Interview: Nancy Holder

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

In the future, a zombie is about to be tortured and crucified during the Oberammergau Passion Play.  It comes to sit in the confessional before the play…and the protagonist, a priest, absolves it of its sins.  His Church superiors are incensed…until God’s wrath showers down upon them during the play. 

The Oberammergau Passion Play began in 1634, during the Thirty Years War.  Bubonic plague had spread all over Bavaria.  The citizens of Oberammergau begged God to spare them.  In return, they would put on a play about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus every ten years.  The ravages of the plague ceased, and the Oberammergauers kept their vow.  They still perform the play, most recently in 2000.

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

My grandmother saw the Oberammergau Passion Play when I was a little girl.  I was envious of her; because she had gone to Europe and done and seen so many things.  Oberammergau became a sort of goal for me, a grail.  I still haven’t seen it. 

I once drew a picture of a crucified woman and some dork who came to my house added a moustache and beard to it.  I think my irritation is in there, too. 

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

I wanted to make sure I got the German right.  And I wasn’t sure how to end it for a while. 

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

It reminded me of a time in my life when I was considering converting to Catholicism.  I remember walking home and looking up at the stars, begging for a sign.  I saw none, and I didn’t become a Catholic.  Now I see signs everywhere.  But I was desperately in love at the time, and beginning to face the truth that the guy I was in love with (the Catholic for whom I was planning to convert) with really didn’t care about me.  I also remembered living in Japan.  Japanese nuns in Yokohama were selling dolls of the Virgin Mary dressed in kimono and I thought they were so holy and exquisite.  And I remember The Martian Chronicles–such an amazing piece of work. 

"Passion Play" also expresses my longing to see more of the world.  I hope someday I’ll travel more extensively.  For now, I’m a single mom and we have a puppy.

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

I purchased a program booklet of the 1930s Oberammergau Passion Play.  It is fabulous.  I did a lot of research on the internet, and I checked my German with my German teacher at my language school.  After I lived in Germany, I came home to study German in college and then at a language school for about three years.  

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 zombies both attract and repel us.  There’s an atavistic innocence to being a mindless zombie.  The more Haitian style of zombie–aware and in thrall–is far more terrifying than a Dawn of the Dead flesh eater. That’s one of the attractions…is there someone in there, lurking, waiting to come back to the surface?  Are they going to plow your fields?  Or are they just going to tear you limb from limb?  It’s almost like a game of chicken…seeing how close you can get, and how dangerous they might be. 

As for being a zombie myself…some days, mom days, homeowner days, I seem to shuffle from chore to chore to chore.  My writing sits there waiting and I feel foggy and anxious, like I’m not living my real life.  And some other days, it sounds like the best thing in the world just to crush someone and eat their brains.  I’m hungry for it. 

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

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, a Val Lewton movie.  Beautiful and terrifying.  And of course, SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  The bookends. 

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 paranormal romance from Silhouette Nocturne titled SON OF THE SHADOWS out in August.  It’s set in my world of the Gifted–magic users–and there are zombies in it, but they’re just background.