In my day job I’m a patrol supervisor for the San Antonio Police Department, and my duties sometimes carry me through a remote part of the west side of San Antonio. The area is in marked contrast to the rest of the west side, which is a dense hive of businesses and older, and mostly low-income neighborhoods. But the area I’m talking about is a wide expanse of farmland, and it’s absolutely beautiful, especially in the evening when the sun casts long shadows over the onion fields and darkness pools in between the rows of the pear tree orchards.
I mention all this because in the center of one of those onion fields is a large oak tree, several hundred years old, and beneath that tree is a small apiary. You have to know it’s there to spot it, and I suspect most people who pass that way never even notice it. But I do, and every time I pass it by I can’t help but think of today’s guest, Mr. Patrick Freivald.
Patrick has to have one of the most interesting biographies of any horror writer working today. He’s a teacher who specializes in robotics, physics, and American Sign Language. He also coaches an award winning robotics teams. All of that is pretty freaking cool, to be sure, but on top of everything else, he raises bees. I read from time to time on Facebook of his honey haul, and my mouth starts watering.
And you know, I haven’t even gotten to the part where I talk about what an amazing writer he is. His books Twice Shy and Special Dead are absolutely fascinating takes on the zombie genre, and demonstrate, to my mind any way, an empathy for the teenage condition rarely found in fiction.
This guy has got both sides of his brain working overtime, and I guarantee you he’s a name you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the coming years.
So, here he is, Patrick Freivald!
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?
Patrick Freivald: I like to turn it on its head. There are a lot of stories out there that fall into one of two types: (a) the apocalypse is happening and people are trying to survive, and (b) the apocalypse has happened, and in the dystopian future people are trying to survive. I wanted to write about a world where zombies exist, have destroyed swaths of humanity, but outside of those areas of destruction, life has continued in an almost normal manner. It’s a bit like a tsunami or earthquake that destroys one region while the rest of the world just keeps on truckin’. The details of the rest of the world interest me.
My published zombie fiction details the life of an ordinary high school junior whose controlling mother has forced her to join the emo crowd because their fashion sense covers up the fact that she’s a zombie. (Ritalin-like injections give her the ability to resist the urge to eat her friends… mostly.) I wanted to be true to the tropes of the genre while at the same time turning them on their head, and to juxtapose the normalcy of ho-hum life with the absolute, chilling terror of the walking dead.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
PF: Am I prepared? Probably. I live in the middle of blissful nowhere, with a huge garden, limitless fresh water, and great lines of sight. The Redhead(tm) and I live out of the garden all summer, and can what we don’t eat fresh so we can eat all winter, too, and there are loads and loads of deer (not to mention rabbits, squirrels, etc, etc.) Being a beekeeper, I have access to near-unlimited calories, as well as the wherewithal to make alcohol (for sterilization or consumption), vinegar, candles, and medicine. It wasn’t on purpose, but I’ve ended up in an area particularly suited to surviving the end of the world as we know it. Now if we can only survive Washington, D.C….
Would humanity win? That’s hard to answer, because there are many types of trope-fitting apocalypses. (Apocalypti?)
Slow zombies: Yes, at least in first world countries. I have no doubt that the modern military could and would contain outbreaks with brutal efficiency. We might lose towns, neighborhoods, maybe even entire cities before we get a handle on the situation, but we’d contain and destroy them. (If everyone who dies becomes one regardless, that’s more problematic, but not that big of a deal. New social norms could all but eliminate the problem side of that arrangement.)
Fast zombies: Same answer, with more losses.
David Moody-style plague: No. With just about everyone dead before the zombies even rise, humanity would drop below population viability even without counting the ravening hordes of violent, hungry dead people.
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.)
PF: Oooh, mean question. I love the unique-but-still-faithful-to-the-tropes nature of the Autumn series by David Moody. Jonathan Maberry’s Dead of Night is fantastic for its portrayal of zombies that are aware of everything they do, but can’t control themselves–perhaps one of the most chilling ideas I can imagine. I enjoyed the heck out of your own novella, The Crossing, for a great taste of the interaction between Free America and the Quarantine Zone, and because it dances around both major types of zombie stories. For sheer frolicking good fun, you can’t go wrong with the zombies-and-superheroes action of Ex-Heroes and Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
PF: It has to be the rooftop shootings in the Dawn of the Dead remake. The pairing of what should be a terrible and inhuman activity with a party-like atmosphere marries so perfectly with Down with the Sickness as covered by Richard Cheese that I can’t help but love it. Paired with the fantastic Johnny Cash opening credits, they make for two of the best montages in zombie history.
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?
PF: Zombies are interesting because they carry with them a moral ambiguity that you can’t shake. The allegory can run all over the place–from decaying inner cities to sweatshop-driven commercialism to nanny-state totalitarianism to terrorism–but the fundamentals of the modern zombie require us to consider that yes, they may be dead, but they were and perhaps are human. They may be trying to eat your face or your children, but they were once a person with human dignity, with hopes and dreams and loved ones, and in destroying them we destroy a part of ourselves. Even if we have no choice.
Patrick is one of my favorites in the genre, and I strongly urge you to check out his books here. Then go here to read his blog, where he’s putting on a blog series of his own in which he demonstrates a mastery of editing skill.