THE END IS NOW Author Interview: David Wellington

This interview was conducted by Sandra Odell.

Zombies and apocalypse often go hand in hand, but you’ve taken it an entirely new direction by narrowing the focus to one man and the horrors of responsibility.  Whitman is not a good man, and many of his decisions are questionable, but he honestly wants to help.  How did you prepare to write a zombie story where the zombies are the antagonists but not truly monsters?

I think anyone who writes fiction about zombies has to face that dilemma, really quite early in the process. The main reason zombies are so scary is that they are us—our friends, neighbors, loved ones, but with some vital quality removed. We’re all terrified of not being as human as we want to be. It’s fine in a video game or a movie for the zombies to just be “others,” to be straight up monsters you blow away with repeated head shots. But prose requires a little more thought, both from the writer and the reader, and if you don’t address such issues the story loses a ton of impact.

The story starts hot and heavy, immediately throwing the reader into the action.  It reads much like a video game with the same level of intensity throughout.  When you’re in the mood for pulse-pounding fiction, who do you read?

Some of my fellow authors in the anthology are great for this sort of thing—I’m thinking most specifically of Scott Sigler and Seanan McGuire.

“Agent Isolated” touches on a number of fears—contagion, death, the Other, the government, being helpless, disease, monumental change.  It speaks to readers on a very personal, intimate level.  What of your own fears did you put in the story?

Oh, just about all those things give me the cold sweats. We’re still living in an age of anxiety. The 21st century hasn’t had time to calm down yet, so we’re all just bundles of worry. It’s interesting, I didn’t specifically think “Oh, I should write a story about helplessness.” That was just part of the world I created, one which followed from some basic, logical premises. Writing horror fiction for me has always been about writing about the real world, just tweaked a little so the darker elements are more visible.

The story also speaks to fears of racial profiling and racial cleansing.  How conscious were you of such issues when you established the affected areas and populations in the story?  

Those are such vital parts of the landscape today. We read about these things every day in the news. So I guess I’m always conscious of them, but in this case I really wanted to highlight the ways in which big scary institutionalized governments are incapable of handling individual, personal horror. I spoke above about depersonalization, but I think another reason zombies resonate so well with people is that we know that the societal foundations we count on—the health care system, emergency management, even just municipal services—have become so far removed from our personal experience, because there are just so many people in the world that those in power can’t understand the impact of their decisions. That’s some pretty heady stuff, and it makes for powerful horror fiction.

This isn’t your first foray into the world of zombies.  What it is about zombies that appeals to you as a writer?

Gosh, I just like monsters. I mean, in a really general kind of way—give me Frankenstein’s monster, give me a mummy, I’m happy. But zombies are in my blood! I grew up in Pittsburgh, where George Romero is a folk hero. Even as a child I used to watch Dawn of the Dead every year—the local stations would play it, largely unedited, in prime time. They’ve always been part of my subconscious.