Interview: Will McIntosh

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

When the dead begin to rise, and relentlessly follow the people most responsible for their deaths, a man must come to terms with the corpse of a young child who is following him.  In the face of her silent accusation, he struggles to understand how he is responsible, and wonders if there has been some mistake.

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

"Followed" arose out of a discussion I had in a graduate social psychology class.  A question arose: If you knew you could save lives for $100 each, how many would you save?  Would you sell your car?  How could you let 150 people die so that you could drive a car?  I pointed out that we probably can save lives for $100 or less, and we don’t, and each of us has to live with that knowledge, or rationalize it away, or sell our cars.

Tell us about the protagonist of the story.

He is your average well-intentioned, well-educated everyman living in the industrialized world.

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

One of my friends described this story as "unforgiving," and I think that’s a fair assessment.  It’s an indictment of the Wal-Mart way of life, where people far away work for unforgivably poor wages so other people may live in extreme comfort.  I shop at Wal-Mart, so I’m the villain of the story.  It was painful, and at times depressing, to write this one.

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 it’s a way to face the existential terror we feel at the awareness of our own mortality.  I think people love it because it explores that terror so directly–the dead are right there, in your face, and they’re not “undead” beings with supernatural powers and sexy lives, they’re corpses.  Corpses scare the shit out of us.

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

My favorite zombie film is Return of the Living Dead, because it did a magnificent job of tapping into that existential terror.  One scene in particular stuck with me: a man who’s been bitten by a zombie gets his friends to cremate him alive before he can turn into a zombie.  Another great film was the remake of Dawn of the Dead, the one that takes place in a mall.  Again, what struck me was a scene of a man who’s been bitten.  His companion is pointing a gun at him, allowing for him to die before shooting him so he doesn’t become a zombie.  The dying man says something like "You want every second," then he dies.  Such a fabulously succinct statement, encompassing people’s thirst to live, the rapture people feel at being alive, and the dread of dying we carry.

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

My story "Perfect Violet" will appear in Science Fiction: Best of the Year 2008, edited by Rich Horton.  I’m working on my first novel, Soft Apocalypse, based on a story published in Interzone.