Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?
“23 Snapshots of San Francisco” is a story told after civilization has been destroyed, 23 pictures from a roll of 24 that document one young and perfectly normal man’s experiences watching his world crash around him.
What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
I’d read an article on memory–how we don’t actually remember many full memories, just “snapshots,” enough pertinent details and our mind and imagination logically puts them together. A part of me wanted to find a way to show that. I took ideas liberally from Bruce Sterling’s “20 Evocations,” and I wanted use that style, but wasn’t sure how, and wanted to use it in a completely different way. A viewing of Hiroshige’s “100 views of Edo” did the rest–I was struck by how fantastic it all was to me, but how most of the people depicted looked like they were going about their normal lives.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
I have pretty bad writer’s block, but this one practically wrote itself. But my first draft had just the 23 snapshots and no frame of reference. I really struggled to find a way to frame it that didn’t seem corny. I still hope I succeeded.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
I’ve never gotten much fan mail from anything I’ve written. But this one did. While it was out almost once a week some stranger would email me telling me how the story affected them, often sharing very personal details of their stories and tragedies. I’m a bit humbled by that. The story means a lot to me for that reason. I may never write or do anything that affects people the way this story did at that time.
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
Embarrassingly little, besides what I mentioned above. I guess sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been researching a story until halfway through writing it.
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?
Aw, what doesn’t appeal about zombie fiction? At our most escapist it’s a romp, blasting away at mindless creatures after our brains, at our most fearful it’s about our entire modern life being turned against us or rendered useless to us. There is something terrifying and awful people we know or just see on the street turning into something that hungers for our death.
In many ways, I think, it’s a commentary on the faceless nature of cities and the people who inhabit them. All those people you see at the bus stop or the train station or walking on the street. You scan their faces to see if you recognize them or if they look like they might recognize you, and you see them watching you and then just looking away.
What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?
I have a soft spot for Max Brooks’ World War Z and the Brian Keene’s The Rising as novels, both for the unusual formats they take and the empathy they have with their characters. As short stories go, Steve Eller’s “Consumption” and Michael Swanwick’s “The Dead” are way, way up there.