The Zombie Masters Series rolls on as we continue the countdown to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and with me today is Mr. Stephen Knight, one of self-publishing’s huge success stories and one of the genre’s finest writers. Nobody does military zombie fiction with as much authority, or with the same depth of characterization. Stephen Knight is, simply put, in a class by himself.
He’s the author of the bestselling zombie apocalypse tale The Gathering Dead and the follow-up novella Left With The Dead. But he’s far from a one trick pony. He’s also written the horror thriller City of the Damned and the action-adventure Hackett’s War. And, together with Derek Paterson, he wrote the erotic thriller White Tiger. Knight currently lives in the New York City area, but ought to hurry up getting back to Texas.
I was extremely lucky to land my first novel with a major publisher. It got me good exposure and great distribution. For that I am incredibly thankful. But the more my career develops, the more cognizant I am of the wonderful opportunities present in self-publishing. I have watched industrious writers like Stephen Knight soar into the public eye by taking control over every aspect of their writing, from story craft to formatting to pricing. I envy that degree of control.
That’s one small reason why I recently agreed to enter into a fantastic new writing project with Stephen Knight and Craig DiLouie. We are going to be doing a series of six novellas (of about 40,000 words each) called The Retreat. Here’s what Craig DiLouie had to say about The Retreat on his website.
As a new disease turns people into sadistic, laughing killers, in Boston, a battalion of light infantry struggles to maintain order. As the numbers of infected grow, the battalion loses control, and the soldiers find themselves fighting for their lives against the very people they once swore an oath to protect.
During the ensuring collapse, the lost battalion learns the Army is still holding out in Florida, which has been cleared of the Infected. Harry Lee, its commander, decides the only hope for his men is to get there. But first they must cross more than a thousand miles of America that has been turned into a war zone, fighting a fearless, implacable and merciless enemy.
The first two episodes will be published in the fall. Stay tuned for this exciting new series!”
But until then, enjoy this conversation with one of my favorite zombie writers, Mr. Stephen Knight!
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?
Stephen Knight: Well, let’s see…so far, I’ve released five zombie-theme works: The Gathering Dead, Left with the Dead, The Rising Horde: Volume 1 and Volume 2, and a short story that takes place in the same universe called “The Farm.” All of them deal with the military response to the reanimated dead, because that’s pretty much missing in most of the books and virtually all the films out there. How could this nation’s peerless military simply give up and be overwhelmed? In The Walking Dead, there are tanks and everything lying around, but no indication that there were any major fights, no containment operations, no nothing. I set out to change that a little bit.
My usual approach to the genre is to take the best people suited to handle the zombie apocalypse, throw them into the mix, and then watch as they slowly unravel with their backs against the wall.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
SK: I have to answer this one in two parts. If I’m in New York City, then I’m majorly screwed. Unless I’m really smart and figure out things are hitting the fan early and vamanos while there’s still time, I might make it. But chances are good that wouldn’t happen. In a metropolitan area like New York, everything’s already difficult to begin with—throwing in the zombie apocalypse would send the city right off the rails in no time at all.
But if I’m at my other home in Connecticut, then yeah, I’m in great shape. Weapons. Food. Access to a boat, which I can use to get out into Long Island Sound. Also access to a plane with a range of around 700 miles. And even though it’s a very densely-populated region of the country, it’s not millions of people in a vertical environment like NYC, so the chances of surviving are quite a bit better, even for a slouch like myself.
But would humanity win? Yes, I think so. Mankind is just too tough to kill without an asteroid hitting the planet or a plague of nanites sweeping through us.
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.)
SK: I liked World War Z simply because it was an interesting approach to the apocalypse. Craig DiLouie’s Tooth and Nail and The Infection are my biggest favorites, because they track well with my own work, and anything that deals with the military response is always kind of fun to read, especially when it’s as well-informed as Craig’s work is. Mountain Man was a whole different spin on the genre, what with the hero being a hermitic alcoholic, and a Canadian at that. But honestly, I’m remarkably under-read in the genre—there are dozens of titles out there I haven’t read yet, and some I have that aren’t good enough to mention.
Movies are different, I watch a lot of those. Romero’s groundbreaking work, of course, I saw all but the first one in the theater. The remake of Dawn of the Dead was very exciting, and one of the first inspirations that made me want to get around to The Gathering Dead. 28 Days Later was pretty darn good, too.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
SK: I think when Cillian Murphy beaned a priest zombie in the head with a plastic bag full of Pepsi cans has to rank as number one. (Though I don’t know if that counts as a kill.)
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?
SK: That we need more meat in our diet. And that it’s unfortunate that vegans run slower than the rest of us.