse is telling us that we don’t really like or trust each other. I mean…do you talk to your neighbor beyond an occasional nod or wave? Or the cliché stuff about your kids and the weather? When the shit hits the fan, we are only concerned about ourselves and our loved ones. Some people only about themselves. Sure, there will be heroes here and there, doing what they can to help strangers, even if it means putting themselves in danger. I think we all would like to think that would be us in that situation, but honestly, probably not. If it came down to getting my wife and child to safety or helping some old blind lady being pursued by zombies, that old blind lady is corpse food. I know that’s harsh, but I’m just being honest.
Since it’s the most popular zombie…anything right now, let’s talk about The Walking Dead. The entire show is really about trust. In the beginning, they couldn’t help but want to give every person a chance. Help everyone that needed it. People are good deep down, no matter how bad they seem. But as time goes by, as they continue to live in the world infested by the living dead, they no longer care about others. They only care about their group. Everyone else is a threat. There was a scene last season where Rick sees a man, alone, running toward them, begging for help. The guy looks harmless, looks like he’s been through hell. In the first season, Rick would have helped this man. He would have taken him in, nursed him to health, made him part of the group. But instead, he drives away. They later find his body, chewed up and scooped out. And you know what? I don’t blame Rick for that. He has to think of his family first. The guy might have been harmless…but he also might be a murderer. Or a child molester. You get the idea.
I think that’s how we are, really. If you were walking down the street with your spouse and child, and you see a gang mercilessly beating a man, would you run over there and help him? Probably not. You would get your family the hell out of there, then probably call the police. But in a world with no police, what would you do? You would just simply run away.
Check out Shane McKenzie’s books here.