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!

INTERVIEW: Marc Paoletti, author of “Category Five”

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

“Category Five” is about an elderly trumpet player and his cancer-ridden wife who learn that drowning isn’t the only thing to fear when Hurricane Katrina floods their New Orleans home.

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

I watched Hurricane Katrina decimate New Orleans live on CNN. Talk about horror. I was shocked by the devastation, and appalled that the weakest and most disadvantaged people were bearing the brunt of the disaster.

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

I finished the first draft in one sitting. Funny what happens when you’re fueled by outrage.

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

My childhood home in Sacramento was almost flooded a few years back. I was in Los Angeles at the time. Believe me, it’s grim to get a call from your folks in the middle of the night and hear the fear in their voices as they tell you the levee–which is less than a mile away from them–is about to break. The theme is personal, too–how a person reacts to the pain of a loved one.

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

Looked at the timeline of the storm and a few maps of the city. Also did a bit of research on blues clubs and above-ground cemeteries.

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?

Good question. Maybe the appeal depends how you approach the material. For writers and filmmakers: Zombies are monsters, but are easily identifiable as people as well, which means you can use them in all sorts of thematic, political, and metaphoric ways. For horror fans: When you pick up a zombie novel or sit down to watch a zombie flick, you pretty much know things’ll get messy–a big part of the fun.

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

My favorite zombie story of all time has to be “The Old Man and the Dead” by Mort Castle, not only because Ernest Hemingway is featured (a favorite author), but because the story is so, well, true. “Like Pavlov’s Dogs” by Steven Boyett also jumps to mind–a tragic, poignant ensemble piece with an ending that affected me for days.

INTERVIEW: Simon R. Green, author of “He Said, Laughing”

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

Night of the Living Dead meets Apocalypse Now.

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

See above. Also, sheer perversity.

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

I just love scaring the crap out of my readers.

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

I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you, raise you from the dead and put you to work.

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?

It’s a way of writing about death and the process of dying, from a distance.

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

I must have seen every zombie movie there is, but there’s still nothing to match Fulci’s Zombie films. They’re just so off the wall gonzo.

INTERVIEW: Walter Greatshell, author of “The Mexican Bus”

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

“The Mexican Bus” is a fairly old-school zombie story, or at least as old-school as I could make it while still remaining true to my oddball Xombies mythology.  It’s about a young guy, a college dropout, who is bumming around Mexico and has the extreme misfortune of being caught in the middle of a zombie-type epidemic–what I call the Sadie Hawkins Day Massacre.  Almost every woman in the world simultaneously turns blue and goes berserk.

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

Well, the first fiction I ever sold was a horror story back when I was 16, and with my Xombies sequel coming out, I thought it was about time to write another.  I always wanted to be one of those short-story writers from the golden age of magazine pulp-fiction, but that market dried up before I could really go for it.  Fortunately, there’s been a rise of really good anthologies to fill the void.

“The Mexican Bus” is an offshoot of my Xombies storyline, which came to me when I used to manage an old art cinema, the Avon.  I would be there late at night, waiting for the midnight show to end, and I killed the time by idly figuring out how to plausibly bring the dead to life.  At that time, I didn’t know if it was for a story, a book, or a movie script–it was just a mental exercise.  Most of my writing prior to that had been freelance journalism.  So I came up with this whole theory about women being affected by a chromosome-based agent that turns them into unkillable Maenads.  Then I had to build a plot around it.  Fortunately, around this time I got a new job at a company that manufactured nuclear submarines, so that took care of how my characters could escape the plague.  But there’s no such convenient escape in “The Mexican Bus.”

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

This story actually came very easily, because I’ve been itching to write a Mexican travel story for at least 20 years–ever since I first went to Mexico.  I have all these notebooks of stuff I wrote while on the road, hundreds of pages of obsessive beatnik musings that I hoped might come in handy some day.  Who knew it would be for a zombie story?

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

Well, as I say, I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico, and I actually was a college dropout, because once I discovered hitchhiking I was done with school.  The events of this story are all things that really happened–except for the zombie part.  In reality, my bus stopped because the road had washed out; a flash-flood blocked the highway, and we all got out and witnessed another bus trying to drive across.  The bus was about halfway there when deep water piled up against its side and pushed it right off the road.  It flipped over and sank downstream–I vividly remember watching people climbing out the windows and jumping in the rapids.  In fact, I still have a pencil sketch I drew in my travel journal.  The amazing thing is, right after witnessing this horrible disaster, me and a bunch of other stranded passengers caught a ride on a big dump-truck that was going to try to make the crossing.  Maybe I was shamed by the fact that these grannies were going for it, but I jumped on with them, and we all held our breaths while the truck plowed through this insane river, its huge wheels slipping closer and closer to the ditch and barely making it up the other side with about a foot to spare.  Then we got shaken down by some federales, but I was just relieved not to be dead.

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

I mainly had to brush up on my rusty Spanish.  It’s been about twenty years since I last used it, so I hope I didn’t make any major goofs.  In the original draft, there was actually a lot more Spanish dialogue, but my agent thought it best not to get overambitious.

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?

Zombie stories are usually about wish-fulfillment and venting aggression: it’s a world of free stuff, in which you can shoot your enemies without fear of consequences.  That’s appealing to the teenager in all of us.  But in my favorite zombie stories there’s also a level of satire and social commentary, such as the critiques of racism and consumerism in George Romero’s films.  My books are deeply satirical, but I also want them to be a great read.

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

Like everyone else, including George Romero, I was influenced by I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, which is really the first zombie novel.  When I wrote Xombies in 2001 (currently in re-release as Xombies: Apocalypse Blues), Matheson was the only zombie author I knew of, and he had written his book forty years earlier.  That’s why it was a little frustrating to me to get caught up in the zombie craze–I tend to hate genre fiction.  That’s one of the reasons I wrote Xombies in the first place: to undermine those narrow categories.  But I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed some of the zombie projects that have come out, particularly ones that take the concept in a fresh direction and don’t just rip off Romero.  More than anything, I want to read authors who make it personal, who aren’t afraid of surprising or challenging their readers, and who ignore publishing trends.  If I was a new writer, just starting out, the last thing I would want to write about would be zombies.  Or vampires.  It’s a big, beautiful world out there!

INTERVIEW: Mira Grant, author of “Everglades”

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

“Everglades” is about that moment that I’ve always assumed would have to come in the middle of any sort of siege–the moment where the adrenaline gives out, and you have to figure out whether you’re willing to live in the world of the aftermath.  It’s about the inevitability of natural selection.  And it’s about alligators.

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

I was thinking about the day the zombies come, and the way that everyone either divides themselves into “hero” or “cannon fodder.”  It got me wondering, how many people would you have who weren’t either?  Who just sort of stumbled into survival, and then couldn’t hack it?

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

Weirdly enough, no.  I really love the UC Berkeley campus, and it was very easy to sort of see the structure the survivors would build as they waited for salvation.  I think the hardest thing was remembering that it was early days of the Rising, and not going too far into the reasons that the dead were walking.  It didn’t matter to the story.

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

I was a UC Berkeley student, and we’re the sort of school where school pride probably would make it through the zombie apocalypse, even if we had to cancel a few home games.  I’ve always had a passion for reptiles and virology, which gets you looked at sort of funny when you’re a perky little blonde girl…and one of the most chilling things I’ve ever done was go into the Florida Everglades to see the gators.  That sort of thing really makes you realize that Nature has things much more efficiently designed to survive than we are.  We’re just blinks of an eye to the alligator.

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

This is sort of a trick question–see, “Everglades” is set in the universe of my Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Blackout, and Deadline), just about twenty-five years earlier.  For the Newsflesh books, I had to consult with several virologists, some climatologists and meteorologists, and subject matter experts on about a dozen other subjects, just to get things into the shape they needed to be in.  “Everglades” didn’t take any specific research, because all the research was already done.

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 hear people say that zombies are the “guiltless” monster.  Vampires are supposed to be sexy now; werewolves are under a curse; even the slashers usually have some sort of a motive.  The zombies are just there to make you die, and that makes it okay to kill them with cheery abandon.  I think a lot of the appeal is the flexibility of the archetype–fast, slow, smart, brainless, the zombie can be whatever you need it to be in order to make the point you’re trying to make.  Most of all, the zombie is a completely democratic monster.  Anyone can become a zombie.  Anyone can be eaten.  When the zombies come, all the borders between us dissolve, and it’s just humanity versus a monster we don’t need to feel bad about destroying.  Writing about zombies is exciting because it’s an opportunity to write about people boiled down to their inner core, without worrying about morality about what they’re doing.

Also, it’s a great excuse for chainsaws.  Everybody loves a good chainsaw.

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

Let’s mix-and-match literature and film, just for the sake of balance.  I loved The Living Dead, of course, since it managed to collect a lot of my favorite stories about the undead; I also really, really enjoyed World War Z, Patient Zero, and Monster Island.  All four of those were intellectual approaches to the zombie issue, for the most part, and they all had their strengths; I’m a big virus nut, so I really appreciated the science in Patient Zero, and the human psychology in WWZ.

Moving on to film, I love Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 for being zombie chick flicks, Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead for being zombie date movies, and Slither for being my favorite zombie movie of all time.  And, in the final category of “no, really,” Evil Dead the Musical.  Nothing makes me happy like a man with a chainsaw hand belting out songs about destroying the forces of undead evil.

INTERVIEW: Steven Gould, author of “Tameshigiri”

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

It’s about a sword sensei who takes three of his students outside their fortified township to look for his best student, missing for two weeks in the zombie occupied lands.  And also cut up zombies.  For practice.

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

I made the mistake of saying on Twitter something like “Ninja’s awesome.  Zombies awesome.  Ninjas AND Zombies?  DOUBLE AWESOME!”  John saw it and direct messaged me asking if I was writing such a thing.  I wasn’t but I said that I could.

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

I started it on Thursday and Finished it on Monday.  The worst thing about it was that I would lie awake at night wondering what it was really about.  I woke up on Sunday and knew.

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 been studying Iaido (Japanese sword as a martial art) for over twelve years.  The relationship between Rosa and her Sensei feels real to me.

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

Fortunately, as I said, not that much.   I did stand out in the middle of my backyard with a bokken (wooden sword) for a while, working on some of the moves.

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?

The scary thing about zombies, slow or fast, is that there will always be more.  It doesn’t matter how many you kill, eventually more will arrive.  Also, often they were people you knew before the rose or turned or were infected, etc.  And that is especially creepy.  Zombies are a palpable, biting representation of our own mortality.  And mortality stinks.  And it has rotting flesh.

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

I was particularly charmed by the recent film Zombieland.  Also, the classic Dawn of the Dead.  Zombies in a mall is just like real life.

INTERVIEW: S. G. Browne, author of “Zombie Gigolo”

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

It’s a slice of life story about a reanimated corpse who provides a sexual service for other reanimated corpses and the unique issues he has to deal with.  Like sloughage and maggots and body cavities that burst at inopportune moments.

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

I wrote “Zombie Gigolo” as my entry into the Gross Out Contest at the World Horror Convention at Salt Lake City in 2008.  I’d just sold my debut novel Breathers and decided to take a couple of ideas from that and ratchet them up viscerally.  This is what I came up with.  I never actually expected it to see print.

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

It was challenging in the sense that it had to be between 3-5 minutes in length when read aloud for the contest, so I had to be frugal with my words, maintain a decent gross out factor, and cut out anything that didn’t move the story fast enough.  I’d also never written anything to be performed competitively before.  And in case you’re wondering, it took third place.

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

Um…um…

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

I don’t think I can share that without going to prison.  Or at least upsetting my mother.

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 zombie fiction is appealing because zombies used to be us.  And we’re just one bite or infected wound away from becoming one of them.  I also believe they’re experiencing their current popularity because they’re no longer just the mindless, shambling ghouls we’ve known and loved for the past forty years.  They’re faster.  Funnier.  Sentient.  Plus there’s this constant fascination with the inevitability of a zombie apocalypse.  I mean, no one ever talks about the werewolf apocalypse.  That would be ridiculous.

As for my own decision to write about them, my novel and two short stories were written with the intention of showing a different size to zombies.  Giving them sentience.  Viewing the world through their eyes and what they have to deal with.  When you think about it, most zombie film and fiction is really about the people rather than the zombies.  My fiction is about the zombies.

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

Although this might sound a bit incestuous, I would have to say I tend to lean toward zombie anthologies, like The Book of the Dead or the original The Living Dead.  I enjoy them because of the diverse takes on the zombie mythology I can find all in one place.

INTERVIEW: Kelley Armstrong, author of “Last Stand”

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

“Last Stand” tells a fairly typical story of a small group of post-zombie infection survivors.  Or, at least, it seems fairly typical at first…

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

I love zombie movies, and I wanted to play with one of the genre tropes–the last band of fighters, struggling for survival.

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

Some stories come hard, and some flow quickly.  This one really flowed for me.

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

Well, I’m the oddball then.  Most of my stories aren’t overly personal.  The only personal aspect here is my own love of zombie movies.  Sorry!

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

None for this one.  I’ve been writing paranormal fiction for so long that when I do research, it’s only for settings or technology, neither of which played a role in this 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?

The appeal for me–and presumably for some readers/viewers–is two-fold.  First, it’s the ultimate threat–the endless undead horde that you can’t kill.  They’re essentially human (not hundred foot tall monsters or killer bees) but you can’t really fight them.  They’re hard to kill and even when you do, more take their place.  Second, they allow us to explore our own death fears.  For some, they’re a very literal symbol of death–mindless, relentless, inescapable.  For me, I explore that idea through actual zombification.  Being a zombie would be a living death.  In my book series, a zombie is a fully cognizant human soul trapped in its rotting corpse.  In this story, I’ve taken it from another angle.

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

Brian Keene’s The Rising because it takes a familiar concept–the zombie apocalypse–and manages to make it seem fresh and original.  David Wellington’s Monster Island because, again, we see the zombie apocalypse taken in a new direction, with page-turning results.

INTERVIEW: Karina Sumner-Smith, author of “When the Zombies Win”

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

“When the Zombies Win” is about what comes after humanity’s fall to the zombie plague. Some stories assume that humankind has little chance of survival if the dead were to rise–but what happens to the world when it’s inhabited only by zombies?

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

In a discussion about the apocalypse, I joked that someone should write a story set after everyone has been eaten or turned into zombies.  What would the zombies eat?  What would they do when there’s no one left to infect?  Then I paused (in that way that writers have), and said, “You know, that’s not a bad idea …”

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

This was a slow story to write, written in fragments in over a number of months. It felt more like assembling a jigsaw puzzle from sentences and paragraphs than writing a story–followed by weeks of obsessive nit-picking and polishing.  Even now, I can’t read it without wanting to edit.

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

Once I’d considered the consequences, a total zombie apocalypse seemed not horrific, nor comedic, but tragic.  It’s not just that everyone has died, but that we have died and yet continue to stumble through the ruins of our world with no way to understand or acknowledge what’s happened, or mourn the loss of everything we once were.

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

None.  (Feels like that’s some kind of writerly faux pas…)

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?

Unlike other “monsters,”  like vampires and werewolves, it’s harder to turn a ravenous, decaying, animated corpse into the desirable hero of a paranormal romance.  Zombies are still scary.  I think that there’s an also an appeal to gore in a context where violence is always justified, the enemy can never be helped or healed, and a human-shaped being can be destroyed without pause or remorse.

For myself, I’ve always loved apocalyptic stories.  I think that just as many stories use big life events (accidents and illness, births, divorce, falling in love) to examine what it means to be human, so too can apocalyptic fiction use the threatened or actual end of civilization to cast light on the greater workings of our culture and society.  What do we do when everything’s falling apart?  Who are we at the end of all things?

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

I was captivated by Max Brooks’ World War Z, in no small part because it was so unexpected.  What I thought would be a fun, B-movie of a book had a lot more depth and complexity–it was, truly, a war memorial.  While I’d enjoyed works that focused on the shock and horror of zombies, I found that this was the first novel-length work of zombie fiction in which I’d found a powerful emotional resonance.

INTERVIEW: Joe McKinney, author of “Dating in the Dead World”

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

It’s been almost twenty years since Hurricane Mardell swept through Houston, flooding the city and giving birth to a virus that turns the living into the walking dead.  The world has been overrun by zombies and left in ruin.  But there are still groups of people left alive, and they are carving out an existence in the wasteland.

Some of the survivors have moved into protective compounds, but Andrew Hudson wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in one of those.  He was raised as a street urchin out in the ruins of San Antonio, where he makes a living as a special courier between the strongholds of the dead world’s warlords.  During one of those runs he had the good fortune to meet the daughter of the area’s most powerful warlord, and he won her heart.

Now, they’re going on their first date.  How hard could that be, right?  Kids have been dating forever.  Well, when taking your date out involves high speed pursuits through zombie-infested ruins and being used as pawns in an underhanded power grab scheme, nothing is as easy as it seems.

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

“Dating in the Dead World” was written right about the same time that Kensington Publishing came asking me to do another zombie book.  I had made a few readers mad with the ending to Dead City, and I wanted to address the criticism before I went on with the rest of the series.

The first person narrator of Dead City is a police officer named Eddie Hudson.  The thing to remember about Eddie Hudson is that he is not a reliable reporter.  Most people get that wrong about him.  He’s deeply fractured by the events he recounts in the novel, and the optimism he expresses at the end of the story is…well, let’s just say he’s not telling you everything.  He’s telling you about the world he wants to believe in, not the world as it really is.  “Dating in the Dead World” came from that issue.  And because “Dating in the Dead World” was written to refute Eddie Hudson’s optimism, the logical lead for the story was Eddie’s son, Andrew Hudson.  So this story really becomes as much a conversation between father and son as it does a commentary on the Dead City series itself.

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

“Dating in the Dead World” came surprisingly easy.  After I finish a novel, I’m usually struck by a sort of separation anxiety.  So much mental effort is put into world building and getting to know the characters that it seems a shame to simply cut and run.  I personally have a hard time leaving it all behind.  So what I usually do is write a few short stories set in the world of the novel I’ve just finished.  They don’t always involve the same characters, or even take place at exactly the same time, but they all help me, in their own way, go on to the next book.  “Dating in the Dead World” was a part of that process, and because I knew the world of the story already, the story developed without a lot of birthing pains.

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

Personal accountability is a big deal for me.  I don’t respect a person who can’t accept responsibility for your actions.  That’s something I learned from my dad, and something I’ll always be thankful for.

But he also gave me a related piece of advice.  Right before I left for my first date, he gave me the only bit of parental sex education I ever received.  “Remember this,” he said.  “You will be held personally accountable for everything that happens to that girl from the moment she leaves her front door to the moment she walks back in it.  Conduct yourself accordingly.”

It wasn’t until after I’d written “Dating in the Dead World” that I realized I was channeling that advice.  I guess it took.

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

Well, the “world” of this story was one I already knew quite well, but I did do research on the use of cadaver dogs, and on building protective compounds.  Believe it or not, there’s a lot of material out there on how to create your own fortress to guard against the end of the world.  To me, that’s almost as scary as the end of the world itself, you know?

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 bet there are a million answers to this question.  I imagine at least a few zombie fans see the genre as the safe way to fulfill a world destruction fantasy.  After all, what better way to express our fears of society’s ills and our collective self-loathing for the mess we’ve made of things than to turn the idiots responsible into zombies.  But I think the lasting appeal of the genre has to go beyond the simple urge to destroy.  And in that sense, zombies are really part of the larger scope of apocalyptic fiction, which is, ironically enough, life-affirming in the end.  These are stories about survival, after all.  These are stories about life holding on, no matter how bad things get.  The world may be ruined; the dead may be gaining ground; hope may be a snow ball sweating away in hell–but still we fight on.  And isn’t that why we love these stories?  What fun would it be if we had an apocalypse and we didn’t get to live through it?

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

Metaphorically speaking, zombies are blank slates.  That’s been said enough times by now that just about everybody gets it.  You can make the subtext of a zombie story about anything you want.  George Romero did that with racism in the original Night of the Living Dead, for example.  I love zombie fiction because it’s so flexible that way.  They can be symbols of profound loss and grief, and our inability to completely process those emotions, as they are in Dan Simmons’ “This Year’s Class Picture,” or cautionary warnings about the dangers of conformity, as in Adam Troy-Castro’s “Dead Like Me,” or even joyful symbols of the redemptive power of love, as in Joe Hill’s “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead.”  They are, potentially, all over the map, just waiting for a message to get imprinted.

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