Interview: Brian Evenson

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

Explorers from an earlier time travel into a country in which the dead reanimate. They experiment.  As time goes on, starving, the narrator watches his companions and friends die and then come back into a sort of half-life, and the prepares for his own end.

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

I’d been reading Cabeza de Vaca’s 16th account of crossing North America after being shipwrecked and also had been rewatching Werner Herzog’s movie _Aguirre, Wrath of God_ which has a brilliant, mad ending.  I was interested, too, in thinking about how certain places seem to have a dark but magical quality to them.  Where the idea of bodies reanimating came from I don’t know.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

The protagonist is the narrator and the scribe for the voyage, the man recording what is happening.  He is both observing and participating, watching everybody around him be transformed but also trying to depict objectively what he sees and willing, despite everything, to try to continue the exploration.

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

The biggest challenge was in trying to hint at things that seemed to be just beyond the characters reach—to give in section X a templature that suggested a strange and vanished civilization that treated death differently and seemed to be taking advantage of the strange effects of the land and to do it in a way that would seem real and consistent with what the narrator would know.

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

Most of my research came in reading exploration narratives and trying to distill them, trying to capture their feel in just a few pages.

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

I think for me the appeal is that at least at certain times they feel weirdly plausible.  When people or animals die that we know, they still live on as a kind of residue in our memories and it’s hard not to think about them and talk about them as if they were still alive.  There’s something both unsettling and satisfying about that kind of half-life after that.  Add to that religious notions of people living after death and how that seems to us both imaginable and unimaginable.  Add to that fear of having a stroke or losing part of our mental capacities in some way.  I think zombie stories reveal the underbelly of our hope that we’ll live on after we die and couple it with our fears that something might happen to us where we’ll find ourselves mindless or trapped in our bodies while still alive….

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

There are a lot.  I’m very fond of I Walked with a Zombie, which is an early and odd zombie movie.  I still remember the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead, and since then have watched all sorts.  Can’t help but be fond of Shaun of the Dead either; there are lots more….

Any new work of ours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

My Aliens novel Aliens: No Exit is coming out in September.  I also have a new collection of stories coming out from Coffee House Press in 2009 called Fugue State.