When I heard about Christopher Golden's all Zombie anthology The New Dead I knew it would be one not to miss as it is comprised of all original tales from the likes of Joe Hill, Max Brooks, Tim Lebbon, Mike Carey, Kelley Armstrong, David Wellington, Jon Maberry, and pretty much any other author you'd care to tackle the subject. The stories range from the heart-wrenching to the depraved and all types in between with nearly every style and perspective represented. There is even a story in tweet form from Joe Hill, which ends up being one of the creepiest in the lot. All in all this is a solid collection any Zombie fan shouldn't miss. With that in mind I convinced 6 of the contributors to a fun interview about all things Zombies. Enjoy!
MH: The New Dead hits nearly every angle of Zombies and the worlds that could come about because of them. Where does our fascination with Zombies come from? Is it the idea of the dead rising that frightens us, or the focus of our loved ones coming back that truly scares us? In the same vein are we more frightened of dying at the hand of zombies, or of rising as one of them?
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: The idea of BEING a zombie doesn't frighten me at all, because I can't imagine I'd be aware. If I were aware, that would be hellish, no question. And the idea of surviving in a world overrun by zombies is horrid, but no more so than so many of the more realistic terrors we have these days, the prospect of surviving terrorist attacks, nukes, worldwide food shortage, a superflu, or any of the other terrors that hang over us at all times. But as for where our fascination comes from...that's the underlying question of this entire anthology. I believe a lot of it--this increased fascination--has to do with how we are attempting to process all of the other things we are afraid of, and all of the death and terror and torture we hear about on the news every day, and the soldiers out there dying while we experiment with foreign policy, trying to figure out how to deal with the 21st century global power paradigm, at the daily expense of lives. Hey, you asked.
KELLEY ARMSTRONG: I think the appeal behind zombies depends on the person. For some, it's the fear of being a zombie--alive yet not alive, a horrible and ironic twist on the idea of eternal life. For others, it's a fear of being under siege by zombies--a representation of death itself, relentless and unstoppable.
MIKE CAREY: All the best monsters are variations on a human template. I think a big part of the frisson of horror comes from that unholy amalgamation of the self and the other. Something that's entirely alien can still be scary, but then it's the same kind of fear as the fear of being bitten by a dog or run over by a truck. Something that's like-us-but-not-like-us can stimulate a more complex and unsettling range of emotions.
JONATHAN MABERRY: There are a couple of different ways to answer that. From the viewpoint of the fan (the ‘zombie lover’ as some phrase it) zombies are stand-ins for anything that we fear and want to see quantified. They ‘embody’ things like the fear of death, fear of disease, fear of our individual and cultural loss of identity. They’re wonderfully elastic in that regard. By making our fears real, by putting them into flesh, we can direct our anger and outrage, we can vent, and we can do something about it. We can hide, or we can attack. It’s much harder to do that with disease or mortality. At least with zoms we have a fighting chance.
From the storyteller’s point of view, zombies are much more interesting to write about than vampires. Over the last few decades vamps have become something of a ‘type’. They’re the pale, gorgeous, tragic anti-heroes who will never get sick and who will live forever. They’re rock stars and celebs of the supernatural world. Because their nature has shifted from the ‘monster in the dark’ to key players in the story, much more of the story has been given over to them, and therefore less story is devoted to the humans. The humans are our stand-ins, so this means that we have less of a connection to the tale. Zoms have no personality (in most tales). They represent the BIG THING that we are afraid of, and once introduced, we writers can settle down to tell a tale of human beings in crisis. Stress warps personalities, changes relationships, reveals good and bad personality elements, etc. Crisis equals drama, so with a good zombie tale we can have our dreadful threat, but at the same time we can tell a whacking great story about real people.
(In answer to In the same vein are we more frightened of dying at the hand of zombies, or of rising as one of them?) That depends on each person’s insecurities. I was always more afraid of losing loved ones than of my own mortality. And I’m a pragmatist, so I wouldn’t care of if I was a zombie (how would I know, after all?). My concern would be that I would become a danger to those I loved if I was infected.
If I was infected during a zombie plague, and once I realized that I was doomed, I’d probably do something like a Kamikaze mission to destroy as many zoms as I could in a plot to distract them while my loved ones escaped. A suicide zombie. Mmm…might be a good story in that.
DAVE WELLINGTON: I've done a lot of thinking on this subject, and I think what scares us is that we're already the zombies. At least--everybody else is. You know you're a unique individual with deep and meaningful thoughts and emotions. But other people? The ones surrounding you on every side, right now? How can you know they aren't mindless bodies driven by nothing but desires they don't even understand? You can't know. In a crowded city, the feeling is much more intense.
TIM LEBBON: I think part of the fascination is the post-apocalyptic world that many speculative writers like playing in. It’s been a favourite of mine for a long time. I think writers of the fantastic like writing about extremes—of reaction, or personality, of fears and wonders—and the apocalyptic landscape is as extreme as you can get. Zombies are so other, and yet they’re still us, and your comment about loved ones returning as zombies rings true, too. There’s something unbearable about a loved one becoming such a monster, more so than with, say, vampires, where they’d still retain some element of their history. In a way they’re the perfect monster.
MH: What was the inspiration behind your story in The New Dead?
MIKE CAREY: My story, SECOND WIND, is sort of a spin-off from a series of novels that I'm currently writing - the Felix Castor stories. Castor doesn't feature in SECOND WIND, but his undead data-fence friend Nicky Heath takes centre stage instead. It's the story of how Nicky died and came back, and how the traits that define you when you're alive probably don't just suddenly go away when you're dead. It's completely independent of the novel sequence, though: Castor gets a single elliptical mention.
ARMSTRONG: In my story(LIFE SENTENCE), I was playing with the concept of using zombies as a method of achieving immortality. In the fictional world of my main series--the Otherworld--zombies are human souls returned to their rotting corpses. That world also has corporations of supernaturals, with a lot of money and scientific resources. It would make sense, then, that at some point one of those corporations would try to eliminate the nastier side-effects of zombification so it can be used to achieve eternal life.
MABERRY: I love apocalyptic fiction, particularly of the kind that deals with someone surviving the end of the world as we know it. Stories like Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison, The Quiet Earth by Craig Harrison, No Blade Of Grass by John Christopher, Path to Savagery by Robert Edmond Alter, and Wolf of Shadows by Whitley Strieber. But you rarely see what happens after that. Most of the stories are either days/weeks after things end, or many years. I wanted to explore what it would be like to grow up in a world that had just ended. The character of FAMILY BUSINESS, Benny Imura, was a year and a half old when the zombie apocalypse wiped out most of humanity, and he grew up after. I wanted to take a look at that world: its organization, its industry, its customs.
WELLINGTON: I never know where inspirations come from. They just pop into my head, and I don't question them too much. Considering how dark my stories are, I kind of don't want to know how I come up with them...
LEBBON: It’s set in a little town close to where I live, and it actually comes from a dream I had about that place. I dreamed that I was alone in the town, wandering the streets calling for people in the blazing sunlight, and there was no one else there. It was a quick dream and I can’t recall where it went, but that basic set-up formed the backdrop to IN THE DUST. It’s also to some extent a siege story, and I love writing them—even though my three survivors have a whole town to exist in, there’s a claustrophobia to the story that I love.
MH: With the proliferation of Urban Fantasy would you consider Zombies strictly Horror or have they broken away?
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: Zombies are whatever the author wants them to be, now. Joe Lansdale has a fantastic story in THE NEW DEAD that is about real zombies--people who are living on borrowed time, or people whose lives are so aimless or dead-end that they really ARE the walking dead. Zombie stories can be horror, mainstream, fantasy, science-fiction, western, romance...whatever you want them to be. I think the NEW DEAD has a fantastic variety of approaches that proves that argument.
ARMSTRONG: I do urban fantasy and I have used zombies for years in my adult series. In my teen series, my main character is a necromancer, meaning she can raise zombies (a skill no 15 year old girl wants!) I play that aspect up for full-on horror. Other urban fantasy writers--particularly in teen fiction--use a more sanitized version of zombies, where they're really more like defanged vampires. So the transition has been made...for better or worse!
MIKE CAREY: Genre is a movable feast anyway, isn't it? it helps with marketing a book or a movie, and it gives a reader a rough set of expectations which they take with them into the story: after that, all bets are off. Land of the Dead was horror, for example, but that opening sequence of the Zombies in the bandstand forlornly trying to get a sound out of the instruments they played when they were alive... that's moving into a different register entirely. I think you can take horror staples and do what you like with them, from a genre point of view. If it's a good story, the audience will roll with you.
MABERRY: Zombies are science fiction for the most part. Except in rare cases, they aren’t created by supernatural means. They are the result of a plague, radiation, a toxic spill, etc. If you stick with Romero as a model, then you could make a case for the genre as part of ‘Urban Fantasy’, because at certain points the science fails. The fact that the zoms stop decaying gives it a mystical twist. Why? Whereas science can be stretched to explain a lot of the qualities of a zombie, it can’t explain the cessation of the decaying process in a creature that is supposed to be dead flesh.
WELLINGTON: Please don't start writing zombie shagger books! I really don't want to read about the sable-haired beauty and her tempestuous and complicated romance with a rotting shambler. Let's keep them as strictly horror, okay?
LEBBON: The concept of a zombie, as I talked about above, is pure horror. It’s humanity facing the darkest fragment of itself. That said, you can write any sort of story and include zombies … consider Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
MH: What is your first Zombie memory? Book, movie, or personal experiences all apply. For me it was probably Night of the Living Dead, which freaked the 12 year-old me out quite a bit.
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: I have no idea. In many ways, I suppose FRANKENSTEIN is my first zombie experience. The movie. He really is a zombie, after all. I was watching on a small black and white TV on the back porch--I was seven years old--and when Frankenstein throws the little girl into the lake, and then is carrying her dead body into the village, I cried. Not because I was afraid, but because he had done a horrible thing that he barely understood, and now the girl was dead and he was in anguish. It made me incredibly sad.
ARMSTRONG: Yep, definitely Night of the Living Dead at far too young an age. My youth was "pre-VCR" so horror movies were restricted to those on late-night TV, and this was one that came on every Halloween.
MIKE CAREY: Probably a story from House of Secrets or House of Mystery, where a woman brought her lover back from the dead, hoping to rekindle the relationship, and discovered that his appetites had changed.
MABERRY: By the time I was ten I’d seen double my share of vampire and werewolf flicks and I’d seen every giant bug flick they’d show during the Saturday double-features at the Midway Theater in my hometown of Philadelphia. I thought I had monster-fighting all figured out and I knew how to stake vampires, stop werewolves, and defeat mummies. All that changed when I saw The Night of the Living Dead on its release in October 1968. I had to sneak in to see it (since it was clearly not intended for ten year olds). I remember very clearly sitting in my balcony seat watching that movie and becoming suddenly very aware of how big and dark that balcony was. How far from the lights of the lobby it was. How remote it was. I sat in the dark and thought about how overwhelming a rising of the dead would be, and I got really, really scared. So…naturally I stayed and watched the film again. And came back the next day and saw it again. I was hooked for life.
WELLINGTON: Easy. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where George Romero made his classic zombie films. I saw Dawn of the Dead on TV in primetime one summer night. About half an hour in, I turned to my Dad and said, "didn't we buy our school clothes at that mall last month?" and he said that yes, yes we had. My reply was simple. "That is so cool."
LEBBON: The one that leaps to mind is Day of the Dead, to be honest. I think I came late to the brain-eaters.
MH: What is your preferred weapon when the Zombie hordes attack? Any preferred Zombie killing partner?
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: Hmm. Angelina Jolie, and Tallahassee from Zombieland. Preferred weapon? That big Gatling gun type pistol Hellboy wields in the second movie. If I could lift it off the ground. Or, wait, speaking of lifting...Mjolnir. Thor's Hammer? Yeah, I'll take that. Call down the lightning and crispy-fry those motherf**kers.
ARMSTRONG: My preferred weapon? Retreat. Let everyone else fight them, while I find a safe place to hole up with supplies and come up with a long term strategy.
MIKE CAREY: When the zombie hordes attack, I'm going to try to blend in. I reckon I've got a fairly good chance.
MABERRY: I’ve been practicing and teaching jujutsu and kenjutsu (Japanese swordplay) for well over forty years. I’m very handy with a katana –the sword of the Samurai. It’s going to take a whole lot of zombies to keep me from getting out alive. I intend to survive.
WELLINGTON: Weapon? For zombies? Distance is the best weapon you'll ever have. Don't get near them. There's always some reason in books and movies why you have to go back to the big city and enter the dark tunnel and head alone into the old farmhouse. But no, you don't have to. Not in real life. Zombie killing partner? Someone who can't run as fast as I can.
LEBBON: My partner would have to be Milla Jovovich, because she can kick butt and is also extremely hot. As for weapon, I think I’d choose a tank. Milla can drive. I’ll use the gun. There’ll be lots of wine. It’ll be cosy.
MH: Favorite type of Zombie? Slow and shambling or fast moving? Brain eaters or fleshing eating?
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: The hot, naked zombie chick in Return of the Living Dead.
MABERRY: For film I like fast zoms. My favorite all time zombie flick is the director’s cut of the remake of Dawn of the Dead. But for fiction I like slow zoms. Film is more about reaction, so fast works better; but fiction is about imagination, so the slow build-up of inevitable doom is fun to read about, and to write.
ARMSTRONG: I think the fast-moving one is an intriguing twist, but I like slow and shambling. And I prefer flesh-eating. It's more immediately visual--to get to the brain requires some work!
MIKE CAREY: Fast zombies, a la 28 Days Later, are scarier for me than shamblers. Diet is a lesser concern.
WELLINGTON: I like them all, but will always have a fond place in my heart for slow, shambling flesh eaters. Gut-munchers. And they have to die when you shoot them in the head. Otherwise, you just don't stand a chance.
LEBBON: I have no preference, they’re all equally horrific and terrifying. I think the ‘slow zombie/fast zombie’ debate is a chuckle, especially when it gets quite heated … they’re a mythical creature, for fuck’s sake! I’m as much a fan of the Dawn remake as I am of the original.
I’m actually writing a zombie novel right now—the longest, most complex novel I’ve ever written—and they’re as fast as people when first infected, then the slow down over time. That seems to work best for me. But if you’re a fan of shambling brain eaters, that’s fine too. Hottest zombie ever, by the way, is Davina McCall from the Charlie Brooker-penned Channel 4 zombie-fest Dead Set. Brilliant, if you haven’t seen it yet.
MH: What is the one Zombie related book my readers should check out? That is besides The New Dead or your own work.
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: Do an online search for "The March Of the Dead" by the poet Robert Service. My favorite zombie story of all time is a poem. And I'm not the poetry type. Trust me.
ARMSTRONG: Brian Keene's The Rising is a favourite of mine.
MIKE CAREY: Well this is stretching the definition, but one of my favourite books about the dead coming back to life is Peter Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction. It's sci-fi as much as it's horror, but the blend really works.
MABERRY: I’m a big fan of John Russo’s 1977 novel, Return of the Living Dead. It has nothing to do with the 1985 film of the same name (which is a lot of fun). Russo, who co-scripted Night of the Living Dead with George Romero, wrote the novel as a direct sequel to the movie. It came out before the second movie in the series and kept the story in the back woods of Western Pennsylvania. Very creepy and very well written.
WELLINGTON: The classic is Brian Keene's The Rising. Walter Greatshell's Xombies is fantastic as well, and he just released a sequel that's every bit as good.
LEBBON: World War Z by Max Brooks is one of the few books that’s scared me over the past couple of years. It’s so well written and realistic that several times I had to shake myself back to reality after reading it.
MH: What are you working on? Are there any recent releases or forthcoming books for 2010 which you'd like to mention?
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: This July, I have two books coming out the same day. The Chamber of Secrets is a supernatural thriller I co-wrote with Tim Lebbon. And Ace is reprinting my first novel, Of Saints and Shadows, with a new cover and a short intro by Charlaine Harris. Strangely enough, both books are obsessed with Venice.
ARMSTRONG: I have three books out in 2010. Tales of the Otherworld--an anthology of my work with all my proceeds going to World Literary of Canada. The Reckoning, which is the last in my teen trilogy. And Waking the Witch, the 11th book in my adult urban fantasy series
MABERRY: I have a bunch of projects coming up. I adapted The Wolfman for Tor Books; it’s based on the screenplay for the movie remake with Benecio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving. That drops Feb 2. In mid-February, Marvel Comics begins my 6-issue limited series, Doomwar, in which the Black Panther, the X-Men, Wolverine, the Fantastic Four and Deadpool wage all-out war against Doctor Doom. In March, St. Martins Griffin will release The Dragon Factory, the second in the series of thrillers featuring hero Joe Ledger (and the first in that series pitted Joe against terrorists with a zombie plague). In April, Marvel will begin Marvel Infected, a four-issue limited series of mine in which a plague is unleashed that turns most of the superheroes into savage cannibals. Then in September, Rot & Ruin will hit from Simon & Schuster, which takes the FAMILY BUSINESS story and spins it as a novel for the Young Adult market. Plus I have a nonfiction book, Wanted Undead or Alive, due out in August from Citadel Press. That deals examines vampire hunters and other enemies of evil in folklore, legend, literature, comics and film –and includes interviews with everyone from Stan Lee to John Carpenter.
WELLINGTON: I've moved on to werewolves now, though I find it hard not to write zombie stories in my spare time. My next book will be Overwinter, available in October 2010.
LEBBON: I’m currently writing Coldbrook, the aforementioned zombie novel (with some SF elements), for Corsair in the UK, as well as working on a new Hidden Cities book with Chris Golden. Books due out this year include the collection Last Exit for the Lost, the novella The Thief of Broken Toys, and the novels Echo City, 30 Days of Night: Fear of the Dark, and The Chamber of Ten (also with Chris). I’m also developing a couple of TV series and some movies scripts.
MH: Thank you all. I'll leave the final word to you.
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: Come by and visit at http://www.christophergolden.com/, or follow me at Twitter @ChristophGolden.
ARMSTRONG: Gotta plug the website. It's loaded with free samples for anyone who wants to check out my work. It's http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/.
MABERRY: Check out my Big Scary Blog, http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/, in which I interview folks from the book, comics and movie world.
WELLINGTON: Check out my zombie books for free at http://www.davidwellington.net/!
LEBBON: You can always find me here http://www.timlebbon.net/.
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