John L. Campbell is the Amazon Horror bestselling author of Omega Days, as well as two collections of short stories, and The Mangroves, a novella of World War II terror. An Active Member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Campbell’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, and he is currently working on the next novel in his zombie apocalypse series. He lives in the New York area with his family.
I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to review his zombie thriller, Omega Days, for its upcoming 2014 release from Berkley/Penguin and I just knew I had to have him in this series. Check Omega Days out when it’s released, and then look for its sequel, Ship of the Dead. You won’t be disappointed.
You can visit John at www.johnlcampbell.com. But for now, enjoy what he has to say about zombies and the apocalypse.
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?
John L. Campbell: First off, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
I want to tell a compelling story. I frequently remind myself that zombie readers aren’t just about zombies, they’re readers, and readers want a satisfying tale populated with characters they care about, whether they’re heroes or villains. Next I try to give zombie aficionados what they’re looking for; immersion in an apocalyptic setting filled with as many “dead moments” as I can muster (there’s a lot of zombie fiction out there which is oddly short on zombies, and I think that frustrates zombophiles.) I love presenting up-close and juicy encounters, but I also go for the wider scenes, the big Cecil B. DeMille productions with casts of thousands, hoping to stagger the reader under the full impact of the undead taking over a world which was once ours. Finally, I have to like the story, or it won’t move beyond the jump drive.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
JC: A food stockpile courtesy of a wholesale club, a full fuel oil tank, a house on remote property and a tidy little arsenal… I’d probably make it until a sushi craving drove me out into the arms of the horde. As for humanity, I think the zombies would take the lion’s share, disease and failing infrastructure most of the rest. A fraction of us would survive, provided we could learn (quickly!) to take responsibility for ourselves and not sit around waiting to be saved.
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.)
JC: Dawn of the Dead. 1978, hit me hard in my early teens. It was the first “modern” zombie flick I had seen, and I was thrilled with the concept of self-reliance through firepower, and killing bad guys without consequence. Especially since they were slow, and as long as you were smart, you could stay alive. It’s still my favorite zombie movie.
Favorite book; the 1989 anthology Book of the Dead. John Skipp and Craig Spector assembled the short story talents of King, McCammon, Ramsey Campbell and others, had George R. Romero pen the forward, and turned the zombies loose. Perhaps what resonated most for me, and still does with today’s zombie short fiction, was the rich, seemingly endless variety of approaches to the same topic. What could be better than hearing someone else’s opinion on a subject you love?
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
JC: I’m split on this. The helicopter blades taking off the top of the zombie’s head in the original Dawn of the Dead was hokey and wonderful. In Season 2 of The Walking Dead, the “Stab-the-Zombie’s-Brain-through-the-Eye-with-a-Windshield-Wiper-Handle,” after it pushes its face through the glass, is a memorable kill. There’s just something about that level of determination to get at prey, even as your face is peeled away. That impresses me.
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?
JC: We’re not really challenged as a society anymore, and I see our once-competitive nature fading. Everyone is a winner, no one can be made to feel uncomfortable under any circumstances, and our lives are just a click away. There’s no need to ever leave the couch. Zombie fiction presents a very specific challenge to the everyday person; What would you do if…? That’s the attraction at the core of the genre. When a reader leaves a comment on a story along the lines of, “Your character was stupid…he wouldn’t have done that,” it makes me smile, because I know I’ve done my job. What the reader is really saying is that in those circumstances, he wouldn’t have done that, and this means they became so engaged that they put themselves into the story. That’s a win, and that’s why the genre is so popular. It gives the average person the chance to think about what life would be like off the couch…fighting zombies.
Check out all of John’s books here.