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!

Audiobook Review: Mutated by Joe McKinney

19 12 2012

Mutated by Joe McKinney (Dead World, Bk. 4)

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 56 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Mutated is a great example of how a series can come together. For fans of this series, it’s like each previous novel was the wrappings and Mutated is the reward. A fun, furious Zombie tale with hidden depths and wonderfully flawed characters that Zombie and Apocalyptic fans shouldn’t miss.

Grade: A-

As we all know, the world is ending. You see, years ago, the Mayans had a crack team of astrophysicists, and experts on all sorts of sciencey whosumwhatsit, and used their vast stores of knowledge, with plenty of help from other worldly or extraterrestrial temporal drifters to make a calendar. Now, the Mayan’s were a frugal bunch, and didn’t believe in wasting anything from stone tablets to the entrails and marrow of their fallen enemies, and knowing through their calculations and hints from inter-dimensional Lizard Men exactly when the earth would be destroyed they saw no point in expanding the calendar past this date, Also, being stingy with their information, they decided not to actually write down how the world would end, knowing that exiled Nordic gods from Ragnarok would use that information to tip the balance between order and chaos. Now, we can only speculate to how the world will be thrown into chaos. Perhaps a global shifting of tectonic plates causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Maybe a freakish alignment of bodies within our solar system will force the shifting of our polar axis leading to a reversal of gravity briefly flushing humanity into space. Or, just maybe, the Lizard Men will open a portal to an alternate dimension, allowing Cthulhu and the Great Old One into our dimension to snack on our souls. The only thing I am sure of is that it won’t be Zombies. That would just be ridiculous. Zombies are made up creatures, and authors have full license to do with them as they please, whether they walk or run, moan or speak, shamble or even drive a car, Zombies basically just need to be sort of deadish and it’s all good. Because, Zombie, unlike Lizard Men, only exist in fiction and won’t be responsible for the Mayan Apocalypse.

Mutated is the latest entry in Joe McKinney’s Dead World series, which, in my book, is one of the more comprehensive and unique look at a Zombie Apocalypse. McKinney examines his changed world through a series of interconnected Zombie novels and novellas, that, while each entry in the series stands well on it’s own, all come together to create McKinney’s true vision. In Mutated, McKinney takes us past the initial breakout, and the collapse of society, to give us the first true Post Apocalyptic look at his world. While some communities have managed to create strongholds, an army lead by a mysterious Red Man is ravaging the landscape, using the undead as weapons against the living. Ben Richardson has spent the years since the initial outbreak traveling the country collecting stories for the definitive book on the Zombie outbreak, acting as a passive observer. Yet, when he comes upon an old acquaintance in jeopardy, he gets involved. He discovers that this group, along with an immature young man they meet along the way, may hold the key to finding a solution to the zombie scourge. While Mutated works well on its own, it pulls together many tangents from the past books in a way that really pays off for readers of the series. The Dead World really stands out with it’s depiction of the evolution of zombies. Many books have tackled this angle, but few have explored it with such depth as McKinney. McKinney creates a brilliant parallel between the devastated land, with its abandoned buildings and empty cities and the very nature of the Zombies themselves. Also, the characters in Mutated are better fleshed out than in his other entries to the series. McKinney gets us right into the head of his characters, exploring their motivations and base natures of these people. His group of unlikely heroes are flawed and frustrating, yet together as a group, become greater than themselves. McKinney does a great job here with his action scenes, including a finale that will leave you breathless. McKinney pulls back for these scenes, giving us multiple perspectives, intricately choreographed so that these scenes aren’t just a record of what happened, but an experience you share with the characters. It’s wonderfully done, and a whole lot of fun. Mutated is a great example of how a series can come together. For fans of this series, it’s like each previous novel was the wrappings and Mutated is the reward. A fun, furious Zombie tale with hidden depths and wonderfully flawed characters that Zombie and Apocalyptic fans shouldn’t miss.

Todd McLaren continues his solid work on this series. He brings the right amount of saltiness to a wide range of characters, from militia members and older smugglers to the undead themselves. His performance of the Red Man is spot on, with a slurred mumbling voice that still manages to drip with venom. Yet, the best part of McLaren’s performance is his handling the grand choreographed scenes of battle against both human and zombie hordes. McLaren careful pacing and cadence brings the right amount of tension to the scenes, while still keeping them from getting muddled. McLaren shifts focus like McKinney, capturing the kinetic pace within the hordes, while describing the scenes from the outsider perspective with deliberate pace. Mutated and The Dead World series stands out in the crowded sea of Zombie Audiobooks, and the pairing of McLaren and McKinney once again proves to be an excellent team.

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

The Quick and the Dead: Zombie Shorts

17 05 2012

Since my print reading time is relatively limited, I tend to read a more novellas and short stories than novels. Here are a few quick reviews of some Zombie related shorts I have recently read.

The Crossing by Joe McKinney (A Dead World Novella)

Print is Dead Books

Pages: 90

The Crossing is set in McKinney’s Dead World series of zombie novels. It’s a short, fast paced story of an investigative reported named Samantha who sneaks into the zombie plagued Quarantine Zone to get a story about the refugees who attempt to cross the wall into the free territories. McKinney never shies away from the brutality of the Zombie Apocalypse whether done by zombies or humans. The contrasts between the clean, well fed Samantha, and the dirty, ragged survivors is vivid, and makes her stand out in the new lawless reality south of the wall. Luckily she meets a survivor named Jennifer, who is willing to risk it all so Samantha makes it across the wall alive. Fans of McKinney’s Apocalypse of the Dead will enjoy this well drawn story by one of the best undead authors working today.

Available on Smashwords

Zombie Battle 1: Outbreak & Zombie Battle 2: Integration by Jacqueline Druga

Self Published

The Zombie Battle series is a group of shorts that together make up a complete novel. I have only read the first two of the parts so far. The story begins as with a weird item falling from the sky into a small South American country, leading to a disease which turns those exposed into Zombie like creatures. Druga explores some interesting ideas in this series, which offers some cool twist onto the traditional zombie breakout tales. Zombie Battle is a self published series, and the dialogue and prose is often a bit clunky. She fills the story with likeable characters, and interesting science, yet all too often they are mired in unnecessary exposition. With a competent editor, this story could really work, but the writing issues are often a distraction. That being said, I had a good time with what I did read, and will probably continue the series when I am looking for something quick and maybe just a bit brutal to read.

Available of Smashwords

Welcome to the Apocalypse: Upcoming Audiobooks for The Walking Dead Fans

23 03 2012

While Rick, Glenn, Andrea and the rest are on hiatus hanging out in the shadows of a creepy prison, The Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t rest. If you are like me, you need a regular zombie fix or you start jonesing for entrails and brains. Well, have no fear, there are plenty of new Zombie Apocalypse Audiobooks coming out between now and the Season 3 Premiere of The Walking Dead.

Completed Trilogies

If you are like me, often times you hate that long wait between books of a series or trilogy. Well, here are two trilogies whose finales are due out over the next few months:

The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant

Hachette Audio

Blackout, Book 3 will be out early June,

As the World Dies Trilogy by Rhiannon Frater

Audible Frontiers

Siege, Book 3 will be out soon.


Ongoing Series

Sometimes it’s nice to meet a bunch of Survivors and follow their ongoing adventures adventures. Here are some series with new audiobooks coming out in the next few months.

Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo

Tantor Audio

Four Audiobooks in this series will be released by Tantor Audio over the next few months.

The Becoming Series by Jessica Meigs

Audible Frontiers

Book 2 The Becoming: Ground Zero will be released in July.

The Dead World Series by Joe McKinney

Tantor Audio

Mutated, the fourth book in the series will be released in September.

The Infection Series by Craig DiLouie

Audible Frontiers

The Killing Floor, the next book of the series, will be available in April.

Undead Debut

It’s always fun to discover a new author. Check out this Debut release.

The Return Man by V M Zito

Hachette Audio

The Return Man releases in early April


Young Adult Zombies

Let’s face it, kids like zombies too. The following are series of novels written for young adults, but should make adults hearts leap out of their chests as well.

The Benny Imuru Series by Jonathan Maberry

Recorded Books

Flesh & Bones, the final book in the trilogy will be released in September.

The Ashes Trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick

Brilliance Audio

Shadows, Book 2 of The Ashes Trilogy will be released in September. Cover Art not yet available.


Zombie Anthologies

Sometimes you don’t want to take on the whole hordes at once, just handle the zombies in a couple quick bursts. Here is a Zombie Anthology with stories by some of the top names in Zombie fiction including Sons of Anarchy’s Creator, Kurt Sutter.

21st Century Dead ed. by Christopher Golden

Blackstone Audio

This title will be released in July.

The Walking Dead Audiobook

The Governor is one of the key antagonist of the Graphic Novel version of The Walking Dead, and will make his way to the Television series soon. Learn his backstory in these audiobooks.

The Walking Dead Audiobook Series by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

MacMillan Audio

Book 2, The Road to Woodbury will be released early October.

Permuted Press Zombie and Post Apocalyptic Releases

Permuted Press is one of the more successful publishers of Zombie and Post Apocalyptic Fiction. Their deal with Audioble Frontiers continues and there will be a plethora of new audiobook releases over the next few months.

The Following Titles will be released:

March 27th

April 10th

April 24th

Well, I am sure there are more than these coming soon, and feel free to leave a comment about an upcoming Zombie or Post Apocalyptic Novel you are excited about.

If you are looking for Zombie Titles right now, check out my list of Best Apocalyptic Zombie Audiobooks of 2011.

Audiobook Review: Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney

11 07 2011

Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Genre: Zombie Horror

Quick Thoughts: A fast paced zombie tale with well developed realistic characters, and plenty of action to please even the most skeptical of zombie fans.

Grade: B+

I have really enjoyed what Joe McKinney has done with his Dead World novels. Flesh Eaters is the third novel of The Dead World, yet unlike most series, it really isn’t a sequel or prequel. The Dead World is more like a shared universe than a true series, each book taking place at various points of time within the necrosis filovirus outbreak of McKinney’s World. Despite the shared world, each book is stylistically unique. Dead City was a first person, real time account of the day of the initial uprising in San Antonio, told from the perception of a police officer searching for his family. Apocalypse of the Dead was a third person multi-character tale of various groups of survivors, during the second wave of the zombie-like outbreak, who eventually come together at the finale, similar to books like The Stand and Swan Song. In Flesh Eaters, McKinney takes us back to the first wave of zombie uprising, in fact to the first moments of the outbreak itself. McKinney includes stylistic aspects of the earlier novels, telling a third person, real time tale of the flooding of Houston during a hurricane, and the initial outbreak of zombies. What I like is that McKinney has created a tableau with multiple story telling options. He hasn’t tied us down to particular characters or a specific narrative voice, but a setting with multiple stories to tell. While I am not sure whether he has more planned in this world, the world he has created has the potential to reap further story telling gold.

Flesh Eaters is basically the story of two families in the midst of flood riddled Houston attempting to find safety. Eleanor Norton is an Emergency Ops Sergeant with a husband and young daughter, and her boss, Captain Mark Shaw has two sons who are also members of Houston PD. Both characters are dealing with conflicts of performing their job and saving their families. This is the essential question of Flesh Eaters, how much are you willing to risk to perform you duty. At what point does the life of your own family outweigh the lives of the strangers you took an oath to protect. McKinney truly shows his maturation as a writer in Flesh Eaters. He takes a big risk by choosing to do a slow reveal on the development of his main characters, instead of instantly assigning the values of heroes and villains, and it pays off in a more nuanced character study.  As each piece of information about his characters is revealed, you truly understand their conflicted natures in a way you might not have if things were more obviously black and white. On top of his character development, McKinney offers some crisp action scenes that will please even the most skeptical of zombie fans. While I probably enjoyed Apocalypse of the Dead more due to it’s storytelling style, Flesh Eaters offers a more thought provoking, textured tale and gave us a realistic look at how different people, not good, or evil, just people, may react to a crisis situation.

Todd McLaren again narrates this tale with his usual professionalism and keen sense of pacing. I believe McLaren had more challenging material in Flesh Eaters than Apocalypse of the Dead, mainly because a significant portion of the tale was told from a female perspective. While McLaren did a good job of capturing the duality of Eleanor’s nature, being a mom and a cop, I think it may have been interesting to have a female narrator handle this tale, in part or in full. This is in no way a criticism of the job McLaren did, just a thought. With the almost real time nature of Flesh Eaters, McLaren was aptly able to present the action scenes with a clear yet tension building tone that worked well with this novel. Flesh Eaters was an impressive edition to the Dead World series, and because of its chronological position, probably an excellent place for new readers to enter McKinney’s world.

Audiobook Review: Apocalypse of the Dead by Joe McKinney

30 06 2011

Apocalypse of the Dead by Joe McKinney

Read by Todd McLaren

Tantor Audio

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: A highly enjoyable multi-character zombie apocalypse tale full of authentic characters. Excellent narration by Todd McLaren only adds to the fun.

Grade: A-

With all the new zombie horror novels out there, authors more and more are looking for a unique angle to take with their undead creations. You have demon possessed zombies, love sick zombies and even British pop star zombies. Zombies have invaded everything from Jane Austin novels to high school football teams. Yet, with all this going on sometimes you just want a classic zombie apocalypse tale and Joe McKinney has one in Apocalypse of the Dead. Not to say McKinney doesn’t have a unique spin on his zombies. McKinney’s zombies have much of the characteristic of Romero’s zombies, with some added fun. Some zombies, called Level 3 zombies are more developed, able to work in groups to trap prey and acquire food. People who have had physical prowess before being turned may come back with more speed and determination after being infected. Yet, these aspects are more for world building than actual plot development for Apocalypse of the Dead. For the most part, the majority of zombies act like classic zombies, and the majority of humans act like scum. This is how it should be in a good apocalyptic zombie tale, where the zombie swarms have changed the world, but the truly living are the real dangers.

For pure enjoyment value, this has one of my favorite zombie listening experiences. While it may not be as sophisticated as Deadline, or as emotionally affecting as Warm Bodies, Apocalypse of the Dead reminded me of that feeling I got when I first read books like Stephen King’s The Stand or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. Apocalypse of the Dead is a multi-character vision of the apocalypse and its aftermath. McKinney has created a large group of authentic characters that you quickly become attached to. One thing I really like about his characters is that they are all flawed, with devastating pasts, and it is how they coped with their pasts that truly give you a glimpse of their true character. While religious leaders, Harvard graduates and law enforcement personnel may get pulled down into the mire of the apocalypse, ex-cons and porn stars can rise above their pasts and become heroes. Within this world, it is the unlikeliest of characters that bring about the most good. McKinney has also created some devastating images of Apocalypse that I haven’t seen before including an attack on a retirement home, and a blind girl struggling on her own in a town overcome by zombies. I have said this before, I am not a literary critic, I judge books by how much I enjoy reading or listening to them. While McKinney need not wait for the Pulitzer committee to come knocking on his door, I personally had a hell of a time listening to Apocalypse of the Dead.

Todd McLaren handled the narration for this book. At first I though he started off a bit slow, but as the book progressed he began to match the pace and tone of the novel with precision. McLaren is the perfect narrator for multi-character epics like this. He has an uncanny ability to nail characters with precision, from the major leads to the smallest roles it almost as if McLaren has created a back story for each, and comes up with the perfect voice to match it. McLaren is a master at characterizations matching regional dialects and accents perfectly and it was interesting to hear him create just the right southern accents for various characters. Apocalypse of the Dead is a must listen for fans of multi-character epic Apocalyptic zombie fiction, and for anyone else who like a good story well told.


Note: A special thanks to the wonderful people at Tantor Audio for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Audiobook Review: Dead City by Joe McKinney

18 06 2011

Dead City by Joe McKinney

Read by Michael Kramer

Tantor Audio

Genre: Zombie Horror

Quick Thoughts: McKinney’s Dead City is a fast paced, real time first person look at a Zombie Uprising, with a realistic and likeable main character.

Grade: B

One of the best things about zombie novels is the vicarious living effect, what would you do if you were in that situation? There have always been a lot of discussions on this topic among zombie fans. The movie Zombieland even presents a list of rules for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. Yet conversely, it’s also a quite frustrating part of zombie fiction. You know that anytime someone writes a zombie novel, there are going to be tons of reviews and posts by internet know-it-alls about why the main characters were stupid or unrealistic in their actions while attempting to keep from being eaten. Now for me, I know exactly what I would do, I would legally change my name to dinner. You see, us 30 something guys living in a major metropolitan area with a bum knee who neither own nor have ever fired a firearm, well, our best option is to have a variety of dipping sauces available when the zombies come. Personally, I think the internet trolls would find plenty to complain about with that strategy as well.

One of the things I loved about Dead City, the first of Joe McKinney’s Dead World novels, is that the hero, Eddie Hudson, is quite fallible. He makes mistakes, some of them quite stupid. He spends much of the story in a state of shocked disbelief. In the beginning it was quite frustrating, this cop running around in the midst of a zombie uprising, trying to save his family, yet he seems to take unnecessary road trips into danger. Yes, this isn’t the smartest thing to do, but who in their right mind would have their brain firing on all cylinders when seemingly dead people are walking around trying to eat you. Dead City moves in real time, following Hudson as he moves through the city of San Antonio, from one zombie encounter to another. Hudson meets an assortment of characters, some interesting, and some annoying as he searches for his family.  Dead City offers us a perspective that far too few Zombie novels give us. Dead City takes place at the height of the zombie uprising, before the survivors have had a chance to wrap their brains around the situation. It’s this initial terror that is fascinating and McKinney does an excellent job capturing it. This isn’t a novel about seasoned zombie hunters who have it all figured out. So, sure the trolls will probably find problems with Hudson’s decisions, but then again, I’ve heard that Zombies particularly like the flavor of troll meat.

I have to admit, I am not a huge Michael Kramer fan. I often find his narration on the dry side, with his deep tone bordering on monotonous. Here, he does a solid job handling the first person narrative of Eddie Hudson. It wasn’t perfect, I would have loved for him to add more of a southern twang to the character. Some times you can hear a bit of the Texan in Kramer’s Eddie Hudson, yet is comes and goes, but, not really to the point of distraction. Kramer does a good job with the peripheral characters, especially Hudson’s former partner Marcus, who he infuses with an appropriate childlike southern charm. Kramer slow reading works well with the fast paced nature of the book allowing the listener to follow the often chaotic action. What I am truly looking forward to is the next two books in the series which are narrated by one of my favorite narrators, Todd McLaren. Despite some minor issues with the text and narration, Dead City is definitely full of great zombie action and a well realized main character.


Note: A Special thanks to the wonderful people from Tantor Audio for providing me with a copy of this audiobook. You can purchase this title directly from their website Tantor.com

Upcoming 2011Titles I Can’t Wait to Get my Ears On

25 05 2011

I’m about a day late for this, but I thought I would point out some 2011 titles that I am look forward to.


First off, one title I really have been wanting to listen to is The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry. I have been on the waiting list at my library for a while.


The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Blackstone Audio


Blackstone also has a short story collection by Jonathan Maberry based on his Joe Ledger novels, and audio versions of his Pine Deep Trilogy being released in 2011, that I am quite excited about.



Now, some upcoming audiobooks I’m excited about.

The Ridge by Michael Koryta

Read by Robert Petkoff

Hachette Audio


2030: A Novel by Albert Brooks

Read by Dick Hill

Tantor Audio

Ghost Story: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Read by James Marsters

Blackstone Audio/Penguin Audio



The Dead City Trilogy by Joe McKinney

Book 1 Dead City Read by Michael Kramer

Book 2 and Boo 3 Read by Todd McClaren

Tantor Audio


Flashback by Dan Simmons

Read by Richard Davidson, Bryan Kennedy, and Joe Barrett

Hachette Audio