INTERVIEW: Mark McLaughlin & Kyra M. Schon, authors of “Arlene Schabowski Of The Undead”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

KS: “Arlene Schabowski of the Undead” is about an uneasy relationship between a fictional character and the girl/woman who portrayed her in a horror film.

MM: Obviously it’s loosely based on Kyra’s status as a child star in a horror film, since she played the little zombie girl, Karen Cooper, in the original Night Of The Living Dead. I never got to play a zombie in a movie when I was little–in fact, I’ve never played a zombie in a movie as an ADULT (come on Hollywood, give me a chance!)– so I got to enjoy the experience vicariously through Kyra.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

KS: The story was inspired by my decades-long experiences as the zombie-kid… the taunts from other kids, encounters with fans, and my own feelings about portraying a notorious horror film character to whom I am eternally bound. Contrary to the story, however, my link to Karen has grown weaker as I have grown older and our physical resemblance has changed. It’s difficult to find that little zombie girl in my adult face and I’m not quite as relentlessly “Karen” as I used to be, at least in my own mirror.

MM: We originally wrote the story for an anthology called Midnight Premiere–short stories about horror cinema. Kyra’s experiences were the perfect fit for a story for this collection, edited by the masterful Tom Piccirilli, which was originally released by Cemetery Dance a few years back.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

KS: Nope! Mark wrote it!

MM: Well, maybe I wrote most of it–but Kyra LIVED it! And in that regard it was a very unique collaboration. She gave me lots of wonderful input and suggestions and I spun it all into a story.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

KS: The story is personal to me because as a child, I had the opportunity to play little Karen Cooper in the original Night Of The Living Dead. Lorraine Tyler’s life mirrors mine to the extent that I’m a teacher, but I have never, and I repeat–NEVER–had an affair with the custodian. Aside from that tiny deviation, the story is quite true-to-life; I really do live in a black-and-white world.

Although I love the character of Karen Cooper, we are definitely not the same person. I think people expected us to be similar when I was younger, but that seems to have changed as I’ve grown up. Maybe it’s just that I don’t feel as ‘Karen’ as I once did and others have picked up on it.

MM: Well, if you look at me, you’ll see that I’m a black-and-white person… very pale with very dark hair and eyes. So naturally I enjoyed working on a story about a black-and-white character. She’s like my little sister. My evil little zombie sister.  Aaaawwww.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

KS: No research was necessary for this story.

MM: Working with Kyra was all the research I needed, since she sort-of lived the story.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers – or you yourself – write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

KS: I enjoy writing from a zombie’s perspective and reading zombie stories because zombies are accessible to everyone. With the right mix of radiation and supernatural forces, anyone can reanimate. They’re not beautiful and they walk funny, so maybe they make us feel more at ease with our own imperfections. My favorite scenarios are those where the zombies win. I think that’s everyone’s secret wish.

MM: Plus, zombie fiction is about the revenge of mindless drones–people-cattle. Sometimes we all feel like we are being treated like cattle, so we get a kick out of seeing the cattle fight–and bite–back.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

KS: Lest it seem like pandering, I love Mark’s zombie stories the best. His zombies are smart and sassy and stylish.

MM: Thanks, Kyra! I do think zombies would have a lot of attitude, since  they’ve beaten death.  That would make anyone a little cocky.

My favorite zombie stories? Articles in the tabloids about old celebrities who’ve had way too much plastic surgery!