David Wellington

Joining me today on my countdown to the September 3rd release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, is one of the founding fathers of the zombie genre.  It’s none other than David Wellington, a writer I point to as one of my most important influences.

Back in 2004 and 2005, before I had decided to write a zombie novel myself, I was reading Monster Island, which David first serialized on his website.  (You can check out his website here.)  I’d only been to New York once before, and that for a brief two day stay, but Monster Island made me feel like I knew every inch of the city.  And I was afraid!  I was so afraid – and impressed! – that I decided to do my own zombie novels.  That’s right everybody.  If you like what I’ve written in the past, you have David Wellington to thank for it.

David has since revisited the zombie a number of times, even turning Monster Island into a trilogy of excellent books.  But he’s equally adept working with vampires and werewolves and now, much to my great pleasure, the hard-driving contemporary thriller.  He is a man of many talents, to be sure.  He is the author of horror, fantasy, and now thriller novels.  His latest book, Chimera, a thriller, is available as of July 23rd, 2013.  It’s a spy novel with no paranormal elements at all—but it does have plenty of monsters.  His other books include 13 Bullets, Frostbite and Den of Thieves (as David Chandler).  You can follow him on Twitter at @LastTrilobite, or check out his website here.

And now, listen in as one of my favorites talks about everybody’s favorite shambling dead thing.

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 Wellington:  Thanks for having me!  Well, hi.  My name is David Wellington, and my first published novel, Monster Island, was a zombie story.  I followed it up with two sequels, Monster Nation and Monster Planet.  They didn’t start out as novels, though, but as online serials.  I wrote a chapter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and posted them to a blog as they were written.  People responded to them right away, and that helped me get my first book contract.  I took a few liberties with the genre—my zombies eat anything organic, like human-shaped locusts, and some of them retain their intelligence and can command the more mindless ones.  I didn’t want to do the same old thing—which sounds funny now, since at the time the only real zombie novel was Brian Keene’s The Rising, which wouldn’t be considered a traditional zombie story either.  I was responding more to the movies.  I grew up in Pittsburgh, George Romero’s old stomping grounds, where zombies are part of the shared culture, so to me they were already an established genre.

JM:  The zombie apocalypse is happening right now.  Are you prepared?  Would humanity win?

DW:  Wait, what… right now?  I didn’t see anything on the news!  In other words, no, I wouldn’t be prepared.  I don’t have a zombie apocalypse kit in my house.  If it actually happened I would be one of the first to die—which actually suits me just fine.  Nobody really wants to live in a post-apocalyptic world.  Of course, all the actual projections show humanity winning very quickly.  The epidemic would be contained by the armed forces and we would be okay.  So maybe the best way to handle a zombie apocalypse is to hunker down and wait it out.  Whatever you do, don’t go to the mall!

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.)

DW:  28 Days Later, definitely.  I used to be conflicted about that—Night of the Living Dead is so amazing, the first and still one of the best ever made.  But every time I watch 28 Days Later I find something new and incredible to love about that film.  It just takes the story so seriously, and isn’t afraid to experiment, while still maintaining an incredible pace and nail-biting suspense.  I think the thing that really got me was when the protagonist walks out into an empty London and sees all the signs of what went wrong—the bulletin board covered in pictures of missing people really gets me.  And there are piles of bodies in trash bags everywhere, but we never see real gore until later.  It’s like one of my favorite video games, Silent Hill 2.  In that game, for the first half an hour nothing happens, but you’re still scared out of your wits.  You hear a dog barking somewhere.  There’s this fog… but no people.  You have to walk through a series of increasingly creepy locations.  It just builds and builds.  That’s the essence of horror—pacing.

JM:  What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?

DW:  I wasn’t a huge fan of Diary of the Dead, but when the Amish farmer shows up at just the right second with the pitchfork, well… yeah.  That’s such a subjective thing.

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?

DW:  You want to get all academic about it, huh?  Okay, zombies reflect our growing disconnection with the real world.  It’s never been easier than now to go a whole day without seeing another human being.  At its most basic a zombie story is about isolation, about being cut off from humanity—even when you’re surrounded by a crowd of human-looking creatures.  How often do we feel that way now, far away from our families, our friends, even when they’re just a mouse-click away.  The incredible advance in communications technology has had this weird effect of putting us all in individual bubbles we can’t escape.  Well, it’s that or we just like zombies because their heads pop real good.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was David Wellington, one of the true zombie masters!

Publishing News: Dating in Dead World

I just got word from John Joseph Adams, editor of The Living Dead, Wastelands, Federations, and the new speculative fiction magazine Lightspeed, that his new zombie anthology, The Living Dead 2 will be landing in stores this September.

Here’s the table of contents:

Introduction — John Joseph Adams
Alone, Together — Robert Kirkman
Danger Word — Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due
Zombieville — Paula Stiles
The Anteroom — Adam-Troy Castro
When the Zombies Win — Karina Sumner-Smith
Mouja — Matt London
Category Five — Marc Paoletti
Living with the Dead — Molly Brown
Twenty-Three Snapshots of San Francisco — Seth Lindberg
The Mexican Bus — Walter Greatshell
The Other Side — Jamie Lackey
Where the Heart Was — David J. Schow
Good People — David Wellington
Lost Canyon of the Dead — Brian Keene
Pirates vs. Zombies — Amelia Beamer
The Crocodiles — Steven Popkes
The Skull-Faced City — David Barr Kirtley
Obedience — Brenna Yovanoff
Steve and Fred — Max Brooks
The Rapeworm — Charlie Finlay
Everglades — Mira Grant
We Now Pause For Station Identification — Gary Braunbeck
Reluctance — Cherie Priest
Arlene Schabowski Of The Undead — Mark McLaughlin & Kyra M. Schon
Zombie Gigolo — S. G. Browne
Rural Dead — Bret Hammond
The Summer Place — Bob Fingerman
The Wrong Grave — Kelly Link
The Human Race — Scott Edelman
Who We Used to Be — David Moody
Therapeutic Intervention — Rory Harper
He Said, Laughing — Simon R. Green
Last Stand — Kelley Armstrong
The Thought War — Paul McAuley
Dating in Dead World — Joe McKinney
Flotsam & Jetsam — Carrie Ryan
Thin Them Out — Kim Paffenroth, Julia Sevin & RJ Sevin
Zombie Season — Catherine MacLeod
Tameshigiri — Steven Gould
Zero Tolerance — Jonathan Maberry
And the Next, and the Next — Genevieve Valentine
The Price of a Slice — John Skipp & Cody Goodfellow
Are You Trying to Tell Me This is Heaven? — Sarah Langan

This promises to be a huge anthology, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. My story, “Dating in Dead World,” is a sequel to my Dead City series. The main character is Andrew Hudson, the baby Eddie Hudson spent a night of hell trying to rescue in Dead City.

It’s been almost twenty years since Hurricane Mardell swept through Houston, flooding the city and giving birth to a virus that turns the living into the walking dead. The world has been overrun by zombies and left in ruin. But there are still groups of people left alive, and they are carving out an existence in the wasteland.

Some of the survivors have moved into protective compounds, but Andrew Hudson wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in one of those. He was raised as a street urchin out in the ruins of San Antonio, where he makes a living as a special courier between the strongholds of the dead world’s warlords. During one of those runs he had the good fortune to meet the daughter of the area’s most powerful warlord, and he won her heart.

Now, they’re going on their first date. How hard could that be, right? Kids have been dating forever. Well, when taking your date out involves high speed pursuits through zombie-infested ruins and being used as pawns in an underhanded power grab scheme, nothing is as easy as it seems.

“Dating in Dead World” was written right about the same time that Kensington Publishing came asking me to do another zombie book. I had made a few readers mad with the ending to Dead City, and I wanted to address the criticism before I went on with the rest of the series.

The first person narrator of Dead City is a police officer named Eddie Hudson. The thing to remember about Eddie Hudson is that he is not a reliable reporter. Most people get that wrong about him. He’s deeply fractured by the events he recounts in the novel, and the optimism he expresses at the end of the story is…well, let’s just say he’s not telling you everything. He’s telling you about the world he wants to believe in, not the world as it really is. “Dating in the Dead World” came from that issue. And because “Dating in the Dead World” was written to refute Eddie Hudson’s optimism, the logical lead for the story was Eddie’s son, Andrew Hudson. So this story really becomes as much a conversation between father and son as it does a commentary on the Dead City series itself.

John Joseph Adams asked me where “Dating in Dead World” came from – not just the idea for the story, but the personal background of the story. I think the answer hinges on personal accountability. I don’t respect a person who can’t accept responsibility for his or her actions. That’s something I learned from my dad, and something I’ll always be thankful for.

He gave me some important advice on personal responsibility. Right before I left for my first date, he gave me the only bit of parental sex education I ever received. “Remember this,” he said. “You will be held personally accountable for everything that happens to that girl from the moment she leaves her front door to the moment she walks back in it. Conduct yourself accordingly.”

It wasn’t until after I’d written “Dating in the Dead World” that I realized I was channeling that advice. I guess it took.

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