Friday, August 31, 2012

Joe McKinney Speaks!

Today we hear from Joe McKinney, one of the best-selling zombie novelists around today. His initial works were big hits and he continues to produce great horror novels.
James Robert Smith: Why Are Zombies Such a Powerful Image?

Joe McKinney: Zombies are the monster world’s equivalent of a good pair of blue jeans: they go well with just about anything.  In recent years, they’ve gone up against everybody from the police and the military to superheroes, the cast of Star Trek, vampires and, believe it or not, unicorns.  They’ve even taken on Jane Austen.

The living dead have worked their way into our hearts, one bite at a time.
So it’s not hyperbole to say that zombies are the hottest thing going.
I don’t want to belabor the point that zombies have taken over modern horror.  You see them everywhere, from the TV to the internet news blogs.  And of course there’s been a glut of them in print.  In fact, I don’t think a revenant has so thoroughly dominated popular fiction since the Victorians took up the ghost story.  So I think we can safely say that the zombie is, for the moment, ubiquitous, and consider the point made.
But how did we get here?  How did a monster with no personality, no vampirelike sex appeal, and certainly no intelligence, become such an adaptable, and powerful, image for modern life?
The question has come up at every convention I’ve attended for the last five years, and I’ve heard a lot of answers that satisfy with varying degrees of success.  But for as many different people who have tried to explain the phenomena, their answers can all be lumped into one of two schools of thought.
The first, and larger of the two schools, touts the zombie’s metaphorical range.  No matter what you’re afraid of, be it illegal immigration, terrorism, disease, economic disparity, you name it, there’s a zombie for that.
The second school claims that the zombie is simply a manifestation of our self-loathing, that we realize how inadequate we are as individuals and as a society, and so we’ve invented the zombie as both a degenerate version of ourselves and as a punishment for our society.
Actually, neither explanation totally works for me.  Consider the metaphor theory.  Certainly even beginning readers are capable of recognizing metaphors.  The metaphor, as a literary device, comes about as close to being hardwired into the way our minds work as rhythm and rhyme.  But to say that zombies have taken over the popular imagination because of their metaphorical range seems like wishful thinking on the part of writers looking to legitimize the fun they’re having.
And as for the idea that zombies are manifestations of our self-loathing, well, that may work for the nihilists out there, but it hardly explains why the zombie has crossed over into academia, so that we routinely hear of economists talking about zombie banks, and computer experts talking about zombie viruses or zombie terminals.  Even political analysts have gotten into the game by referring to fringe presidential contenders who refuse to drop out of the race as zombie candidates.
Something more than shared misery and frustration is going on here.
But you know what? I suspect that we’ve all been over-thinking the problem.  Zombies are, after all, not that complicated.  They’re dead.  They’re dead men, women and children, who look as gross as prose can possibly describe, and they want to eat us.
That’s pretty simple.
It’s frightening, too.
Believe me, I know.  As a cop, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in some flea bag apartment where some critically ill guy has hanged himself and been rotting away inside that room in the middle of summer with no air conditioning for a week or more.  When you see a body in that condition, and then envision what it must be like for that corpse to suddenly pop its eyes open and come after you with nothing but the base desire to eat you, then you get the whole why zombies are scary question.
Most of realize this, even if we haven’t been in the company of a week old corpse.
Most of realize this because we’ve seen approximations of it in the movies.
Or first person shooter games.
Or from books and blogs.
And it’s from those movies, first-person shooter games, books and blogs that one simple truth emerges: Everyone knows how to kill a zombie.  Seriously.  Anyone can do it.  You don’t need Van Helsing’s lifetime of study into vampire lore to kill a zombie.  You don’t need special powers.  You don’t need military training.  You simply need a blunt object.  Apply that blunt object to the zombie’s skull and - Bingo! - you are in business.
The ease with which a zombie can be dispatched is the only thing that explains their mass appeal, and their adaptability into so many kinds of media.  We (and here I mean everyone, not just horror fans) recognize that one zombie is a cinch to kill, but a legion of them is not.  We see the same thing in our daily lives, with all of the various problems we confront.  Those of us in dead end jobs get this at the molecular level.  We recognize that plowing our way through a mountain of paperwork, moving it from Pile A to Pile B, is a lot like mowing through the endless zombies on Left 4 Dead.  The same could be said of working your way through the hundreds of emails in your inbox on Monday morning.  Or through the packing manifests at the warehouse where you work.  Or the endless line of customers in your store.  There is a tidal motion to the work we perform that is echoed back to us in the archetypal zombie plot.  In killing zombies, we are working out our frustrations and taking control of our circumstances.
And for me anyway, the answer to the question Why are zombies such a powerful image is just that simple.

You can check out all my books here:
And find out more about my writing and what I’m up to here:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Craig DiLouie Talks Zombies

Today our one-question interview is with Craig DiLouie who has been enjoying much-deserved success with his apocalyptic visions.

James Robert Smith: What do you think are the social implications of the popularity of zombie fiction?

Craig DiLouie: Some literature simply shows up at the right place at the right time. We don't know it at the time, but it is reflecting the popular zeitgeist. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is a great example of that. The remake series, which launched several years after the World Trade Center attacks, played upon a popular feeling in America at the time--that we were alone and under siege. 

Now it's zombies. Zombies are huge in movies, TV, books, pop culture. Most of this is simply pent-up demand for material they've wanted for a long time but the powers that be ignored. I think it's more than that. I think zombies scratch a deeper itch.

People have been fascinated by the idea of the end of the world since virtually the dawn of civilization, and this fascination has revealed itself in literature. The only thing that has changed is the mechanism of the apocalypse that was prominent in the popular psyche. In the old days, it was mostly religious. In the 50s, it was alien invasion, monsters in the 60s, asteroids and natural disasters and environmental collapse in the 70s, nuclear war and killer machines in the 80s, exotic viruses in the 90s, and terrorism, EMP and, yes, zombies in the 00s.

Zombies are a particularly frightening mechanism of apocalypse because people you once knew and loved are now turning on you, and you must stand alone and be tested and survive. So you not only have the traditional elements of the end of civilization--using survival skills to beat the odds and stay alive in a depopulated, ruined world--but you also have the aspect of violence, being hunted, and fighting back--against monsters that look like people. Our society has finally reached the point where our deepest paranoia is set not against technology or environmental degradation, but against everybody else.

George Romero popularized the idea of zombie as consumer or underclass, and I think there's merit to these associations. Beyond these obvious connections, however, there are even more important considerations. I believe people today feel like their world is out of control. Let's face it, the last ten years have been depressing, and the average American has felt like he was being strangled by a corrupt system controlled by a small elite. The natural American paranoid streak has grown even stronger, that sense there's an us and there's a them, and the them are many, evil and strong, and want to hurt us. With this kind of stuff in the back of your head, the idea of the zombie apocalypse provides much needed catharsis.

Imagine not having to go to a job, pay taxes, worry about bills and credit cards, shuck everything in your life, and hit the road to play hit and run against a slow, mindless monster that looks like people. That idea is appealing to many, which reflects the popular zeitgeist. Instead of living in a constant sense of insecurity in the shadow of numerous vague, veiled threats--terrorism, job security, paying the mortgage, kids need braces, higher taxes, global warming, possibility of flu pandemic, etc.--your life becomes very simple, the threats in your life crystallize into a single enemy, and you can respond with a gun. Tomorrow doesn't matter anymore. You truly live for today.

Oddly, as horrible as such an event would actually be, I think the idea of the zombie apocalypse provides a much-needed sense of relief for people. Many would welcome it. What do you think that says about how well the world is going?

- Craig DiLouie

Craig DiLouie is the author of THE KILLING FLOOR and THE INFECTION (Permuted Press) and TOOTH AND NAIL (Salvo Press). He blogs about apocalyptic horror media regularly at

Breakout Novel by Craig DiLouie.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

David Moody, creator of AUTUMN and HATER

Today's one-question interview is with David Moody, one of the most talented and unique voices working in the horror genre. His AUTUMN books are a fresh take on the zombie Mythos, and his HATER novels have become modern classics in the paranoid-apocalyptic world.

James Robert Smith: Your takes on the zombie mythos are all unique. How did you go about creating your own interpretation on what had been the traditional Romero-esque monster?

David Moody: I've always loved the concept of zombies, but there are a couple of aspects of the traditional undead mythos which I've long struggled with. I was able to address them first in my Autumn books, then look at them from a different angle with Hater.

First, why flesh eating? These things are dead... they don't have any need to drink, sleep, use the toilet or anything else - so why eat flesh? I can understand if an author/filmmaker uses it as a means to transmit the reanimating infection, but in my Autumn books you're either dead or you've survived by the end of page one so that doesn't count! I accept that there's a very real fear of being eaten by the undead - not least because of the sheer physicality of the act, the invasion of personal space and our inbuilt fear of contamination and disease etc. - but I think a dead body that behaves to an extent like a 'real person' used to is far more frightening than one which is more animal-like in its behaviour.

My other frustration with 'traditional' zombies is that, generally, the creatures you see/read about on the first page/scene, are the same as those at the end of the story. There's no progression. If you think about it, zombies like that would be pretty easy to defeat: you just find somewhere to sit it out until they've rotted down to nothing - should be about six months. But, of course, that doesn't make for an exciting read! I wanted the dead to change and become more of a threat in my books and, over the course of the five Autumn novels, they do just that. Beginning as little more than useless lumps of reanimated flesh, they gradually become more self aware whilst, at the same time, continuing to lose physical control as they decay. This increased understanding, coupled with the utter horror of feeling themselves rotting away, causes the dead to react with violence and aggression towards the remaining few survivors... they're in such a terrible state it's the only way they have left to respond.

In the Hater books (which aren't really about zombies at all, I don't think), I had a chance to look at things from the zombies (or non-zombies!) perspective. Ultimately, almost all horror boils down to us versus them - people dealing with 'the other' - and with the Hater series I was able to look at that in its purest form.

There's such a fine line between them and us, and I think that's perhaps the most frightening aspect of the living dead.

A new classic of the paranoid fantasy, joining the likes of Finney's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and Matheson's I AM LEGEND!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Eric S. Brown

Today I feature a true "indie" author. He doesn't sit on his laurels. He is published by a number of small presses and major houses. His work is even now being adapted for the screen. I give you Eric S. Brown.
James Robert Smith: What made you want to write zombie novels?

Eric S. Brown: When I was a very young child, I watched Night of the Living Dead. It gave me nightmares for weeks. When the nightmares stopped, I missed them. I went and sought out a copy of Dawn of the Dead. From there I was hooked on zombies. Dawn was one of those films that leaves its mark on you from how awesome it was. It made me want create that type of wonderful, end of the world story myself. That's how I got into zombies and I still am writing them today. Dawn of the Dead and its remake are still my fav. Z films of all time.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bowie Ibarra!

This is the first in what I hope to be a series of one-question interviews with some of the group of zombie authors currently working in publishing.

Bowie Ibarra is a name familiar to everyone who reads zombie fiction.

And here we go!

James Robert Smith: Why zombies?

Bowie Ibarra: I believe the zombie genre serves as a catharsis for the artist and the participant. Deep down inside we'd all like to just bash people in the head without consequence.
-- Bowie Ibarra

Author of the 'Down the Road' zombie horror series at