With about a week to go before the September 3rd release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, I’m going to start picking up the pace on these interviews. This morning I posted my interview with S.G. Browne (you can check out that interview here) and now, for the evening crowd, I’m offering you one of my oldest friends in the genre, Mr. David Dunwoody. Born in Texas and currently living in Utah, David writes subversive horror fiction, including the EMPIRE zombie series and the collections DARK ENTITIES and UNBOUND & OTHER TALES. Most recent is his post-apocalyptic novel THE HARVEST CYCLE. His short stories (and I am huge fan of David Dunwoody’s short fiction) have been or will be published by outfits such as Permuted, Chaosium, Shroud, Twisted Library, Belfire and Dark Regions. A few of his favorite authors include Lovecraft, King and Barker.
At the same time I was releasing my first novel, Dead City, David was serializing EMPIRE, the first book in his EMPIRE series online. I remember following along with the story, completely engrossed in his story. David has continued to keep me reading since then. In fact, his short fiction (a healthy dose of which deals with the zombie in one form or another) has matured to a frightening level. So much so in fact that I would now count him one of the horror genre’s best short story writers. Don’t believe me? Check out three of my favorites by him: “The Reluctant Prometheus,” “Grinning Samuel,” and “Dead Man and the Sea.” By the way, his website offers one of the most thorough and easy to use bibliographies I’ve ever seen on an author’s website. Check that out here.
But for now, enjoy this conversation with one of horror’s most fertile imaginations!
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 Dunwoody: When it comes to zombies my only rule is that there are no rules. Well, I guess that isn’t quite true – they gotta be dead. But I wouldn’t begrudge anyone their own unique take. Romero’s ghoul is a brilliant monster archetype with endless potential. In my two Empire novels, I decided the best nemesis for the undead would be Death himself, so I pitted the Reaper against the zombies. There are traditional shambler-types and there are some weird-as-hell variants.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
DD: I’d like to think that the optimism in World War Z’s (book not film) ending – a world where Man was brought to the brink of extinction, but there is still a lot of infrastructure and hope to rebuild – is grounded in reality. But I have to admit I’m a misanthrope and my faith in the collective human spirit is nil. Similarly, my preparedness is at a minimum. I have no family. I don’t want to live through a zompoc that isn’t ruled by my pen!
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.)
DD: Paffenroth’s Dying to Live is my favorite novel, followed by WWZ. (Check out my earlier interview with Kim Paffenroth here.) While neither skimps on the cynicism, both are very thoughtful and really champion the human spirit – kinda odd picks for a misanthrope! In film it’s a dead heat between Dawn of the Dead ’78 and Return of the Living Dead. I am in love with ROTLD’s punk sensibility, both in terms of style and its eagerness to explore all the different permutations of the undead condition. I think ROTLD really inspired me to write novels featuring different degrees and types of undead. When I think of zombie shorts I always think of McCammon’s Stoker-winning “Eat Me” from Skipp & Spector’s Book of the Dead. It’s a beautiful story and one example of how you can portray monster love without it being a teen melodrama or comedy.
Video game is the original Resident Evil. I’m a sucker for big spooky houses as much as I am zombies. Plus they throw in tons of crazy shit. Likely inspired the zombie shark in Empire.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
DD: Awesome question. Though it’s not a badass visual, the unseen execution of Roger in Dawn does it for me. It really brings the whole concept of the zombie home when you see him suffer and die and then rise, and Peter knowing what he must do.
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?
DD: One is that we are increasingly connected and more aware of ourselves as a community. The other is that, in spite of this, we are increasingly narcissistic.
The internet and the digital self have grown our egos like tumors. While the thought of one’s lover or friend or child turning into an empty, hungry vessel is, I’m sure, a timeless horror, the appeal of the “They’re us” monster is a particular one. The zombie rose in the 20th century because it was time for that type of monster. One that expresses broad themes of xenophobia and fear of contagion but that is also us, each of us, without ceasing to be a monster.
The vampire and werewolf fill this role at times but I don’t think they started out that way, and besides today they are often self-parodies or the focus leans too far toward either human or monster. Zombies are balanced for our time.
That all said, for many storytellers I think it’s often the case that all this media connectivity makes them more conscious of us as a people. And so zombie stories examine common human nature, social constructs and crowd psychology. It may be that this broader perspective drives many storytellers while our self-absorption drives consumer appeal. And the thing is, you and I and a ton of zombie nuts are both fans and storytellers.
I can only conclude that this means we are the most healthy, balanced people on the planet.