Get it down yer neck!
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.
What was the first zine you were involved with and when was that?
Powder Burn Flash was my first experience. It started three years ago when all of a sudden my favorite ezines and websites started to disappear such as Plots With Guns, Demolition and so forth. I wanted to keep alive a forum for writers to practice their craft and get feedback from readers on their stories. So, I started Powder Burn Flash.
Are you surprised by the success of Powder Burn Flash and DBD?
Quite a bit. Here I was just a reader who enjoyed all this writing and I was a neophyte writer trying to work out the kinks in my own writing fielding many queries. If started out in a rush and I learned along the way how to edit and provide feedback, but fortunately, many of the original submissions were near perfect finished pieces that required little or no editing on my part, or so I felt.
After about 6 months, I started getting feedback and requests from a different group of writers who needed more room to flesh out their stories. They wanted to submit something to PBF, but couldn’t shave it down to less than 1,000 words. Who am I to deny a writer a chance at publication, so I decided that I would open Darkest Before the Dawn and accept stories up to 10,000 words in any genre. I was blown away at the quantity and quality of stories.
A year later, I started working with Seth Harwood on producing the very successful CrimeWAV podcast. Out of this partnership, one of Seth’s webmasters contacted me about moving the site away from a blog format and into a ezine website. I owe a great deal of the explosive success to both sites to Jason Andrews who worked with me to develop the current sites. They have a more professional appeal and the quality of the submissions have risen above my expectation.
Doesn’t it sometimes seem like more work than it’s worth?
There are times when the real world gets in the way of doing what I enjoy. This is a true labor of love and my hope is at some point that I can make this a paying market so writers can earn something from their labors. For me, I really enjoy the interaction with the writers and the opportunity to help them develop their craft and have a forum for publishing their work.
It has also been fun working with Patti Abbott and Gerald So to organize and publish stories around Flash Challenges. When we get around to have one, usually quarterly, we generate a buzz that results in 15-25 stories being submitted around the theme. We all have a great deal of fun reading the work of all the participants.
One success that I would like to share is that the sites are generating some interest in the publishing world.
The highlight of the year came in December when Randy Rohn contacted me and said that Otto Penzler had been in contact with him and had selected a story that I published on Darkest for inclusion in the 2009 Best Short Stories.
Since then a few literary agents and major editors have contacted me regarding stories and authors who have been published.
MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI is a writer, publisher and former owner of the world-famous Murder One bookshop in London’s Charring Cross Road.
As well as being a writer and editor of various cult publishing imprints, he is acknowledged as a disturbing and controversial voice in contemporary fiction.
Maxim’s collections have sold massively, he is a regular on TV and radio where he is an expert on crime, erotica and film, and a Guardian columnist.
He launches a new crime fiction imprint, maXcrime, for John Blake Publishing in March.
PDB) When and how did you get involved in publishing?
Maxim) I always wanted to be in publishing, but having been educated overseas, somehow didn’t have the right background once back in the UK where publishing was still, in those days, very traditional and reliant on Oxbridge intake. So, as I had languages, I spent some years in business, principally on the export side, whilst following a writing career in parallel.
This gave me enough insights into the publishing trade and, as I used to write also for NME (albeit on books) allowed me to mingle in music circles and one day meet Richard Branson and he gave me carte blanche to set up Virgin Books, which I ran for several years, my first full-time publishing job.
Maxim) I’d already edited several science fiction anthologies in France and contributed a lot to French SF magazines FICTION and SATELLITE when I was still living there, and was a contributor to NEW WORLDS with Mike Moorcock, a friend of longstanding since our teens, with stories and non fiction. I was commissioned to edit an anthology of modern French SF for New English Library and alongside began to review and write for SF Monthly which had the same publisher.
Maxim)Sad to say, virtually non-existent. The story was a bit of a joke, as the character was intent on killing Cherie, because her vacuous and insincere smile annoyed him and Tony was not actually the target, but I thought it would also attract some interesting publicity. Only TIME OUT picked up on it, with a short echo (but then I was their crime reviewer at the time!).
PDB) There’s a lot of doom and gloom being spoken about the state of the publishing industry. What are your thoughts?
Maxim) Ever since I’ve been involved in publishing, the trade has reputedly been sick but I do feel that right now things are somehow getting worse, with independents and chains in peril, and the gathering strength of online activity (Amazon, Google) which could have a significant negative impact on the future of publishing and the livelihood of authors. Very worrying.
Maxim) The list, which I am doing for John Blake, launches in March with the first novel to be published in the UK by bestselling Australian crime author Tara Moss and the first novel by my friend, the film director Mike Hodges, following those we will be issuing new novels by Mark Timlin, Kris Rusch, horror writer Conrad William
Kray widow Kate Kray, Donna Moore and Italian star Barbara Baraldi. It’s a commercial crime fiction list aimed at the mass marker and covering the whole spectrum of the genre from noir to humorous, from historical to everyman in peril, etc….
It’s a beut with flash fiction from Jeffrey S. Callico, Mike Whitney, Richard Godwin, Micheal J Solender, Miss Alister and loads more as well as some great visuals from Kristin Fouquet.
I have a story there called Ham & Ryan which introduces a couple of characters that will crop up elsewhere.
Have a gander here.
So, last year was my first full year of writing and it was a very good year ! I got more stories published – mostly online -than I ever expected to even write!
So far this year I’ve had a few stories appear- mostly reprints – and am pleased that I’ve had stories accepted for a few print anthologies!
Radgepacket Four along with & others. You can buy it from Byker Books in March.
, Kevin Michaels and MANY more plus amazing illustrations..
Flash! from Lame Goat Press.
Online I’ll be kicking off a serialised story called Warsaw Moon at the disenthralled noir special in April. It will continue in every issue of disenthralled until … and thanks to Waler Conley for letting me try this out.
Oh, and I’ve a few interviews popping up here and at Pulp Metal Magazine too.
Okay, so I’m going to be back in England for about a week or so and I doubt that I’ll be posting while I’m there so- in the meantime – I’ve set up the blog to publish some semi regular features.
Criminal Masterminds will be some fairly scatter shot interviews with people in the crime writing business. The first is Patti Abbott (see below) and later this week you’ll get interviews with Aldo Calcagno and Maxim Jakubowski.
Another feature will be Flashbacks where I’ll publish a couple of old stories of mine from last year. If anyone else would like an old piece of flash fiction republished as part of Flashbacks just let me know.
Patti Abbott is a writer of brilliant short stories.One of her stories was recently featured in the anthology Between the Dark and the Daylight along with Joyce Carol Oates, Scott Phillips and other big shots.
Her blog Pattinase is an essential port of call in this cluttered blogosphere.
PDB) How did you get into the writing game?
Patti) I was always a voracious reader, but I didn’t write until a course I signed up for on the American Indian (around 1998) had too many books on the syllabus. I was working full-time and taking several course so it just wasn’t possible to read a book a week for one course.
The only other course that fit the times I had available was in poetry writing. I had an encouraging instructor and wrote poetry for about two years-even getting a chapbook and several dozen poems published in lit journals. But more and more, editors would write back, “well, yes, but this is really a story more than a poem.” So I took a few of the poems, and darn if they weren’t blueprints for stories.
I never looked back–and my poetry collection gathers dust still. I took four writing workshops and then joined a writing group, which I still belong to today. Writing saved my life-I never knew I could do anything more than shuffling papers until then.
PDB) Are you part of the writing world’s version of The Osmonds?
Patti) Megan always wrote. As a child, she also illustrated all of her own stories. And if she were to allow me to put them on my blog, I could show you stories that were as noirish as what she writes today. Stories she wrote at 10 years old. Very dramatic stories, influenced by the movies she continually watched as a kid. Never new movies, but old ones from the thirties and forties. For years she was working on her Ph.D. During that period, I got a jump on her with publications, but it was a temporary one. She was born to it; I wormed my way in. She filled a steam trunk with her writing. When she went off to college, we thought we’d take a peek, but it was empty. I wonder where all those stories went?
PDB) Salford. I like Lowry myself but … why?
Patti) My husband taught politics a the University of Salford 1995-96. His university here has an exchange program. We loved living in England—even if it was the north. We lived in a 16th century miner’s cottage in Worsley. It was one of the loveliest years of our lives. A great woods was behind us and we walked there and along the canal—the place the industrial revolution began, went to the pub, traveled around the north country, went to London regularly (the train was cheaper then) read a thousand books, wrote letters and indulged in the BBC.
A year later, we went on a Fulbright to Amsterdam and that was fun, too. But my heart remains in northern England. And I do like Lowry. You had to if you lived in Salford. And Robert Owens. I did a paper on him while in Salford, too. A lot of his papers were housed at the University.
PDB) Has writing changed how you read and what you read?
Patti) Yes, despite my early writing teachers telling me as we mature as writers, we are less likely to pick up styles, I still do. Especially if the style is distinctive so I have to be careful who I read. As I have drifted into writing crime stories almost exclusively, I read more of them. When I look at what I read 20 years ago (I kept a journal) I only read about 20% crime. Now I’d say it was 75%. I am certainly a more critical reader now too. But that may be age. I discard many books after ten pages. Not for the usual reason, that it’s too slow. If the voice doesn’t grab me, I put it aside.
PDB) Have your travels influenced your writing?
Patti) Yes, travels have very much influenced my writing. I have set stories in Croatia, Amsterdam, northern England, California, New Jersey, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Spain, etc. That is half the fun for me. Digging up the memories and the books and letters to recreate a place–and certain people–certain foods.
PDB) Do your family read your work and what do they think of it?
Patti) My husband reads everything I write and declares it all wonderful. He’s the perfect first reader and then I take it to my writing group. Megan has read some of it, especially early on, but I rarely send her a story since she doesn’t particularly care for short stories. She has read both my attempts at novels.
My son has read a bit of it but I think he finds it difficult. He’s a prosecutor and sees enough of that stuff in his work. My mother, before she died, read all of it. She always said she wished I saw the world a little more favorably. She was waiting for an uplifting book or story from either Megan or me.
It never happened.
The current list of authors is:
-Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc (introduction)
-John Arthur Miller (JAM)
-B. A. Sansevero (Sans)
-Jason A. Lavertue
-John C. Mannone
–Paul D. Brazil
-Matthew C. Funk
Radgepacket 4 will be released on 13th March 2010 by Byker Books.The anthology features work from Danny King, Ray Banks, Andy Rivers and many more, including me! I know …
So, shocked by this, I decided to interview Ed Bykerbooks who, strangely enough, is the editor of Byker Books.
PDB) – Pitch me Byker Books in 25 words or less.
Ed) Byker Books promotes and publishes authors who despise ‘reality’ television and don’t write about boy wizards. We do ‘Council Estate fiction’ by real people
PDB) What is a radgepacket?
Ed) A Radgepacket is a nutter – it’s a Geordie word…and therefore brilliant!
PDB) Which working men’s clubs do you frequent?
Ed) As a successful publishing magnate I don’t drink in Working Men’s Clubs any more. I’m sure you’re aware that us publishers attract groupies and WAG’s like shit attracts flies so you can usually find me hanging out at Bouji in London with the glitterati…or not.
PDB) How do you think people from down south take to Byker Books oeuvre?
Ed) We publish Southerners as well and we’re not really ‘Geordie-centric’ so I think they find us okay…other than no-one ever knowing what Radgepacket means anyway!
PDB) Why did you get into the indy publishing lark anyway?
Ed) I’m a struggling writer (aren’t we all!) and I became frustrated at the closed shop that is the mainstream publishing industry today. Agents were ringing me up and praising my work but then telling me they’d never be able to sell it and had I thought about writing a series about a detective with a secret past/character flaw……so my options were to sell my soul or do it myself. I did it myself.
PDB) If Byker Books was a band which one would it be?
Ed) We would be The Happy Mondays as we don’t really give a fuck what anyone else thinks and we’ll put out what we like not what’s trendy. Wish I had hair like Shaun Ryder mind.
PDB) Give us the SP on Byker Books 2010
Ed) We’re looking to move to the next stage of our development in 2010 and publish some up and coming novelists. We’re in the process of signing two books from authors that fit our criteria perfectly and they’re fucking ace! We’ve also got options (or will have when we sign the buggers!) on their next books as well so it’s all good.
We all like a bit of crime.
Great writers like Elmore Leonard capture that sense of wild rebellion, make it sparkle and dance in dialogue, conjure low-lifes from the page and leave us wanting more. We read about it and maybe we do it a little. The hand in the till, the sawn-off shotgun perched on the garden fence. Never did like those neighbours.
But what it all boils down to is this, the law is a code that contains our wilder urges, one which the criminal mind seeks to crack so as to get away with what it wants to do. We operate within the law because society wouldn’t function without it.
Now many people think it’s an ass. If you really want to see something criminal look at the art world. Greedy corrupt businessmen milking talent. Maybe they deserve what’s coming to them.
And artists. Caravaggio killed a guy over a tennis match and painted some of the greatest canvases the world has ever seen while on the run from the Mafia. Who said crime doesn’t pay?
ART, Richard Godwin.
My agent doesn’t think my last painting passes muster. Called it a piece of shit. I can hear his loud drawl now.
“Bernie, look, you gotta realise I made you. Without me, you’d be nothing, just another brush pushing cocksucker, so do us a favour and come up with something original, for Chrissake. I got my wife busting my balls, I got overheads, and you give me this shit. Think back to the old days when everyone wanted to buy your works, when Sotheby’s could get a queue lining up for you and forget this trash.”
That’s Lewis for you. He owns a huge labelling factory. That’s how he started out, a sharp kid with his eye on a fast buck. Labels. Loves Warhol, calls art the new branding.
He doesn’t like my landscapes.
I’ve been doing some traditional landscapes, and I love them. Deepening shades and mysteries in the wood.
I pause to consider. I take in the brushstrokes. There, beneath the trees I’ve painted, you can almost see someone hiding. A killer, maybe. There’s the glint of metal under the anguished heavy boughs.
What flesh may yield its solemn cries to the lacerations of his blade? What unwashed blood? There are no police in the landscape. For who could police the unknown? It is lawless as the first frontier. A rent garment in the wind.
I can hear the phone ringing. I walk through the empty hallway and unhook it from the wall.
“What took you so fuckin’ long, Bernie? I been calling till the frigging receiver nearly puked.”
“I was working.”
“Good to fuckin’ hear it. Have you come up with a saleable item?”
“I think so.”
“Meet me at six tonight.”
The line went dead. That’s Lewis for you. Never gives you time to get out of an engagement. I’ve got used to his ways.
He did make me a household name with my painting Fluke, then Whirlwind got me my first million. After that there was no looking back. Except that I just wanted to paint landscapes.
You see, it’s all about seeing. Art. You can see things in a landscape. They say Leonardo made a lifetime’s study just out of seeing. Looking. The whirl of steam as it rises and breaks into particles, emerging from a hot cup of coffee. The shape and curl of a woman’s hands.
The problem with Lewis is that he just doesn’t see anything. Except money, that is. I sometimes think he doesn’t like art.
But I see.
As I look from my studio window, I see a woman hide a letter in her handbag and assume an expression of happiness as her lover comes towards her.
I see the unusual curve of a beam of light as it breaks beneath the surface of some rubbish.
And that’s what I paint. The wet oil slapping onto the canvas. It’s all part of the experience.
That’s what Lewis doesn’t understand. Lewis, the man who smells of money, the dealer with a penchant for hookers. Word has it, he covers them in his labels before he fucks them and shouts out ‘I am the commodity King’ as he comes. Branding their flesh must be the biggest turn on of all.
We meet in a crowded restaurant. As usual, Lewis has a cigar in his huge mouth, blowing blue clouds everywhere.
“What the fuck you painted Bernie?”
I look at him with his fat neck, the Adam’s apple bobbing up and down like something stuck in jelly but I can’t figure out what that something is.
“I’m still working on it.”
“I made you,” he reminds me, pointing with his cigar. “Without me the Bernie Maples name would mean nothing. Don’t you forget that.”
“How can I?” I look at his Adam’s apple bob and it hits me. “In fact, Lewis, the idea involves a reworking of the Garden of Eden.”
I can see he doesn’t get what I’m talking about but he likes the wording. Lewis will always reject an idea that sounds traditional, but if I say something is a reworking, he’ll take to it.
Oh, I know how to work him.
He takes his cigar out of his mouth, fingering its fat rotund edge, a strand of saliva stretching from his sticky finger.
“I like it.” He pops his prop back in.
I weigh him up. “The idea is to represent the story today, the whole Adam and Eve thing, but with the violence of the climate of fear we live in.”
He slaps me on the shoulder.
“This is it! I knew you’d come up with it. Adam and Eve? I like it!”
“And it’s a living canvas.”
“A living canvas?”
“Yes. It’s a surprise.”
“I always said you were my best find. Give up these fuckin’ landscapes and make us some fuckin’ money! Waitress!” He orders a round of drinks. “Look at that ass!”
Art. For Lewis it’s just something to make money from. He understands nothing about it. Tonight I’ll prepare the canvas. Tomorrow I’ll invite him round to see it.
I called him and told him to come and take a look at his future.
He sounded surprised.
“You been painting all fuckin’ night?”
“Bring an open-necked shirt.”
“What the fuck you talking about?”
“I want to take a picture of you. It’s all part of the show.”
“The show must go on.” He laughs and hangs up.
I clean my tools.
I wash the stains from them.
When he arrives, I’m ready. I’m going to redeem painting and I know just how to do it.
Lewis is wearing a white shirt open at the collar. He stubs out his cigar on the landing. He never smokes around paintings.
Gotta look after these babies is his motto. Any other time he flouts any smoking ban he comes across.
“‘So what we got?”
As he speaks, his Adam’s apple bobs up and down obscenely.
“I’m just going to get my camera,” I say, placing him with his back to the canvas. I pad across the silent floor and approach him from behind. He can’t hear me. I neatly slice his throat with a long knife. Blood spurts across the studio, landing on the far wall.
Lewis starts to choke. He drops to his knees, making strange gurgling noises.
I pick his head up and point at the wall, showing him the shower his blood made.
“Look, you’ve just done a Jackson Pollock.”
Lewis always said how he liked Jackson Pollock.
“Welcome to the living canvas,” I say, turning him round and lifting off the sheet I’d draped over the easel earlier.
The jugular I’d severed pumps away furiously as I aim for the white surface. He sprays for a while before collapsing.
“Never heard you so quiet, Lewis. Glad you like it.”
I remove his Adam’s apple and place it at the centre of the painting, tempting the viewer to pick it off the canvas.
Then I cut him into pieces and add the bits. I suppose you could say it’s a montage. I think it really catches Lewis’s true likeness. There’s something so fleshy about it. It’s an abstract, expressionist piece. I’ve entitled it Dealer. There’s enough of him to make a second, too, and I think I’ll call it The Dollar Bill Ain’t That Pretty.
Think I’ll get myself a new agent.
One who likes landscapes.
BIO: Richard Godwin is a produced playwright and his stories can be found at Disenthralled, Gloom Cupboard, Word Catalyst, Future Earth, A Twist Of Noir, South Jersey Underground, Full Of Crow and Danse Macabre. He will be published in hard copy this month in an anthology by Little Episodes Publishers and another of his stories will be in the forthcoming anthology by Lame Goat Press. He has just finished writing a crime novel and can be found at Twitter http://twitter.com/stanzazone .
‘Kansas City, 1939. Boxing, revenge, murder, alcoholism, redemption, homicide investigating, underground dog fighting, fight fixing, prostitution.’
Something for everyone there, eh?
I’ve been a big fan of Eric Beetners writing for over a year now and have been looking forward to this book since it was first announced.
Eric wrote this book with Jennifer Kohl without ever meeting her or even speaking with her on the phone.
It has two alternating first person POVs; Ray Ward’s brother was killed in the ring and he wants to settle the score and Dean Fokoli is a homicide cop who is following Ward’s bloody trail.
It is pure pleasure . The expression ‘a page turner’ is pretty much overused used but One Too Many Blows To The Head is just that. It flows beautifully and is full of great lines that I really wish I’d written.
The alternating POV’s are distinctive but gel together really well. The cop and bad guy as two sides of the same coin has been done before – in the film Heat, for example – but the standard of writing makes this easily one of the better examples.
One Too Many Blows To The Head is knockout, of course.
You can buy it here:
Eric blogs here: http://ericbeetner.blogspot.com/
Jennifer has a swanky website here: http://jbkohl.com/