I’m not going to tell you his name, but I know an author who, over the years, has been my friend, my best and most honest critic, and at times, unwillingly, my mentor. He has praised me with patient, good humor during my successes and counseled me with sage advice during my low periods of self-doubt and frustration. I admire and love the man.
But I don’t always agree with him. For example, we were guests at a recent convention and found ourselves sitting next to each other on a zombie panel. The moderator asked a question very similar to what we’re responding to today. My friend, who likes to think of himself as a part-time misanthrope, said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the popularity of the zombie is a symptom of our societal self-loathing, that we so disgust ourselves as a species that we first seek to debase others by turning them into zombies and then punish them for all the things they do to piss us off through a series of zombie kills, each more gruesome and bloody than the last.
I don’t buy that… even though I kind of get where he’s coming from. After all, when you look around, things are pretty bad. The economy is horrible, and more and more young people are finding the job market a barren and hostile environment. It’s easy to feel like you don’t matter when you can’t find a job.
And even if you do find one, it’s easy to feel the life bleeding out of you as you slog through another meaningless shift, or clear out the emails in your inbox, or put caps on bottles, or fold boxes, dunk fries in grease, whatever you do. There is a cyclical monotony to our work lives that is paralleled in the endless parade of zombies in all the various first person shooter video games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island. Perhaps the greatest example I’ve ever seen of this is in Shaun of the Dead. Remember Mary, the shop girl, the first zombie that Shaun and Ed encounter? She’s also one of the first characters we see, making her appearance as a living person during the opening credits. It’s that moment to which I’m referring. I love that her expression as she’s ringing up a customer is exactly the same expression she wears as a zombie. Life is a non-issue, that look says. It’s the monotony that matters.
But, as I said, I don’t buy it. Perhaps it’s true that zombies tell us a little about why we hate ourselves and the mess in which we find our lives, but I just can’t believe that hate and self-loathing can carry a wave of popularity as wide and as far-reaching as that which the zombie has achieved. Surely there’s more to it than that.
I think what really bothers me about the “zombies as an expression of our self-loathing theory” is that it implies we’re amplifying our nightmares instead of purging them. The best horror fiction, historically speaking, has always been cathartic. It’s always been about stripping our fears of their efficacy by talking about them. (Can there be a greater example of this than Dickens’ “there is more of gravy than the grave” line in A Christmas Carol?) Zombie fiction is no different. It is, for me—and I believe for so many others—a genre that proves we are, at heart, a creative species that needs to tear down the world and create it anew in order to survive in it.
That has certainly been my experience. I started writing zombie fiction back when there were very few entries in the field. (Romero had done three of his zombie movies, and Skipp and Goodfellow had done Mondo Zombie, and Brian Keene had just published his wonderful novel The Rising, but there wasn’t much else.) I had watched Night of the Living Dead as a young teenager, and it was one of the only horror movies that ever actually scared me. I still remember going to bed every night with a baseball bat cradled in my arms. I knew that one day I would go on to write my own zombie story.
But of course life got in the way. I grew up. I went to college, and then grad school, and then got a job as a San Antonio police officer. Every night I was experiencing something new and crazy. Car chases and fistfights and talking people out of setting their babies on fire were normal nights for me. Believe it or not, I was having the time of my life. I even met the woman who would become the love of my life. And in the winter of 2003, she gave me my first child. That was the moment right there: fatherhood. That was the moment the zombies finally got me.
It happened like this. I was standing with my face against a large window, looking in on the nursery where my first-born lay sleeping. I was a young man, a scared young man, a young man finally willing to accept what my dad had been telling me all along: that the world is infinitely more complex than I realized, and that fatherhood carries with it demands no one is ever truly prepared to accept.
Those of you with kids know what I mean. One minute you’re footloose and fancy free. You go out whenever you want. Life is good. You got this. And then—a baby! Suddenly, you’ve got more responsibilities than you ever knew existed. Life is complicated. Life is about diapers and insurance and visits to the pediatrician and wondering how you’re going to afford the groceries. Life is about actually getting to sleep through the night.
That was me in the winter of 2003. I was scared to death. But I had my writing to back me up. Since my early teenage years, writing had been my outlet for my anxieties and concerns. I turned to it again. I started a science fiction novel that really sucked ass and I nearly gave it all up. But then I thought of the horror movies that I’d loved as a kid, and Night of the Living Dead came to mind. I realized that if I was going to do this right, I needed to write what I loved, and what I loved was horror. I figured if I was beset on all sides by responsibilities too big for my kenning, I would write about a character who was beset on all sides by horrors too big for his kenning, horrors he needed to dispatch in the most visceral way possible.
That’s how I started writing zombie fiction.
And that’s why I take exception whenever someone tries to dismiss zombie fiction as meaningless fluff.
Because it’s not.
It matters to me.
What is your latest zombie release?
My latest is Plague of the Undead, released from Kensington Publishing on October 7th, 2014.
Quick description of it.
A Handful Of Survivors
For thirty years, they have avoided the outbreak of walking death that has consumed America’s heartland. They have secured a small compound near the ruins of Little Rock, Arkansas. Isolated from the world. Immune to the horror. Blissfully unaware of what lies outside in the region known as the Dead Lands. Until now. . .
A New Generation Of Explorers
Led by a military vet who’s seen better days, the inexperienced offspring of the original survivors form a small expedition to explore the wastelands around them. A biologist, an anthropologist, a cartographer, a salvage expert–all are hoping to build a new future from the rubble, which they call the “Dead Lands.” Until all hell breaks loose. . .
A Land Of Death
The infected are still out there. Stalking. Feeding. Spreading like a virus. Wild animals roam the countryside, hunting prey. Small pockets of humanity hide in the shadows: some scared, some mad, all dangerous. This is the New World. If the explorers want it, they’ll have to take it. Dead or alive. . .
Something unique about it.
Plague of the Undead is the first book in a new series called The Deadlands. It is at its core a novel of exploration, not only of the post-apocalyptic world in which it’s set, but also of what it takes to survive and the laws that help our communities to survive.
Links for people to buy it.
The book is available in all formats wherever books are sold. If your local Barnes & Noble doesn’t have it, you can always find it through Amazon, right here:
Your promo links.
Readers can learn more about me and keep up with what’s going on by following me on Facebook, here:
Or follow me on Twitter: @JoeMcKinney
Your short Bio.
Joe McKinney has been a patrol officer for the San Antonio Police Department, a homicide detective, a disaster mitigation specialist, a patrol commander, and a successful novelist. His books include the four-part Dead World series, Quarantined, Inheritance, Lost Girl of the Lake, The Savage Dead, St. Rage, Crooked House and Dodging Bullets. His short fiction has been collected in The Red Empire and Other Stories, Speculations, and Dead World Resurrection: The Complete Zombie Short Stories of Joe McKinney. His latest works include the werewolf thriller, Dog Days, set in the summer of 1983 in the little Texas town of Clear Lake, where the author grew up, and Plague of the Undead, Book One in the Deadlands Saga. McKinney is a two-time recipient of the Bram Stoker Award®. For more information go to http://joemckinney.wordpress.com.
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The stench of frozen rotted meat is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 10 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #WinterZombie2014
AND so you don’t miss any of the posts in November, here’s the complete list, updated daily: