Interview with a Zombie Writer
by Patricia Stoltey
Wikipedia defines a zombie as “a creature that appears in books and popular culture typically as a reanimated dead or a mindless human being.” Also, “Modern zombies are depicted in mobs, flocks or waves, seeking either flesh to eat or people to kill . . .”
No, I’m not going to transition from writing mysteries and suspense to writing horror. But a member of my critique group, Brian Kaufman, is celebrating the release of his new novel, Dead Beyond the Fence: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse. He graciously agreed to a little Q & A:
Question: After seeing the author photo on your new release, I need to get one question out of the way at the beginning, Brian. You are not and never have been a zombie. Is that correct?
Brian: So far, I’m not a zombie. The photo is the result of letting my daughter play with Photoshop software. Some say I’ve never looked better.
Question: You wrote a top-notch historical novel about the Alamo, The Breach, and a suspense novel about a rich guy searching for Jesus (who he thinks is hiding somewhere on earth), The Apocalypse Parable: A Conspiracy of Weeds. Why the shift to zombies?
Brian: First, no matter what rationalization I come up with, the real answer to your question is, zombies are cool. Taking it any deeper than that will spin away from the core truth. I could say the real world distresses me, and in order to write about it in a serious fashion, I need to write within the horror genre, and I’d be sincere. But that sounds very grim. I had too much fun with the story for that to be the primary reason.
Question: I thought zombies crawled out of graves in different stages of decomposition because their souls were damned (silly me), but there’s a fictional medical paper on the “Night of the Living Dead” zombies written by Steven Schlozman [assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School]. He calls the zombie condition “Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome” and claims it’s caused by an infectious agent. Do you agree with Schlozman about the cause of zombiism?
Brian: I read about Schlozman’s work while researching my novel. In my story, infectious agents are just one of the possible causes being explored by my characters. There are other possibilities, including a rogue comet, parasites, military experiments and supernatural intervention. I think zombies provide a “big tent” apocalypse, with plenty of room for different theories.
Question: Zombies are mindless. They don’t have personalities. Yet, they exhibit a mob mentality. Oddly enough, they don’t turn on each other. How do you deal with zombies as characters when they have no distinguishing characteristics, no egos?
Brian: I believe you’ve hit the things that make zombies so frightening. You can’t reason with them; they’re mindless. You can’t threaten them; they don’t care about themselves. And you can’t ignore them; they want to eat you. How do you deal with them? You hide.
Question: Your human characters are under constant stress. How do you transfer that tension level to the reader and make him keep turning the pages?
Brian: This is going to sound glib, but I’m serious. I watch the news. Then, when I have that familiar, “my stomach feels like a clenched fist” feeling, I sit down to write. I write alone, late at night, and I can freak myself out. That helps.
Question: Do you think horror tales evolve over time to reflect human fears?
Brian: Absolutely. “The Thing” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were a product of the McCarthy era. The monsters looked like us and acted like us. Who could tell the good guys from the bad guys? The giant dinosaur movies of the sixties featured creatures that were either awakened by nuclear testing or spawned by radiation. Gorgo, Godzilla and the Giant Behemoth were personifications of our nuclear fears. In the nature-gone-wild horror films of the eighties, birds, rats, fish, insects and even worms attacked humanity, reflecting our fears about the way we treat our environment. Horror has been a pretty effective cultural barometer. Since fears evolve, so does horror.
Question: What are you working on now, Brian?
Brian: I’m writing a baseball novel about a female knuckleball pitcher. I’m also working on the rewrite of a ghost story set in Horsetooth Reservoir [in Northern Colorado]. And I’m outlining a Civil War novel about the rocketry program on both sides of the conflict. I guess you could say I have eclectic tastes.
Many thanks to Brian Kaufman for sharing. His new blog, “Food, Politics and Zombies,”is at: http://brianckaufman.wordpress.com/
Patricia Stoltey is a mystery/suspense author, a booklover and a blogger. Her published works include The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Check out her website at http://www.patriciastoltey.com and her blog at http://patriciastoltey.blogspot.com. Find her as @PStoltey on Twitter.