In my line of work – actually, in both lines of my work – I’ve been forced to develop a thick protective layer of skepticism, especially when it comes to people telling me their biographies. Rampant padding and overestimation might be another way of putting it. I’ve seen people take credit for things others have done, and I’ve seen people try to convince me they are all that and a bag of chips when in fact they are nothing but paper tigers. Keep that in mind when I tell you that within a few minutes of meeting Weston Ochse (we were manning the HWA booth at the Book Expo America in Los Angeles at the time) I learned he was an intelligence agent for the military, an enthusiast of not only pulp fiction, but contemporary crime fiction and Eastern philosophy as well. And, he had even won a Bram Stoker Award for his first novel, Scarecrow Gods. And…AND he’d been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I was thinking sure, whatever. Nobody could be that good. But we hit it off great. Wes is totally captivating to talk to, and has such an easy way of talking with people he’s only just met that I could have mistaken him for a veteran street cop. In other words, I liked him. Enough that I could forgive him a little padding of his bio.
And then, we went to lunch. Keep in mind this is at the café in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There are tourists everywhere. On the way to our table I heard at least half a dozen languages spoken. We sat down, and seated next to us was this older Asian couple. I had no idea what they were talking about, because of course they were speaking in Mandarin, but I’ve been a cop long enough to recognize tourists in distress. The husband was looking at a map and shrugging every time his wife asked a question. I thought, Ah, you poor people, I wish I could help you.
But then Wes turns to the couple and begins speaking fluent Mandarin. I don’t know who was more surprised, the couple or me. But Wes patiently found out where they wanted to go and then gave them the directions they needed. In Mandarin! Shocked as they were, they gushed with thanks. And Wes? He simply returned to his hamburger. Like it was nothing.
I knew then that I was in the company of the real McCoy. Here there was no padding, no bullshit. Weston Ochse, I’m happy to report, is all that and a bag of chips.
Wes is an amazing writer with plenty of zombie credit to his name, but he’s also incredibly versatile. He writes in several genres, sometimes focusing on the military, sometimes on everybody else, but always with a passion for life and a depth of human emotion normally reserved for the best of contemporary literature.
And did I mention that he’s currently stationed in Afghanistan, protecting our collective asses? Because he is.
I hope you enjoy this extra special interview, because it was written in a soldier’s downtime from the hot box that is Afghanistan. Here is Weston Ochse!
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?
Weston Ochse: My novel Empire of Salt was published by Abaddon Book as part of their Tomes of the Dead series. It takes place in the Salton Sea and features PTSD soldiers turned into zombies. It sold out in paperback worldwide and did incredibly well. My most famous zombie short story is probably “The Crossing of Aldo Ray,” which appeared in The Dead That Walk (edited by Stephen Jones). This was a very Cormac McCarthyesque piece about the dead and illegal aliens. It was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
WO: I’m prepared. Are you? One thing The Walking Dead gets absolutely right is what someone has to do to save themselves and their family. Sometimes it’s terrible what you’d have to do. Let me ask you this? How much of your humanity are you willing to trade to stay alive?
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.)
WO: I really enjoyed Feed. I thought it was very timely and gave us a perspective we’d never seen before.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
WO: From Dead Snow, when the two men face off with the Nazi zombies with only a chainsaw and a sledgehammer a hammer and nail and all sorts of gear. It’s such a great scene with such great music that goes with it. It’s funny, but unintentionally so.
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?
WO: And you call yourself a writer. Shame on you.
Seriously. Of course these things are a reflection of a deeper psychosis. In the case of zombies, their popularity I firmly believe is linked with our ever-increasing concern with the the dissolution of social bonds, loss of civilized structure, and the fracturing of neighborhoods as an identifiable block. And of course because it’s just cool and fun to kill dead things all over again.
Weston Ochse also maintains one of the best author blogs out there. Please go by and check out some of the most original content on the web here, and when you’ve had your curiosity piqued, go here to read his books.
But I’m not going to let you go just yet. Weston Ochse, as I’ve said, knows his shit. And he proves it in his most recent release, Babylon Smiles. If you liked Three Kings, if you liked Kelly’s Heroes, you owe it to yourself to check this out. Here’s where you can get your copy.