Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Permuted Press Authors

31 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

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

Today’s Participants are:

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

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

Jessica Meigs, author of The Becoming Series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audiobook Review: The Becoming: Revelations by Jessica Meigs

31 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

The Becoming: Revelations by Jessica Meigs (The Becoming, Book 3)

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Becoming: Revelations is a strong finale to the trilogy, giving us a completed story yet setting us up for future explorations of the Michaluk plagued world. Meigs creates compelling characters and thrust them into a devastating world, allowing them to show their cracks. With each new edition, the world of The Becoming becomes more and more intriguing.

Grade: B+

One of the things I try to do each Zombie Awareness Month is to provide tips and tricks for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse based on my in-depth experience of listening and reading other people’s stories.  Yet, I feel like I have neglected one key crucial demographic, the Zombie Apocalypse Bad Guy. Not everyone will be a plucky survivor looking to stay alive while struggling with the moral quandaries of the new situation. A few of you may turn out to be one of the many varieties of human scum that will plague the Wastelands, and you too will need tips on Survival. Yet, how do you know if you are a bad guy? Well, if your Zombie survival strategy is to outrun other Survivors, you are a normal human. If it’s to kneecap other survivors so the hordes get to them first, you are probably a bad guy. Do you have a pit of Zombies pets that you use to threaten your fellow survivors with? I’m leaning towards Bad Guy. If your idea of an Engagement Ring is a dog crate and handcuffs… Total Douchebag Bad Guy. Bad Guys can also include Mad Scientist performing experiments on the living, crazy dudes with armored Zombies, Scumbags who rob women and children and leave them on the side of the road, and anyone who’s Post Apocalyptic Soundtrack is a mixed tape with Kenny G and Nickleback on it. So, as a bad guy, you may get a crazy smart idea, like, “Hey, let’s kidnap the good guy’s girlfriend and make him come to us.” This is a classic Bad Guy ploy. Suggestion though, not all women are easily kidnapped and held. Try to avoid kidnapping say, bad ass former IDF snipers, because if you do, it will probably be you who needs to be rescued.

The Becoming: Revelations is the third book in Jessica Meigs Becoming Series, and the one that closes out the first main arc of the series. After the events at the close of Ground Zero, the survivors of The Michaluk Virus are holed up in a safehouse licking their emotional and physical wounds. When a mysterious enemy kidnaps one of the group, it sets off a series of events that reveals deep secrets that goes back to the very origin of the virus. With Revelations, Jessica Meigs has moved her series more into Mira Grant territory, full of science and twists on the typical zombie tropes. While still full of adventure and plenty of zombie action, Revelations is less about surviving the rise of undead and more about adapting to the changed world. So much Zombie fiction deals with the here and now, and Revelations has enough of that in it to make any thriller fan happy, but there is a real look to the future that offers very interesting avenues for exploration in future editions that you may not get in the typical zombie survival tale. One of the main thing I have liked about Meigs writing is her ability to show true tension filled human interaction in a highly stressed situation. At times her characters act like real assholes to each other, yet there is an unmistakable bond there even within the more contentious characters. Even the romantic subplots are murky enough, full of confliction and a concern for the future, to feel more than just some kissey kissey in a sea of death. Meigs doesn’t take it easy on her characters, showing us at any point in the story one of our favorites can be taken off the board with little or no warning. At points, I questioned her main antagonist. Her decisions seemed so scattershot, so illogical that I felt she was too unbelievable and questioned why anyone was following her. Yet, I shouldn’t have doubted Meigs. She created a reasonable explanation for her badies actions that was much more than a Bond villain monologue. She even managed to make us feel a little sympathy for the cold hearted bitch. At times it felt like Meigs was playing the worse game of chess in the world, scattering all her pieces across the board, then attempting to find some way to bring them all together. Luckily, she managed to pull it all off, bringing things together for a strong climax. The Becoming: Revelations is a strong finale to the trilogy, giving us a completed story yet setting us up for future explorations of the Michaluk plagued world. Meigs creates compelling characters and thrust them into a devastating world, allowing them to show their cracks. With each new edition, the world of The Becoming becomes more and more intriguing.

I think it says a lot for the narrating skills of Christian Rummel that I just listened to two of his audiobooks in relative proximity to each other and didn’t suffer any sort of cognitive dissonance wondering why a Battlecruiser Captain was fighting Zombies in Post Apocalyptic Atlanta. Rummel again brings his strong characterizations and spot on pacing to Meigs Apocalyptic world. He has a strong grasp of these characters, although I did feel Ethan had a bit more of a country twang than I remember in the first two novels. This, of course, probably better suited the character, and further helped delineate him from Brandt, which was something I remember struggling a bit with in Book 1. Where Rummel really shines is in all the mayhem and craziness of the climatic scenes. Meigs packs a lot of emotional punches into the mix of action and zombie mayhem, and Rummel finds just the right balance to deliver these moments. I have grown to really enjoy these characters, even when they totally frustrate and annoy me, and much of the credit goes to the excellent narration skills of Christian Rummel. Now, we must wait and see where they all go next.

Undead Authors: My Interview with Eloise J. Knapp

10 05 2013

Today, I have a very special guest for Zombie Awareness Month, Ms. Eloise J. Knapp, author of The Undead Situation, which found a place on my coveted Top 10 Zombie Novels of 2011 with authors like Mira Grant and Joe McKinney, Her newest novel, The Undead Haze is currently available in EBook through Permuted Press, and in Audiobook by Audible Frontiers, and read by Kevin T. Collins.

At the time of this interview I had not listened to The Undead Haze, so don’t worry about spoilers. Now that I have listened, I can asure you all it’s awesome. Check out my reviews of both books in this series.

The Undead Situation

The Undead Haze

So, Eloise, Welcome to The Guilded Earlobe. I’m sure you will answer my inane questions with style and class.

BOB: When I first hear of The Undead Situation, the biggest thing I heard was about your age when you wrote it. All I was hearing was, “OMG! She was like 10 years old when she wrote it with crayons…. isn’t that AWESOME!” (The preceding statement was maybe a bit exaggerated.) Now, skeptical Bob was skeptical. So, could you tell us about how The Undead Situation came to be?

Eloise: No, you have it right. 10 years old with crayons, but halfway through I switched to colored pencils for crisper letters….

I started writing the beginnings of TUS when I was about 16. I wrote short vignettes here and there. Eventually my uncle started writing his novel and planned on self publishing it. I was inspired and became very motivated to turn those short pieces into something bigger. I set my mind to it and self published by the time I was 18, then a few months after that PP picked it up.

BOB: As a big Zombie fan, I had your novel on my radar, but these sort of wunderkind stories of young authors always leave me wary, but I try to keep an open mind. When I did listen, I was blown away by the maturity and insight you brought into the genre, especially in your characterizations. Cyrus is perhaps one of the most fascinating characters I have encountered in Zombie Fiction. A man who is seemingly a sociopath, but in someway, finds himself in this harsh new world. When you were developing Cyrus as a character did you ever worry that he was too different? That readers wouldn’t be able to connect with him, or find him at all likeable?

Eloise: I didn’t worry about him being too different, because that is what I wanted from him. Part of why I started writing was because, while I loved all kinds of zombie books, all the characters seemed too similar. I wanted Cyrus to be different. Easy to hate, easy to love, easy to laugh at, all in one. I knew there was a risk in people not liking him, but it was one I was willing to take for the sake of producing something unique. If I wanted almost all readers to connect with him or like him, he wouldn’t be who he is. He basically wouldn’t exist.

BOB: As someone who tends to lean more towards the introverted side, who enjoys his moments of solitude, and can often find the company of those beyond his closest friends and family a bit trying, I could relate in some ways to Cyrus. You would think an apocalyptic event would be the perfect place for a loner like him. Yet, I think one of the major themes of The Undead Situation is trying to find a balance between being wary and distrustful of people, and the fact that you need others to survive. With the ending of The Undead Situation, I can’t help but wonder how this dichotomy will affect Cyrus and Blaze. Without getting into too many spoilers, is this something that is further explored in The Undead Haze?

Eloise: Yes, yes, YES. It is explored a lot. A new character is introduced who forces Cyrus, in ways he isn’t happy and totally unfamiliar with, to truly consider his stance on being wary and distrustful versus how much you need other people to survive; or rather, the fine line of needing versus using other people for your own gain. TUH is heavy on character development. Cyrus didn’t like it, but it had to be done.

BOB: Beyond writing, you also do work as a photographer and model for some really awesome Zombie Apocalypse photographs, have edited an anthology and put all your skills together for Z Magazine, the first magazine written by Zombies for Zombies. You have done this all while attending college. When I was in college, I didn’t write any books, ran the radio station morning show when I wasn’t hung-over and was lucky if I actually read all my assigned work. I was very often on the edges of burning out. So, what are some of your favorite things to do when you just want to blow off some steam and escape the world for a bit?

Eloise: Instead of stating the obvious (watch zombie movies, go shooting) I’ll tell you some things you wouldn’t guess. I love to do hot yoga (about a 110 degree room, hour long sessions) about 4-6 times a week. Since I was young I’ve always loved baking and cooking, so I do quite a bit of that. When I have time I also quilt or work on other sewing projects. I also run a food blog with my grandma.

BOB: As you know, my blog focuses on Audiobooks. The Undead Situation features the work of one of my favorite narrators, Kevin T. Collins. I know some authors like to get involved in the audio productions, while others are hands off. Also, some authors will not listen to their own audiobooks because they fear it will affect their voice, while others love listening, even going as far as saying it helps them in their writing. So, did you listen to the audiobook version of The Undead Situation? Did you have any thoughts, revelations, icky feelings, or anything of the sort about the production?

Eloise: I listened to about 70% of TUS before I couldn’t. Naturally the voice wasn’t I imagined for Cyrus, but that is sort of a given. After I got over the voice (and I really love the narrator, I just had to get used to it after the first twenty minutes) it was an icky, icky feeling. Having something read back to me like that made me point out all the errors in my own work, wince at certain words or things I thought were cool at the time but didn’t anymore, etc. By the time TUS was turned into an audio book it had been so long since I revisited that my writing had changed a lot. In that sense it was also a revelatory because I realized certain things I did and tried curbing them.

BOB: If you were not writing about Zombies, what would you be writing about?

Eloise: I would still be writing post-apocalyptic fiction, but just not with zombies. I’ve also considered branching out into regular old dramatic fiction, but it’s a twinkle in my eye. Rather than say what I’d be writing about, here are some things I know I won’t be writing: romance (just can’t do it), young adult (I can’t stop things from getting too violent), paranormal (I’m afraid of ghosts and would scare myself).

BOB: Is there one book on your shelf that your fans may be shocked to see there?

Eloise: Almost the entire collection of Little House on the Prairie books. Vintage. Up until a few years ago I read at least one every summer. When I was a teenager I’d read all of them in the summer.

BOB: If Zombies were infesting your neighborhood right now, and you only had time to grab one item from your room, what would the item be, and why?

Eloise: I’d definitely grab the .22 rifle and a ton of ammo. I don’t have a good bug out bag built so the rifle seems like the next best thing.

BOB: We have moved from a world where authors do more than just write, but now engage with their fans through social media on an almost daily basis. You blog, attend cons, post charming and often hilarious videos and engage with your fans in a meaningful and professional way. Is there anything about Zombie fandom that has surprised you? Also, feel free to share any cool interactions you may have with fans over the years.

Eloise: One thing surprised me at first, in the absolute beginning of connecting with people, and it was only for a moment. When I first went to zomBcon my mom (I don’t think she’ll ever read this, but if she does, sorry mom!) was constantly going on about how people would be weird, mean, inconsiderate. That they were, for a lack of better words, freaks. It was offensive to me, of course, because wasn’t I a “freak” since I loved that stuff too and wrote about it? At the time I lived and breathed zombie books and movies. Anyway, she went to zomBcon with me and I had been nervous because I let her get to me, but right when I started meeting people it became obvious that they were the nicest people I had ever met. The sense of camaraderie (especially at zombie only events) is overwhelming. Everyone is nice, everyone is supportive and willing to talk. Like I said, it only surprised me for a second before the, “Well duh! Of course they’re awesome!” kicked in. Moral of the story? The people your mom calls “freaks” are the best people ever.

And I do have a fan interaction that, to this day, gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Almost two years ago a woman sent me this insanely long email about The Undead Situation. It was a mixture of praise and the most intense, blunt criticism I’d ever received. Ever. After I read it (it was at least two or three full word doc pages) I sat there, dazed. I sat on it for a day then emailed her back, thanking her for taking the time to email me and that her criticism was very helpful. We talked on and off for a while, then eventually I asked her if she wanted to beta read my sequel, maybe put some suggestions in here and there. Well, she ended up ripping every page apart. Every comment and edit was a brutal reality check. I loved every second of it. No beating around the bush. If she thought something sucked, she said so. After working with her I can safely say I became a better writer.

BOB: So, now that The Undead Haze is being released, what is next for you?

Eloise: I’m working on the last book in Cyrus’s trilogy and the last edition of Z Magazine. Don’t get your hopes up though; I’m a slow writer and it will be a while before The Undead End (my nickname for it) is finished. In the mean time I’m blogging, making videos, connecting with fans, and facing the “real world” now that college is over.

BOB: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Any last words?

Eloise: Thanks! And…
Prepare for the apocalypse!

You can connect with Eloise J Knapp:

On Her Website

On Her Blog

On Facebook:

On Twitter:

On YouTube

Z Magazine

Her Books at Audible

The Undead Haze at Permuted Press

Audiobook Review: The Undead Haze by Eloise J. Knapp

2 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month


The Undead Haze by Eloise J. Knapp (Cyrus V. Sinclair, Bk. 2)

Read by Kevin T. Collins

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 8 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Undead Haze is a solid Zombie Apocalypse tale that separates itself from the horde by the unique and oh, so twisted mind of its main character. Knapp blends a character driven survival tale with some awesome hardcore zombie gore into one seamless gift for Zombie apocalypse aficionados. In this Knapp manages to prove her first novel was no fluke, and cements her place as one of the top writers of the genre.

Grade: A-

We are a society that is obsessed with labels. It seems everybody, ourselves included, are looking for easily defined labels to slap on ourselves to explain our dysfunctions and behaviors. When I was in college, I took the Myers-Briggs test twice, and both times I came up borderline Extrovert and Introvert. This actually stressed me out for a good period of time. Eventually, I met with one of my advisors, and she gave me some good words of wisdom, "Do be too concerned with labels, you get to choose what you want to be." Now, I believe there are many people who have certifiable personality and psychiatric conditions, but I think many more have chosen what they feel they are and then become self fulfilling prophecies. I know, during some of my key moments of development, when I was dealing with the many issues that we go through, I tried to find something to smack on my forehead, and declare to the world, "THIS IS WHAT I AM! THIS EXPLAINS ME!" I’m sort of glad it never really took, that I went through a period of rapid change, of breaking away from how I was raised where labels never stuck. One of the reasons I really embraced Apocalyptic Fiction was that it appealed to my Introverted side. To live as the last man on earth with all those toys waiting to be picked up. It was a natural progression of my childhood fantasies of being locked by myself in a toy store over night. Yet, as I grow, and seek more balance, I realize that true heroes of Apocalyptic Fiction are those who learn to work with others, even if it’s a small group of close people. One of the reasons I loved The Undead Situation was because of the journey of self discovery that Cyrus V. Sinclair is on. He truly is one of the most fascinating characters I have experienced in Zombie fiction. Cyrus’s self diagnosed sociopathy is sort of my pop culturally defined Introversion extrapolated to an extreme point, and then placed into the most extreme of all situations, a Zombie apocalypse.

What could make self diagnosed sociopath Cyrus V. Sinclair leave the safety of his isolated cabin and throw himself amidst the undead hordes risking his life and the life of Pickles his ferret? Well, just one thing, Blaze, the hardcore, kickass woman he met, then abandoned after a devastating car accident. Yet, finding one women among the ruins of Apocalyptic Washington is nearly impossible, and it doesn’t help that the crazed leader of a cannibalistic gang with a taste for redheads seems to think that Cyrus should be his prodigy. But Cyrus is determined to succeed, no matter how many innocent people die in his wake. The Undead Haze picks up right after the cliffhangerish ending of The Undead Situation, and quickly immerses us again into Eloise J. Knapp’s world of some of the most twisted, amoral, crazy assed Zombie Apocalypse characters in the genre today. Oh, and those are the good guys. In fact, there really aren’t any good guys in The Undead Haze. Even the nicest, most considerate character barely bats an eye when he has to brain someone with a crowbar just for making too much of a racket. In Walking Dead terminology, The Undead Haze is all Shanes and Merles and absolutely no Ricks. This is a good thing people. I loved Cyrus so hard in The Undead Situation, so hard I thought it must have been a fluke. I typically despise the amoral, hardcore characters in Zombie Novels and movies. I hated Shane. Yet, I love Cyrus. The Undead Haze just made me love him even more. Eloise J. Knapp’s apocalyptic world isn’t groundbreaking. There are fast and slow zombies, twisted fucks, cannibals and religious crazies, yet when you filter it all through the skewed perception of her main character, it feels fresh and new. Knapp has definitely shown progression as a writer. Her action scenes are crisper, and more visually stunning than The Undead Situation, and she finds a way to pull the dark beauty out of her settings. I think the overall imperative of The Undead Haze where Cyrus has a mission about more than just his personal survival helped in the pacing of the novel. There is a constant pushing, a noticeable desire to move the plot forward that you can feel in this story that is often lacking in Zombie series which often it seems each book is just about getting to the next book. Here, there’s a goal, and it creates a self contained storyline that can stand on its own. The Undead Haze is also darkly funny. Cyrus’s voice is so fresh, so without the need to blunt his thought process that the shear audacity of it made me laugh out loud at times. Cyrus said some things that, in any other character’s mouth, would be head skakingly corny, but for Cyrus, they turn into gold. The Undead Haze is a solid Zombie Apocalypse tale that separates itself from the horde by the unique and oh, so twisted mind of its main character. Knapp blends a character driven survival tale with some awesome hardcore zombie gore into one seamless gift for Zombie apocalypse aficionados. In this Knapp manages to prove her first novel was no fluke, and cements her place as one of the top writers of the genre.

I am often amazed when a narrator, after a multiyear break between books, can just perfectly recapture the voice of a character. If I remember correctly, The Undead Situation was my first experience with Kevin T. Collins as a narrator. I remember thinking while listening that he was channeling JD from the movie Heathers for his reading of Cyrus, which was PERFECT!  Then I wondered, hey, maybe he just naturally sounds like JD. Now, that I have become a big fan of his narration through multiple genres of audiobooks, I can attest that Collins has range, and that he is totally the voice of Cyrus. Collins reads The Undead Haze with a harsh crudeness. A slap you in the face style that made each moment, each untimely death, each visceral image, each poorly considered quip feel like a punch in the gut. Collins doesn’t simply read to you, he sneers at you, and damn it, you just accept it, perhaps even revel in it. Collins transitioned his pacing perfectly, from Cyrus’s introspection to the rapid fire action scenes, bring every moment alive. There were even a few moments where I even actually kinda felt emotional type things, but we won’t talk about that. Forget I mentioned it. I do have two small issues. So much of the voice of the novel takes place inside Cyrus’s head, and sometimes it was hard to determine what was internal dialogue and what was vocalized, until the character told you or you saw a reaction from another character. Also, there was a few, not many, but a few, what I like to call "gurgle blurps." Some strange sounds that were like throat clearing, lip smacking that probably could have been edited out. Other than those small quips, this production was excellent. Kevin T. Collins has so become Cyrus V. Sinclair that I really hope I don’t run into him during the Zombie Apocalypse.


Audiobook Review: The Becoming: Ground Zero by Jessica Meigs

7 08 2012

The Becoming: Ground Zero by Jessica Meigs

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs 5 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Becoming: Ground Zero succeeds where many follow ups fail, by changing the tone and slowing down the pace, Meigs actually manages to create even more tension than the original. It’s not an easy ride, with devastating emotion and heartbreak as we become more and more attach to these characters in an extremely unpredictable world. Full of mystery, intrigue and even some romance, The Becoming is a series I want to devour like a lone weaponless survivor in a horde of the undead.

Grade: B+

There is a rising axiom among fans of zombie apocalypse fiction that it’s not about the zombies, it’s about the survivors. Sure, we love the rising of the undead, the friends and loved one turning into insatiable eaters of human flesh, many of us even enjoy the gore and mayhem that comes with the ravaging hordes, yet, tales simply about walking corpses seeking out the flesh of the living isn’t enough to make a compelling story. We need to get to know the survivors, to feel their pain. A good Zombie outbreak novel asks the question, “What would you be willing to do to survive?” Yet, as Zombie fiction becomes more and more saturated into our culture, other questions are starting to be asked. One major theme that is really beginning to get examined in Zombie fiction is, “Is survival enough?” So much of Zombie fiction centers on surviving, yet, when the first wave is over, and the survivors begging to adapt to a new way of life, the obvious question is “What’s Next?” Should our survivors be happy with simply surviving, finding a way to live day to day with the constant threat of the living dead ending everything you have been fighting for? Often, our survivors find themselves with some sort of mission, find a cure, save a loved one, search out as location where you can make a life that serves as their new purpose. Yet, these types of decisions come many side effects, the greatest of which is conflict. In a group of survivors, how do you choose to take on a mission when it reduced the safety of the group? How much safety are you willing to sell in order to gain a sense of purpose? These issues are key points for any surviving group, and the driving theme of Jessica Meigs second novel of her zombie Apocalypse series, The Becoming: Ground Zero.

It’s been a year since the Michaluk Virus changed the world, and Ethan, Cade and their small group have found a way to survive despite the constant threat of the undead. Yet, when a mysterious woman shows up, and asks for their help to travel to Atlanta, to the CDC headquarters where the virus began, some see the opportunity as a chance for purpose, while others see it simply as a Suicide mission. And for Brandt Evans, the stoic former marine who barely escaped Atlanta after the initial outbreak, it’s a trip back into his greatest nightmare. The Becoming: Ground Zero is the sequel to Meigs excellent debut novel The Becoming, yet, instead of sticking with the tried and true it makes a big change in tone and focus. While The Becoming was a fast paced Zombie Outbreak novel that focused on surviving and adaptation, Meigs slows down the pace and focuses more on the interplay between the characters in Ground Zero. Now, I am never one who gets excited by romance in Zombie novels, usually it seems forced and uncomfortable. While there is a touch of heavy handed romanticism in Ground Zero, for the most part it comes off organically, and actually serves the plot. Meigs has a knack for straight forward characterization that never glamorizes, but portrays realistic reactions to a devastating world. Almost every one of the main characters frustrated me at some point, but in a way that only proved how engaged I was in their struggle. Plus, I like that Meigs characters actually make mistakes, often stupid ones, but manage to learn from them. Unlike many sequels which are just ramped up versions of the original, Meigs actually ramps down the violence through most of the book, yet made it feel somewhat more ominous. And all the character development, mysterious situations, and mood creation pays off in a killer ending that had me wanting the next edition right now. The Becoming: Ground Zero succeeds where many follow ups fail, by changing the tone and slowing down the pace, Meigs actually manages to create even more tension than the original. It’s not an easy ride, with devastating emotion and heartbreak as we become more and more attach to these characters in an extremely unpredictable world. Full of mystery, intrigue and even some romance, The Becoming is a series I want to devour like a lone weaponless survivor in a horde of the undead.

Christian Rummel again brings his talents for characterizations and plotting to the world of The Becoming. One thing that Rummel really managed to do well in his performance of The Becoming: Ground Zero was to really find the dark humor that Meigs has infused this tale with. Meigs snappy dialogue and clever turns of phrase are really brought to life by Rummel’s reading, evoking plenty of audible laughs from me. Rummel also masterfully handles some really devastatingly emotional moments that I can’t go deeper into without spoiling some key moments in this tale. I will say though, I didn’t cry. I am a big, manly man, who doesn’t cry, especially as he’s driving home late at nigh on a particularly curvy road that follows Neshaminy Creek. Tears would have been far too reckless.   I did have one small quibbling complaint, and that was in the opening of the book. Meigs used a diary entry by a new character to remind us of the world she created, Rummel read this in his narrative voice, and not in the character’s voice. It really doesn’t change much for the performance, just a little personal quibble of mine that most readers probably wouldn’t even notice. The Becoming: Ground Zero is a wonderful expansion of Meigs world, expertly delivered by Christian Rummel.

Audiobook Review: Dead Tropics by Sue Edge

20 07 2012

Dead Tropics by Sue Edge

Read by Cynthia Barrett

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Zombie Outbreak

Quick Thoughts: While Dead Tropic has a pretty standard Zombie Outbreak plot, its unique setting and kick ass heroine gives it just enough edge to stand out in a crowded field.  Edge creates some incredibly cruel situations for her survivors, forcing her heroine to make decisions that will frustrate, thrill and shake the emotions of the readers. Sadly, the narrators inability to engage with the text blunted the visceral nature of some of the more graphic scenes of the novel.

Grade: B-

It’s been a while here since we talked about Zombies and my various rules that I make up seemingly haphazardly as I listen to or read zombie books. Recently I listened to Sue Edge’s Dead Tropics and it really tickled that little part of the brain where I think about the Zombie Apocalypse and the many things that will kill you when the dead start to walk. I think this was at first brought about by the fact that my first rule of surviving a Zombie Apocalypse is to stay as far away from hospitals as possible. Yet, in Dead Tropic our main character, Lori Nelson, is a nurse and the initial uprising begins in the hospital she works at. So, simply put, she’s kinda in a shitty situation to begin with. Yet, listening to Dead Tropic led me to realize that one of the biggest causes of death in a zombie outbreak will be the entirely implausible nature of the danger. The main character of Dead Tropic found herself in many situations where her telling others that there was a zombie uprising actually made it harder to get people to react. Honestly, if some crazy women came running into your place of business screaming that zombies are coming, would you believe her? Despite the fact that I am an aficionado of Zombie literature, I don’t believe a zombie uprising will ever actually occur, and this disbelief in the potentiality of the situation could kill me. There were times when Lori had to basically fudge the truth, for instance, instead of saying zombies, she would say infected, violent or bad people. Yet, I know I would react differently if I thought there were some bad violent people heading my way, instead of zombies. So, here’s my latest zombie rule, inspired by Dead Tropic. Families and loved ones should come up with what I call an "Oh, Shit" code word, a word that says, "Take what I am about to tell you absolutely seriously, even though it sounds crazy." So, if the zombies are coming, or aliens are invading, or sentient robots are stealing all our canned food, the use of the word can cut through all of the "Yeah, you’re just kidding, right" hesitation, getting your loved ones moving to your apocalyptic bunker, with their cans safely locked away from grabbing robotic hands.

Dead Tropics for the most part is a pretty, by-the-numbers zombie outbreak novel, yet with a few twists. First off, Edge sets her zombie outbreak in the tropical climates of Cairns, Australia. Now, I am no expert in Australia, but the mixture of Tropical swamps and other natural settings with the urban landscape of a medium sized city gave the book an interesting feel. In Edge’s Zombie apocalypse, traffic and retail shopping centers are just as much of an encumbrance to our heroes’ survival as are bogs and crocs. For someone who lives in the infinite squall of an American big city suburb, I found the tropical setting a fascinating wrinkle in this survival tale. Yet, the true aspect of Dead Tropic that pushes it past just another Zombie Outbreak novel is its protagonist. As I was listening to the novel, I was a bit surprised to realize that I couldn’t think of another zombie novel where the main character was a mother. It’s really strange. I can think of plenty of father’s in that role, yet, when I think of female leads in zombie novels, many are kick ass, capable, strong women, yet, none of them were mothers. Now, I found Lori Nelson at times to be frustratingly controlling and prone to take stupid risks, qualities that annoy me in characters of any sex, yet, she was also one of the more compelling, motivated and resourceful characters I have read in zombie fiction. In all honestly, some of the situations that Edge puts her character in is simply cruel. Some of the decisions required of her were so brutal I physically flinched from them, yet Lori always responded to the situation. Now, she didn’t always act in what I would consider the smartest of ways, but, what person would in this situation. Edge does a decent job creating an interesting group of survivors, particularly the women and younger characters. Some of the peripheral male characters where a bit underdeveloped and I found myself struggling to remember just exactly who they were at times. Edge’s actions scenes are pretty crisply drawn and well choreographed, yet they also caused a few pacing issues, where the transformation in tone was so abrupt that I found myself having to rewind a bit, fearing I missed something. My only other complaint about the novel was the romance. I personally found it a bit forced, relying too much on Lori’s inner dialogue, yet, let’s face it, I tend to find most romantic subplots, particularly in zombie novels to be forced. I guess I’m just not much of a romantic, particularly when I am being chased by the cannibalistic walking dead. So, while Dead Tropic has a pretty standard Zombie Outbreak plot, its unique setting and kick ass heroine gives it just enough edge to stand out in a crowded field.  Edge creates some incredibly cruel situations for her survivors, forcing her heroine to make decisions that will frustrate, thrill and shake the emotions of the readers.

I had high hopes for Cynthia Barrett. I know, these are words that critics often use when before bashing someone’s work, but here, it’s actually true. As I started the book, I loved the tone of her voice. I’m a bit tired of the young, perky Soprano voices dominating among female narrators. Barrett has a husky, exotic tone that is both beautiful and unique. Yet, tone, no matter how rich, isn’t enough. I never felt Barrett engaging with the text, and it lead to me not engaging with it at times as well. Barrett’s reading isn’t exactly monotone, but it lacks emotional affect on any significant level. Dead Tropic can, at times, be brutally graphic, but her straight reading took a lot of the edge off the visceral nature of the situation. Barrett read scenes where Lori was forced to shove a knife through the eye socket of a zombie child, like she was explaining how to properly thread a crocheting needle. Now, you could argue that anyone would have an almost shocked coldness to them during a zombie outbreak, but her reading just didn’t ring true to the character for me. To me, this was more of a straight reading than a performance, and I felt that that choice did an overall disservice to the narrative.  While the audiobook was listenable, if you have a choice, I would recommend the print version over the audio.

This review is part of my weekly, Welcome to the Apocalypse series.

Audiobook Review: 14 by Peter Clines

3 07 2012

14 by Peter Clines

Read by Ray Porter

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 12 Hrs 42 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams  uncomfortable.

Grade: A

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

One of the hardest aspects of writing book  reviews is trying to provide enough background information on a book so that a reader, even if they are unfamiliar with the book you are reviewing, can decide if it is something they may be interested in, yet doing it in a way that doesn’t ruin the experience. For many books, a detailed summarily, which provides the basic plot elements and genre categories, is appropriate, and this basic background information will actually assist the reader in getting into the right mindset to enjoy the story. Yet, sometimes a book is best experienced cold. It’s tough, because there are so many books available today, and a reader has to consider their time and money when choosing what to read. So, if you have come to this blog today, looking for a detailed synopsis of Peter Cline’s latest, 14, I’m sorry to say I am going to disappoint you. Any attempt by me to describe this book would only lessen the impact of the novel. 14 is the anti-NBC Public Service announcement, “The More You Know…” because the less you know going in, the better. What I will do is attempt to describe my experience in as general a way as possible, with a sort of wink, and a nod asking simply that you trust me. I know that you people don’t really know me, but please trust me, because this one is pretty darn good.

In 14 Peter Clines has created a frightening vision that blends genres, manipulates tropes and flips conventions on its head. It is old school horror pushed into a pop culture age, it is a mystery without a crime, and an adventure that remains stationary for much of the tale. This tale defies easy categorization. It is a darkly comic horror story that borrows just as much from Office Space and Saturday Morning cartoons as it does from HP Lovecraft, Richard Matheson and Phillip Jose Farmer. Like a good JJ Abrams series Clines combines aspects of mystery, horror, alternate history, science fiction, Steampunk, and dark fantasy, yet unlike these series, the story stays on track and actually delivers a solid ending. Yet, what surprised me was at times, particularly the final third of the novel, it actually sort of freaked me out a bit. Now, I read plenty of horror and rarely, if ever does it actually frighten me. It may appall me, or shake my sensibilities, but rarely do I actually get scared reading it. Yet, Peter Clines manages to tap into some of our deepest archetypical fears, and left me, at times, feeling quite unsettled. On the basic mechanics of the tale, 14 does a lot of things right. Clines created a lot of interesting characters, some which were instantly likeable. The main plot was in many ways a mystery tale, with a group of characters coming together to solve a riddle. As with all good mysteries, part of the solving the riddle is solving the characters, and each main character has a bit of a mystery to them, some secrets that become quite relevant to the plot, and others that serve as sort of a red herring. 14 has many twist, some of these twists you see from a mile away, some that you kick yourself for not figuring out earlier, and some that just totally floor you. The plot is intricately   and expertly built and while a bit out there, Clines grounds the far fetched nature of the tale with a likeable, everyman/woman cast. These are regular people in a decidedly irregular situation and filtering this tale through these character’s perspectives helps the reader buy into the rather bizarre nature of the story. If there is any justice in the world, 14 is a novel that should make Peter Clines a household name among not just horror fans, but fans of good stories, expertly told. Clines has created a novel with characters to cheer for, twists to be honestly shocked by and stunningly vivid horrors that will make your dreams uncomfortable.

I have become quite a big fan of Ray Porter’s narration style, and his rich voice. Porter is one of my favorite first person narrators. He understands that speech isn’t always fluid and flawless, but includes affectations, and inconstant pacing. Porter can do more with a pause and a sigh, than many narrators can do with poetry. Yet, this was the first time I have listened to Porter read a novel written in the third person. I wondered if his style would be as good of a fit with this type of tale as it is with his first person narration. Thankfully, I can report that it totally was.  Porter perfectly captures all of Clines strange collection of characters. It was interesting to see Porter, who I know best as the voice of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger, bring to life a character that is basically soft spoken and unsure of himself. Yet, Porter does more than capture the main character Nate well, but allows the soft voice he creates for him to grow stronger as the book moves on, highlighting the transformation of the character. One of Porter’s other strong suits is voicing exotic women, and that serves him well with the lead female character Veek. In fact, each character is given a voice that highlights their personalities and place in this story, which was very helpful with such a large cast of important characters. And I can’t talk about the ending. Really, what Porter does with the final third of the book is just nightmare inducing. It seriously freaked me out, people. Peter Clines novels are always highly visual, with intricately detailed action that comes across splendidly in audio. 14 is one of those books where even if you already read the print version, experiencing the audio version will bring it own rewards.

Audiobook Review: Dead Meat by Patrick Williams & Chris Williams

22 05 2012

Dead Meat by Patrick Williams & Chris Williams

Read by Kevin Stillwell

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 10 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: While Dead Meat is a gore filled, hardcore zombie novel, it is also a complicated character study with a devastatingly brilliant ending. The path that Dead Meat takes you on isn’t always easy going, but the destination is more than worth the trip.

Grade: B

I think so much about the Zombie Apocalypse is a matter of perspective. I remember watching 28 Weeks Later, and feeling outraged at the government and soldiers who killed people in the streets and hunted down children to prevent them from escaping the Quarantine Zone. In this so-called age of freedom what kind of agent of the people would kill their citizens, just because they want to escape an apocalyptic nightmare zone and find safely. Of course, if that safety comes at the expense of my safety and the safety of those I love, that’s a whole other story. So many Zombie novels start within an initial outbreak zone. Sure, cutting off people from safety can be heartbreaking. Many people who are yet to be infected trapped with the undead hordes. We feel for them, we sympathize, and often, we are angry with those who lock theses people out, and even scoff at their ineptitudes. Yet, what if the story instead came from the perspective of the next town over? While I’m sure there is probably some people in that town that worries about civil liberties, the majority of those people will be worried about not having their entrails ripped from their still living bodies. If someone can come up with a better idea than Quarantines zones and carpet bombing the infected town, I’m all ears. I respect the individual freedoms our government was founded on. I also respect not being eaten.

In Dead Meat, strange violent attacks have begun to plague the city of River’s Edge. These violent attracts are explained as rabies infestation brought on by rats. As the chaos increases, two strangers, Gavin and Benny start their journey to try to escape the quarantined city, avoiding the swarm like infected and the soldiers attempting to exterminate those within the zone, whether infected of not. There seems to be a recent push in accessible, literary zombie fiction, broadening the genre’s audience to include young adults and those unsure about the horror aspects of zombie apocalypse fiction. Dead Meat is not one of these novels. Dead Meat is a gore loving, splatter punk zombie fan’s wet dream. Patrick Williams and Chris Williams don’t waste much time with setting up, they expect the reader to be familiar with apocalyptic scenarios, and plops them down right in the middle of a doozy. While many people will be fascinated by the swarm like behavior of the infected, called Bees by the characters, I didn’t find it as unique as some, just due to the immense amount of zombie literature I have red. What I found refreshing about the novel was its characters. Early on, I felt that Benny and Gavin were very underdeveloped. You don’t learn much background on them, and have no clues to their motivation. Yet, as the story’s thematic elements shift, you understand why. The major theme to the novel is that in extreme survival situations, people change, and the author’s allowed you to discover the characters through their altered forms, instead of grounding you in their past. The authors created a set of relationships that created multiple levels of survival. These characters are neither trusting nor trustworthy. How do you survive against the undead, when you are unsure whether or not your human partner will put a bullet in the back of your head? How can you feel safe when your partner revels in destruction? These are the questions asked in Dead Meat. While Dead Meat is a gore filled, hardcore zombie novel, it is also a complicated character study with a devastatingly brilliant ending. The path that Dead Meat takes you on isn’t always easy going, but the destination is more than worth the trip.

It took me a while to warm up to Kevin Stillwell’s narration of Dead Meat. His voice had a sort of aged gruffness that I felt didn’t fit as well with the youthfulness of the main characters. Yet, as the novel progressed, I found myself more and more comfortable with his reading. I think that his narration sort of mirrored the character’s development. As you began to get a better understanding of Gavin and Benny, Stillwell’s characterizations became more definitive, better matching their personalities. The highlight of the production was his handling of Rickett, which I found dead on. Yet, I again had trouble with Henry, and it was hard to figure out if it was narration or writing. She didn’t feel her age to me, coming off as less mature than the two younger male characters. She seemed almost like a petulant brat and I’m not quite sure how much of this was the author’s intent, narrator’s interpretation or if I just missed something about the character. Stillwell’s handling of the intense action was well done, pacing the narrative in a steady manner which allowed me to get a good handle on the developing situations. In the end, I think that Stillwell and the story grew on me as I began to understand the characters and the directions the authors were pushing them to.

Audiobook Review: Roads Less Traveled: The Plan by C. Dulaney

14 05 2012

Roads Less Traveled: The Plan by C. Dulaney

Read by Elisabeth Rodgers

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Roads Less Traveled: The Plan is a realistic, accessible Zombie thriller that can easily bridge the gap between fans of the darker, Permuted Press Zombie style and those younger fans who were introduced to Zombie fiction through authors like Ilsa J Bick and Amanda Hocking. Dulaney reminded me that with strong characters, deft plotting and well drawn action, the classic zombie survival tales can seem as fresh as when I first opened the pages of The Rising.

Grade: B+

As much of a lover of zombie fiction as I am, I do not have a Zombie plan. Sure, I probably should have some sort of game plan in place when one of the many apocalyptic scenarios decided to fall upon my world. The problem is, I’m a normal, lower middle class guy living in the death trap of suburban sprawl. Heck, I don’t even live in the nice, more isolated suburban areas, but right smack up against the 5th largest city in the country.  Oh, to make matters even better, I live in a smallish ground floor apartment, surrounded by plenty of people who when they become ravenous flesh hungry skin jobs, will have no problems smashing through one of the many man sized windows to enter my apartment and find a Bob-sized snack. So, if by some stroke of luck, I can find a way of getting to my vehicle, parked a good couple of football fields away, down a narrow sidewalk, then I’d probably end up in the congested traffic trying to flee this area. Now, luckily, we have plenty of major highways connecting in this area, to bleed off a lot of the traffic, and I am quite familiar with the back roads of my area. So, maybe I have a shot, but a plan. Nope. What plans can a guy who lives in the suburban sprawl, with a bad knee, who has never fired a gun, nor is a highly trained ninja, pirate or masked dark knight really make, besides bugging out and hoping to find someone capable to take care of me, and kill all the pesky undead trying to eat my tasty flesh. 

I’ll be honest, I never was really sure I wanted to listen to Roads Less Traveled: The Plan. Did I really want to spend 10 hours listening to some rural resident talking about their wonderful plan, and scoffing at all us stupid city folks? Because that’s what I expected. I have read quite a few apocalyptic novels where some people fully prepare themselves for the apocalypse and disparage those who didn’t while bragging about their Survivalistic savvy. I had downloaded Roads Less Traveled a while back from Audible, yet it sat there in my library mostly ignored and forgotten. The reason I had considered listening to it was because I had good experiences with the Permuted Press female authors, like Eloise J. Knapp and Jessica Meigs, so I was hoping that trend would continue. So, Zombie Awareness Month has rolled around giving me the motivation to dust off the old digital copy and give it a whirl. Frankly put, I enjoyed the hell out of Road Less Traveled. It’s actually quite hard for me to put my finger on what I liked about it. Dulaney doesn’t really break much new ground here. She combines a lot of different classic Zombie Apocalypse themes, bringing about something that is just a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, in my search for a new and unique twist on the genre, I lose sight of what drew me to these types of stories, then I listen to something like Roads Less Traveled, and I remember. Dulaney tackles the apocalypse with an accessible writing style, a willingness to take some risks and a well developed and interesting female lead. Dulaney shows us the zombie fiction can be dark and realistic without relying solely on viscera, gore and depravity. Kasey is one of the strongest female leads I have encountered, yet she is also unsure of herself and vulnerable. Now, this isn’t a perfect novel, there are some development issues with some of the lesser characters, and a few narrative leaps that left me a bit disoriented, but these quibbles are minor when compared to the many thing done right. Roads Less Traveled: The Plan is a realistic, accessible Zombie thriller that can easily bridge the gap between fans of the darker, Permuted Press Zombie style and those younger fans who were introduced to Zombie fiction through authors like Ilsa J Bick and Amanda Hocking. Dulaney reminded me that with strong characters, deft plotting and well drawn action, the classic zombie survival tales can seem as fresh as when I first opened the pages of The Rising.

Elisabeth Rodgers gives a standout performance in her reading of Roads Less Traveled: The Plan. Rodgers is a new to me narrator, and her performance was one of the reasons I engaged with this title so quickly. Now, I am no experts on accents, so I can’t really say whether it was authentic, but her soft, measured southern tone she gave to Kasey, and the vocal cues she uses made the character really come alive for me. I did have some trouble early on delineating some of the male characters, particularly Zach and Jake, but as they became more defined in the text, I was able to grasp the subtleties of each of their personalities through Rodgers characterizations. Roads Less Traveled: The Plan was an excellent audiobook production and a must listen for hardcore fans of Zombie audiobooks.

Audiobook Review: Pavlov’s Dogs by Thom Brannan and D. L. Snell

8 05 2012

Pavlov’s Dogs by Thom Brannan and D. L. Snell

Read by Jonathan Davis

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Werewolves

Quick Thoughts: Pavlov’s Dogs has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint that does a good job assigning a pack mentality to genetically altered Soldier-wolves. Yet, uneven character development and plotting had me struggling to become fully engaged in the tale. Yet, if you are looking for a different take on the Zombie Apocalypse, with tons of action and werewolves, well, let loose the Dogs of War.

Grade: B-

I’m a huge fan of the versus. Throw one little word between two awesome things, and somehow it makes it even better. Peter Clines did it with his Ex series, placing the versus between Zombies and Superheroes. Marvel has done it especially well, particularly when placing that word between Wolverine and The Hulk. This is the reason I was instantly interested in Thomas Brannan and D.L. Snell’s Pavlov’s Dogs. It’s no secret that I love zombie literature. Heck, I am dedicating an entire month to in honor of Zombie Awareness Month. Yet, my fandom of Werewolves is much more tenuous and unknown. I have enjoyed stories involving werewolves. I enjoyed Al Sarrantonio’s Moonbane, where apocalyptic wolf creatures fall from the moon, and Glenn Duncan’s gritty, often disturbing The Last Werewolf was brilliant. Heck, George is my favorite character in the original Being Human, and I love the werewolf aspects of that series. Yet, beyond that, I haven’t explored the Lycanthrope mythos in fiction much beyond the occasional appearance in some urban fantasy series, like The Dresden Files. So, a novel where we have Zombies, werewolves, and that word versus thrown in between these two killer monstrous staples, well, I believe I may have been legally required to check this one out.

On his Island Compound, possibly unstable Dr. Crispin has developed genetically altered werewolves with cyber controls that may just change the way we wage war. Then the apocalypse comes in the form of the ravaging undead. While safe in their island bunker, Dr. Crispin butts heads with Donavan, the new head Neurotechnician over whether to use the "Dogs of War" to save any survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse. While they fight, two friends, Ken and Jorge must try to lead a band of Survivors to safety while fighting off the infected. Brannan and Snell do a lot of thing well in Pavlov’s Dogs. The science behind the Werewolves, as well as the social structure of the pack is fascinating, and the author’s ability to shift and change the narrative often had me surprised and impressed with the story. Their ability to set up often overused literary stereotypes, manipulating the reader into engaging their preconceived notions, then smashing them created some interesting twists and turns throughout the tale. Yet, sadly, I had trouble fully engaging in the tale. There are a few reasons for this. I feel that a few of the characters were developed well, yet, many are underdeveloped, and then suddenly are thrust onto you as a major player in the tale. This was often problematic because there is no true main character in this tale, and I never felt I fully got to grasp onto any of the key players. Sure, I liked them, and often cheered for or jeered against them, but I never truly understood their motivations, or could truly justify their actions with the type of people I believed them to be. Also, while the focus on the Werewolves, and the internal power struggles of the island was well done, the other aspects of the stories, from Ken and Jorge’s travels, and the actual Zombie Apocalypse, felt a bit glossed over. There were things hinted at and implied about these aspects of the story, that I was hoping would get further explored, yet never were. Pavlov’s Dogs has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint that does a good job assigning a pack mentality to genetically altered Soldier-wolves. Yet, uneven character development, and plotting had me struggling to become fully engaged in the tale. Yet, if you are looking for a different take on the Zombie Apocalypse, with tons of action and werewolves, well, let loose the Dogs of War.

Jonathan Davis is a veteran narrator who I have listened to plenty of times in the past. I have found his narration to be hit and miss and Pavlov’s Dogs is definitely a hit. I think one of the tougher things for a narrator to do is to take on a novel with a diverse ensemble cast, and Davis pulls it off here with ease. I loved his interpretations of many of the characters, particularly to more defined one like Dr. Crispin or Jorge. In fact, I found his performance of Jorge to be a highlight of the reading, balancing the characters emotional journey with his biting wit in a way that caused me to wish the authors gave this character a bit more screen time. As with any tale full of action, pacing is key, and Davis found just the right rhythm to deliver the action scenes in a crisp visual manner. If you decide to check out Pavlov’s Dogs, I highly recommend you do it in audio. While I had some issues with the book, the audio production was top rate and highly listenable.