Interview: Jeffrey Ford

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

I got the idea for this story from having read Julian Jaynes The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which is a book that posits that the voice of god in ancient cultures was in fact one side of the brain communicating with the other across the corpus callosum, through the Wernick’s Area. Add to this the fact that at the time, as now, I was teaching Poe, and his stories were a big influence on it as well, especially “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” The set up of the story is sort of like what Poe would do – take some speculative aspect of Science, a theory that has not been corroborated, an idea not many know the extent of, and extrapolate a bizarre, fanciful tale from it. To my mind, “Malthusian’s Zombie,” is, whatever else one might conceive it to be, a Science Fiction story.

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

The difficulty was in trying to explain the scientific ideas as fudged from Jaynes, etc. in a seamless manner. I got a lot of it across through dialogue, which I think works naturally in the context of 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?

When I envisioned the story, I pictured it taking place on my block where I live in Southern New Jersey. Also, the protagonist is a professor who is on sabbatical, writing a book about Poe. If I remember correctly, I wrote this story when I was on sabbatical from teaching.

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

I had to study Julian Jaynes’s book and then do ancillary research on some of the terms he used.

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?

The zombie is the perfect icon for our general culture in the US as shown in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (the mindless shopping mall invasion), and proven by the election of George W. Bush (who else but zombies would vote for this guy twice?). “Act now, think much later, if at all,” is the American motto and should be in Latin on the dollar bill somewhere.

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

I’m not partial to gruesome zombie stories – too messy for me – but I do like the suspense of many, especially as they have been interpreted by film – The Crazies, Night of the Living Dead, The version of I Am Legend with Vincent Price (The Last Man on Earth), 28 Weeks Later, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the Kevin McCarthy version if I can get it, but I’ll settle for the Donald Sutherland one as well). Another one that’s great is the Japanese flick Matango (The Curse of the Mushroom People) – man transforming into fungus.

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

I have a new novel, The Shadow Year, just out from Morrow/Harper Collins, and in November of 08, The Drowned Life, my third collection of stories will be published by Perennial/Harper Collins.