Today, we have the privilege of providing you with part one of our Zombies & Toys roundtable discussion of 21st Century Dead, featuring a couple of old friends and a few new ones.
JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning horror and thriller author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer. His books have been sold to more than a dozen countries. Notable contributions to the zombie genre are his Joe Ledger novels Patient Zero and the forthcoming Code Z, his Benny Imura series for Young adults, and the gritty thriller Dead of Night. He can be found at his website jonathanmaberry.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jonathanmaberry, and on twitter at… you guessed it, www.twitter.com/jonathanmaberry.
S.G. BROWNE is the author of the novels Breathers, Fated, and Lucky Bastard - dark comedies and social satires with a supernatural edge. His short story collection, Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel, contains ten twisted tales and is available as an eBook. He loves dark comedies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and is a sucker for It's a Wonderful Life. Check him out at his website sgbrowne.com and on twitter at www.twitter.com/s_g_browne.
RIO YOUERS has drawn praise from some of the most noteworthy names in the speculative fiction genre. He is the author of two novellas, Mama Fish (Shroud Publishing) and Old Man Scratch (PS Publishing)—the latter earning him a British Fantasy Award nomination in 2010. Rio was born in Amersham, England, but has been living in Ontario, Canada, since 2001. He can be found at his website rioyouers.com and also on twitter at www.twitter.com/rio_youers.
STEPHANIE CRAWFORD is a monkey riding a bomb into hell. always the fifth coolest person at the library. also: writer. Find her and links to all of her future endeavors by crawling over to her twitter page at https://twitter.com/_mos_stef_
We threw them all the same few questions, and the creature that came to be is the monster that follows. Enjoy!
ZOMBIES&TOYS: To get started, why zombies? What do the shambling hoards of not-quite-dead stir up within you that gets your motor running?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve been a fan of the zombie genre since before the genre had a name. I was there at the Midway Theater in Philly on the world premiere of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, October 2, 1968. I was ten and I snuck in with a buddy of mine. The movie traumatized him, giving him years’ worth of nightmares and turning him into a neurotic bed-wetter well into his twenties. I stayed the see the movie twice, and came back every day while it was playing. I love my life-impaired fellow citizens.
As a storyteller, zombies offer a wonderfully blank canvas.Once introduced they represent a massive, shared threat that’s so big it impacts the lives of every single character in the tale.Once that threat is established, the zoms often take a back seat to the much more interesting drama of disparate characters interacting during a time of great stress. That also allows for the ‘zombie’ to act as a stand-in for anything we’re afraid of, from political corruption to psychological disintegration to the fear of disease. Everyone I know who writes zombie stories comes at it from a different angle, proving that the genre is enormously elastic.There are no shortage of original stories that can be told in a world of zombies.
S.G. BROWNE: Why zombies? Because I saw Night of the Living Dead on Creature Features when I was eleven years old and I fell in love. The fact that they used to be us, that we could become a zombie simply by the act of dying or becoming infected by a virus, is a compelling scenario. What gets my motor running is exploring what happens to us when we come back from the dead, how we deal with the fact that we’re reanimated corpses, and playing with the social dynamic of a scenario in which zombies have been integrated into society.
RIO YOUERS: For me, zombies symbolize degeneration: of life, society, health, even the ozone layer. As a writer, there’s so much to work with … so many fears to amplify. But forget all that interpretive hooey … sometimes it’s fun just to watch dead people walking around.
STEPHANIE CRAWFORD: Like many, I grew up watching zombies as a kid - catching the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD late on television was always a thrill. Once I got old enough to stop having to sneak the stuff from my parents, the sheer breadth of what creative types could do with the concept seduced me. From the gory, goofy fun of NIGHT OF THE CREEPS to reading stacks of serious-minded zombie books reviewed in the Nightmare Library sections of old issues of Fangoria, there was always something to keep me obsessed. Once I discovered Lucio Fulci it was all over for me.
I'm also the type that sees a staggering amount of connections between zombies - their infection, isolation, decay - and how the chronically ill are treated in modern day society. Being able to delve into that, then being able to watch cartoons about zombies on Youtube immediately after... that's pretty great.
ZOMBIES&TOYS: There was a time when there were only two choices in the world; fast or slow. Today, these monsters can fill any shape you stuff them into. What is your personal favorite brand of zombie, and why?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I like any kind of zombie that can scare me. Romero scared me with slow shamblers in NIGHT and DAWN, and Bob Kirkman made them scary in THE WALKING DEAD. Zack Snyder scared me with fast zoms in the DAWN remake. And the infected humans model (THE CRAZIES, 28 DAYS LATER) is even scarier because that’s more scientifically plausible.
As a pop culture geek, I did whichever kind of zombie works best in any given book, movie, comic or TV show.
As a writer, I vary on which kind of zom I use based on how I want to build suspense in my stories. I’ve used all kinds of zoms: slow shamblers (ROT & RUIN), fast zoms (PATIENT ZERO), both kinds (DEAD OF NIGHT), and even super-powered zoms (MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN).
S.G. BROWNE: While I enjoy all types of zombies, I tend to prefer stories told from the zombies’ POV. Rather than being the villains, they’re the heroes and I like having things flipped around to provide a different perspective. Plus most zombie stories aren’t really about zombies—they’re about the breakdown of society and how people deal with the problem of zombies. So I write stories about zombies and how they deal with the problem of people.
RIO YOUERS: I like the slow, shambling zombie. They may not be as threatening, but they have a kind of helplessness and repetition that gives me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. They also seem more … well, dead. And that’s the whole point of a zombie, right?
STEPHANIE CRAWFORD: I'm partial to the charming, (barely) semi-coherent zombies. I have a not-so-secret crush on Bub from DAY OF THE DEAD, and the gang of ambulance ordering undead in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is something I've always found charming. Then again, maybe I'd just prefer someone still have to ability to have a sense of humor while they were gnawing through my skull on the off-chance that it might soften the blow a bit.
ZOMBIES&TOYS: Contrary to recent headlines, the fact remains that zombies are not real. However, we have been shown many scenarios that could possibly spawn a true life zombie apocalypse (virus, infection, etc.) in the future. Is this strictly an imaginary scenario for you or do you feel the need to make some type of preparations? If so; what are they?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Even though I’ve conjured up some pretty plausible scientific explanations for my novels (PATIENT ZERO, DEAD OF NIGHT, etc.), I don’t think we’re in any real danger of a zombie apocalypse. Certainly not with anything that Mother Nature cooks up, no matter how cranky she gets. Of course, it’s inside the realm of possibility that a designer pathogen could be concocted to approximate the symptoms consistent with zombies. However, it isn’t likely. Terrorists are more likely to simply blow stuff up.
That said, it is very likely that we might face some kind of global pandemic that is so aggressive and contagious that it has an apocalyptic quality. A weaponized version of Ebola would do it. It wouldn’t turn people into flesh-eaters, but everyone could become a carrier, so in a very real sense the infected would be an ever-growing plague army. Infrastructure would collapse as soon as health care workers, police, EMTs and the military became infected – and since they’re on the front line, that is going to happen. So, apocalypse? Yeah. Possible.
The best preparation we can make is to educate ourselves on the proper use of antibiotics (so we don’t eradicate our own immune system), quarantine protocols, hygiene, basic health, and first aid. And we could all take some workshops on cooperation. That’d keep things from spinning out of control when the lights go out.
S.G. BROWNE: I tend to believe it’s more imaginary than realistic, so I don’t really have a zombie apocalypse contingency plan. But if the walking dead did become a reality, I’d likely grab my Camelback, Louisville Slugger, a pair of comfortable shoes, my leather backpack, and several pair of clean underwear. Just in case.
RIO YOUERS: Yeah, my plan is to hide behind Brian Keene and let him do the fighting. It’s cowardly, yes, but smart; Brian has written so much about zombies that I figure he knows what to do. He also has guns. Lots of guns. And heavy metal music. What could possibly go wrong?
STEPHANIE CRAWFORD: Assuming that it IS fact they're not real (ASSUMING), I think it's entirely possible our frail human bodies could be manipulated and ravaged very quickly and society could go sideways almost immediately. Saying that, life is too short even when things go reasonably smoothly for me to get too gung-ho with preparations. I do have some friends that are well-stocked, however, and I fully intend to always let them know how delightful they are and how dearly I treasure our friendship.
ZOMBIES&TOYS: If the world finally does fall to pieces and you find yourself surrounded by masses of the hungry dead, how long do you think you would survive?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve been a martial artist for nearly fifty years, and I’ve worked variously as a bodyguard, self-defense instructor and trainer for all levels of law enforcement including SWAT. I’m damn good with any weapon, and particularly handy with a katana. I can also get moderately cranky if my loved ones are in peril. So, if it comes down to any kind of apocalypse, I’m going to make it to safety with my family. Anyone who wants to come along is welcome to join us, but I give this warning: if there’s one of those cranky, loud-mouthed clowns in the party, I’m feeding him to the zoms so the rest of us can get away.
S.G. BROWNE: I’d like to think I’d be pretty crafty and would be able to navigate the zombie apocalypse with some common sense, considering I’ve seen enough movies on the subject. So I give myself a pretty decent chance of survival. I’d probably be more likely to die at the hands of some gun-toting douche bag who wants my supplies before I’d get eaten alive by a hungry zombie.
RIO YOUERS: See question #3. I’ll survive forever, unless I switch Brian’s Anthrax CD for my Captain and Tennille. Then he’ll shoot me himself.
STEPHANIE CRAWFORD: Unless zombies are into slapstick and crave vaudevillian entertainment, I’m pretty sure I’d die within minutes. As much as I enjoy zombie survival tales, I don't think I'd have much interest living in a world filled with rotting bodies, chocolate factories shut down and the only available soda being flat.
ZOMBIES&TOYS: Finally, do you have any other projects on the horizon we should keep our eyes out for?
JONATHAN MABERRY: The third in my series of post-apocalyptic zombie novels for teens debuts in September (FLESH & BONE), and I’m currently writing the last book in that series. I’m also working on MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE AVENGERS, a mini-series that will launch around Halloween. And my first anthology as editor, V-WARS, just debuted, which is a shared-world vampire story. Also…we’ll be making some noise soon about a movie deal.
S.G. BROWNE: I’ll be releasing a Christmas themed zombie novella titled I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus that’s a sequel to my debut novel Breathers and takes place nearly a year after the first novel left off. It’s scheduled for release November 13, 2012.
RIO YOUERS: My new novel, WESTLAKE SOUL, hit bookstores recently, and the reviews so far have been outstanding. I have a bunch of short stories coming out in various anthologies, and I’m about to start work on a new story with fellow 21ST CENTURY DEAD contributor Mark Morris. And if all goes well, there should also be something new from Cemetery Dance in 2013
Check back in tomorrow when we wrap up with Part 2 of this discussion featuring Simon Green, Daniel H. Wilson, and John M. McIlveen and stop in and make sure your favorite retailer is preparing for the release of 21st Century Dead!