Interview: Nancy Kilpatrick

Tell us a bit about your story, "The Age of Sorrow." What’s it about?

In a post apocalyptic world, a woman is, as far as she knows, the last remaining human being an Earth overrun by viral-infested zombified former-humans.

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

I knew a remake of The Last Man on Earth (1964) and The Omega Man (1971)–both based on Richard Matheson’s wonderful vampire/zombie novel I am Legend–was in the works when I was writing “The Age of Sorrow”. The 2007 movie I am Legend ended up featuring a bit of a departure in that the main character, Robert Neville, was played by a black actor, Will Smith. The previous movie versions of Neville had been played by Vincent Price and Charlton Heston, respectively.

In a lot of American movies, what you have when someone faces, say, zombies, is a lot of gunfire. I understand that guns are a part of modern life, especially in the U.S., but at the same time, I also know this is not how it is in most of the rest of the world. The average citizen outside the US does not own a gun and would not envision immediately pulling out a gun when threatened. Consequently, of the three movies, I liked The Last Man on Earth best. I’m a great Vincent Price fan anyway, but I love the dreary black and white of that film, and the long morbid soliloquies, not to mention the means of dispatch. I think the madness in that film reflects more or less what would happen with total isolation.

But beyond all that, it kept coming to me: How would a woman deal with being the only human survivor in such a world? Would she do anything differently than a man would? Would she be blasting zombies right, left and center 24/7? Women, perhaps out of evolutionary necessity, are generally (not all, of course) practical. They tend to take care of what needs to be taken care of, aka work, sometimes to the detriment of fulfilling other parts of their lives. And women have special needs and moods, driven by biology, which men seem to have the specific hormones for, and that would have to impact on a dire situation. I’ve never been a proponent of the helpless female standing and shrieking as the zombie comes for her. I don’t know any women like that. Anyway, I got fired up by the idea of how a woman would cope in such a world all alone.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

My protagonist does not have a name. I wanted her to be an ‘everywoman’ and even an ‘everyperson’, so that men could identify with her as well. Before everything went to Hell she was, I imagine, a regular person, with regular problems, with a husband and a career she worked towards, living in a city with some disposable income. I wanted to present her as people are when suddenly faced with a catastrophic situation that often reflects a certain synchronicity: the outer and the inner realities come together and reflect one another. The story takes place five years after the zombie plague reaches the uncontrollable point. She has headed to New Zealand because the media, God love ‘em, said it was one of the ‘safe’ places on earth. That proved to be false. Like all false media reports, you have to hunt for the correction or retraction, and by the time you find it, it’s irrelevant.

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

It’s a grim story but then I tend towards the grim. Not that I can’t laugh, but I can as easily wander down into the somber valley as I can climb up into the happy hills. I don’t think there were any significant challenges but I did wonder if the story might be too bleak. Of course, it’s the end of the world as we know it, so it occurred to me that it couldn’t be otherwise. I found The Last Man on Earth the bleakest of the 3 films and as bleak as the book. I was going for bleak.

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

Like a lot of people, I’ve been, at times in my life, depressed. Sometimes things don’t work out, things you put your hopes and dreams into, like a marriage. You get sick. Someone you care about dies. Your career stalls temporarily and nobody wants to buy the book you want to write. All of this is depressing for a shorter or longer period of time. It’s always a miracle that people keep going when facing depression. Usually those who love us help. And sometimes wise words come our way when needed. And fortunately most of the time depression just breaks because life circumstances change, even a little. But when people are depressed, if it goes on for more than a day or two, it can feel like it will last forever. In this story, I wondered how it would be to be in a world where nothing much is coming your way for the rest of your life, and how you would cope with the ensuing depression. I know that it’s hard to cope with depression for even a short time and of course most people who have been depressed, which is most people, fear that it will never abate. How would that be if circumstances were such that you couldn’t really squeeze even a drop of joy out of life? It’s personal in the sense that I’ve wondered.

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

Not very much. A bit on New Zealand and what it’s like there. And another bit on alternative power and energy sources that would sustain life that an individual who is not especially technical might use.

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 the vampire that we all loved got lost. I have to say, with my vampire novel series Power of the Blood, I’m as guilty as the next person of humanizing vampires. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it might have gone a tad too far with too many movies, TV series and novels where the vampire is a good guy with fangs. A lot of us miss the old resuscitated corpse, the ugly vampire, the mindless one that can’t be reasoned with. I think zombies were there already and evolved from the Haitian Voodoo zombie to the Romero zombie that evolved further over the course of his film series so that the cause of zombification became different and rather than being bland slaves, they turned into full-blown predators, en masse. Most of us miss the predatory vampire. Zombies I think have ascended in popularity because they not only fill that archetypal void, but they also reflect society’s fear of something overtaking us, making us less-than-human, or the victim of that less-than-human. It’s especially traumatizing when less-than-human is family, friends and neighbors, but hey, strangers, in numbers, will do it for most of us–I think there’s an inherent fear of mindless mobs in all of us. It’s the hordes that swarm over you. Add to that our unconscious horror of our rampant consumption in the first world and it’s like a hundred-thousand inhuman Pac Men, eating everything in sight. There’s not much in the horror field that terrifies me, but zombies do. Their driven, single-minded quality is both terrifying and awe-inspiring. I think it’s what all sane people fear, being confronted by something/someone that has your destruction at heart and which/who can’t be stopped.

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

I’m kind of a zombie slut in that I like all zombie films, including the three I’ve already mentioned. Notables include: George Romero’s ‘Dead’ series of four films; 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later; Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things; Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive; Delamorte Delamore (which squeaks by as a zombie movie); the funny Fido; the delightful Zombie Honeymoon; Cronenberg’s Rabid which I’m not sure people classify as zombie but I do; and I also like White Zombie, the 1932 film.

As to books, again, I like just about everything. There is Matheson’s which I’ve mentioned, and that’s kind of a vampire/zombie cross. I know too many authors to name names without fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Let me just say I’ve enjoyed a LOT of zombie novels and anthologies and it’s safe to say Stephen King’s Cell and Pet Sematary are both among my favorites as are the anthologies Skipp and Spector did in the early 1990s [Book of the Dead and Still Dead]. And of course the award-winning solo antho Mondo Zombie John Skipp edited for Cemetery Dance, which includes my story “Going Down”–that’s a great book.

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

I’ve been writing short stories lately. Here’s a list. I think they all come out in 2008:

  • “Bitches of the Night” in Blood Lite edited by Kevin J. Anderson (Pocket Books)
  • “Vampire Anonymous” in Moonstone Monsters: Vampires (Moonstone Books)
  • “Mozaika” in Moonstone Monsters: Zombies (Moonstone Books)
  • “Heart of Stone“ in Monsters Noir, edited by Steven Savile (Bad Moon Books)

Also, I’ve just submitted “Invisible” to Barbara Roden for her ghost anthology (Ash-Tree Press). And I’m currently putting the finishing touches on “In Winter” for Harrison Howe, who is editing an anthology of stories inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs, to be published by P.S. Publishing this year.

I’m about to start work on two new novels: A 5th book in my Power of the Blood vampire world, and also the first book in a supernatural urban fantasy series, and yes, there are zombies in the series.