After I posted Dana Fredsti’s interview (you can check out Dana’s interview here) she contacted me to say that I ought to expand the title of this series of interviews to include both Zombie Masters and Zombie Mistresses. She quickly added that not all women would be okay with the title Mistress of anything, so I ought to be careful how I apply it.
Now I have no idea which title Rhiannon Frater would prefer, but frankly, she’s so damned good at what she does that she can take any title she wants. Like having her book The Last Bastion of the Living named as Barnes & Noble’s Best Zombie Book of the Decade, for example. (Here’s a link to that article, and it’s an honor I couldn’t agree with more.)
For those of you unfamiliar with Rhiannon Frater, she is the award-winning author of the As the World Dies trilogy (The First Days, Fighting to Survive, Siege,) and the author of three other books: the vampire novels Pretty When She Dies and The Tale of the Vampire Bride and the young-adult zombie novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. Inspired to independently produce her work from the urging of her fans, she published The First Days in late 2008 and quickly gathered a cult following. She won the Dead Letter Award back-to-back for both The First Days and Fighting to Survive, the former of which the Harrisburg Book Examiner called ‘one of the best zombie books of the decade.’
There’s that phrase again! Best zombie book of the decade.
You’d think she’d get used to hearing that.
If you haven’t read her (and if you’re a zombie fan I can’t imagine she’s slipped under your radar this long) I strongly urge you to do that right after you read this interview. She will not disappoint!
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?
Rhiannon Frater: Thanks for having me!
Well, first off, I try to approach the scenario as realistically as possible. How would ordinary people really respond to a zombie rising? Everyone has this grandiose idea that it would be fun to run around killing zombies and living free of modern constraints, but logically a lot of people would be shattered emotionally and psychologically by the loss of their loved ones and way of life.
So then the question becomes how do you continue to survive in the face of such misery and fear?
The human spirit is very resilient, so that’s what I try to concentrate on.
I used to work for a governmental consultant agency and dealt with disaster relief programs across the state of Texas. The stories of survival and how people dealt with life-altering events really touched me. That was the main inspiration for the As The World Dies trilogy.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
RF: I’m definitely not prepared. I’m not even sure how you could be fully prepared. What sort of zombie are they? If they’re like the World War Z film, we’re all screwed. I am a Texan. I have my weapons. I have a big SUV, but I can’t say I’m prepared.
Humanity would eventually win. I have no doubt about that. How long it would take would depend on what type of zombie we’re dealing with. The slow shamblers would rot away very quickly, especially in the Texas sun. A viral-type zombie would be much harder to deal with, though they would probably starve to death in a few months’ time.
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.)
RF: My favorite zombie film is Night of the Living Dead because it just hits it out of the ball park on all levels. The setting, the characters, the story, the actors, the social commentary, etc… It’s so disturbingly creepy in black and white. The relentlessness of the zombies is also quite perturbing. It just gets so much right about people in adverse situations and how things can go horribly wrong.
I also like the female characters in the movie. A lot of people concentrate on Barbara, but Judy was a really great supporting character. I liked how she ventured out with the men to help fuel the truck. It didn’t end well for her, but that would be the reality of the zombocalypse. People would make brave choices and end up dying.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
RF: When Anna takes out that massive female zombie in the Dawn of the Dead remake. That was just gross and amazing.
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?
RF: Honestly, I believe zombies are tapping into our inherent unhappiness with how complicated our lives have become. We work horrible hours, rarely take vacations, struggle with money matters, and because of the new media we’re constantly bombarded with what’s wrong with the world. I read a recent study that says that people are chronically depressed because of the 24-hour news cycle. The media decides what we see and so they stir us up with tsunami of negative news. They like scaring the hell out of us.
So, there are all these people wishing for some sort of dramatic reset and zombies promise just that. The fantasy is that somehow we’d be the ones surviving and creating a new world. Of course, most of us would be lunch, but we don’t want to believe that.
Even in the zombie genre there are incredibly negative tropes that are continually hit upon because we think they’re true. We’re doomed to lose. The worst enemy is humanity. It goes on and on.
Yet, we look at history and humanity is all about survival through community. The first thing people do after a natural disaster is group together to survive.
So what do zombies say about us?
That we’re not very happy with our society right now.