Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Permuted Press Authors

31 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Most people would agree that the majority of zombie novels are less about the masses of flesh eating reanimated corpses, and more about the people left behind having to deal with flesh eating reanimated corpses. Today I’ve asked Three authors from Permuted Press, one of the top publishers of Zombie and Apocalyptic Fiction, about those lone Survivors in the new dead world.

Today’s Participants are:

Derek J. Goodman, author of The Reanimation of Edward Schuett.

William Todd Rose, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People.

Jessica Meigs, author of The Becoming Series.

What characteristics do you believe makes someone potentially more likely to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

Derek J. Goodman -  I think it’s tempting to assume that the number one characteristic someone would need in a ZA situation is survival training or skills, and I don’t really think that’s wrong, but most importantly I would say the key characteristic is adaptability. Someone would have to think on the fly, especially if the characteristics of zombies turned out to be different than everyone expected them to be. People would need to be able to expect the unexpected and then adjust accordingly on a moments notice. People who couldn’t accept what was happening or think they could stay their same static selves no matter the situation wouldn’t last long.

William Todd Rose: I think the most important characteristic is the indomitable will to survive. In this type of scenario, the majority of the people you’ve ever loved or cared about are dead; society has fallen and every day is a grim struggle for survival. The things you once took for granted — food, shelter, water, and such — are now as precious as rare gems once were. Continued existence would be bleak and grueling, so there would have to be something there, a little spark, which made you want to keep on going despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Jessica Meigs: Despite the fact that I’ve loaded my books in the Becoming series down with main characters who have military or law enforcement experience, I’ve never really believed that those are fully necessary to survival in a zombie apocalypse scenario. To me, the best characteristics that anyone can have in the zombie apocalypse are adaptability; levelheadedness; a willingness to learn, listen to, and work with other people; and a drive and a reason to live. Regardless of what training you may have, I think if you’re missing any of those key elements, you drastically increase your chances of dying in the apocalypse.

As a consumer of Zombie entertainment do you prefer stories about characters that are well prepared for an apocalyptic event, like zombies, or characters that are ill prepared, yet manage to find some way to survive?

Derek J. Goodman:  I don’t find much interesting in a story about a person who knows everything that’s coming, unless maybe you’re trying to play it up for laughs. Good drama comes, I think, when a character is put in a situation they weren’t ready for and you learn whether or not they have it in them to become more than they thought they were.

William Todd Rose: I personally like the ill-prepared characters. In one of my novels, The Dead & Dying, I actually contrasted these two types of characters in one of my protagonists, Carl. He was a character who’d always secretly wished for an undead apocalypse like he saw in the movies; he thought he had his contingency plan and knew exactly what to do. When it went down for real, however, he found that life doesn’t always imitate art; this man who thought he was prepared for the final days turned out to be just as unprepared as everyone else.

Jessica Meigs: I think of the two, I definitely prefer the latter. Most zombie stories I’ve read that involve the survivalist types who always predicted that zombies would come and are supposedly well prepared for such an event are the types of stories that read like Max Brooks’s Zombie Survival Guide: like a field guide rather than an interesting story about people. I’ve read so many stories, including a very popular series, that were highly reviewed and ranked, yet read like an instruction manual: "I did x, then I did y, then I did z, and I did it all in the following way…"  And it seems to always work out perfectly for the main character because he followed steps x, y, and z and never doubted himself or encountered anything he couldn’t handle. To me, that is incredibly boring. There’s no cause and effect, no drama, no real crisis for the character, just rote step-by-step.

Considering the world we currently live in, where people are entertained by the notion of zombies but the general population has the idea that something like that would never actually happen, I think it’s much more realistic to have novels where the characters are ill prepared–because the majority of the general population wouldn’t be prepared for something like that. I think the shock and awe effect, the scramble as characters try to figure out what’s going on and what to do to in order to survive, make far more fascinating stories than the borderline step-by-steppers.

As a writer, how do you balance a character having the necessary skills to overcome the odds of  zombie outbreak with creating true human responses to such an unbelievable event?

Derek J. Goodman: I’ve seen some writers that have a tendency to write characters that, when they are prepared and skilled and know what they need to do, that means the character is stoic and doesn’t get affected by the bad things going on around them. That’s fine at times, but personally I think it gets boring when you see it too often. Even if a character knows what they’re doing, I like to find something humanizing about them, maybe something that throws them off their game. The hardass likes puppies, the smile-less killing machine once lost a little sister and this situation reminds them of the car wreck that killed her, etc. There’s always a way to fit something like that in there and do it without making it feel forced.

William Todd Rose: A lot of my characters are flawed and damaged people. They’ve been changed by the things they’ve seen an experienced and, as such, have moments of weakness. Sometimes, they reach the end of their ropes: they don’t want to go on, they feel as if they reached as far into their reserves as they can. So it really goes back to my answer to the first question: they have to push through the shock, grief, and post-traumatic stress and continually get their shit together to keep on living.

Jessica Meigs: I think this is the point where I start referencing my books.

As I’ve said before, the ill-prepared storyline is something I favor more than any other. In my series, starting with the novel THE BECOMING, I use the character Cade Alton to show that, while you might have a skill set that would theoretically prepare you for such an event, that doesn’t negate any human responses you might have. In the first novel, I introduce Cade Alton, who is one of the series’ four major characters; Cade has a background that would, you’d think, prepare her to survive just about anything: she spent seven years in the IDF, training and performing as a sniper. However, just because she had a background that was thoroughly steeped in the military (and not only military, but in a country’s military service that allows women on the frontlines), that doesn’t prevent her from making what, in hindsight, are incredibly stupid, incredibly HUMAN mistakes. Indeed, when the Michaluk Virus reaches Memphis, Tennessee, and her infected boyfriend attacks her, Cade doesn’t jump into action and immediately fight back. She doesn’t utilize the skills she spent seven years learning immediately. Instead, she freezes. She panics. She goes into total reactionary, break-down mode until she’s FORCED to take control when her best friend cracks. She isn’t able to just whip out a pistol and shoot her boyfriend in the head, because it’s her BOYFRIEND. It’s someone she loves. The thought of killing him does not immediately cross her mind. This is, indeed, only human. At that point, Cade had never faced anything like a zombie in her life. No one had. So when she freezes up, it’s because she can’t process what she’s seeing: no one could. It’s only through the rest of the series that you see Cade come into her own and become a force to be reckoned with (especially in The Becoming: Under Siege, which is currently being written, and the untitled fifth and sixth books).

Ultimately, it’s a very careful balancing act to take a highly skilled character and keep them human. Some writers, I think, are seduced by the skill set of the character, and as a result, they tend to focus on those skills at the expense of human reaction and human emotion. I try my absolute best not to do this (though I have no doubt that, at some point, I’ve probably slipped up somewhere), because I find the human experience and human psychology to be by far the most fascinating part of apocalyptic stories.

While the humans tend to take center stage, in many novels zombies are more than just the catalyst for a human story, but characters themselves. We’ve seem  novels from the Zombie point of view, Voodoo Zombies, Demon Zombies, Zombie Private Investigators and Zombie gangs. Are there any aspects of Zombies as characters that you wish were more explored? Conversely, are there any aspects about Zombies that you feel have been played out?

Derek J. Goodman –  I would like to see more of an idea of zombie culture. Whether you keep them as fairly brainless or upgrade them and give them emotions, there has to be something in there that drives them, even if its just holdovers from when they were alive. I haven’t seen a whole lot of that out there yet and think some amazing things could be done with it. As for things I’m tired of, could we please get past the idea that the question of fast or slow zombies is important? Why are we still fixating on this? We can do so much with the concept of zombies yet we’re stuck on this endless debate about their speed. It’s played out. Let’s examine something else about them.

William Todd Rose: Personally, I love to read authors who do new and interesting things with their undead characters. There can be a lot of back and forth about what does or doesn’t constitute a zombie and, to me at least, those arguments get old very fast. As authors, we should be stretching our imaginations and trying to find new ways to look at the genre. Why would I want to limit my own creation by imposing someone else’s preconceived definitions upon them?

Jessica Meigs: I love, to some extent, the idea of a story from a zombie’s point of view. It’s why I have an entire chapter in The Becoming: Revelations from a character’s point of view as they go through the transformation from human to one of the infected.

However, I think that, barring some exceptions, the zombie point-of-view idea is something that should be used sparingly at the risk of overdoing it (especially after the popularity of Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion). There’s only so much a reader would be able to stand of graphic descriptions of a zombie eating flesh from the zombie’s point of view.

As for aspects about Zombies that have been played out…I think in zombie lit, the biggest thing that has been played out would probably be the J.L. Bourne-style novel or the Z.A. Recht-style novel: heavy on the military tactics, light on characterization. Bourne and Recht did it well, but they were also some of the first. Since then, I think, a lot of (not all of, just a lot) stories that take that same storytelling bent have done it to the point where it’s so overdone, it’s like reading the same novels over and over. It hardly ever changes. I think if you’re going to do something from that perspective, it’s time to bring something new to the table, because the whole of the Military Zombie Book style has been overdone.

All of your books feature unique characters that you not see in other examples of the Genre. If it was not for the zombies, or the events that put them where they are in your story, what kind of life do you thing your characters would have had?

Derek J. Goodman -  With most of the characters in The Reanimation of Edward Schuett, since it takes place a whole generation after the Zombie Uprising, they probably wouldn’t exist. Rae especially, since she’s the daughter of two known zombie killers and they probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Edward is the only one who could have gone on to a different life. I picture him having the so-called "average" life, watching his daughter grow up, probably losing his job when the factory where he works downsizes, starting up a moderately successful small business of his own, then going on to retire to a life of fishing and dying of a heart attack at some old age. That’s probably a life he would have much preferred than what he got.

William Todd Rose: Bosley Coughlin, my time travelling protagonist in The Seven Habits, would have continued on just as he always had, I think. The most important person in his existence would have continued to be himself and he would have eased his way through the rest of his life without ever knowing a true connection to another living soul. Would he have eventually given up his regime of drugs and the occult? Probably not. He would have continued to search for something he couldn’t quite define and yet simultaneously run away from it as well.

Jessica Meigs: This is such a hard question, because I have trouble thinking of my characters in that way. I’ve toyed with ideas like this in the past, but considering the circumstances I’ve stuck them in in the Becoming series, it’s hard to envision them outside of those circumstances. I’ll do my best, though, and focus on just the main four: Cade Alton, Ethan Bennett, Brandt Evans, and Remy Angellette.

I think Ethan and Cade would have both definitely stayed in the domestic, suburban-style lives that they were living (and enjoying) in Memphis at the beginning of THE BECOMING: living next door to each other, socializing, just generally enjoying their lives and having fun.

Brandt and Remy, though, are a little harder to figure out. Both of them were on downward spirals in their lives prior to Michaluk: indeed, when the virus broke out in Atlanta, Brandt was…well, I won’t say where he was physically, but emotionally he was in a difficult place. His child had died, his wife had left him, and he’d joined the military at twenty-six to get away from his life. But then several months before the Michaluk Virus broke out in Atlanta, his parents had died, and he was struggling to help his younger sister Olivia complete medical school at Emory. There was very little left in his life for HIM, and I can imagine that he’d probably have descended into alcoholism at the first available opportunity. He was, in summary, very much emotionally damaged. The apocalypse, I think, gave him purpose, especially after he’d met Cade.

As for Remy, well, I can definitely say that, if not for the zombies, she’d have ended up in jail. In fact, as we’ll come to see, on the day the virus hit her home city of New Orleans, she had just been arrested and was in a holding cell–and not for the first time. Her life was in a drastic downward spin; she almost compulsively did things that would get her in trouble and screw up her life. Even after the zombie outbreak, this didn’t stop. If anything, I think Remy displays some sociopathic tendencies (such as her single-minded pursuit of the infected to the point of recklessness) that are really going to come into play the further along the series goes. But I like to think that this makes her a much more interesting character because of it. 🙂

Thanks to our participants. Check out Permuted Press for more Apocalyptic, Horror and Zombie novels. You can click on the images above to find my reviews of these audiobooks.

Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Tantor Audio Authors and Giveaway!

30 05 2013


Can humanity survive the rising of the undead? What skills will be most important when trying to survive in the time of cannibalistic undead? Today I ask my panel of experts to chime in on all things Zombie Survival. Today’s guest all share one thing in common beyond being awesome undead bards, they have all had their books produced by the wonderful people at Tantor Audio!

So along with today’s answers, we will be having a Giveaway. Two people will receive a Zombie Audiobook pack including titles from each of the participants in today’s roundtable. To enter, just leave a comment answering the following question:

What one skill do you have that could be your saving grace in a Zombie Apocalypse?

Please make sure you include a way for me to contact you if you

The Giveaway is for the Continental US, and ends Thursday June 6th at 11:59PM. 

Jesse Petersen author of The Living With the Dead series.


Scott Kenemore, author of Zombie, Ohio and The Zen of Zombie

Mark Tufo, author of The Zombie Fallout Series, and The Book of Riley

Wayne Simmons, author of Flu and Fever

When discussing training for Zombie Survival, many people focus on the obvious, weapons training, martial arts, wilderness survival skills and the like. What is one often neglected skill that seems useless today but may be essential in surviving the coming Zombie Apocalypse?

Jesse Petersen: I think most people would be stuck on basic survival skills. You’d figure out weapons pretty fast and hopefully it wouldn’t come to martial arts very often with zombies, but when it comes to getting potable water, making a fire, finding food once things go bad, I think a lot of people won’t have those skills. Hopefully they’ll be able to figure out libraries. LOL A good argument for making sure we fund those. ALOT.

Scott Kenemore: I’m not of the opinion that a true zombie apocalypse would be survivable in the truest sense.  Therefore, I think it’d be important to focus on having as much fun as you possibly could.  I think taking a bunch of Molotov cocktails up to a roof and then throwing them down on the zombies would be a pretty fun way to go out swinging.

Mark Tufo: CARDIO! – I think most folks over-estimate the level of their physical fitness. Now I’ll use myself as a prime example. In High School and College I was what many folks considered a jock, I played baseball, football and ran track. Even played hockey on the side. Then I joined the Marine Corps where they honed that conditioning into a fine tuned machine, which I summarily dismantled with 15 plus years sitting behind a desk. So my head says ATHLETE, my body says not so much. My only chance when the zombies come is thatthe person next to me ate an extra burrito for lunch! Man I have got to clean my treadmill off. 

Wayne Simmons: Running. Seriously, a good pair of trainers and the common sense to uproot and fly at the first sign of trouble will up your survival chances no end. We all love the have-a-go-heroes in zombie books and movies, but were the z-poc to happen for real, those guys would be the first to go. The runners and the hiders: they’re the guys who’ll last longest.

You’re on a long business trip, 1,000 miles away from home when the Zombie Outbreak begins. What do you do? Find a place to hole up and wait out the wave of undead or grab your gear and attempt the classic cross country Zombie Apocalypse Road Trip?

Jesse Petersen: Road Trip! Seriously, I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from trying to get to my husband and family. So I’d be road tripping it and I’m sure I’d pick up some crazy sidekicks (one of whom I’m sure I’d have to kill at some point).

Scott Kenemore: I think a lot would depend on the terrain.  Flat, desert areas would be the biggest challenge.  There would be nowhere to hide.  I think you want variations in terrain when fighting and hiding from zombies.

Mark Tufo: First off, that I’m a thousand miles away is bad news, my separation anxiety would be kicking into high gear by now. So yup I’m going to be that guy that treks across the country against all odds.

Wayne Simmons: The smart thing to do would be to hole up. But I’m something of a migrating man by nature so would probably go on the road trip. It’s curiosity, too. I’d want to watch the world around me going to hell rather than hide away in the arse end of nowhere, waiting for the zeds to wait for me. It would be the death of me, of course, but hell…

Stop what you are doing right now, and look around the place you currently are. What are the positive and negative aspects of your current location if undead hordes where heading your way right now?

Jesse Petersen: Well, I face a window, which is positive since I can see them coming, negative in that they can see me and if they break it, I’m screwed. I don’t really have access to weaponry here except for heavy things on my desk, but I have a few of those so I might be able to Shaun of the Dead a zombie (like they do with the records) and get to a gun if I needed to. It’s not the worst place, for sure, but it’s no bunker.

Scott Kenemore: I’m in a pretty tall building, so I think I’d be okay for a while.  Also, it has elevators.  Are zombies smart enough to operate elevators?  I’m thinking no.  Therefore, our first step is to barricade the stairwell…

Mark Tufo: My home has some decent positives in the fact that I live out in the sticks. Less people means less zombies. Defensive wise I have some holes but nothing a strategically placed Claymore mine wouldn’t take care of.

Wayne Simmons: Positive: I’m at home. I live in a ground floor apartment, situated at the back of the block. The garden’s secure and surrounded by a high wall.

Negative: We haven’t got much food in the cupboards. Almost no tinned stuff. Bugger…


In all the books and movies about Zombies that you have read, what one Zombie scenario do you feel is the least survivable?

Jesse Petersen: The faster the outbreak moves and the larger the population that is transformed at once, the worse it is. If it moves to animals, that’s it. We’re an extinct species and our planet goes back to the trees, I guess.

Scott Kenemore: Zombies on a sumbarine or airplane would be pretty terrifying.

Mark Tufo: Well with all the zombie movies and books I’ve devoured doesn’t seem to be any of them where folks do particularly well. Least survivable? I’d have to go with the countries that have banned or limited access to firearms. Sure you can kill zombies a hundred different ways, me personally, I don’t want to be swinging a hammer.

Wayne Simmons: The police station hole-up. Sure, you’ve got all the guns and ammo you need. But those doughnuts are gonna go stale real soon

What is the one quality that the characters of your books seem to share that has helped them to avoid joining the Zombie Smorgasbord?

Jesse Petersen: I think Dave and Sarah and everyone who works closely with them all share the quality of hope. They continue to TRY whether it’s try to get to a certain place, try to make life livable or try to get a cure. They don’t give up because they cling to the hope that things could be okay again. If you don’t keep that, you lie down and die.

Scott Kenemore: I think you have to be innately curious about zombies.  It’s not enough just to be terrified and run in the other direction.  People survive when they take a moment to figure out what they’re up against.  This means studying the undead and figuring out– to whatever extent this is possible– what makes them tick.  What do they want?  How do they try to get it?  Understanding these things is the first step to longer-term survival.

Mark Tufo: The main characters in my books seem to share strong bonds of family and friendship. The want and drive to protect everyone else even at the expense of themselves, I think that above all other reasons is why at least some of them have survived.

Wayne Simmons: They wear GREAT trainers…

Thanks to these great authors for their answers. Make sure to click the audio images above for my reviews of their books.

Zombie Awareness Month Special Feature: Joe McKinney Interview and Giveaway with Original Fiction!

29 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Every once in a while someone will do something that surprises you. When I envisioned the idea of Zombie Roundtables where some of my favorite authors would talk answer a few questions, I didn’t expect it would turn into this amazing piece of meta-fiction by Joe McKinney. His answers led me to decide to give him his own special post.

Joe McKinney is a horror/thriller officer who has written such works as the plague novel Quarantine and The Dead World Series. He also works as a Police Officer in an Antonio Texas, where he keeps people like my brother and his family safe. You check out Joe’s Website, Old Major’s Dream.

As part of this post, Joe and the wonderful people at Tantor Audio will be offering a set of the Dead World series in audio as a Giveaway. All you have to do is comment to this post and answer the following question. If you discovered you town was being invaded by the undead, what is the first thing you would do?

This Giveaway is for the Continental US and will go on until June 4th. Please include a way to contact you in your comment.

Check out my reviews of Joe’s Dead World Series by clicking on the cover images.

Bob: When discussing training for Zombie Survival, many people focus on the obvious, weapons training, martial arts, wilderness survival skills and the like. What is one often neglected skill that seems useless today but may be essential in surviving the coming Zombie Apocalypse?

The ability to make bathtub gin. Not only does alcohol make a great disinfectant, but it improves morale and can serve as a valuable commodity with which to barter. And, you know, if you get bit, a shot of the hard stuff makes the inevitable headshot from your friend that much easier to face.

Bob: You’re on a long business trip, 1,000 miles away from home when the Zombie Outbreak begins. What do you do? Find a place to hole up and wait out the wave of undead or grab your gear and attempt the classic cross country Zombie Apocalypse Road Trip?

Oh God, what a question! Please forgive me, but I was so amazed by this that I had to engage it as completely as I could. So, I wrote a story as a way of answering. Here it is:

Bug Out or Hunker Down

This is an experiment. Part fiction, part speculative essay, this piece started with one simple question: If the zombie apocalypse came today, how would I handle it? Would I stay put or would I make a break for it? And what of my family? I’m a husband, and a father, and a cop who took an oath to protect the community who has paid me so well over the last two decades. What do I do with all that obligation, all that responsibility? What would I really do, given conditions exactly as they are now? Would I bug out, or hunker down?

My goal is to answer this scenario as truthfully as I can, allowing myself only those options I really possess, and given only the resources currently at my disposal. No wishful thinking, no cheating. I can’t tell you that I would turn my Nissan Altima into an armored zombie killdozer because, well, I don’t have anything to armor plate my Nissan with, and, truthfully, wouldn’t know how to go about installing that armor even if I did. As I said, no cheating. This is basically a reality check. What could I do – what would I do – if Z-Day came today? Let’s find out.

But first, a few ground rules.

What Kind of Outbreak Are We Dealing With?

Everybody’s idea of what the zombie apocalypse will look like is different. For this scenario, here’s what’s happening:

1. The outbreak is viral in nature, and the virus is transmitted by a bite or some contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.

2. Only the living and the very recently dead are affected by this virus. The buried dead play no part in this scenario.

3. The virus has a 100% mortality rate, meaning all persons infected with the virus die from it, and in turn become zombies.

4. The virus begins in some part of the U.S. other than my home city of San Antonio. However, due to the fluid nature of our society, the outbreak spreads rapidly. Cities with major airports can expect to see incidents of infection within 36 hours. Cities that serve as major air travel hubs and international ports of call will be in complete confusion for a period of perhaps four days, after which the outbreak will spread to the rest of the country, and then the rest of the world, at an exponential rate.

5. Martial law will be instituted within the first week of the outbreak, but will break down almost completely within the first three weeks of the outbreak.

6. Within a month of the first reported zombie incident, it will be every man for himself.

Given those conditions just listed, I think this is how the outbreak would go for me and my family.

Right Now

It started on a Monday, just after lunch. I’d taken the week off work because I had some writing deadlines to meet before I left for the World Horror Convention in New Orleans that coming weekend.

My wife was home too. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t be. She was a college professor at a local university, and though she was feeling a bit under the weather that day and had to cancel her classes, she was diligently grading papers on our home computer.

Our two kids, nine and six year old girls, were at school a few miles away, near the entrance to our subdivision.

I usually wrote my rough drafts out long hand, which meant I was bent over my desk, scribbling on a yellow legal pad. My iPad was next to me, though, and I used that to check my email periodically throughout the day. The first indication I had that something was wrong was a rapid fire series of notification chimes on my iPad. Curious, I opened it, and saw Facebook updates from several of the groups I belong to. Some included links to news stories out of Boston and Philadelphia.

The stories were confusing and contradictory. They mentioned rioting, and people tearing each other apart. The local police departments were scrambling to deal with the situation, but so far, they weren’t having much luck.

Homemade videos started popping up on Facebook, including footage from iPhones and video cameras. I watched a few of those, my mouth hanging open, and then I went to my wife’s study, where I found her watching videos from a mutual friend of ours in Boston. A man covered in blood, part of his face missing, was pawing drunkenly at her front door. He spotted her filming him from the upstairs window and began groping the air, moaning frantically. I could hear our friend breathing in the background, panic-stricken. The choppy, bouncing video and off-camera panting reminded me of something out of The Blair Witch Project, but the growing dread in my gut was very real.

“What do you think is happening?” my wife asked. “Is this real?”

But we both knew the answer to that. It was very real.

Still, we’d never talked about what came next. I wrote this stuff, but it’d never been more than fun for me. My wife hated reading about zombies. What that amounted to was that we didn’t have a plan for zombies. Natural disasters, which in San Antonio meant flash floods or possibly forest fires, sure, those we had covered. But not zombies.

“What about the kids?” my wife said.

It was the only point that really mattered, and it stopped me. I was a cop. I was in decent shape…except for my high blood pressure, which I controlled with medication. I knew tactics. I knew how to handle guns, how to fight if I had to. But doing the zombie apocalypse with kids. Well, that was a different matter.

“It’s just now 2 o’clock,” I said. “They get out at 2:45. Let’s you and I figure out a plan right now. We’ll go get them as soon as school lets out, bring them back here, and we’ll make ready on whatever you and I decide to do.”

That sounded reasonable to me. The part of my brain that had been trained to deal with critical situations liked that idea.

But my wife was looking at me like I’d just grown an extra head.

“Make ready?” she said. “Are you serious? Joe, we’re dealing with zombies here. Zombies! What in the hell are we going to do?”

That Night

We hadn’t said a word to the kids, and we’d kept them away from the TV. We didn’t want to scare them, but they wouldn’t be going to school in the morning. Things were looking bad on the news, with outbreaks reported all over North America and already a few in Japan and China and Europe. So far, the individual outbreaks had been contained, but if my own stories had shown anything, it’s that a zombie scenario is always a war of attrition, and no matter how dedicated the military and the local responders may be, collapse was inevitable. It wouldn’t be long now, I realized, before the first cases hit San Antonio, and I would have to meet this inevitability head on.

“Okay,” my wife said as she stepped down off the stairs, “the kids are in bed. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do.”

“I’m guessing my parents’ place, right?”

She nodded.

My parents lived on 53 acres out in the Texas Hill Country, about forty miles northeast of San Antonio. Their property was remote enough that the only way to get there is to want to get there, if you know what I mean, but it was close enough to civilization that getting supplies and possible medical aide wasn’t impossible. Also, they had their own well, lots and lots of deer, a few chickens, and even a creek running through the lower 20 acres. My Mom was also a pretty fair gardener, so we’d have a decent amount of food.

“Tomorrow morning we’re gonna head out there. I want you and the kids to stay there.”

“And my parents?”

“Your parents, my brother and his wife, your sister, and your brother, his wife and their kids…all of them can go out to my parents’ house. There’s room. Plus, for the kids, it’ll feel like a big adventure.”

“Your parents don’t mind?”

“You know them,” I told her. “Family is first.”

My wife nodded at that. She knew it was true. My parents are saints.

“You have the lists for everybody, right?”

“Yeah, I’m going to email them right now.”

I had given her several long lists to email to the various members of our two families. The idea was for everybody to buy the gear they would need and bring it with them out to my parents’ place. That way, we’d have far more than we needed.

At least at first.

“Okay,” I said. “You email the lists. I’m going to pack up the cars.”

Earlier that day, while my wife was picking the kids up from school, I went through our family disaster kits. About ten years ago I worked as a disaster mitigation specialist for the SAPD, and I learned back then the importance of having a good disaster preparedness kit. I’ve made kits for the family, smaller ones for each member of the family, and one each for my car and my wife’s. The family kit is of the homemade, 72 hour emergency shelter-in-place variety. It includes:

1. Flashlights (one for each member of the family and two large extra ones)

2. Extra batteries (for the flashlights, radio, and camera)

3. Canned food and MREs (the MREs take up a lot of space, but the idea of having a “kit” from which to make your own meal has a “Wow, this is neat!” factor that keeps the kids busy, which is critical for good morale)

4. Three 5 gallon water jugs

5. Water purifying tablets

6. A hand-crank powered emergency radio (ours is a Kaito KA500 Voyager 5-Way Powered, but there are several other reliable brands just as good)

7. Manual can opener

8. Paper plates, plastic serving ware, cooking supplies, and a small, one-burner Coleman camp stove

9. A large first aid kit and a quick guide to first aide procedures

10. A pocket folder containing copies of our birth certificates, home owner’s insurance and policy number, car insurance and titles, social security cards, passports, IDs, a lengthy phone number roster of family, friends and other important numbers and addresses, photographs of the family, a list of medications and my older daughter’s allergies

11. Rain gear for each member of the family

12. Heavy work gloves

13. Three disposable cameras and one waterproof digital camera

14. Unscented liquid bleach, eye dropper, and measuring spoons

15. Hand sanitizer and soap

16. Two large plastic sheets, duct tape, and a utility knife

17. A package of dust masks

18. A crowbar

19. Hammer and nails

20. Adjustable wrench

21. Bungee cords of several lengths

22. Two safety ropes, one 25 feet in length, the other 50 feet

23. Four heavy wool blankets

24. Four sleeping bags

25. A 5 gallon bucket to use as a toilet, plus a box of heavy duty black trash bags to line the waste bucket

26. A large box of matches

Then there are four backpacks, one for each member of the family. The individual backpacks contain:

1. Two flashlights (one small and one large)

2. Batteries for the flashlights, camera and radio

3. A small AM/FM radio

4. A whistle

5. Dust masks

6. A Swiss Army knife

7. Roll of toilet paper

8. Envelopes containing cash

9. A local map and a state map

10. Three MREs and three 1 gallon water bottles

11. A Sharpie marker, notepads, pens and duct tape

12. A pocket folder containing all important documents, phone numbers, maps with escape routes and meet-up locations and family photos (my oldest daughter has a dog tag on her backpack with her allergy information on it)

13. Extra eyeglasses for my oldest daughter and my wife

14. Toothbrush and toothpaste

15. Extra keys to the house, and to both grandparents’ houses

16. A small waterproof box of matches

17. A small box of candles

18. Extra battery-powered chargers for our cell phones

19. A heavy wool blanket

20. A bedroll

21. A coil of safety rope, 25 feet long

22. A signaling mirror

My wife drives a Toyota 4Runner with 130,000 miles on it. It’s in great shape, though, and still runs like a top. My Nissan Altima has 101,000 miles on it, but isn’t in as great a shape. Still, we have a store-bought emergency kit for each car. Ours are from Bridgestone and include:

1. A flashlight

2. Hood-mounted spotlight

3. Safety triangles

4. A heavy wool blanket

5. Jumper cables

6. A small air compressor and pump

7. Duct tape

8. Heavy duty safety gloves

9. Latex gloves

10. Small Ziploc baggies

11. Black electrical tape

12. Batteries

13. A small first aide kit

14. A poncho

15. A tire gauge

16. Two screwdrivers, one of each kind

17. Heavy duty scissors

18. Zip ties

To this kit, I’ve added:

1. Fix-a-flat in a can

2. A 5 gallon bucket

3. Two 5 gallon water jugs

4. A signaling mirror

5. A box of heavy duty trash bags

6. Another copy of our family’s important documents and photos

7. A disposable camera

Earlier that afternoon I went through these kits and found a number of problems, such as:

1. The family kit and the individual kits were supposed to contain envelopes with a little cash in each. At some point during the last few years we’d used a good deal of that cash. I had to go to the bank to draw out our savings, which included the $8,400 dollars in our savings and the $3,200 in our checking account. I took out all but $50 of this in cash and refilled our emergency kit envelopes.

2. The feminine products in the family kit and my wife’s personal kit were several years old. I had to buy new ones. Luckily, I knew which ones to buy. Incidentally, I used our credit card for this and all other purchases.

3. I gassed up my Nissan, my wife’s Toyota, and the GMC Yukon we are currently borrowing from my parents. This behemoth has 220,000 miles on it, and has some problems, but still runs okay.

4. The pictures in our family’s important documents binders were not current. I had to get up-to-date photos of our kids and put these into each kit. (These are invaluable in case members of the family get separated. Imagine a six year old, for example, trying to provide a physical description of a lost family member.)

5. The phone chargers I had in the kits were for the Android phones we used to own. We have iPhones now. I had to buy all new chargers, plus one for my iPad.

6. The water jugs had to be cleaned and filled. I did this, and bought fourteen more 5 gallon jugs from the local Bass Pro Shops. I filled these as well.

7. I went to the local Army Surplus store and bought as many of the MREs as I could find

8. I didn’t trust the batteries in any of the kits, so I bought new ones.

9. The heavy work gloves I had for my kids were too small, so I bought new ones.

10. I hadn’t packed clothes in the original kit because the kids grow out of these too fast and they can mildew if left in the kits too long. I packed extra clothes and warm gear and sturdy shoes for each of us.

11. I take blood pressure medication. I had about twenty pills left in my current prescription, so I went to the pharmacist and asked for my next refill, which comes in 90 day packs. They told me the insurance wouldn’t authorize a refill because I wasn’t due to need it yet, so I had to purchase the next 90 days at the non-insurance price of $320.

12. I bought as much ammunition as I could find for my two Glock .40 caliber pistols, my 12 gauge shotgun, and my AR-15. There was surprisingly little .223 ammo to be found, though. I found, and bought, all four of the boxes I found for sale.

13. I bought extra over-the-counter medications for the whole family.

14. I bought more canned food, juice boxes, and cereal bars.

15. We have two cats, so I also bought four bags of pet food.

While my wife was emailing our family members and getting everybody’s plan straight, I loaded up her 4Runner and my parents’ Yukon. The Yukon had a lot of miles on it, but it was huge, and could carry everything we thought we might need. Plus, it still worked okay. In fact, we’d had fewer problems with the Yukon than with my Nissan, so that was a good sign.

We watched the news some more, the outbreak spreading faster than I had expected, and then my wife asked the question both of us had been too scared to bring up.

“What are you going to do?”

She meant about my job. Technically, I was on scheduled leave. The Department had emergency mobilization procedures for bringing all its officers back on duty, but so far, that hadn’t been done. I figured it would only be a matter of time.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Well you better figure it out!” she shot back. I blinked at her in surprise. “You have a family, Joe. You have a wife and kids. Your place is here with us.”

She was right, of course. But even still, I did take an oath, and I wouldn’t be the man I know myself to be if I didn’t make good on that oath.

We fought about that the rest of the night.

The Next Morning

We drove out to my parents’ place and unpacked. The mood was light. As we’d hoped, our kids were treating it like a big adventure, a day away from school to spend with Nana and Grandpa. By tacit agreement none of us spoke of the crisis in front of the children. The longer they could live in ignorance, we figured, the better.

One by one the rest of the family showed up, and soon we had all fallen into a casual bustle reminiscent of Thanksgiving Day. The mood friendly and everybody was cooperative; it was nice.

But then my cell phone started ringing. Because I hold the rank of an administrator, I get regular emails and text messages any time a news-worthy event occurs. I had received a few that morning, but all were of the common variety – a shooting here and there, an overturned 18 wheeler, a gas main ruptured by construction workers.

And then the airport reported its first case. Despite heightened security throughout the airport, a woman had collapsed near the baggage claim carousel and had gone unnoticed for almost thirty minutes. Then she stood up, waded into a crowd of people near the baggage carousel, and bit and clawed a total of sixteen people before she was subdued. Airport police were eventually forced to shoot her in the head, but not before a general panic ensued. According to the reports I was getting on my phone, the airport still wasn’t secure.

Then I checked my messages.

“What is it?” my wife asked. “Are they asking you to come in?”

I nodded.

“Don’t go,” she said flatly.

“Tina, we talked about this.”

“Yeah, we did. And I told you not to go.”

“I have to.”

“No, you don’t. What you have to do is stay here with us. With your family, Joe.”

It was quite a dilemma, my sworn oath or my family. I couldn’t believe how torn I was. And the funny thing about it is that I’ve made that dilemma the thematic focus of much of my zombie fiction, yet when it came time to decide for myself, for real, I found that it was so much harder than I’d ever portrayed it in my books.

Tina and I went off to the barn where we could talk without the kids hearing. Good thing, too, because we both started yelling. We both yelled a lot.

Actually, I think the yelling made it easier for me to make up my mind to go into work, because when I left I was angry with her for not understanding. I don’t know exactly what I wanted her to say, or do, or not do…I just know that yelling at me was like driving a wedge between us. I got out there, and I couldn’t get gone fast enough.

The Next Few Days

I run the 911 Call Center for the City of San Antonio. I tell people this, and sometimes it confuses them. “So, you’re like a dispatcher?”

“No,” I tell them. “I run the place. That means I’m in charge of all 170 civilian and sworn dispatchers, call takers and radio technicians – all of them report to me. I decide how those resources are deployed, and when the system gets overloaded, I’m the one in charge of making the tough decisions.

And when I came into work I found things pretty much as bad as they could get. We were unable to get in touch with about sixty percent of our personnel. Most had probably already left town or were simply afraid to come into work because they would be away from their families. We were down to a skeleton crew, and most of those were already 18 hours into shifts that should have only lasted 8 hours.

Then the reports started coming in.

The incident at the airport had gotten completely out of hand. Hundreds if not thousands were thought to be infected.

San Antonio has almost a hundred hospitals of one size or another, and already a few of them were claiming cases of zombie infection. Soon one hospital after another closed its doors, refusing any new patients.

Our officers out in the field were reporting cases of zombie infection, too. In the first four hours I was at the center I heard eighteen officer-involved shootings come over the radio.

But for all that, that first night was not so bad. It wasn’t anything like I portrayed in my book DEAD CITY. Cell phones kept working. The radios kept working. Traffic flowed heavy, but in an orderly fashion. Slowly, but steadily, the city started to empty as people headed for the rural areas outside of town.

And, perhaps most importantly, order was maintained. Our officers made their calls, handled the long hours and the uncertainty and their own fear in the face of mounting complications. The Fire Department too did their part. I was up until three that morning, monitoring incoming calls and feeding status updates to the Command Staff, and when I finally slipped off to my office to sleep on my couch, I thought we pretty much had things in hand.

But I was wrong.

One of the civilian supervisors woke me just before daylight. Things, she said, had gotten much worse.

I got a bottle of water from the mini fridge beneath my desk and listened as she ran it down for me:

1. San Antonio is a military town, with several large military bases, and we were being told that they were taking over. San Antonio, as of 0630 hours, was under martial law;

2. During the night, at least four officers had been killed by zombies. 57 more had been dispatched to incidents but were now unaccounted for;

3. A roll call of all sworn personnel in the Department had been taken so that accurate numbers could be given to the military authorities. Our total strength was 2,290 officers of all ranks, but our roll call was only able to account for 643 of those officers. The others were either dead or AWOL;

4. Stage III of the Department’s Emergency Action Protocol had been declared, which basically meant that the situation had exceeded the ability of the combined resources of the San Antonio Police Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office;

5. I had been a police officer for nearly twenty years at that point, and I had never heard of us declaring a Stage III situation. We were entering into unknown territory.

But declaring a Stage III situation gave me the authority to essentially lock the doors to the Communications Center. At this point, no one was getting…or out. The personnel still inside the center were stuck here and were basically chained to their jobs, like it or not. And suddenly the gun on my hip took on an ominous new implication. I could see my dispatchers looking at it out of the corner of their eye, wondering if I would really use it on them or not. I thought of Tina out at my parent’s place, and of my own two little girls, who I missed desperately, and I prayed that none of those dispatchers would call my bluff and dare me to shoot them for abandoning their post.

Thankfully, none did.

Six Days Later

A week passed, during which time those of us in the 911 Center saw the City, and in fact the rest of the world, fall apart.

I snuck away on a regular basis to call Tina. She told me that things were quiet at my parent’s place. All the power was still on, they had lots and lots of food and fresh water, and the kids were bored but doing okay.

Morale was still high, she said.

But for the rest of the world, the news was not good at all. Most of the news channels had gone to loops, playing the same news over and over, trying to cover up the fact that they had no new news to report. In a way, it reminded me of the morning of 9-11, with the TV newscasters grasping at every new bit of rumor or official statement and deconstructing it until nothing made sense.

And for the officers on the street, the zombie apocalypse had turned into a rolling gunfight that raged from one street to the next. Martial law had never really taken on, and officers who thought that they’d be doing patrol alongside soldiers soon found themselves standing alone against hordes of the living dead, like rocks in the middle of a fast moving river, slowly being worn down and consumed.

San Antonio, like the rest of the world, was dying.

I made a choice.

I called all my dispatchers, all my call takers, into a huddle in the middle of the communications floor. As a student of Texas history, and especially of San Antonio history, I knew the story of Colonel William Travis, commander of the Alamo during the famous battle with Mexican General Santa Anna. Travis, facing certain defeat during the final hours of the battle, received a note from Santa Anna demanding surrender. Travis, of course, knew where his own mind lay on this issue. He would die rather than give up his command. And being the good commander that he was, he knew the value of having his men reaffirm their commitment to the cause. So he called the Alamo defenders together, drew his sword, and drew a line in the sand. He then asked the defenders to step across the line and join him in the final, and almost certainly fatal, hours of the battle. All but one, a man named Moses Rose, joined him. Travis then released Moses Rose and gave Santa Anna his formal answer in the form of canon fire. The rest, as they say, is history.

I was hoping for an equally strong show of support among my staff. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it. I drew my line in the sand, and then told the assembled crowd that anyone who crossed it was welcome to leave the building. They could go wherever fate might take them, and God bless them on their way.

At first, no one crossed. Then one did. Another followed. Then three more. Nine more. I stood there in disbelief as one by one they filed past me. In the end, I was left with four dispatchers and one call taker. The other 22 hung their heads and hurried out the back door, bound for God knows where. I never saw them again.

But once they were gone, I turned to my hangers on and said, “Thank you, all of you. Bless you.” I think I was crying. I’m not sure. I only know that one by one the remaining few huddled around me and put their hands on me and kept telling me, over and over, that they were behind me 100 percent.

I nodded, and together they went back to their stations.

28 Days Later

Even the faithful can eventually realize that all is lost.

Though the power remained on, and the cell phones still worked, and we did okay surviving on food from the break room and the vending machines, all radio traffic had ceased. If there were officers still alive out there, they weren’t paying attention to their radios. It had been four days since we’d heard anything from anyone, and the time had come to make a decision.

During the worst days of the Black Death, back in the Middle Ages, the English developed a law called the 28 Days of Confinement Law. The basic import was this: If a member of your family came down with symptoms of the plague, your entire family was quarantined in your home for 28 days, which of course is the length of one lunar cycle. At the end of the 28 days, your front door was opened. If any persons were still alive, and symptom free, they were allowed to rejoin society. I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect this was in the mind of the makers of the popular film franchise which takes its name from the 28 Days of Confinement Law.

Anyway, we had reached the 28 days mark. There seemed no point in maintaining our post. There were no officers to dispatch, no news to relay to the Command Staff. Everyone was dead.

But still walking around.

I told my personnel that we had gone down with the ship. We had fought the good fight all the way to the end. There was no point in going on because there was no more point left to make. We had done our duty.

The only thing left to do was to survive.

“I release you,” I said. “By the authority vested in me by the City of San Antonio I declare your duty faithfully fulfilled. God bless you as you go forth. You are dismissed, and honorably so.”

Thankfully, no one made any stupid speeches. They simply nodded, and we filtered out into the white hot brilliance of a San Antonio afternoon in late March.

I went to my vehicle and started it up, thankful now that I had taken the time to fill it up, and that I had made periodic trips out here over the last month to start it and keep the battery charged.

I looked at my cell phone, fully charged, and wanted to cry. It had been days since I’d been able to reach Tina on the phone. The closest I’d come was a voice mail, telling me that they’d decided to go to Montana, but the message had been punctuated by a scream and cut short.

There had been nothing else.

Desperate, I called Tina’s number and outlined my plan. I was going to go by my parent’s place first. If they were there, wonderful; if not, I’d gather what information I could and track them down.

But I thought I knew where they might be, where they would go if they could. The Paradise Valley in Montana, the place where my Dad and brother and I had gone on the vacation of our lives. It was a secluded paradise, a bulwark against the undead.

I had a wonderful memory of that place, looking down on an abandoned apple orchard from the sun deck of some friend of my Dad’s. The bears would come down and eat the apples of the ground, most of which had fermented, and by the time dusk rolled around they were drunk on rotten fruit. More than once I had watched as the wasted animals staggered off into the dark of Yosemite’s forests.

And as I put my Nissan in gear and drove out, I had visions of watching those same bears with my daughters, laughing as they teetered off drunkenly into the darkness.

Please God, that’s my only wish, my only prayer. Let them, and me, live to see that day.

Stop what you are doing right now, and look around the place you currently are. What are the positive and negative aspects of your current location if undead hordes where heading your way right now?

Right now, I’m in my office at home. If Z-Day came right now, I’d be good. I have my entire family here, safe and sound. Also, because I’m a cop in my day job, I have all my Department-issued equipment, including a variety of guns and plenty of ammunition, within arm’s reach. But my house itself is in a good defensive location. The front of my house is level with the street. I have three windows and one door that would need to be secured, but that’s about it. The back of the house is elevated, as the lawn slopes away from the house at a fairly aggressive angle. All I’d have to do to secure the back of the house would be to knock down the steps leading up to the deck. After that, we’d be set.

In all the books and movies about Zombies that you have read, what one Zombie scenario do you feel is the least survivable?

Well, I’m eager to see if the film version of World War Z will change my mind on this, but based on what I’ve seen right now, I’d have to point to that scene in La Horde where the guy is on top of the car and the room full of zombies is closing in on him. I know he makes it through, but to me, that is the kind of scene that, realistically, is just not survivable.

What is the one quality that the characters of your books seem to share that has helped them to avoid joining the Zombie Smorgasbord?

Not just the desire to survive, but the need. For each of them, there is a manifest need to survive. And beneath that, the unflappable belief that they will survive. There is simply no substitute for the survivor’s mindset.

Today, Armchair BEA is discussing Genre Fiction, so I included this posts discussion of Zombie Fiction into the mix. Enjoy!

Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Young Adult Zombies

28 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

While Zombies have been around for centuries, they are currently hitting the mainstream in a big way. Zombies are not just for adults anymore. Young Adult authors are using zombies of all shapes, sizes and speeds to tell their stories, and they aren’t holding back on the darkness and gore. Today I have asked some of the Top Young Adult authors some questions on Zombies and Young Adult Literature.

Today’s Participants are:

Ilsa J. Bick Author of The Ashes Trilogy.

Darren Shan, author of the Zom-B Series.

Sean Beaudoin, author of The Infects

Growing up in the 80’s most of the Young Adult Novels I read were about Chocolate Wars, being The Cheese and becoming Invisible (So, yeah, I went through a Cormier phase) Today, it seems there is so much more diversity in Young Adult novels. What do you thing makes Zombies so interesting to today’s youth?

Ilsa J, Bick: I’m not so sure they’re more or less interesting today than they were in the past. These kinds of books were around for us, but they were marketed to adults. (Remember: the Borg of Star Trek: TNG are really very much the same thing when you get right down to it; they even walk like zombies–either that, or goose-stepping Nazis.) I think YA writers today have more freedom to write the stuff that kids might want to read. What we churn out, though, is really no different than anything you could’ve read in science fiction and fantasy (the YA lit of my day) or horror. It’s only that kids don’t have to read about adults in these situations; they get to read about themselves saving the day.

Darren Shan: I was (and am) a big Robert Cormier fan too! I’m actually trying to do some of the same things in my Zom-B series that he did in his books — encourage young readers to question the received wisdom of their elders, to think for themselves, to fight for a better and less cynical and manipulative world. I just do it with a bit more blood and gore! To be honest, I’m not sure why zombies are so hot at the moment. While interesting stories can be woven around them, as monsters I do find them rather one-dimensional, so I’m surprised by just how fascinated the mass market currently is with them.

Sean Beaudoin: Well, zombies were pretty interesting to me in the 80’s too. Don’t forget Evil Dead (evil book), Re-animator (evil scientist), Return of the Living Dead (punk rock/evil army experiments) and the original Dawn of the Dead (evil mall). I think everything is cyclical. There was plenty of demented violence in the comic books I was reading then. The technology is just better. Z in HD.

When writing for Young Adults, how do you approach the darkness and gore of the world of a Zombie Apocalypse differently than if you were writing for Adults?

Ilsa J, Bick: I don’t approach it differently at all. Nothing I write is more or less gory than an episode of The Walking Dead, a graphic novel, or the latest shoot-em-up video game. When I include a traumatic or horrible detail, it is to reinforce that actions have consequences. Pull a trigger, someone may died, and while it’s a horrible thing to see, it may, in fact, be more horrible to do.

The main difference, I think, between adult and YA lit is that these stories provide kids with a vicarious avenue for grappling with seemingly insurmountable odds–an awful, ravaged world–and winning, surviving, and doing the right and noble thing. All you have to do is think of the end of Matheson’s I am Legend to see the difference. One is nihilistic; a YA novel is likely to be much more hopeful. It kind of has to be because, at a certain level, what you’re really writing about is the scary transition from childhood to adulthood: to the moment when the kid works up the courage to walk out the door of his house into the wider world.

Darren Shan: I don’t. I learnt long ago (to my surprise) that when it comes to gore you can get away with an awful lot in YA books. Adult watchdogs aren’t that bothered about violence in books for teenagers — they tend to only really object if sex is brought into the equation. Personally I think it should be the other way round, and that in a truly healthy society we would be more concerned about our children’s obsession about weapons and fighting than in their interest in sexual curiosity. But this is the world in which we live, so when it comes to writing for young readers I have to be careful on the sexual front, but have a pretty free hand when it comes to the darkness and gore. That being said, as dark as my novels for young readers get, I do handle them differently to my books for adults, in that I try to introduce moral elements. For instance, I never condone the use of weapons. I always encourage readers to engage in conversation before relating to violence, pushing the message that most problems can be solved peacefully if we can engage openly and directly with those who we see as our enemies – although  in my books, for dramatic reasons, this rarely happens! There is a clear line between good and evil in my YA books — while I don’t hide the darkness of the world from my readers, I do always say to them that it’s a darkness they can light up if they have the courage and the drive, that they can make the world a better place if they’re prepared to knuckle down and be better people than their elders.

Sean Beaudoin: I pretty much write exactly what I was going to write anyway and for some reason they keep publishing my stuff. I don’t write specifically for any age group. Some study just showed that 50% of people who buy YA novels are adults anyway. My new book, Wise Young Fool, definitely pushes the envelope. I’m sort of still half surprised I haven’t been arrested yet. But that may just be because it isn’t out until August.

What popular singer or hit TV series cast would you most enjoy seeing facing down a horde of carnivorous undead?

Ilsa J, Bick: NCIS: I want to see Leroy Jethro Gibbs and especially ex-Mossad operative Ziva David kick some undead butt.

Darren Shan: Singers and actors are harmless. I’d like to put Simon Cowell up before
them. Soulless puppet masters are the ones we should be wary of in this life, not their eager-to-please puppets.

Sean Beaudoin: I would love to see Ted Nugent quickly run out of ammo and then be eaten by a busload of zombie Girl Scouts. As far as TV, it wouldn’t bother me at all if a ravening hoard gorged on that Millionaire Matchmaker chick.

What aspects of today’s youth do you feel makes them better suited to surviving in a Zombie Apocalypse over us ummm…. older young adults?

Ilsa J, Bick: To be honest, I don’t think they’re well-suited at all. Most kids spend their entire lives these days staring at teeny-tiny screens and texting madly instead of having an open-ended conversation. They have no ability to sit quietly and do nothing, or notice much of anything that isn’t fed to them through earbuds or on a computer. Many have the attention span of gnats. A couple nights ago, there was some special Jeopardy for college kids, and while these guys knew about YouTube and songs, they had no idea what latitude and longitude were. So they’ll be both lost and starving. The only thing going for kids today is they might be faster, but only if they occasionally get off their butts and go for a walk or ride a bike. Otherwise, I think they’re dead meat.

Darren Shan:They are creatures of hope. I’m no benign hippy. I know children can be even crueller and more heartless than their older counterparts. But they also have a capacity for change that a lot of us in the greying brigade lack. Countless generations of children have grown up to make the same mistakes that their elders have, becoming money-driven, self-obsessed, planet-harming monomaniacs. But I keep hoping that coming generations will find a way to break the cycle and take us in a more positive direction. A zombie apocalypse could be beneficial in the sense that if the slate is wiped clean, maybe the young can build a better world out of the ashes of the old. That’s a concept I explore in Zom-B.

Sean Beaudoin: I don’t think teenagers believe anything any more, which is greatly to their advantage. Twenty years ago we all still were sort of under the impression that The Authorities would show up at any given disaster and take control and save our collective fannies. At this point any smart 17 year old knows you gotta make your own contingency plan, gas up the mini van, steal a few pallets of canned beans, and head for the hills. Let the walking appetizers stand there crying and bitching because the zombie cops haven’t shown up yet.

Most of characters in your novels are embroiled in some stage of a Zombie Apocalypse, spending each day fighting for their lives. What type of lives do you think they would have had if instead, they lived in a zombie free world?

Ilsa J, Bick: Well, if you’ve read my books, then you know my guys were haunted from the get-go. I’m not convinced their lives would be any better. In fact, in a couple cases, I think having to focus their angst on an apocalypse saved them.

Darren Shan: This isn’t actually the case. Without giving too much away, in Zom-B there are two types of zombie — the standard, braindead type, but also a small band of living dead teenagers who have regained their mental faculties (albeit while still needing to eat brains to survive). These are the central characters of the series. I wanted to look at what it would be like if you became a real monster, and if it’s possible for human kindness to exist in even the most unlikely of places. For some of these characters, the zombie apocalypse is actually a weird sort of blessing, as it forces them to become better (undead) people than they would have been in ordinary life. In a nutshell, the main message of the series is that there’s hope for every single one of us — even those of us who for whatever reason find ourselves strewn among the seemingly damned…

Sean Beaudoin: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that Nick wasn’t having the greatest life. But I think everyone feels that way at his age. I certainly did, and so did everyone I knew. Anyone who seemed too pleased with their lot was probably spending too much time with the airplane glue. It’s possible that is one of the themes of the book, if I believed in themes: there’s really not that much difference. Survival is relative, but the love of a girl in steel toe’d boots is eternal.

Thanks to Ilsa, Darren, and Sean for stopping by. Look for more Zombie Roundtables this week, plus reviews of Zom-B City and The Infects.

Undead Authors: My Interview with Mainak Dhar

2 05 2012

Mainak Dhar is an Indian author whose work includes Alice in Deadland, The Cubicle Manifesto and Heroes R Us. His Zombie Apocalypse novel, Zombiestan has recently been released as an audiobook from Tantor Audio, narrated by Audiobook veteran John Lee. Mainak Dhar was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions from me for Zombie Awareness Month.

First off, welcome to The Guilded Earlobe. For those who are a unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us about your career?

Mainak Dhar: Thank you, Bob. It’s great to be here. I describe myself as a cubicle dweller by day and writer by night, but my dream of being a writer is something I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My first `published’ work was in Grade 7 when I stapled together my poems and solutions to the Maths textbook and sold them to my classmates, earning a profit of $12.50 that was promptly spent on ice cream and comics. Stephen King once said that the moment someone pays you a cent for your writing, you’re a professional writer, and in my mind, that was when my career as a writer began.

Zombiestan and Alice in Deadland are your zombie novels. Did you have a so called, "Come to Romero" moment when you discovered zombies and became inspired to write about them?

Mainak Dhar: I’ve always enjoyed post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction because it’s fascinating to see how people behave when all the rules and norms we take for granted in society break down. So my staple diet in books has included classics like Swan Song, Lucifer’s Hammer, I am Legend, Cell and so on. I had always wanted to try my hand at post-apocalyptic fiction and one day, as I was doodling ideas for what I could work on next, the word `Zombiestan’ popped into my head. My first reaction was- that could be so cool. One thing led to another, and I started bringing the undead to life, one book at a time.

How did your audiobook deal with Tantor come about?

Mainak Dhar: I self-published Zombiestan in ebook form on the Amazon Kindle in mid 2011 and it had picked up some really positive reviews. A paperback deal with Severed Press followed and I guess the visibility helped me get noticed. I was contacted a few months ago by Tantor for the audiobook deal and never having had one of my books released as an audiobook, I was quite excited to see how it went. I’ve really enjoyed working with Scott, Allan and the team at Tantor and I’m sure you’ll see us collaborate again.

A lot of audiobook fans were excited to see a Zombie novel narrated by John Lee, who is quite a talented and popular audiobook narrator. Did you have any interaction on the production of the audiobook, and have you listened to it at all? If you have listened, how was the experience of hearing your words expressed in this format?

Mainak Dhar: To be honest, Zombiestan was the first audiobook I listened to and I was blown away by what John Lee brought to my story. The way he heightened the emotions and tension, the way he subtly differentiated between the intonations of the different characters, and the way he paced the story all made listening to it a wonderful experience. Having listened to Zombiestan and seen how a well-narrated audiobook can really add to a story, I am sure to add to my audiobook collection now.

One of the things I talked about in my review is how the majority of my Zombie book experiences have been set in either the United States or the UK. How popular is the zombie subgenre in India? How has your novels been received around the world?

Mainak Dhar: The zombie sub-genre is not very popular in India, and no Indian writer has to my knowledge really written in it. But then there always has to be someone who pioneers a new genre. I had been traditionally published in India by majors like Random House and Penguin, but reached out to international readers through the Amazon Kindle only in March 2011. I am really grateful for how international readers have received my work- I’ve sold well over 100,000 copies in my first year on the Kindle store. I began my journey by uploading some of my backlist but in the last 12 months, I’ve written three all new books- Zombiestan, Alice in Deadland and Through The Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice in Deadland) which were uploaded first to the Kindle. Now it’s time to take some of them back to Indian readers. I’ve signed a deal with a major Indian publisher for Zombiestan, and the Indian edition should be releasing in September. I am also in discussions with them for the Alice in Deadland trilogy. By the time the year is over, I hope to see my zombies rampaging through the shelves of Indian bookstores.

You have written about a large range of topics, including various other speculative fiction topics. and military fiction. Is there one topic you have yet to write about that you would like to tackle? Which of you books would you recommend to those who only know you through your Zombie fiction.

Mainak Dhar: One thing I always wanted to do was to write a series, and now with the Alice in Deadland trilogy, I’m getting an opportunity to do that. Through The Looking Glass (Book II of the trilogy) has just been released and am currently working on Book III, which is meant to be a prequel to the series. Once I’m done with that, I have a dystopian thriller in mind, but without zombies.

For readers who’ve read my zombie books, I would recommend they take a look at Heroes R Us (published in India as Herogiri). While my zombie books deal with all the dangers and terrors that come with a post-apocalyptic society, Heroes R Us is rooted in current Indian society and some of the dangers of crime, corruption and abuse of power that ordinary citizens have to endure- which honestly, are a more real, and sometimes no less dangerous, enemy than fictional zombies.

A few fun questions. The Zombie Apocalypse has come, and unfortunately you have been bitten. Would you rather a friend take you out, or would you like to experience life as a zombie?

Mainak Dhar: My wife would say that with the kind of books I write nowadays, I’m half zombie anyways. So why not go all the way and embrace zombiedom?

If someone were to write the story of your life, who would you like to write the tale, and who would you like to narrate the audiobook? 

Mainak Dhar: Sounds very pretentious to think anyone would be interested in writing the story of my life. I’d settle for a collage of photos of my family (my wonderful wife, Puja, our son, Aaditya and our Shih Tzu, Fluffy) mixed up with my book covers, all to the soundtrack of `All Star’ by Smashmouth.

If you had the opportunity to eliminate one "celebrity" zombie, who would be your top choices?

Mainak Dhar: Jason (of the Friday the 13th series). He may not be top of mind when it comes to zombies, but think of it- he dies in the fourth movie and then officially comes back from the dead. So he is undead and is much more dangerous than the ordinary zombie since he seems to be able to plan his moves. Plus, he looks wicked in that mask and with a machete.

For those of us looking to expand their reading and try out more international and independent authors, do you have any book/author recommendations whether they be zombie novels, or other genres?

Mainak Dhar: There are some incredibly successful independent authors out there, many with popularity and sales well beyond mine, but I thought I’d mention a couple of fellow independent authors who write in the zombie genre. Ian Woodhead is a very talented British writer and I think your readers would like his work such as The Unwashed Dead. Ian and I began a group on Facebook called The Zombie Inn for writers and fans alike, so do drop by and you can meet many other like-minded people. Pat Douglas, who incidentally designed the paperback cover for Zombiestan, is a zombie author as well, and his new book Rancid deserves a shout out as well.

Are there any upcoming projects you would like to share with my readers?

My newest baby is Through The Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Deadland, and the prequel is in the works. So I do hope some of your readers get a chance to immerse themselves in the world I’m creating in that trilogy.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Hopefully the Zombiestan audiobook will be a big success for you and we’ll see more of your work come to this format. Any last words?

Keep reading, and I’ll keep writing.

Zombiestan is available from Tantor Audio through their site, or Audible.

Other Reviews of Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar:

Devourer of Books

Find Mainak Dhar:


Twitter @MainakDhar


Seven Questions with Dan Wells

3 10 2011


Dan Well’s John Cleaver trilogy is a truly amazing read, and the audiobook version of the finale of the series, I Don’t Want to Kill You has sat high atop my favorite audiobooks of 2011 list for a while. The series is a genre bending psychological thriller with one of the most intriguing main characters I have ever read. Dan Wells was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer some of my questions.


Bob: First off, I need to reiterate how much I love the entire John Cleaver series. It’s obvious when you read my reviews of Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want to Kill You. Our society seems almost obsessed with Serial Killers, to the point where they have started to become heroes. Yet, John Cleaver is not a Serial Killer. What inspired you to come up with the John Cleaver character, a young boy, struggling with dark urges, yet trying to do the right thing?

Dan: Like all normal, well-adjusted people, I read about serial killers as a hobby. I study them, I research them, and I’ve done so since I was in high school; I just find them fascinating, especially the question of why they do what they do. How can one person contain something so banal and something so evil at the same time? Meanwhile, I’d been writing books for years, mostly epic fantasy because that’s the fiction I tended to read, and I had a great writing group. One night, driving home with my friend Brandon (of Sanderson fame, also a fantasy writer) I was talking all about the Macdonald Triad–three traits in common to the vast majority of serial killers–and Brandon mentioned that that would be a cool first line for a book: "There are three traits in common to 99% of serial killers, and I have all of them." That’s not the first line of the book, obviously, but that’s where the germ of the idea came from. I spent about a year trying to figure out what to do with that character: would the book be funny? Scary? Sad? Something else entirely? At one point I started plotting it out as a sort of new Addams Family, with a family full of creepy murderer archetypes (the son’s a serial killer, the dad’s a grizzled axe murderer, etc.), but eventually I realized that the real core of the idea, what really made it interesting, was the conflict inside of John: everything about him is pushing him toward evil, but he tries to be good instead. That’s what worked, so I threw out everything else and focused on that, and the rest of the books as we know them grew up pretty organically from there.

Bob:  One of the things I struggled with when writing my reviews is that this series is very hard to define. It seems to defy easy labels. While it’s about a teenage boy in high school who crushes on the popular girl and has to put up with the school bully, it also has a maturity and a feel that doesn’t fit in well with my concept of what a traditional young adult novel should be. Also, it has elements of horror and mysteries, with a touch of conspiracy thriller and a dash of science fiction. When you set out to write, I Am Not a Serial Killer, did you have a firm idea of the type of book you were after, or was it a matter of plot and characters leading the way?

Dan: The simplest answer to this question is that the only audience I write for is myself: I didn’t think about genre or readership or anything else, I just wrote a book I thought was cool. The main character is a teen because I was telling a story about psychological development, and that’s where it all comes to a head; it has a supernatural monster in it because I like supernatural monsters, and I liked the idea of an inhuman monster who can connect with people better than the very human yet sociopathic narrator. When I looked at the finished product I knew it would be a hard sell precisely because it doesn’t fit into any genre very neatly, and when I sold it to my editor he had a devil of a time trying to pitch it to the rest of the publishing house for precisely that reason.

Bob: I think one of the overriding themes of this series is behavior versus temptation. John Cleaver fascinates me, because he has this dark side, an almost classic formula for sociopathic behavior, but he chooses to live by rules that will keep him from embracing that side. Henceforth, despite his urges, he isn’t a serial killer, because he chooses not to be. Do you feel that society’s almost obsessive need to label people can actually push people into antisocial behavior? Was this a theme you deliberately pursued when writing this series?

Dan: I’ve actually been much more conscious about societal labeling after finishing the books than I was before them. There are some fairly big controversies out there right now regarding the definitions of mental illness, and how those definitions are devised and applied and how very subtle changes can drastically alter people’s lives: we actually have a test in the psychological community to help determine sociopathy, and if you fail the test you’re branded a sociopath; in some cases it works really well, and in others it seems to be keeping people in jail who might more productively be set free. Shifting definitions of clinical depression, as another example, can knock people in and out of disability benefits, whether or not their actual ability to hold a job has been changed in any way. These issues fascinate me, and I find myself more and more becoming an activist for some of them, but they weren’t really anywhere in my head while I was writing the books.

On the other hand, the idea of a man trying to be good while his nature pulls him relentlessly in the other direction was a big deal for me while writing, and I actually sat down before writing to brainstorm a series of situations where that conflict could be explored. I tried very hard to avoid moralizing in the series, but if you’ll permit me a bit of it here, I think we have a tendency in our society to avoid blame and responsibility to a dangerous degree. Court cases crop up constantly in which the primary defense is "I couldn’t help myself because of these issues in my past," and while I admit that this is occasionally true, far more often we just need to step up and take responsibility for what we do. John Cleaver is hero because he stops monsters, but the obstacles he has to overcome, and the self control he has to show in order to do it, are far more heroic, and that’s  really what people are responding to.

Bob: Now, of course, on to the audiobooks. I often use I am Not a Serial Killer as an example of how poor narrating casting can almost ruin an audiobook. Luckily, the first book had such an engaging premise and characters, that despite 15 year old John sounding like Robert Stack, I wanted to continue the series. Luckily, Kirby Heybourne took over for Mr. Monster and was simply brilliant. How have you felt about the audio versions of your books, and did you have any interaction with the team at Tantor or the narrator himself along the way?

Dan: I have had literally no interaction with the team that made the books, up until last month when I saw Heyborne on facebook and wrote him a quick letter to thank him for doing such a great job. The first audiobook is bad enough that people keep asking me if Tantor’s going to remake it with Heyborne as the narrator; I doubt it, but it would be awesome if they did.

Bob: You are one of the new generation of writers who has seemed to really embrace the use of social media and your personal blog to reach out to your readers. How do you feel things like Twitter has impacted the publishing industry? How has your online presence influenced you as a writer?

Dan: I got on board with blogging in 2000, when I left college. I’d worked on a student SF magazine and started doing game reviews, and when I graduated I wanted to keep it up but didn’t want the expense of actually publishing something, so I started a site called The Official Time-Waster’s Guide and wrote three or four articles a week about games and gaming. When I finally got published as a novelist, it was easy to make the transition into other kinds of blogging (and I still occasionally review board games, both on my site and on Tor.com). My other significant web presence, perhaps more so than my blog and twitter, is Writing Excuses, a how-to-write podcast that I host with three other writers: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and recently Mary Robinette Kowal. the podcast has won two Parsecs, been nominated for a Hugo, and has recorded with us and with special writing guests at events all over the continent. I can definitely say that a big chunk of whatever popularity I have comes from the visibility I get from that podcast.

As for how social media has impacted the book industry, I don’t know. In some ways it’s a lot more transparent now, but most of that comes from other forms of online media–corporate websites and industry blogs and so on. What you get from twitter is more personal, like a window into the lives of your favorite authors, and I find that fascinating. I also think that most authors don’t use social media very well. The people I follow on twitter are not the ones who are actively trying to leverage their social media as a promotional tool: those people are boring, and I don’t want to sign up for a voluntary advertisement feed, I want to learn about the people behind the books, and be entertained by them. To borrow my friend’s analogy, imagine that the social media sphere is a giant watercooler, and we’re all hanging out talking to each other. The first guy talks about the game he watched last night, the second guy tells a joke, and the third guy tells you he has merchandise for sale in his cubicle.. Nobody wants to talk to the third guy; most people don’t even want to be around him. The best use for social media is to entertain: to make people laugh and think and talk to each other. If you can do that in 140 characters, you’re advertising your writing ability better than any mercenary post about how awesome your books are.

Bob:  If you could choose any author to write The Biography of Dan Wells, who would it be, and who would you like to like to narrate the audio version of the book?

Dan: My biography would be written by Victor Hugo, because I want every scene of my life to be presented in exquisite melodramatic detail. The audio version would be read by the Queen of England, because seriously: the Queen of England. That would be awesome.

Bob: Finally, what upcoming projects are you working on that you are able to talk about? What should Dan Well’s fans be looking for in the future?

Dan: I have a lot going on. Last month I released an ebook called A NIGHT OF BLACKER DARKNESS, and just this week we sold the audio rights to it, which I’m very excited about. In October I have a novella in the MORMONS AND MONSTERS anthology, which is kind of a Robert E. Howard-ish pulp-style adventure anthology, but with Mormons. My story’s about a mormon pioneer who turns into a monster and fights zombies; it’s ridiculous and awesome at the same time. Next year I have two books coming out: a YA dystopia called PARTIALS, coming in late February, and a supernatural thriller called THE HOLLOW CITY, coming in July.

The Audiobook versions of The John Cleaver Trilogy are produced by Tantor Media, and are available for download through Audible.com. The print versions are produced by Tor Books and are available through your local bookseller.

Check out my reviews of Dan Wells Audiobooks:

Mr. Monster

I Don’t Want to Kill You

Reviews of I Am Not a Serial Killer:


Jenn’s Bookshelves

Seven Questions with Ernest Cline

15 09 2011

Some may say that I went a little overboard in my review of Ernest Cline’s geek anthem Ready Player One, comparing it to such genre classics as Stranger in a Strange Land, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. To that I say , Pshaw!. What’s the point of being a audiobook blogger if I can go all fanboy every once in a while. Ready Player One is the sort of epic science fiction tale I love, with the added bonus of being chock full of pop culture references from my youth. Author Ernest Cline was kind enough to answer a few questions about Ready Player One, geekdom, and the audiobook version of his novel.



Bob: First off, I listen to around 150 audiobooks a year, and read a fair amount of print as well. Ready Player One is easily one of my favorite listening experiences of the year. I think the great appeal of Ready Player One is how much your love of the subject matter shines through the material. You definitely put a lot of yourself into the novel, and readers and listeners have definitely responded. When did the initial idea for the novel leap forward, and tell us a little of the process from idea to an actual physical book you can hold in your hand?

Ernest: I had the initial idea for the story way back in the summer of 2001. I was working tech support at the time, helping people use the Internet, and so I spent a lot of time thinking about the future of the Internet, and I imagined it evolving into a sprawling virtual universe, sort of a cross between World of Warcraft and Facebook. When I start imagining what sort of person would create such a virtual world, I pictured a Willy Wonka-eque video game designer holding a Golden Ticket-like contest inside his creation. The rest of the story grew out of that first idea.

Bob: Now, as a member of the geek culture, you must have some idea of what you are in for now that you made the leap from consumer to producer of geek products. You should expect emails detailing and discrediting your work down to the last bit of minutiae. Add to that calls for a sequel, a trilogy, animated versions, big screen movies, action figures, lunch boxes, video games and of course, an actual working version of OASIS, all of which, if not provided, will be your fault.  So far, how has the geek culture treated you, and have you received any particularly odd requests or suggestions?

Ernest:  Your prediction is spot on. I’ve been receiving many such emails, pointing out small errors and making demands for an immediate sequel. And I love them all! Being a geek myself, I take it as the highest form of flattery. When a geek cares about something enough to pick it apart, it’s usually done out of love.

Bob: As an audiobook blogger, I must note the awesomeness that is Wil Wheaton and go all fanboy on his performance of the audio version of Ready Player One. One thing I like about Wil as an audiobook narrator is that he is very selective in what he chooses to take on. Ready Player One was the perfect fit for him. How much influence, if any, did you have on bringing Wil into the project, and how excited were you to find out that he would be narrating? Also, any plans for an 8 Track version of the audiobook?

Ernest: I get to take all of the credit for choosing Wil to do the audio edition. Initially, Random House planned to have me read the audiobook, because I’d done some spoken word performance a long time ago. But I’m not an actor, and I knew I wanted someone who could bring all of the characters to life. I also needed an actor of my generation, who would be familiar with (and be able to properly pronounce) all of the pop culture and video game references in the story. That’s a tall order. Before I even finished the book, I think I knew I wanted Wil to do the audio book. I was certain he’d be perfect, and I was right. When I heard the first clips of his performance, I squeed like a little girl.

If we put the audio book out on 8-track, it would have to be spread across fifteen or more tapes. Unwieldy. On the plus side, then we could listen to it on the 8-track player in Leopardon!

Bob: Besides having the frakkin’ awesomest author website I have ever seen, you have a site for your car, The ECTO88, which is a totally geeked out DeLorean (of Back to the Future fame) which is similar to Wade’s OASIS vehicle in Ready Player One. Tell me some of the amenities of the ECTO88 and what you had to go through to get it just how you wanted it.

Ernest: Well, when I bought the car, I knew I wanted to trick it out like Parzival’s DeLorean in the book, which combines elements from Doc Brown’s Time Machine, KITT from Knight Rider, the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, and Buckaroo Banzai’s Jet Car. So I went on the Internet and found a Flux Capacitor, and Oscillation Overthruster, and a wide array of Ghostbusting equipment, including a screen accurate Proton Pack (which rides shotgun). Then I installed a blue KITT scanner on the front of the car and got some personalized ECTO88 license plates. Then I took my time traveling, Knight Riding, Ghostbusting Jet Car out on the road. It was a big hit on my tour.

Bob: On a totally unrelated question (OK, maybe not totally) Do you think that Dan Aykroyd can actually pull off a somewhat decent Ghostbusters 3 whether or not Bill Murray participates?

Ernest: Definitely! Actually, I already think of the Ghostbusters Video Game that just came out as the Ghostbusters sequel I’ve always wanted to see. All of the original actors (including Murray) do the voices, and Aykroyd and Ramis wrote the script.

The notion of a new Ghostbusters feature film both excites and terrifies me. It could be amazing, or it could be a train wreck like GB2. Fingers crossed that it’s the former.

Bob:  Were there any uber-geekish ideas or products that you wanted to fit into Ready Player One, but just couldn’t or ended having to edit out that you would like to share with us?

Ernest: No, I didn’t have to leave out anything. I threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Of course, now that the book is published and out in the world, I keep discovering that I somehow failed to mention several of my favorite bands or movies. Like the Talking Heads, for example. They’re one of my favorite 80s bands, but somehow I left them out of the book. I would like to publicly apologize to David Byrne..

Bob: Finally, what does the future have in store for Ernest Cline? Any upcoming projects that you are able to talk about?

Ernest: I have a lot of different irons in the fire. Right now I’m working on a geeky coming-of-age movie set in the late 80s. Sort of my version of Dazed and Confused, but instead of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, my characters are steeped in Dungeons & Dragons, arcade games, and comic books.

Ready Player One is produced by Random House Audio and is available for Download through Audible.com. The print version is available through your local bookseller.

Undead Authors: My Interview with Madeleine Roux

7 06 2011

The Format of Madeleine Roux’s debut novel Allison Hewitt is Trapped: A Zombie Novel should seem a bit familiar to the bloggers of Audiobook Week. The novel is a Blog of one women’s struggle to survivor in a Zombie Apocalypse. Those of you who are scared off by the thought of Zombie violence, yes, there are some brutal moments, yet there is also an incredibly strong female protagonist, and a whole lot of interesting peripheral characters. You can check out my review of the audiobook version here.


Bob: As I understand it, Allison Hewitt is Trapped started out as online serial. Could you tell me a little bit about its journey from serial, to book, and finally to audiobook?

Madeleine: Originally, Allison Hewitt Is Trapped began as an experiment to    embrace the serial nature of the blog and bring a story to readers week by week.  The story took on a new energy when readers began leaving elaborate comments and immersing themselves in the story.  It was fascinating to see people take on these detailed roles and leave comments that showed their own evolution in the chaotic, zombie-filled world.  I ran the blog for a few months before Kate McKean, who is now my agent, stumbled across it.  She contacted me to see if I’d like to turn the story into a novel while still keeping the blog format, which brought some unique challenges.  For the next few months I finished the story and polished it up.  All of that happened in the summer and fall of 2009 and then the novel hit stores in January of 2011.  I was completely floored when Audible expressed interest in making the audio version.  As a writer, it’s so surreal to hear someone read your story aloud – it’s a completely new way of experiencing the plot and characters.  The first time I listened it gave me chills!

Bob:  One of the things that is appealing about the novel is that Allison is just a normal woman in an extraordinary situation. She really has no special combat skills, or anything that you typically see in heroes of zombie Apocalypse stories. What is it about the character of Allison that you think made so many people respond to her? Did you model Allison after anyone specific?

Madeleine: I think Allison is a blend of a lot of people, both from my life and from media influences.  To me, there’s something extra appealing about seeing a character start at zero and grow from there.  Allison isn’t a CIA operative or a soldier, and I think it’s more thrilling to see an average person use their wit and resourcefulness rather than a specialized training.  Chances are, you’ll never see that character learn their marksmanship or survival techniques.  With Allison, you see every step, every time she stumbles or overcomes and in the end that makes you more attached to her struggle.  She’s not modeled on anyone specific, and while she and I might share a few characteristics, she’s much braver than I am.  If zombies turned up I think I’d just hide in a cupboard in the fetal position.

Bob: In a recent notorious article a reviewer called High Fantasy a “Boy’s Club.” Until recently it seemed that the Zombie niche was a bit of a boy’s club, until female authors like you, Cherie Priest and Mira Grant entered the fray with some excellent and original zombie fiction. Also, anyone who spends a lot of time on horror website forums will see that there are a lot of female zombie fans. Do you feel that female horror fans are a neglected audience and what should publishers be doing to try to tap into that market?

Madeleine: There’s a lot of misinformation about what female readers want.  I think there’s this false assumption that a book with a female protagonist will automatically be heavy on the romance and that’s just not true.  Women are diverse in their interests.  We don’t just want to read about romance and shopping, and the literary market is reflecting that now. It is a shame that horror often relies on putting half-naked women in positions where they have little to no chance of survival.  Apparently that’s titillating to a certain demographic. I’d love to see those ladies put on a pair of pants and take back their strength.  I have no doubt that from here we’ll only see more and more women (authors and protagonists) challenging the stereotypes of the genre.

Bob: My blog deals mostly with audiobooks. How pleased were you with the overall audio production of Allison Hewitt is Trapped and the performance of narrator Piper Goodeve? Were you involved in its production in any way?

Madeleine: I answered a few questions about pronunciation and there’s a brief illustrated section of the book that couldn’t be included in the audio production, but otherwise it was all the team at Audible and Piper Goodeve.  She did a tremendous job capturing Allison’s humor and tone. It’s almost insane how much she sounds like my internal voice for Allison.  I was never very interested in audio books before, but hearing my own has certainly changed that.

Bob: So, you’re trapped in a bookstore during the Zombie Apocalypse. One of your fellow survivors wants to burn some books for heat. Which books would you absolutely refuse to allow him to burn at least until you finish reading them?

Madeleine: Oh, man.  All of them?  I’m kind of rabid about that sort of thing.  I don’t even like the thought of burning books I hate!  But I would definitely guard the Neil Gaiman books and Ian McEwan selection.  I haven’t finished all of The Sharing Knife books or A Song of Ice and Fire series yet, so I’d ask nicely that they leave those alone, too.

Bob: If you were stuck in Los Angeles when the dead started to rise, are there any specific zombie celebrities that you would enjoy ridding the world of?

Madeleine: That’s not loaded or anything.  I will say as tactfully as I can that zombie Michael Bay would do best to stay away from any and all swinging axes.

Bob: Without revealing too much, tell me what to expect from Sadie Walker is Stranded?

Madeleine: Sadie Walker Is Stranded is set primarily on an island, so we get the fun of dealing with water and isolation.  There’s a bit more romance in this one and a mystery, too, as well as a few follow-ups on characters from the first book.

You can purchase Allison Hewitt is Trapped from Audible.com. The print version is published by St. Martin’s Griffin and is available at most booksellers.

Seven Questions with Tim Dorsey

6 06 2011

Tim Dorsey is one of those authors I wait impatiently for every year for their new release. His madcap thrillers revolving around serial killer Serge A. Storms and his constantly stoned partner in crime Coleman are some of the funniest books you will read or listen to. Tim took some time out and answered seven quick questions for me about Florida, audiobooks, and the further adventures of Serge and Coleman.

You can check out my review of Electric Barracuda, and scan my Top 20 Audiobooks of 2010 which included Gator-a-Go-Go.



Bob: Some of my favorite writers call the Sunshine State their home, including Carl Hiaasen, James W. Hall, and Paul Levine. In fact, it seems like Floridian Thrillers have become a genre unto itself. What is it about Florida that lends it self to such unique characters and plots?

Tim: Frankly, reality. If you notice, many of the authors are current or former journalists, so we get to a more concentrated view of the weirdness, and we’ll never run out of material.

Bob Now, I read the first eight of your novels, up to the Big Bamboo, and then listened to the remaining five on audio. Often times, when I begin listening to the audio version of a series which I read the earlier editions, it takes me a while to adjust to the narrator as the voice of the main character. Yet, when I started listening to Oliver Wyman read Hurricane Punch, I was like, “Holy shit, that’s Serge!” Have you listened to the audio versions of your novels and if so how strange is it for you to hear your words being interpreted by someone else in an audiobook?

Tim: It’s pretty cool to listen to it, and it definitely is a bit strange. And probably even more so for the author, because you have the sound of your own voice in your head when you write. Maybe like seeing a movie with actors cast for parts you’ve invented.

Bob: It seems the “Hero Serial Killer” is becoming more and more popular. Yet, unlike sociopaths like Dexter, Serge isn’t brooding nor does he need sets of rules to restrain himself. Serge is just unapologetically Serge. What is your favorite part of writing a character like that?

Tim: I possibly shouldn’t admit this, but the best part is that Serge is the narrative of my unfiltered thoughts – I just listen and take dictation.

Bob: One of the reasons I think your books play so well is the little tricks you do with the characters, like Mahoney’s noir fantasies and Serge‘s manic cadence. One of my favorite audiobook moments is Serge’s penchant for self narration, listening to Oliver Wyman slowly transform from his narrative voice to his Serge voice with the eventual tag of Coleman saying, “Serge you’re doing it again.”  When you write do you ever consider how it will sound on audio? Have you ever considered playing tricks on the narrator, creating weird dialects or speech impediments?

Tim: I don’t specifically consider the audio version when I write, but I do like to play tricks with other media, like in Torpedo Juice where the narrator is an actual character himself.

Bob For those who are fascinated by Florida beyond its Disney Worlds and beaches, give me two books, two movies and two attractions that budding Floridiphile just cannot miss.

Tim: 92 in the Shade, Tourist Season … Scarface, Body Heat … Dry Tortugas, Ocean Drive.

Bob: Since hearing about an upcoming Tim Dorsey Christmas novel I haven’t been able to get the image of Serge as a Mall Santa out of my head. Without giving too much away, tell me what we can expect from When Elves Attack
Tim: Serge and Coleman buy elf suits and deputize themselves to roam around and help people take Christmas to the next level.

Bob: Beyond When Elves Attack, what is in store for Serge and Coleman?

Tim: "Pineapple Grenade" comes out in January. Serge decides to go to Miami and become a spy..

Those doing early Christmas Shopping, look for When Elves Attack: A Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State which will be released October 25th.

Undead Authors: My Interview with Iain McKinnon

25 05 2011

Iain McKinnon is the author of 2008 Zombie Apocalypse Thriller Domain of the Dead. Along with four others Permuted Press novels, Domain of the Dead was recently released in audiobook form as part of Audible.com’s Zombiefest.  I recently reviewed Domains of the Dead as part of my May Zombie theme, and you can find that review HERE. Iain was kind enough to take a few moments and answer some of my questions.

Bob: As I said in my review of Domain of the Dead, your novel seems to be one that truly embraces George A. Romero’s vision of the undead. How much of an influence has Romero had on your work?

Iain: Romero for me is the God Father of the zombie phenomena. He and Russo set the ball rolling. Regardless of how divorced the zombies are from the ones in Night of the Living Dead you still have that film at the source. Unlike a lot of writers and film makers I still believe that the Romero shambling brain damaged monster is scarier. The lurching soulless cadaver plodding inexorably for you holds an infinitive possibility for terror. So yes I am a purist, I work off the inspiration Romero instilled in me and I’m very pleased when people complement me on that.

Don’t get me wrong though as much as I loved Romero’s early work I haven’t slavishly followed the cannon he established. There are some subtle differences in the Zombie contagion I have imagined but the core is still true to Romero.

Bob: What do you think would be a more dangerous impediment to us as a species surviving a Zombie Apocalypse, scientific Hubris, or callous, close minded bureaucrats?

Iain: Apathy. Yeah I’m sure in a crisis like the Zpoc there would be scientists who exacerbate things, there would be petty bureaucrats who engender life to follow rules but I think apathy would be the biggest danger. In survival there is the 10/80/10 rule. In any emergency situation 10% of people take the wrong course of action, 80% will do nothing until told what to do and only 10% will have the wit to identify what is needed to survive. If the Zpoc is like any other disaster in human history the inability to act will cause 80% of us to perish.

But I don’t think the Zpoc will cause humans as a species to die out. There are still a large amount of indigenous peoples in the world who survive in remote areas off the land to whom the Zpoc would have little impact. It’s us in the developed world who will crash and burn. With out electricity and super stores we would descend into anarchy in a matter of days. Urban area’s would become hell on Earth with the living causing as much havoc as the dead.

Bob: How involved were you in the audiobook production of your novel? What are your thoughts on the final product?

Iain: I’ve had no creative control over the audio edition of Domain of the Dead but as it’s an unabridged edition and I’m not a director so I’m not sure how my input could have helped? Audible.com did ask me to write and read a forward to the audio version which I was only to happy to do. I’m not convinced my Shatneresque ramblings bring any thing of value to the production but I got a big kick out of recoding it.

As for the rest of the book I love Karl Millers voice I think he brings a fantastic level of gravitas to the production. I enjoyed his take on the characters, I deliberately write with a very minimalistic style so to hear how much detail Karl pulls out was wonderful.

Bob: I thought Domain was one of the grimmer views of a potential zombie outbreak that I have read. What hope does our society have of surviving if there is a rising of the undead, like the CDC seems to be trying to prepare us for?

Iain: I think hopes for western society surviving a zombie out break are laughable. Unless they catch it right as it emerges we have no chance. Look at the recent flu pandemics. The 1918 one 32% of the population were infected and the morality rate was about 10%. 3% of the worlds population died in less than 12 months. Even though there wasn’t the same levels of connectivity in the world (no intentional flights) the disease spread to even the most remote locations and did so a mater of weeks.

Bear in mind here that we still have no effective medication against the Flu which is why resent flu pandemics have cause such panic.

Now what if the contagion was 100% deadly? And compound that with the corpses of the deceased reanimating and attacking the living. How long you think it would take for things to break down? Even just the panic caused would tear society apart.

So no I don’t think the CDC or any organization or Government would be able to protect us.

Bob: If the Zombie Hordes were closing in on your town and you needed to make a break for it. What items around you house would you prioritize in taking with you, in order to fight off the undead?

Iain: Here’s my survival plan. Sit tight. If it’s the shambling zombies my house is well enough stocked that we could sit it out for the first few weeks. This would be the most dangerous period as civil unrest will be rife. During the first few weeks your biggest concern is other survivors. People can be irrational and dangerous so in my opinion it’s best to avoid them in the beginning.

Once the worst of the unrest has passed take stock. If the zombies aren’t too thick on the ground then is it worth while staying in an area I know well. If not I pack up get on my bike and head north.

Just in case the worst does happen I have an escape and evade kit (both at home and in the trunk of my car). The kit has everything I need to survive (over 100 items of survival gear on a 30 lt back pack).

Bob: What would be your essential zombie reading lists, whether it be Zombie Fiction, or novels to help you survive an outbreak?

I have three books in my escape and evade kits all pocket edition to save on space and weight: The SAS Survival Guide, First Aid Manual, Guide to Edible Plants.

The other item I’d recommend is a map.

But more than having the books is having the knowledge. The books should be there for reference, you need to have already practiced the basics. There’s no point a reading a book to learn how to light a fire when your cold and hungry in the dark.

Bob: Without giving too much away, what should we expect from Remains of the Dead?

Remains of the Dead is a concurrent story. We follow the party who at the end of chapter one in Domain of the Dead were left behind on the mainland; Cahz, Ryan Cannon and the others.

Remains of the Dead is a much tighter novel than Domain of the Dead. In Remains of the Dead we only have four or five characters and we follow them over a period of about 16 hours (as opposed to Domain of the Dead where we had seven or eight major characters we follow over a 24 hour period).

It’s a much longer novel too, its about 15000 words longer than Domain of the Dead. I would say Remains is far more intense with a lot more action than Domain. It’s also a much darker novel, a lot more emotional.

The few fellow authors who have read the reviewer edition have all given me positive feedback. Walter Greatshell likened it to Kirkmans The Walking Dead. Joe McKinney even said it was one of the scariest zombie books he’d ever read “scenes so intense they left me stunned”, which was one hell of an accolade.

This is my best writing to date and I can guarantee if you liked Domain of the Dead you’ll love Remains of the Dead.

Hopefully Karl Miller will be available to do the audio version of this too..

You can purchase the audiobook version of Domain of the Dead at Audible.com.