The countdown to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, continues with another major player on the Indie side of the zombie genre, Mr. Aaron Wise, a.k.a. A.R. Wise. There is a wild, wild west culture developing among Indie authors, and Aaron is one of its most talented outlaws. Disdainful of rejection from the mainstream publishers, he embraced the ebook revolution and took matters into his own hands. He’s mentioned that he never even dreamed he’d garner the love and praise his books have brought him, but he’s thankful because that success has enabled him to devote his considerable skills into a full time writing career.
I discovered Aaron’s simply amazing series, Deadlocked, in March, 2012. I still remember the date because I was on vacation in my family’s winter home in Colorado and looking for some new zombie fiction to fill up the Kindle I’d gotten for Christmas. Trolling Amazon, Aaron’s books caught my eye and I decided to give them a try. I started the first volume of Deadlocked right after breakfast and finished just before lunch. And afterward, I was exhausted. Reading an Aaron Wise book is like riding a horse at full gallop. I’ve been keeping up with the series through each ensuing volume, and it just keeps getting better and better. (Check it out here.) You can thank me later.
As a fan of his stuff I knew I had to include him here in my zombie masters series, and I’m so glad he agreed to be my victim. If you haven’t read his stuff yet, you’re in for a treat. But for now, please welcome A.R. Wise, Zombie Master!
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?
A.R. Wise: I like to equate the walking dead to our own creeping death. Every one of us knows that we’ll die one day, and we go about our lives with that knowledge eating at our subconscious. In my opinion, the scariest thing about zombies is that they aren’t just another monster hunting us – it’s us. When a character sees a walking corpse, they’re looking at their own future. All of the walking dead are a prophecy. That’s why, in my Deadlocked series, the main character of the first book is dealing with the discovery of his own cancer, and for the rest of the book he’s trying to run from the inevitable just long enough to make sure his family can survive after he’s gone.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
ARW: I’m no survivalist, so I’d likely be zombie fodder. There’s a trend in zombie and apocalypse literature where survivalist authors are playing out their own fantasies as to how they would react to an apocalypse. I think that’s a really fun and engaging style of book, but it’s not the type that I write. My characters are closer to the average person; someone without expert military training or survivalist skills. However, I’d argue that reading about a character like that, who hasn’t been preparing for an apocalypse, is a great way to show that humanity can indeed win – not based on preparedness, but rather on ingenuity and a will to live.
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.)
ARW: I’m going to cheat and split my decision here. One of my favorite zombie films of all time is Dawn of the Dead, by the father of the zombie genre, George Romero (no need to remind me of White Zombie – modern zombies started with Romero). Night of the Living Dead, Romero’s first film, is outstanding, and arguably has a better grip on its social message which was revolutionary at its time. However, I think the subversive message of the second film in his series is easier for someone of my generation to identify with. I see Dawn of the Dead as the ultimate example of how zombies can be used as more than just a raging antagonist for characters. In Dawn of the Dead, Romero created a film that one could watch and blithely ignore the social message and still have an entertaining ride, but it rewards a deeper analysis. Consumerism and conformity are on display as those zombies stagger through the mall, and our heroes are fighting to avoid succumbing to the same sad state.
As a counterweight to Dawn of the Dead, I’ll also throw out the hilarious and entirely entertaining Return of the Living Dead as one of my favorites. John Russo, who had worked with Romero on Night of the Living Dead, wrote the original script of Return as a dark and dreary film, but was usurped by Dan O’Bannon who rewrote the movie and directed it after Tobe Hooper dropped out. Reportedly, few of the actors of the film had any idea that it was meant as a comedic satire, which is shocking when you see their hammy performances. As it turned out, O’Bannon crafted a zombie comedy that stands tall as the funniest zombie film ever made, only challenged by Shaun of the Dead, another favorite of mine.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
ARW: Is it fair to just throw out an entire movie here? Dead Alive (better known as Braindead by most of the world) by Peter Jackson is absolutely filled with the greatest zombie kills ever filmed. It’s a cavalcade of classic scenes. If forced to pick my favorite, I guess I’ll go with the preacher’s martial arts attack: “I kick ass for the Lord!”
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?
ARW: As I mentioned before, I think that our subconscious draws comparisons between ourselves and the chomping monsters that have recently taken over popular culture. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as the baby boomer generation ages, we find ourselves surrounded by representations of our own impending demise. Like it or not, that rotting corpse will be you some day, and the fact that zombies are everywhere lately seems to me like a cathartic exploration of our own fear of creeping death. Many of the popular monsters that infect our culture have attributes that we can identify with – for instance, vampires represent lust while werewolves are an example of the anger and hatred that so many of us try to contain and hide. Zombies, however, are largely absent of any relatable characteristics, yet it could easily be argued that it’s easiest to see ourselves in them. The reason for this is because you can kill vampires, and slay werewolves, but there’s no stopping your own eventual transformation into a rotting corpse.