Harry Shannon

Everybody’s experience is different, I’m sure, but for me, breaking into professional publishing was like transferring to a new school in the middle of the semester.  I knew absolutely no one.  I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know the cool kids, and I certainly didn’t know who to look out for.  It was a little intimidating to say the least.  Lee Thomas was an early mentor.  So too was Lisa Morton.  But the person who really did the most to teach me the ropes, who really spelled it all out for me, was Harry Shannon.  I’ve never forgotten the debt I owe him.

That was almost ten years ago.  Since then, Harry and I have become fast friends.  We’ve cheered to each other’s successes, and even gone in together on a few projects.  Most notable to today’s interview was a story he sent me for my freshman effort as editor, the zombie anthology Dead Set.  Harry, and his co-author, Steven Booth, sent me a wonderful story called “Jailbreak.”  It told the story of a young female sheriff and her deliciously dangerous prisoner on the first night of the zombie apocalypse.  I found it fast paced and highly charged with sexual tension, always a great combination for storytelling.  What’s more, it bore the stamp of a seasoned pro working his craft in top form.  I was delighted to include it in Dead Set.

And then, a few years later, I got an email from Harry letting me know that he and Steven were expanding the story into a novel…and they wanted me to write the introduction for it!

I was overjoyed.  And upon reading it, I was stunned.  In turning the short story “Jailbreak” into the novel, The Hungry, Harry and Steven turned Sheriff Penny Miller into one of the most original, and certainly one of the hottest, female leads in zombie fiction.  The Hungry has since turned into a series of outstanding adventures for Penny Miller, and has earned my friend Harry Shannon a place as zombie master.

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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?

Harry Shannon:  My first zombie made a cameo in the first draft of Night of the Beast, way back in the 1970’s. He had been a small-town Grocer, and a mentor to the lead character. He died and got his ass changed. The horror of his sudden transformation from a beloved friend to something to be feared gave me chills. I’d read about zombies of course, and seen some films, but that was the first time I’d ever written about one. Created one of my own. By the way, I’m a big fan of the traditional American variety–slow, rotting, voracious and unrelenting.

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

HS: One hopes. I think so. We are certainly rehearsing for it often enough. We are all survivalists now, or at least joking about becoming one. People have taken every unknown terror and bogey man and stapled it to the zombie trope. Plagues, economic ruin, the collapse of civilization, terrorism, Fascism, communism, it is all there in The Walking Dead and the best of the zombie fiction out there is always still deeply human. The zombies are just standing in for our fears–good stories are always about interesting human beings.

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.)

HS:  My favorite zombie film is still the original, black and white Night of the Living Dead. I play it most every Halloween while passing out candy. It seems so ridiculous at the beginning, the wooden acting, the awful score…yet once I hear “They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” I shiver. The Monkey’s Paw is still probably my favorite zombie short story, in part because the creature only has to knock to give us nightmares. I’d also have to give Honorable Mentions to the homage of Pet Semetary, 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead (original), and The Walking Dead series, which keeps hooking me every season, even though I think I’m burned out on it. And of course your own Dead City series, Jonathan Maberry’s recent YA stuff, the list goes on. It’s an embarrassment of riches these days.

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

HS:  That is a very tough question. If I had to choose one…Damn, maybe I can’t do that. So here are a couple off the top of my head. The poor man having to put down his buddy in the department store office, back in the original Dawn of the Dead. Having to sit there waiting for a good friend to turn. It’s just heart breaking. And then there’s that little girl eating her parents up in the pitch black basement in the original NOTLD. That one for the same reason. The black and white print makes that image unforgettable. If we saw a bunch of fake gore in color it probably wouldn’t disturb me half as much.

For all the silliness The Walking Dead has pulled off some amazing kills the last two seasons. Michone severing the head of a zombie but garrote comes to mind…anyway, I’ll stop. It seems I can’t choose one, but I’m seeing a pattern when I ponder scenes that have impact on me other than inspiring wild laughter. One thing always gets me. It is the deep angst of killing your own friend or loved one that never seems to grow old. Perhaps that is the true horror of zombies–not that we come back, but that we must help each other die.

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?

HS:  I agree, Joe, and I would even go a step further. I see the zombie genre as primarily an existential exploration. After all, as Clive Barker once wrote, horror is just another way of writing about the divine. Zombies go back to Jewish legend of the Golum, down through Frankenstein to George Romero and King. The fear of dead coming alive again peppers our distant past and pops up in cave paintings. So the tales persist, they are in our DNA. Sure, as you note, as time goes on the background eventually changes. That part evolves, and as you so succinctly point out, consistently reflects our present circumstances–cultural and otherwise.

We may set out to weave fiction about death, but we inevitably turn the camera back on ourselves. On the very meaning of life. Because in the end, horror is mostly about what it means to be alive…and then to ultimately and quite unavoidably have to die.

In that way horror is oddly Buddhist. It embraces the reality of suffering, seeks a way to rise above pain through the release of attachment, explores the attainment of compassion and wisdom for at least one of the characters. And generally the ultimate ascension is just to release all that nonsense and try to live in the moment. And so it is with a good zombie story. Maybe it is awfully pretentious of me to read all that into one manner of telling a tale, but both horror and crime noir drag me back again and again because they both entertain me and mean something. They are about something. They touch on cruelty, temptation, courage, endurance, and facing down existential dread to finally know peace.

As for the zombie craze going on today, I’m sure glad it’s here, because all four of the The Hungry books, which I’ve coauthored with Steven W. Booth, have been a lot of fun to write. Dead and Gone had some zombies in both the novel and movie versions. PAIN was a full on zombie book, sardonic and violent and all about obsession and compulsion. Believe me, I have a lot more zombies living my head.

I think zombies, as I said earlier, somehow allow us to explore timeless human stories in a very visceral (pardon the pun) way. Our characters face the worst stuff reality can throw at them. They struggle to remain human in the face of a relentless evil. The zombie herds are not the point; they are just the situation these complex people find themselves in. T

Today, times are still tough. We face economic and cultural threats to the continued supremacy of US empire, serious economic inequality here at home, terrorism in our cities and abroad, a crumbling medical system, major social changes, legal decisions that contradict basic convictions for some people…Hell, a whole host of new fears.

So is it any wonder we’re overrun with zombies? Those seemingly inexhaustible bogeymen that never fail to teach us both who we are, and what we may yet become if we just stand firm? I love zombies. We can learn a lot from our breathing-challenged brethren. All we have to do is listen.  This was fun, thanks for asking me to join in the discussion. Hey, and best of luck with the new novel!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my friend and mentor, Harry Shannon.  Check out his books here, and visit him online here.

Good News About Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology

Earlier this year Michelle McCrary and I edited a charity zombie anthology for 23 House Publishing called Dead Set. It was my first ever stint as editor and I greatly enjoyed the process. And now, with the end of the year upon us and award season kicking up, all that hard work has started to get some positive critical attention. Dead Set, and several of the contributors to the anthology, have been nominated and/or recommeded for some major awards, something for which I am very excited.

First off is Dark Scribe Magazine’s Annual Black Quill Award. Dead Set has made the short list in the Best Dark Genre Fiction Collection category, which is a huge honor. Here’s the complete ballot:

And the Nominees Are…
DARK GENRE NOVEL OF THE YEAR:

Novel-length work of horror, suspense, or thriller from a mainstream publisher; awarded to the author

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (Doubleday)
Kraken by China Miéville (Del Rey)
Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon (Leisure / Bad Moon Books)
The Caretaker of Lorne Field by David Zeltserman (Overlook Hardcover)
The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)
Under the Dome by Stephen King (Scribner)

BEST SMALL PRESS CHILL:

Novel or novella published by small press publisher; awarded to the author

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)
Dreams in Black and White by John R. Little (Morning Star)
Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss (Cemetery Dance)
The Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (Gray Friar Press)
The Wolf at the Door by Jameson Currier (Chelsea Street Editions)

BEST DARK GENRE FICTION COLLECTION:

Single author collection, any publisher; awarded to the author

Blood and Gristle by Michael Louis Calvillo (Bad Moon Books)
In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay (ChiZine Publications)
Little Things by John R. Little (Bad Moon Books)
Occultation by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse by Otsuichi (VIZ Media LLC)

BEST DARK GENRE ANTHOLOGY:

Multi-author collection, any publisher; awarded to the editor

Dark Faith Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Apex Publications
Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology Edited by Michelle McCrary and Joe McKinney (23 House)
Haunted Legends Edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (Tor)
Horror Library IV Edited by RJ Cavender and Boyd E. Harris (Cutting Block Press)
When The Night Comes Down Edited by Bill Breedlove (Dark Arts Books)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK OF NON-FICTION:

Any dark genre non-fiction subject, any publisher; awarded to the author[s] or editor[s]

Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators by Rocky Wood (McFarland)
I Am Providence: The Life and Times of HP Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press)
Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever by Joe Kane (Citadel)
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti (Hippocampus Press)
Thrillers: 100 Must Reads Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (Oceanview Publishing)

BEST DARK SCRIBBLE:

Single work, non-anthology short fiction appearing in a print or virtual magazine; awarded to the author

“Bully” by Jack Ketchum (Postscripts 22/23)
“Goblin Boy” by Rick Hautula (Cemetery Dance #63)
“Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente (Weird Tales, Summer 2010)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)
“We” by Bentley Little (Cemetery Dance #64)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK TRAILER:

Book video promoting any work of fiction or non-fiction; awarded to the video producer or publisher

Neverland / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Douglas Clegg)

Radiant Shadows / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Melissa Marr)

Specters in Coal Dust / Produced by Michael Knost & Black Water Films (for the anthology edited by Michael Knost)

Under the Dome / Produced by Scribner Marketing (for the book by Stephen King)

Unhappy Endings / Produced by Delirium Books (for the book by Brian Keene)

The following is taken directly from the Dark Scribe Magazine website and tells you a little about how the short list is established and how the voting process works. I encourage everybody to stop by and vote, even if it’s for something other than Dead Set.

Nominations for the Black Quills are editorial-based, with both the editors and active contributing writers submitting nominations in each of the (7) categories. Once nominations are announced, the readers of DSM have an opportunity to cast their votes for their picks in each category. In a unique spin intended to celebrate both critical and popular success, two winners are announced in each category – Reader’s Choice and Editor’s Choice.

All dark genre works published between November 1st, 2009 and October 31st, 2010 are eligible. DSM does not solicit nominations, nor are there any fees associated with the Black Quills.

Please note that only one ballot per email/IP address will be accepted. Multiple ballots received from the same email/IP address will be discarded.

Reader voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, January 21st, 2011.

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011.

On behalf of myself, Michelle McCrary, Dead Set’s contributors, and everyone at 23 House Publishing, I’d just like to say that it is a huge honor to be recognized in this way by Dark Scribe Magazine.

My second piece of great news comes from the Horror Writers Association, where Dead Set has done quite well in the Bram Stoker Awards recommendations phase. The Stokers work quite differently from the Black Quill Awards. Dark Scribe’s staff and contributors nominate the shortlist for the Black Quill Awards, but in the HWA, the membership at large has an entire year to recommend various works. Each recommendation gets tallied together, and at the end of the year, the top recommended works in each category get forwarded to the Preliminary Ballot. After that, the Active Members of HWA vote on the Preliminary Ballot and the five or six works receiving the top votes go on to the Final Ballot. Right now, we are still in the recommendation phase, so Dead Set hasn’t earned the right to carry any sort of Stoker Award tags, but I thought it important to mention the attention that several of the work’s contributors have been getting.

Judy Comeau’s story “Seminar Z,” Lee Thomas’ “Inside Where It’s Warm,” and Nate Southard’s “In the Middle of Poplar Street” have all received several mentions, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to publish their work. In addition, the book itself has received several recommendations in the anthology category, which is a reflection on the hard work of each of the contributors.

My best to everyone involved in this fantastic book. Here’s hoping 2011 brings you all great success and joy.

Questions about Dead City?

Quite a few readers have written to me with questions about my novels Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead, so I thought it would be helpful to write a reader’s guide to the whole Dead World series. You can find it in the headings listed across the top of this webpage under “A Reader’s Guide to Dead World.”

I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, while at the same time providing some useful information. Of course, I can’t anticipate every question, so if there’s something special you want to know, just ask it in the comments section on that page. I won’t worry about spoilers in my answers back to you.

Enjoy!

Joe McKinney’s DEAD CITY is one of those rare books that starts fast and never EVER lets up. From page one to the stunning climax this book is a rollercoaster ride of action, violence and zombie horror. McKinney understands the genre and relies on its strongest conventions while at the same time adding new twists that make this book a thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended!
–Jonathan Maberry, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song

I enjoyed Dead City. It was a quick, fun read. I also thought McKinney did a fine job of realistically portraying the police officers and keeping their world accessible to “civilians”. Not always an easy balance, but he pulled it off.
–Brian Keene, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea

Dead City is a real thrill for the reader, jam-packed with fast driving, shooting, desperate stand-offs and lots of blood. McKinney, a San Antonio homicide detective by trade, writes with an authenticity that brings the events of “Dead City” to bloody, grasping life.
–Matt Staggs, Editor of Skullring.org

Tight writing…is what makes Dead City seem frighteningly possible. I like to have chills race up and down my spine, and I like to have to look over my shoulder to make sure I’m safe, and his writing had me feeling this way the entire time I was reading … and even after I’d finished the book!
–Phillip Tomasso III for In the Library Reviews

From the very first page of this urban thriller, Joe McKinney puts the cuffs on his readers and throws away the key. Gritty suspense, great characters, and very real cops. You’re gonna like this guy.
–Tom Monteleone, author of The Blood of the Lamb and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel

Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology

Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology is now available for pre-order through the 23 House Publishing website. My co-editor, Michelle McCrary, and I went through hundreds of stories to get the twenty final selections, and I couldn’t be happier with the final results.

Here’s a sneak peek at the table of contents.

“Resurgam” by Lisa Mannetti
“Jailbreak” by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon
“Recess” by Rob Fox
“Biting the Hand that Feeds You” by Calie Voorhis
“Judgment” by Stephanie Kincaid
“Hatfield the Usurper” by Matt Louis
“Ruminations from Tri-Omega House” by David Dunwoody
“Zombies on a Plane” by Bev Vincent
“Category Five” by Richard Jeter
“Survivors” by Joe McKinney
“Pierre and Remy Hatch a Plan” by Michelle McCrary
“Recovery” by Boyd E. Harris
“In the Middle of Poplar Street” by Nate Southard
“Seminar Z” by J.L. Comeau
“Only Nibble” by Bob Nailor
“Inside Where It’s Warm” by Lee Thomas
“Survivor Talk” by Mitchel Whitington
“The Zombie Whisperer” by Steven Wedel
“Good Neighbor Sam” by Mark Onspaugh
“That Which Survives” by Morgan Ashe

Michelle and I looked for stories that did something new with the zombie genre, and I think readers are going to be pleasantly surprised.

For now, you can pre-order the book from 23 House Publishing at a reduced price. When the book drops in April, 2010, it’ll be available through Amazon and most chain book stores.

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