INTERVIEW: Sarah Langan, author of “Are You Trying to Tell Me This is Heaven?”

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

It’s about a father who’s searching for his junkie daughter six months after the zombie apocalypse. They’re estranged, but she’s all he’s got left. Unfortunately, he gets bitten right before he finds her.

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

There’s the great line in the original, 1978 Dawn of the Dead that has haunted me since I first rented the movie when I was nine years old. Ken Foree says, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.” The thing about zombies is, the flesh is incidental—they eat souls. I wanted to explore that from the perspective of a character who’s been bitten, but hasn’t yet turned.

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

It didn’t come easily for me, probably because I got ambitious.  I started reading Stephen Crane’s poem “In the Desert,” and the story took a biblical, epic turn. The Catholic in me goes wild with this resurrection stuff. I can’t help it.

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

My daughter was born eight months ago, and the kind of love I have for her is without condition. This story is in part–totally screwed-up part–about that kind of mindless, enduring love.

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

I was in Baton Rouge for a book event in October, and thought it made a perfect zombie setting. You’ve got to figure that summer heat and overgrown kudzu make moldy homes out of those walking dead. Gross but cool! I wanted zombies with living things growing inside them. It’s a nice metaphor for the world. From death, life.

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?

I think they’re a specifically American monster that plugs into our national guilt. We consume a disproportionate and unsupportable amount of natural resources, and we do it with mindless abandon. Meanwhile, citizens of poor nations labor in sweatshops across the world to supply our voracious demand, and the world is becoming toxic. It’s not our fault; we’re entrenched. We can’t help our birth or social convention. I think shampoo is pretty stupid, and frankly would rather walk most places than drive, but who’s got the time?  What’s scary about zombies is just what Romero says, “They’re us.” We’re cursed with the self knowledge that our consumption is destroying the world, and there’s not much we can do about it. So it gives us soul sickness.

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

Dave Wellington’s Monster Island series is great. It creates a new mythology.