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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Words With Alden Bell

With our contest for a copy of Alden Bell's The Reapers are the Angels concluding next week, we thought it would be a great time to introduce you to the author.  If you have yet to read the review, make sure to follow this link.  In addition to supplying several copies of the book to give lucky ZT readers, Bell also took the time to answer a few questions that we had.  Watch for the mild spoiler alert...

What were your literary inspirations for the novel? It has been compared to Flannery O’Connor in other comments, and I noticed a resemblance to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Were either of those sources for you?

REAPERS owes a big debt to the Southern Gothic genre in general. Key inspirations were Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, William Gay, Tom Franklin, Daniel Woodrell and Cormac McCarthy. There are references (some playfully intentional, others unintentional I'm sure) throughout. A lot of people have mentioned the similarity to THE ROAD. Actually, I'm a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy--but I was less inspired by THE ROAD than I was by BLOOD MERIDIAN, which I think is one of the finest books of the late twentieth century. There are overt homages to BLOOD MERIDIAN in REAPERS.

Are you originally from the South? There are many descriptions that make it seen as though you are quite familiar with the area.

I adore the South--and I try to get to Oxford, Mississippi, as often as I can, because I love the people down there and the fact that the place is steeped in deeply literary culture.  But, no, I'm not from
the South.  I grew up in California, and have lived the last sixteen years in New York.  So I really have no business writing a book about the South--and readers have been very patient and gracious with what must be some bumbling attempts to render it.  I was particularly concerned with the dialogue--but, then again, I think it's permissible in fiction to create a language that echoes realistic dialect and yet still attempts its own (perhaps unrealistic) tone.  You watch a few episodes of DEADWOOD, which contains completely unrealistic Shakespearean soliloquies, and suddenly you feel no obligation toward realistic rendering of dialogue.  I admire a story that is willing to subvert realism for the sake of loveliness.

** slight spoiler in the next question **

What made you decide to incorporate the mutants later on in the novel? It is interesting to have a reversal of zombies preying on humans, when the giant “human”-like people are seen preying on the zombies.

I think the mutants represent one version of a family structure. Family is certainly one of the underlying themes in REAPERS, and everywhere Temple goes, she is presented with various forms of family life--each of which reminds her that she is mostly alone.  Over the course of the book, it's possible that Temple accrues a kind of makeshift family, though certainly it's not the family we would expect or want--and there's something nice about that.  Fundamentally, I'm moved by the idea of people bonding together in the face of adversity, creating structures and communities and families in order to cope with the tragedies of the world.  The mutants are a particularly tight family, and the zombie apocalypse has actually strengthened theirpower.

Why is Temple’s weapon of choice the gurkha knife?  It means she has to get much closer to the zombies than if she were using a gun or other bladed weapon to kill them.

It's partially a practical choice--after all, it would make sense in a world where ammunition may be scarce to become efficient with a weapon that doesn't require it.  But also, a gurkha knife--well, it's just awesome.  Have you seen one of those things?  It just looks like a brutal, nasty tool.  The other thing I like about it is the fact that the way the blade is shaped means that you can only really use it for chopping rather than stabbing.  Stabbing blades imply elegance and sophistication.  The gurkha knife, on the other hand, implies savage animalism.  It only hacks; that's all it does.  I think that's very symbolic of Temple herself, whose charm, in part, lies in the fact that she is just as ferocious as the things she's killing.

Why is religion so important to Temple?  It seems like her whole life would have been in a world devoid of formal religious institutions, so why does she have such a strong sense of good and evil?

It's true that REAPERS is a deeply religious book--which is odd considering that I'm a lifelong, die-hard atheist.  But I'm not one of those angry atheists.  I actually really admire religion and religious
faith.  There's something beautiful about believing so strongly in something--and I think Temple's religious zeal is one of the most touching things about her.  It's all the more meaningful because, as you say, she has grown up in a world without formalized religion and would have had to create it from scratch.  Her faith is deeply personal, because it's built and fostered entirely in her own mind. Because she has no one telling her where to look for God, she manages to see God everywhere.  Her nemesis Moses also has an extremely strong sense of good and evil, right and wrong.  I admire both of these characters for their desire to impose order (however difficult and counterintuitive) on a world that has gone to complete disorder and chaos.  They're both heroic in their own ways.

Is there a defining moment in your life of zombie importance?

That would have to be seeing DAWN OF THE DEAD with my father when I was nine years old.  We went to see it at the drive-in, and he fell asleep halfway through, so I was left to confront the movie on my own.  It was revolutionary to me.  Sure, I was completely nauseated by the scenes of zombies eating viscera, but, more significantly, I was fascinated by how much of that movie seems to have very little to do with zombies at all.  I remember how much time is spent on the logistics of blockading the mall, cleaning it up, recreating a normalized life.  Even as a kid I remember admiring how human a story it was--how much about plain old life a monster movie could be.  I think that made me fall in love with zombies.  Curiously enough, the fact that they faded into the background made them all the more charming to me.

If we were going to make a toy of you, would you be a zombie or a survivor?  What accessories would you come with?

I would never survive the zombie apocalypse, so I guess I would have to be a zombie.  I would probably be one of those non-threatening, sad-looking zombies who, rather than attacking you, just sits there instinctively trying to recreate the actions of his past life.  I would be carrying around a book of some sort, unable to read it, but pawing through the pages with my ineffectual fingers in the ghost motions of reading--tearing the pages to shreds as I went, destroying the very thing that I loved so much when alive.  Tragic, right?

I would like to thank Josh Gaylord/Alden Bell for his time and also to our own Sara Ross for hers. 

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