I am very pleased to announce Mr. Stan Swanson, my next guest as we count down the days until the September 3rd release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead. Mr. Stan Swanson is a Bram Stoker award finalist and the author of eight books including Forever Zombie (a collection of short stories), Write of the Living Dead (a highly-praised writing guide written with Araminta Star Matthews and Rachel Lee) and Return of the Scream Queen (co-authored with Michael McCarty and Linnea Quigley). He is also editor/publisher for Dark Moon Books and Dark Moon Digest.
I first became aware of Stan Swanson through his humorous short story collection, Forever Zombie. Like my interview subject from yesterday, Scott Kenemore, Stan uses the zombie’s potential for dark humor with great effect. But there’s always an unsettling aspect to humorous zombies. We want to laugh, and we do laugh, most of the time, but there remains that nagging feeling in the back of the brain that we are laughing at our own mortality. That tone buoys up much of the best of the humorous zombie sub-genre, and Stan has long since proven himself a master of that delicate balance between humor and unsettling self-realization.
Stan didn’t stop with humor, though. Don’t get me wrong. It continues to flavor much of his later work, but it is by no means the leading note these days. Perhaps this is due to his editing skills, which is how I next encountered him. I read his non-fiction book, Write of the Living Dead, and found an editorial guide that reminded me of the bastard love child of George Romero and Strunk & White. After that, I knew Stan was one to watch.
I have since published several short stories through Stan’s publishing company, Dark Moon Books / Dark Moon Digest, and I did it because of how impressed I was with Stan. One of those stories, in fact, a flash fiction piece called “Sabbatical in the Ohio Methlands,” has morphed into a novel, one that Stan and I are currently co-writing. You’ll be hearing more about that next year.
For now, enjoy the words of my good friend, Stan Swanson.
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?
Stan Swanson: I have written off-and-on most of my life, but I never seriously gave much thought to writing about zombies until about five years ago. I’ve loved zombie movies since the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead many decades ago, but realized I had never heard much about zombie fiction. Research revealed many titles in the genre, but not near as many as one might expect. I tried my hand and wrote a short story titled “Every Death You Take” which became the first story in my short fiction collection, Forever Zombie. I was “true” to the original Romero archetype zombie—slow-moving, non-thinking creatures—but that didn’t last as I quickly realized that “sticking” to this formula closed too many doors to the creative process. Now I approach each zombie work and the zombies within as characters just as I do all of my characters in the hope that they are not always quite what you expect. I think you will find that very true with the “zombies” appearing in the book I am currently co-writing with Joe McKinney.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
SS: The only thing I am really prepared for is a hurricane and I’m not even 100% prepared for that. The one thing I am really good at is procrastinating. Hey, it took me almost two weeks to answer Joe’s list of questions. Humanity has always found a way to survive, but it is usually through dumb luck. People use their heads fairly well as individuals, but the more people you throw into the mix, the less well we fare. We would likely survive the zombie apocalypse, but not because we are collectively brilliant.
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.)
SS: Night of the Living Dead started it all. I’d never even really been a huge horror fan until I saw that. The only zombie movie I have probably watched more times is the original Dawn of the Dead. I am one of those individuals who enjoy humor mixed with my horror and Dawn of the Dead never got old.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
SS: My favorite scene is the garden scene from Shaun of the Dead which begins with the lady falling on the pipe, continues with Shaun and Ed throwing everything at the zombies but the kitchen sink and ends with them throwing vinyl disks. Not sure they ever killed any zombies, but it was a classic scene.
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?
SS: There is probably no truer representation of humanity than through the zombie stereotype. We’ve seen it in everything from books and movies to television commercials. I’ve been repeatedly told that the zombie genre is dying, but I haven’t seen that happening. It is one of the few monster genres that people can personally relate to. Werewolves. Swamp creatures. Blobs from outer space. It is always us against them. But it is not always that way with zombies because each of us can identify with the monster. All we have to do is look into the mirror.