Stephen Knight

The Zombie Masters Series rolls on as we continue the countdown to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead, and with me today is Mr. Stephen Knight, one of self-publishing’s huge success stories and one of the genre’s finest writers.  Nobody does military zombie fiction with as much authority, or with the same depth of characterization.  Stephen Knight is, simply put, in a class by himself.

He’s the author of the bestselling zombie apocalypse tale The Gathering Dead and the follow-up novella Left With The Dead.  But he’s far from a one trick pony.  He’s also written the horror thriller City of the Damned and the action-adventure Hackett’s War. And, together with Derek Paterson, he wrote the erotic thriller White Tiger. Knight currently lives in the New York City area, but ought to hurry up getting back to Texas.

I was extremely lucky to land my first novel with a major publisher.  It got me good exposure and great distribution.  For that I am incredibly thankful.  But the more my career develops, the more cognizant I am of the wonderful opportunities present in self-publishing.  I have watched industrious writers like Stephen Knight soar into the public eye by taking control over every aspect of their writing, from story craft to formatting to pricing.  I envy that degree of control.

That’s one small reason why I recently agreed to enter into a fantastic new writing project with Stephen Knight and Craig DiLouie.  We are going to be doing a series of six novellas (of about 40,000 words each) called The Retreat.  Here’s what Craig DiLouie had to say about The Retreat on his website.

As a new disease turns people into sadistic, laughing killers, in Boston, a battalion of light infantry struggles to maintain order. As the numbers of infected grow, the battalion loses control, and the soldiers find themselves fighting for their lives against the very people they once swore an oath to protect.

During the ensuring collapse, the lost battalion learns the Army is still holding out in Florida, which has been cleared of the Infected. Harry Lee, its commander, decides the only hope for his men is to get there. But first they must cross more than a thousand miles of America that has been turned into a war zone, fighting a fearless, implacable and merciless enemy.

The first two episodes will be published in the fall. Stay tuned for this exciting new series!”

But until then, enjoy this conversation with one of my favorite zombie writers, Mr. Stephen Knight!

 

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?

Stephen Knight:  Well, let’s see…so far, I’ve released five zombie-theme works: The Gathering Dead, Left with the Dead, The Rising Horde: Volume 1 and Volume 2, and a short story that takes place in the same universe called “The Farm.” All of them deal with the military response to the reanimated dead, because that’s pretty much missing in most of the books and virtually all the films out there. How could this nation’s peerless military simply give up and be overwhelmed? In The Walking Dead, there are tanks and everything lying around, but no indication that there were any major fights, no containment operations, no nothing. I set out to change that a little bit.

My usual approach to the genre is to take the best people suited to handle the zombie apocalypse, throw them into the mix, and then watch as they slowly unravel with their backs against the wall.

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

SK:  I have to answer this one in two parts. If I’m in New York City, then I’m majorly screwed. Unless I’m really smart and figure out things are hitting the fan early and vamanos while there’s still time, I might make it. But chances are good that wouldn’t happen. In a metropolitan area like New York, everything’s already difficult to begin with—throwing in the zombie apocalypse would send the city right off the rails in no time at all.

But if I’m at my other home in Connecticut, then yeah, I’m in great shape. Weapons. Food. Access to a boat, which I can use to get out into Long Island Sound. Also access to a plane with a range of around 700 miles. And even though it’s a very densely-populated region of the country, it’s not millions of people in a vertical environment like NYC, so the chances of surviving are quite a bit better, even for a slouch like myself.

But would humanity win? Yes, I think so. Mankind is just too tough to kill without an asteroid hitting the planet or a plague of nanites sweeping through us.

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.)

SK:  I liked World War Z simply because it was an interesting approach to the apocalypse. Craig DiLouie’s Tooth and Nail and The Infection are my biggest favorites, because they track well with my own work, and anything that deals with the military response is always kind of fun to read, especially when it’s as well-informed as Craig’s work is. Mountain Man was a whole different spin on the genre, what with the hero being a hermitic alcoholic, and a Canadian at that. But honestly, I’m remarkably under-read in the genre—there are dozens of titles out there I haven’t read yet, and some I have that aren’t good enough to mention.

Movies are different, I watch a lot of those. Romero’s groundbreaking work, of course, I saw all but the first one in the theater. The remake of Dawn of the Dead was very exciting, and one of the first inspirations that made me want to get around to The Gathering Dead. 28 Days Later was pretty darn good, too.

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

SK:  I think when Cillian Murphy beaned a priest zombie in the head with a plastic bag full of Pepsi cans has to rank as number one. (Though I don’t know if that counts as a kill.)

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?

SK:  That we need more meat in our diet. And that it’s unfortunate that vegans run slower than the rest of us.

Make sure and check out Stephen Knight’s books here and his website here.

James Cook

Okay, so most of you know about my zombie masters series by now.  I’m interviewing one zombie master each day as I count down the days to the release of my next zombie novel, The Savage Dead.  With me today is one of my recent discoveries, Mr. James Cook.

I bought the first volume of James’ Surviving the Dead series back in May of this year on the recommendation of a friend, and was hooked from the first page.  He hits hard and doesn’t let up.  If you like intense, character-driven action and suspense, James Cook has you covered.  Definitely follow the series in order, starting with No Easy Hope, then go to This Shattered Land and Warrior Within.  You can pick up the books here.

But for now, please welcome Mr. James N. Cook, zombie master!

 

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.

James Cook:  My zombie writing, much like all my writing, is character driven. My work is less about the zombies and more about the lives of the people surviving the apocalypse. The zombies are the setting, the danger, the constant threat in the background. They’re the splash of cold water in the face every time you wake up from a good dream. They’re the monster that comes crashing through the window when you think you’re safe. The zombies provide the catalyst that drives people to abandon their old lives and start new ones.

The most interesting part of post-apocalyptic storytelling—to me at least—is the difficulty of day-to-day survival juxtaposed against trying to rebuild civilization. In my writing, I explore how societies, much like anything else, are large bodies comprised of small parts. The bricks of a society are individual people, and the mortar that holds them together is relationships. Add in the architecture of laws and government, and what you get is the tribe, the most basic element of human culture. Make the tribe big enough and you create a society. Pit these societies against each other, and you have war.

In my zombie series (Surviving the Dead), the end of the world didn’t stop warfare. If anything, it ushered in an even bloodier chapter of violence than what existed before. The reason for this is simple: human nature. The inescapable reality of the animals we are beneath the thin veneer of civilization. That’s what my books are about.

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

JC:  Am I prepared? Absolutely not. No one is. They might tell themselves they are, but they’re not.

Would humanity win? I guess that depends on your definition of winning. The pages of history are littered with the bones of once-great civilizations. If winning means rebuilding to the level of our old glory, then I doubt it. It took western civilization nearly 1600 years to recover from the collapse of the Roman Empire, and the Romans didn’t even have air conditioning.

If, however, your definition of ‘winning’ is survival, then yes, I think we would. Everyone who is alive today is a descendent of a small group of people in Southern Ethiopia who survived a mass extinction event. If we did it once, we can do it again.

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:  Season one of The Walking Dead. I’ve always been a huge fan of the ‘lone survivor’ archetype. Those early episodes were a big part of the inspiration for my first novel, No Easy Hope.

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

JC:  Season Two of The Walking Dead. After Rick finds Sophia, he hides her and goes back to deal with the two walkers tracking her. It’s one of the few zombie kills I’ve seen on screen where the character uses his bare hands to kill the infected. Well, technically he used a big-ass rock, but you get the idea.

What really grabbed me about that scene was when Rick was hiding behind the tree, breathing deep, clutching the rock, and screwing up his courage. The look of determination on his face was classic.

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 yoke 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:  I think it shines a light on our fear of inevitable forces. Death is the most obvious of these, but that’s not the specific nerve zombies strike.

Most people don’t really understand much about the world around them. There are forces that affect our lives—politics, law, warfare, natural disasters, climate change, overpopulation, depletion of natural resources, corruption, racism, religious fanaticism—that we fear instinctively, but can’t quantify or speak of eloquently from an intellectual standpoint. Stated more plainly, we know the world is a big, dangerous, scary place, but we’re not really sure why.

There are literally billions of people out there who feel as if they are helpless bystanders in the vast ocean of events that is life in our modern world. This feeling of helplessness engenders a fundamental distrust of the world around us, and more specifically, of other people. This distrust of other people stems from a wellspring of fear that lives in each and every one of us because, as much as we tout our vaunted morals, and as much as we want to believe that we are compassionate human beings with hearts, and minds, and souls, and value, the truth is, we’re all just a few missed meals away from savagery. We’re all just hairless apes with brains too big for our own damn good. And we all know that if the proverbial shit hit the fan, the worst threat we would face would not be the circumstances of the disaster, but each other.

We know this, all of us, because the darkness we project onto others is just a reflection of the darkness that lives inside us. We like to try and convince ourselves that we are good people and those other people are the bad guys, but in reality, there is a bad guy in all of us. Anyone who doesn’t believe that has never gone hungry, or been afraid for their lives. Or both.

Zombies embody our innate fear of the darkness that dwells within us. And because we feel that darkness, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we see that darkness in other people. If all those people, in all their mind-boggling billions, decided to break bad and start murdering each other wholesale, there is no force on this earth that could stop them. We, the individual, being the good, decent, thinking people that we are, would be swept up in that tsunami and dashed against the rocks just like everyone else.

That’s what zombies represent. The individual evils of the world, one person at a time, aggregated into an irresistible tide of destruction. And the fundamental nature of the zombie—specifically its motivation to kill and its method thereof—preys on one of the oldest and most deeply-ingrained of human fears: the fear of being eaten.

Zombie apocalypse fiction symbolizes our understanding of the fragile nature of civilization, and the inevitability of its demise. We all know, deep down, that one dark day this whole fucking mess, all of it, is going to come to a screeching halt. And as much as we would like to believe differently, we all know beyond doubt that when the time comes, there’s not going to be a damn thing we can do to stop it. That’s what zombies tell us about ourselves.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was James N. Cook.  Check him out on Facebook here.

And while you’re stalking James on the Internet make sure and stop by Amazon to pick up a copy of my upcoming zombie novel, The Savage Dead.  You can do that right here.

%d bloggers like this: