Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Permuted Press Authors

31 05 2013

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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.





Audiobook Review: Zombie: A Love Story by Patricia Lee Macomber

30 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zombie: A Love Story by Patricia Lee Macomber

Read by Chet Williamson

Crossroad Press

Length: 3 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Zombie Romantic Comedy

Quick Thoughts: Zombie: a Love Story gives new meaning to the term Zombie Road Trip. It is what a good romantic comedy should be, a tale of epic love with a few surprises and plenty of laughs.

Grade: B

The great urban poet, Meatloaf once declared, "I will do anything for love, but I won’t do that." Now, I am not exactly sure what THAT is or why a man would willingly choose to be called Meatloaf, but this concept always leads to an interesting moment of self evaluation…. What exactly would I do for love, and what is MY that. Honest answer, I have no friggin’ clue. Despite the fact that I am quite clever, write excellent Facebook statuses, and am slightly lumpy and awkward looking but not a total train wreck, I am still single. In fact, I scoff at romance novels and movies mostly due to a total inability to buy into them due to an egregious lack of similar life experiences. Sure, I have people who I love, and women who I thought maybe someday I could quite possibly feel an increased level of affection for, but shockingly, I am not much of a romantic.  Now, I am willing to do many things for people I care about. I put up with family members eccentricities and neurosis and act supportive. I spend my weekends when I could be out boozing and whoring with people who I feel deserves my time. I slip my dog an extra meat stick when he looks cute and scratches my leg as I am attempting to write reviews. Yet, a love that defies death, I am not so sure about that. In all likelihood, if I become a Zombie, no matter how much I believe I care about you, I will probably care more about sampling your tasty innards, than professing my undying love in a final grand gesture. Maybe I’m a pragmatist, or maybe I have just yet to meet the right undead girl.

After an accidental exposure to a toxic substance at his job in the New York City subway, Paul Trembley died, only to wake up hours later in the morgue. Now, with his flesh rotting, and unable to properly communicate, Paul must attempt a cross country drive as his mental faculties begin to deteriorate, in order to express his love for his girlfriend and women of his dreams, Linda. This is if he can avoid car jackers, cops and his desire for raw meat. Zombie: a Love Story gives new meaning to the term Zombie Road Trip. It’s a funny undead trip across the country, all in the name of love. Patricia Lee Macomber has created an epic love story that may border on the edge of saccharin sweet, yet the aftertaste is more than covered up by the human flesh. Paul and Linda are the kind of couple that you groan to be around, full of inside jokes, special songs and shared memories, yet, on some level, deep in that secret spot in your soul where you admit to maybe tearing up a bit during the Forrest and Jenny scenes during Forrest Gump, you envy. While the story pushed the edges of slapstick, the humor comes in retrained waves instead of flung into you face. I think my favorite moments came with the outsider perspectives, with Paul’s best friend Matt attempting to explain to the cops about his dead best friend, or the police attempting to justify the image of good guy Paul with that of a cannibalistic killer. It all should be over the top, but it’s not. it’s just a good dose of fun, with some lovey dovey moments. I especially like that Macomber didn’t go for the straight out of Hollywood, romcom ending, but had some moments of emotionally brutality that you just didn’t expect. While everything is wrapped up in a cutesy manner, it still worked, and matched the tone of the book. Zombie: A Love Story is what a good romantic comedy should be, a tale of epic love with a few surprises and plenty of laughs.

Chet Williamson handles the narration for Zombie: A Love Story and gives it just the right feel. His deep voice takes on a whimsical feel that managed to make Paul’s earnestness and Linda’s positivity shine through. He does a good job showing Paul’s mental decline, allowing us to follow his increasingly scattershot thought process. Williamson allows the humor to shine through without trying to sell it, but just letting it come naturally. Matt’s slow surfer dude draw at times seemed a bit like a stereotypical Cali dimwit, but, being that Matt was a bit of a stoner, it fit well enough. There was one moment, where a character was referred to by the wrong name, yet, it’s hard to say whether this was a narrator mistake, or an editing slip in the script. Outside of that, the production was excellent, and made for an enjoyable listening experience.  

Note: This title was provided for me for review by Audiobook Jukebox’s Sold Gold Reviewers Program.





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

29 05 2013

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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!





Audiobook Review: The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

29 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

Read by Nick Podehl

Candlewick on Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: Infects is an often bizarre, Pop-punk rock infused outbreak tale told at a kinetic, almost MTV Pop Up Video style that leans to the absurd. Author Sean Beaudoin offers a refreshing change of pace Zombie tale that somehow injected life into a subgenre looking to keep itself alive. Love it or hate it, The Infects is one heck of a rockem’ sockem’ audiobook experience.

Grade: B+

I have never really put much thought into what I eat beyond does it taste good, and how much of it can I jam into my facehole. Not surprising, I have spent my life firmly on the larger side. I would say that I have been battling my weight most of my life, but really, I haven’t put any significant effort into the battle until recently. Yet, I still eat mostly prepared and processed food stuffs, in between my fresh fruits and vegetables. As a single guy, I much prefer soup in a can or food in a box, than the elaborate preparations of home cook meals. I’ve never thought much about what these foods could do to me. Sure, I understood blood pressure and weight and the like, but what about the preservatives and taste enhancers they include. Could this food actually be changing me on a genetic level, pickling my insides, or injecting brain consuming prions into my gray matter?  Probably. Yet, now, maybe I have to worry about it changing me into a ravenous zombie. Damn. I know a well balanced meal included Cheerios, toast, milk, juice and bacon, but do I also need to ask for a side order of melee weapons? This is why I have begun to avoid fast food. Not because of the artery clogging goodness, or water retaining salty deep fried potato sticks, I mean, honestly, if we are going out, might as well do it with the leftover remnants of a Baconator hanging off my beard. My issues is, when the delicious fast food does send a chemical into out brain stems, turning us into cannibalistic monsters, I really don’t want to start off by snacking on the lean veal of a small child gripping onto their Rug Rats Crappy Meal toy, nor do I want awkward pre-tweens, getting their retainers lodged into my hindquarters as the bite into my quarter pounder with cheese.

Ever since being abandoned by his mother at the mall with his sister, Nick has decided its better just not to care about anything. He spends his days at school or raising his sister and often impaired father, and his nights working at the local chicken processing plant, pining for the attention of Petal his punk perfect wannabe girlfriend. Yet, when a destructive incident in the mysterious blue room at the chicken plant has him sentenced to a juvenile camp, Nick believes he has lost it. Now, on a nature hike with a bunch of delinquents, and hearing the voice of The Rock in his head, Nick finds himself in the midst of a strange outbreak of chicken borne illness that when infected, leads to some quite zombie like behavior. The Infects is an often bizarre, Pop punk-rock infused outbreak tale told at a kinetic, almost MTV Pop Up Video style that leans to the absurd. Full of commentary by The Rock, delinquent profiles, Zompocalypse rules and other almost bonus material segments, The Infects is a Quentin Tarantino meets Simon Clark hybrid that readers will either love, or totally despise. Luckily, I fell in on the love side of things. The Infects was nothing like I imagined it would be. In fact, the opening segments dealing with the bizarre Blue Room and the chicken plant was maybe just a bit beyond me, feeling at times as if it was written by Chuck Palahnuik with a head injury. I thought Nick was a great character, and my favorite part of the story was his relationship with his possibly autistic sister. The story itself was a bit scattershot at times. I think there were things Beaudion did that came more from his love of the genre tropes, his desire to be different, and due to his twisted sense of the absurd that were funny, fresh and added much to the experience, but maybe didn’t always serve the narrative. Personally, I didn’t mind that, but I think others may nitpick plot holes, get frustrated with side tangents, and get so caught up with some internal inconsistencies in the story, that they miss the broader appeal of the novel. In fact, at times listening to The Infects was closer to watching an episode of Robot Chicken than The Walking Dead. Yet, there were so many times I laughed, or reveled in a twisted Zombie Trope, strangely dated reference made hip and bizarre alternate history spin on pop culture, that any weakness in the plot was more than willingly overlooked. The Infects was a refreshing change of pace Zombie tale that somehow injected life into a subgenre looking to keep itself alive. Love it or hate it, The Infects was never boring.

The Infects offered a lot of challenges for its translation to audiobook form and luckily they had a narrator with the skills to pull it off. Nick Podehl really impressed me here. At the start, I thought maybe this production would be a bit too absurd for even Nick Podehl to save. I initially hated his voice for Amanda, feeling she felts a little too much like a man trying to do a young girl’s voice. Yet, by the end, that was my favorite part of his performance. Podehl nailed the rhythms of Amanda’s broken awkward speech. I have to say, I was a bit fearful that Amanda would turn into the magical autistic kid who saved the day through some quirky skill, but I thought both Beaudoin and Podehl perfectly captured the malleability of an autistic diagnosis. Then there was The Rock. At first, I didn’t think Podehl sounded like The Rock at all, but when I accepted it as The Rock as he appears in Nicks’ head, I loved it. In fact, The Rock consistently made me laugh more than anything else in this book. Podehl handled all the side trips, strange additions and added materials perfectly, turning what could have been a total disaster of a production into something truly fun to listen to. The Infects, despite it’s challenges, was a heck of a rockem’ sockem’ audiobook experience.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Young Adult Zombies

28 05 2013

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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.





Audiobook Review: Zom-B City by Darren Shan

28 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B City by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 3)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: In Zom-B City Shan does what he sets out to do. He gives us a dark tour of Zombie infested London while putting B in place for the next part of this tale. While not as impactful as the first two novels, it’s a logical next step in the series.

Grade: B

One of the things that has really attracted me to apocalyptic fiction is the idea of being alone in a city. I think cities are beautiful things, full of classic architecture, distinctive small businesses and a strange blending of history and modernity. Sadly, it’s also full of people. Nice people, mean people, cold people and warm people, they populate the streets and buildings like some parasitic pest seeking to get in your way, buy the last newspaper and, on rare encounters, force you to engage in sociable activities. I always remember that opening scene in 28 Days later where hero wakes up the hospital then walks out into London nearly bare assed to witness an empty city. As a kid I used to have all sorts of last man on Earth fantasies, where I could do anything, steal anything and drive crazily down the street in any car I could find. It was an introverted poor kid’s fantasy. Of course, I could worry about things like a lack of electricity, hygiene issues, clogged roads and wild dog packs, this was my fantasy and dammit, I was going to play Atari, watch PG13 and R movies and gorge myself on pizza and cheesesteaks that would magically appear to me. It was a great fantasy, and honestly, it didn’t always end at my childhood. Occasionally, I still think it would be cool to roam empty streets, sneak into restricted areas, walk the Art museum in my underwear, try on the Philly Phanatic costume, attempt field goals at Lincoln Financial Field, and, maybe in a slight variation of the term Last man, get cheered on wildly by the Eagle’s Cheerleading squad. Hell, it’s my fantasy.

In Zom-B City, B has now escaped the Underground government facility and gets her first glimpse of the changed world. Stuck in apocalyptic London with little information, she travels to her home, encountering other Zombies, strange survivors and empty streets along the way. While the story really doesn’t progress much in Zom-B City, Darren Shan gives us a dark tour through his changed world as he gets B acclimated to the new environment. Zom-B City seems like a bit of a set up novel, a chapter in an ongoing story instead of some complete narrative. Shan offers us a lot of cool things, giving us more information on how the Zombie outbreak has changed the world, and begins to offer us new factions who may or not come into play down the road. There are even some strange darkly humorous moments, including a painter chronicling the apocalyptic visions he encounters for some mysterious purpose, a religious alien conspiracy group who believes they have survived because of their faith in our celestial saviors, and a group of Zombie game hunters. Shan does a good job showing just how much the landscape can change in a brief amount of time. It’s frustrating that few of our questions are answered, and the one sequence that does seem on point is a bit of a rehash of past scenarios, but Shan does give us some clues and a few small reveals about B and her role in the apocalypse. While I enjoyed Zom-B City, the continual piece meal style of storytelling is making me want to wait until there are a few more editions completed before further exploring this world. I like the directions Shan is going, but not sure I have the patience for the episodic storytelling style, even with the relatively short time between entries. Shan does what he sets out to do. He gives us a dark tour of Zombie infested London while putting B in place for the next part of this tale. While not as impactful as the first two novels, it’s a logical next step in the series.

Emma Galvin continues her excellent work in the Zom-B series here with Zom-B City. She gives B the perfect edgy sarcastic British tone, full of urban grit and young adult insecurities. Being that much of this story involved B touring the city alone, this is a less dialogue intensive book, but she does a great job developing B’s distinctive inner voice. The few other characters that do appear are well done. I enjoyed her soft take on the young Apocalyptic painter, and her righteous craziness of the Zombie cultist hit all the right note. Again, Shan ends the tale with an almost dreamlike finale of horrors, and Galvin captures the hypnotic pacing perfectly.  There are still quite a few more chapters to go in this tale, and I’m quite interested in seeing what’s next.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.