Interview: David Tallerman

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

We start with our protagonist holed up in a small, zombie-overrun town.  The only other survivors are a family across the road, and he has no way to contact them, so in the time before the story he’s been getting more and more ground down with loneliness and isolation.  Then a new zombie arrives in town, that seems smarter than the rest, and he names it Billy because it reminds him of his dead son.  He becomes fascinated by it, even knowing that it’s going to spell trouble.

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

I’m more interested in people than monsters, so my horror stories always seem to end up as people stories.  With "Stockholm Syndrome" I ran with that, and used the living dead very much as background, and as a way into a character’s head.  It’s a story about a guy dealing with the loss of his family, and particularly the death of his son, which he–rightly–feels partly responsible for. And it just happens to have a whole lot of zombies in it.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

Our unnamed narrator has survived the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, but at the cost of his family, his home, his whole way of life.  While he’s not a bad guy, he’s not really a good guy either, and–stuck on his own with no one to talk to and not much to do–he has to confront that for maybe the first time in his life.  He sees some uncomfortable similarities between himself and the walking corpses out in the streets, which has to be a harsh awakening for anybody.

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

The strong violence was something I’d never tried before, and was tough to do.  I tried to go for a subdued approach–though without shying away from it or placing everything "off-camera," because after all it’s a zombie story and that requires a certain amount of blood and guts.

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

I don’t think every story I write is personal; or if they are it’s often in subtle ways that would be hard to explain.  "Stockholm Syndrome" isn’t a personal story, really, except in so much as it’s about dealing with regrets, and everyone has those.

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

Truthfully, not much. I had a clear image of a small American town in my head, which looking back probably owed more to things like To Kill a Mockingbird than anything in the present-day US.  But I hope I got away with it, because it’s a claustrophobic tale, it all happens within a couple of houses and a street, and of course you don’t have to describe those things to a reader much.

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?

First of all, zombies are downright nasty.  They’re not cool or sexy, and it’s hard to imagine anything worse than being eaten alive by another human being.  Also, where one vampire or werewolf can be scary, one zombie is usually just funny.  But you get a hundred of them, or a thousand, and suddenly they don’t seem so funny anymore.  I guess there’s something misanthropic about zombie fiction in that sense; the fear of the crowd, of being surrounded by strangers.  Then again, the flip-side of that–and one of the things I played on–is that it’s easy to forget the threat of a lone zombie, at least until he’s chomping on your guts.

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

I’m a huge Romero fan, which I guess is the obvious answer; Dawn of the Dead is by far my favorite horror film of all time.  More recently, the Dead Rising computer game added some interesting twists, and Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Zombies series is a work of twisted genius.  I was surprised by how much I liked the Dawn of the Dead remake, and 28 Weeks Later was unexpectedly superb as well.