Interview: Lisa Morton

Tell us a bit about your story, "Sparks Fly Upward." What’s it about?

After a zombie holocaust, human survivors have adapted by fortifying their settlements and rationing their supplies. When a young woman becomes pregnant, she is faced with the difficult knowledge that her community can’t afford an extra mouth to feed, and so she must undertake a dangerous journey to an outside clinic to have the pregnancy aborted–a journey that involves facing the walking corpses
of those who, while alive, protested the same clinic.

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

I wrote this after reading the two Skipp and Spector BOOK OF THE DEAD anthologies, which overall I really enjoyed; but I felt that many of the writers fell into a trap trying to "out-taboo" each other with extreme sex. I asked myself what taboos were left that could be dealt with in a zombie tale, and my answer was political ones. It’s hard to imagine a more heated political topic than abortion, and when I thought of combining that with a tale of survivors carefully rationing out their resources, it all fell into place.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

Sarah is something of an everywoman: She’s smart, educated, kind, has a wonderful husband, a young child, and had once looked forward to a bright future. When the zombie apocalypse occurred, she was resilient enough to adapt, and has even found ways to enjoy her new life–and then she finds out she’s pregnant. In any other situation, she’d be overjoyed…but in a fortified community with very careful parceling out of resources, she’s forced to concede that she can’t afford
another child. As with any woman, abortion is a very difficult act for Sarah to agree to; and, even as in our culture, a trip to an abortion clinic is a terrifying experience, especially given those who are determined to confront everyone going into such a clinic.

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

Writing it was easy. It was only when it was finished and I re-read it that I thought, Wow – given the extreme actions of some of the pro-life activists…oh well, too late now!

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

I’m obviously a firm believer in a woman’s right to choose. And I despise those who think they have the right to make an already-traumatic trip to an abortion clinic worse.

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

Not much more than choosing the biblical quote for the title and opening. Years of watching zombie movies, reading the fiction, and following the news pretty much did all the rest for me.

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’ve spent a lot of time pondering this, especially in regards to myself. The original DAWN OF THE DEAD remains possibly the only movie to ever absolutely terrify me, and I think Clive Barker may have hit it on the head when he suggested that zombies address a fear of conformity, of becoming one of the indistinguishable shambling masses who live only to consume. However, they also provide an easy path for social commentary and satire; unlike other creatures, they have no
special abilities and haven’t been overly romanticized.

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

I’m one of that select group who loves DAY OF THE DEAD. That film gives its heroine (who, not coincidentally, is also named Sarah) an absolutely brilliant dilemma: As possibly the last scientist left, does she work to stop the zombie holocaust, or–as perhaps the last woman–does she concentrate on having children? And of course the same film offers "Bub", without question the all-time best zombie character ever.

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

Might as well plug my new nonfiction book: A HALLOWE’EN ANTHOLOGY: LITERARY AND HISTORICAL WRITINGS OVER THE CENTURIES. It’s just been released by McFarland.