Joining me today on my countdown to the September 3rd release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, is one of the founding fathers of the zombie genre. It’s none other than David Wellington, a writer I point to as one of my most important influences.
Back in 2004 and 2005, before I had decided to write a zombie novel myself, I was reading Monster Island, which David first serialized on his website. (You can check out his website here.) I’d only been to New York once before, and that for a brief two day stay, but Monster Island made me feel like I knew every inch of the city. And I was afraid! I was so afraid – and impressed! – that I decided to do my own zombie novels. That’s right everybody. If you like what I’ve written in the past, you have David Wellington to thank for it.
David has since revisited the zombie a number of times, even turning Monster Island into a trilogy of excellent books. But he’s equally adept working with vampires and werewolves and now, much to my great pleasure, the hard-driving contemporary thriller. He is a man of many talents, to be sure. He is the author of horror, fantasy, and now thriller novels. His latest book, Chimera, a thriller, is available as of July 23rd, 2013. It’s a spy novel with no paranormal elements at all—but it does have plenty of monsters. His other books include 13 Bullets, Frostbite and Den of Thieves (as David Chandler). You can follow him on Twitter at @LastTrilobite, or check out his website here.
And now, listen in as one of my favorites talks about everybody’s favorite shambling dead thing.
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 Wellington: Thanks for having me! Well, hi. My name is David Wellington, and my first published novel, Monster Island, was a zombie story. I followed it up with two sequels, Monster Nation and Monster Planet. They didn’t start out as novels, though, but as online serials. I wrote a chapter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and posted them to a blog as they were written. People responded to them right away, and that helped me get my first book contract. I took a few liberties with the genre—my zombies eat anything organic, like human-shaped locusts, and some of them retain their intelligence and can command the more mindless ones. I didn’t want to do the same old thing—which sounds funny now, since at the time the only real zombie novel was Brian Keene’s The Rising, which wouldn’t be considered a traditional zombie story either. I was responding more to the movies. I grew up in Pittsburgh, George Romero’s old stomping grounds, where zombies are part of the shared culture, so to me they were already an established genre.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
DW: Wait, what… right now? I didn’t see anything on the news! In other words, no, I wouldn’t be prepared. I don’t have a zombie apocalypse kit in my house. If it actually happened I would be one of the first to die—which actually suits me just fine. Nobody really wants to live in a post-apocalyptic world. Of course, all the actual projections show humanity winning very quickly. The epidemic would be contained by the armed forces and we would be okay. So maybe the best way to handle a zombie apocalypse is to hunker down and wait it out. Whatever you do, don’t go to the mall!
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.)
DW: 28 Days Later, definitely. I used to be conflicted about that—Night of the Living Dead is so amazing, the first and still one of the best ever made. But every time I watch 28 Days Later I find something new and incredible to love about that film. It just takes the story so seriously, and isn’t afraid to experiment, while still maintaining an incredible pace and nail-biting suspense. I think the thing that really got me was when the protagonist walks out into an empty London and sees all the signs of what went wrong—the bulletin board covered in pictures of missing people really gets me. And there are piles of bodies in trash bags everywhere, but we never see real gore until later. It’s like one of my favorite video games, Silent Hill 2. In that game, for the first half an hour nothing happens, but you’re still scared out of your wits. You hear a dog barking somewhere. There’s this fog… but no people. You have to walk through a series of increasingly creepy locations. It just builds and builds. That’s the essence of horror—pacing.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
DW: I wasn’t a huge fan of Diary of the Dead, but when the Amish farmer shows up at just the right second with the pitchfork, well… yeah. That’s such a subjective thing.
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?
DW: You want to get all academic about it, huh? Okay, zombies reflect our growing disconnection with the real world. It’s never been easier than now to go a whole day without seeing another human being. At its most basic a zombie story is about isolation, about being cut off from humanity—even when you’re surrounded by a crowd of human-looking creatures. How often do we feel that way now, far away from our families, our friends, even when they’re just a mouse-click away. The incredible advance in communications technology has had this weird effect of putting us all in individual bubbles we can’t escape. Well, it’s that or we just like zombies because their heads pop real good.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was David Wellington, one of the true zombie masters!