Today I’m bringing you a bit of treat. This is the first of two multi-author interviews, and I decided to make that pairing D.L. Snell and Thom Brannan, two writers who have managed to join their voices into a perfect chorus to form the Pavlov’s Dogs series, which features genetically engineered werewolves against zombies. Having read the books in manuscript form I can tell you they are a high-octane thrill ride you do not want to miss.
Up first in our little round robin is author Thom Brannan. Thom has got one of those man’s man kind of biographies that makes readers salivate over what insights he is going to give us in his fiction. The man has been a submariner, a nuclear operator, an electrician, and has even worked on an offshore drilling platform. Looking at this guy’s resume you just know he’s got a whole host of stories waiting in the wings. He now lives in Austin (again, there’s that Texas and zombies thing; go figure!) with his wife, Kitty, a son and a daughter, and a cat and dog. In other words, he’s a man with his hands full.
But he’s got another label to put into his biography, and that is literary detective. You see, one of our most promising voices in zombie fiction, Mr. ZA. Recht, was taken from us way too soon. Recht left his Morningstar Trilogy unfinished and until Thom came along, it looked like it would never be finished. But Thom, with the blessing of Recht’s family, friends and publisher, went through all of Recht’s notes and outlines and rough sketches and managed to create a thrilling conclusion to the series that had fans like me cheering his name.
But Thom has also worked on another amazing zombie novel with my other guest for today, Mr. D.L. Snell. David and I go way back. David was one of the first writers to comment on my novel Dead City, and shortly after his reviews came out online, I contacted him with a good old-fashioned thank you note. We started trading emails, and a tight friendship grew from that. I have cheered him through the many novels and short stories he’s published since, from Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines to his recent works, Pavlov’s Dogs and The Omega Dog. And believe me, at the rate he’s going, there are going to be a lot of hits coming.
So, please, give up a big welcome for Thom Brannan and D.L. Snell, zombie masters.
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?
Thom Brannan: My first foray into writing all things zombie was ghostwriting the finale to Z.A. Recht’s Morningstar Strain trilogy, Survivors. Since then, I’ve been kind of fascinated by how a zombie apocalypse would change the status quo. Not in the now, of course… the apocalyptic factor tends to make shreds of the status quo. I mean, of the future us. And like my Worthy Opponent, D.L. Snell, I very much like to see how the new kid on the horror block fares against established monsters, which led to Pavlov’s Dogs and The Omega Dog.
D.L. Snell: Thanks for having me, Joe! Love your site, love your books.
I’ve written quite a bit of undead fiction since publishing my first zombie short story in 2005, titled “Limbless Bodies Swaying.” Most of my zombie work since then has centered around a “versus” concept: zombies vs. superheroes, zombies vs. vampires, and more recently in PAVLOV’S DOGS and THE OMEGA DOG, zombies vs. werewolves.
Seems cruel now, but as a kid I was fascinated with pitting bugs against each other in a coffee can: black widow vs. scorpion; ants vs. potato bug; ants vs. scorpion vs. potato bug… vs. rising water level. Sadly, none of these matchups escalated like I’d hoped. They were all… pretty lame. I feel the same way about movies with a versus theme, actually: they’re all so terribly B-rated.
So when I bring the versus concept to my zombie fiction, I strive to create stories that don’t simply cash in on the two monsters fighting in a coffee can. I like to throw humans in the middle and make the story more about them, more about their reactions and their actions and their emotions and their betrayals and alliances and their struggle to survive and to cope with the very act of surviving. Some of these people just happen to be able to turn into werewolves.
JM: The zombie apocalypse is happening right now. Are you prepared? Would humanity win?
TB: Oh, heavens no. I’m not prepared for my microwave to fail, much less a zombie apocalypse. I think something like that would get its hooks into humanity pretty quickly. The news would be all over it, and like Peter Clines says, after the first announcements, you can pretty much assume any place with its own parking lot looted. There’s also denial. As a culture, we’re all about the ZA, but who in their right mind would believe it’s actually happening?
This is why the tale of the everyman survivor is fascinating. We’d like to believe we’re that guy (or gal, whichever) who doesn’t have a special skillset but somehow makes it through the collapse of everything. That’s why readers like Ken and Jorge in the two Dogs books, that’s why people identify with Jack, the main character in my other novel, Lords of Night.
DLS: I am not prepared. Most people aren’t. I think our chance of winning depends a lot on the type of zombie—fast, slow, smart, brain-dead, or in the case of THE OMEGA DOG… shapeshifting. It also greatly depends on the type of infection. How does it spread? How fast does it spread? Where has it spread to already? Is it something we’re able to vaccinate or otherwise cure? In THE OMEGA DOG they find out the virus itself has become… a sort of shapeshifter. What are the ramifications of that?
Of course, our reaction to the outbreak will also help determine our fate. How fast can we quarantine it? If we can’t quarantine it, can we devise strategies to eradicate it? If we can’t eradicate it, can we “quarantine” ourselves on some island or farm, or in some hidey-hole? And in isolating ourselves, do we have the supplies and resources we need? Are the resources we have renewable? How long will the supplies last, and are we able to restock?
I do know the human race is incredibly robust. It can be extremely difficult to kill a person, and it’s even harder to kill off our entire race. Of course, we have weak spots, don’t we? Stab me in the heart or hit a major artery. Blow my brains out. Deprive me of water or air. Shift the poles on me.
But for all that, we’re resourceful, we’re hardy, and despite all our issues with communication and tolerance and selfishness, we do have the capacity to work together for the common good. We’ve been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years. So I imagine we have a good shot at winning the war against zombies.
It just depends on whether or not they hit a weak spot.
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.)
TB: I might be in the minority, but Land of the Dead is one of my top zombie movies. It sits just behind Shaun of the Dead, I think. LotD is one of those that is what I said just a minute ago, a film that examines society at large after the ZA. It’s so close after that people are still clinging to money and power and status; the people at the top still manage to do nothing, while the people who really power the enclosed society, the workers, slog for little and get no recognition for it.
As for favorite zombie book, it’s either Jason S. Hornsby’s Every Sigh, the End, for it’s completely unconventional take on the why’s and wherefore’s of the ZA, or it’s Dave Dunwoody’s Empire duology, because that’s another example of what Land of the Dead does, only several hundred years in the future.
DLS: Of course I have a lot of nostalgia for the classics, all the early Romero films. Joe, I absolutely loved your book APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD. I was lucky enough to read an earlier draft of this, and I was floored. Here it was, the first truly great zombie epic. It reminded me of how books like THE STAND and SWAN SONG made me feel, and I loved it.
And THE WALKING DEAD, in my opinion, is probably one of the deepest zombie-themed stories you’ll find onscreen. I really do enjoy that show, and it’s mainly because of the characters and all the terrible suffering they endure. And the headshots. The headshots are great too.
JM: What’s your favorite zombie kill scene of all time?
TB: I’m not sure if this means people killed by zombies, or the other way around. Shit. Tell you what, I’m going to go with… Ash vs. Resurrected Evil Ash in Army of Darkness.
DLS: WALKING DEAD fans who aren’t caught up, look away now, because I’ve never been so affected by the death of a zombie as I was by the deaths of Sophia and Merle.
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?
TB: It’s fear. A lot of Americans don’t have the worries our forebears did. Technological and medical advancements have made life longer, injuries and conditions less life-threatening, and things more plentiful. What I think makes the zombie so fascinating to us at large is that anything we’re working on these days could be Frankenstein’s creature, coming back to do us in. Nanotechnology, custom-made viruses (virii?) or just our further understanding of all the things we do not understand in the universe. The more we learn, the less we know.
And like so many others have said, the zombie is us. I know I’m taking it out of context, but Corrosion of Conformity said it best in “Infinite War,” I think: become the enemy to defeat yourself.
Well, this was fun. Thanks for letting me spew nonsense here, Joe!
DLS: A lot of different things. We’re afraid of destroying ourselves. We’re afraid of other people. We’re afraid of getting sick. We’re afraid of losing everyone and everything we’ve ever loved. We’re afraid of losing civilization and law and order and humanity itself. We’re afraid of what we’re capable of doing to survive—fearful of what we’ll become as a repercussion. Most of all, though, we’re afraid of death.
I once heard a wise man say our biggest, most destructive sin is greed. But to me greed is largely an exaggerated unwillingness to die. We want more, because more increases the likelihood we’ll survive. What is comfort if not freedom from danger and pain?
So in a major way I think zombies illustrate our ugly, vicious, selfish drive to keep on walking… even when everything that made us human has long ago died.