Kim Paffenroth

When I released my first novel, Dead City, there were only a handful of zombie books out there.  Skipp and Goodfellow had done their Books of the Dead and Mondo Zombie, and Brian Keene had done The Rising, and Robert Kirkman was just getting The Walking Dead graphic novel series started.  If you were willing to search online you could find David Moody, J.L. Bourne and David Wellington serializing their first zombie efforts, but that was about it.  Dead City entered the market in 2006 to a hungry zombie readership, and readers devoured it.

But Dead City wasn’t alone.  That same year, zombie fans got another sweet treat in the form of Gospel of the Living Dead:  George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth, a probing analysis of the zombie films of George Romero.  The author of that book was Dr. Kim Paffenroth, professor of Religious Studies at Iona College in New York.  I was impressed with Dr. Paffenroth’s credentials, and when he contacted me and asked if I’d like to take a look at what he’d written, I jumped at the chance.

I was delighted with what I read, and I was delighted yet again when it won the Bram Stoker Award for Non-Fiction.

And then Kim contacted me and said he’d written a little zombie novel of his own, called Dying to Live, and asked if I’d like to read it for a possible cover blurb.  I said not just yes but hell yes, let me have a look.

I’m so glad I did, because Kim Paffenroth is a threat on all fronts.  Capable of writing non-fiction on everything from Augustine to zombies in a clear, readable style, he is also capable of writing fiction that probes deeply some of knottiest philosophical issues confronting the spiritual man living in today’s world.

I count myself lucky that Kim and I have maintained a steady correspondence over the years.  I have watched with great admiration as he’s grown as a fiction writer, and along the way we’ve shared moments of triumph and sorrow.  I count him a good friend, and one I’m proud to know.  I hope you enjoy this interview, because Kim Paffenroth is one of the truly good guys in this business.


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?

Kim Paffenroth:  I came at it from a different direction than most people. I started out writing nonfiction about zombies – not in the sense of “zombies are real” but I started by analyzing George Romero’s zombie films in a book, Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth (Baylor, 2006). It won the Bram Stoker Award and I got the idea to follow up with some zombie fiction of my own – instead of analyzing Romero’s zombies, I could give mine the symbolic significance I wanted.

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

KP:  Oh I don’t think I’d make it very far. I think we’d probably “win” but as in the really great zombie films (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead) and now in The Walking Dead, I think the question would be at what cost? We’ve seen how much freedom and privacy we’re willing to give up, post-9/11: what kind of violent, security state would we have if we were always under the threat of walking, cannibal corpses?

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.)

KP:  I’ll never forget the original Dawn of the Dead and the effect it had on my imagination, or even deeper elements of my being and values.  To me, it’s the perfect balance between survivalist fantasies of how to prepare and equip, but with a sense of how those things don’t matter, in the face of an existence that has no meaning or purpose.

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

KP:  Again, it’s a corollary of seeing something when you’re at a particularly impressionable age. The helicopter partial decapitation in the original Dawn of the Dead is pretty hokey by modern standards, but I remember I could not get over that scene and “How did they do it?” You take a more spectacular kill in a more recent film (I like the bridge-severing in Land of the Dead) and you just can’t look at it the same way, it doesn’t fill you with wonder, because you’ve just come to expect really over the top and complicated and realistic looking scenes like that.

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?

KP:  I think the zombie may well survive and be re-imagined for future generations with different perspectives and contexts, but the way you frame the question does underline our current situation as a way of understanding the zombie phenomenon. And by “current situation” I don’t just mean “post-9/11”: that’s the challenge, to see the zombie as somehow responding to something that’s been with us since 1967. So in that sense, I’d say the zombie does embody all our fears of the decline of imperialist America, and the zombie can stand in for a myriad of fears associated with that gradual, painful, violent decline: Vietnam, consumerism, racism, the military-industrial complex, terrorism, the surveillance state, the class divide, colonialism, environmental degradation and catastrophe. 

You can check out Kim Paffenroth’s many books here, and check out his blog here

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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