Monday, October 31, 2011

Why a Zombie story?

photo by Ron Warren

Everybody likes zombies. This is a true-ism if ever there was one. Why? Because they are the multi-purpose monster, the Big Blank that can represent almost anything that scares us.

A long time ago, Clive Barker said something like, “Zombies are the liberal’s worst nightmare,” because, to him they were the symbol of mindless Right Wing conformity. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but then why do conservatives also enjoy a good zombie story? What do the undead mean to the G.O.P.? The loss of individualism, maybe?

For me, zombies work best as a commentary on single-minded consumerism. We live in a world that is increasingly obsessed with a selfish desire to own, to have what the neighbors have or what the television insists we wouldn’t be complete without. And the fact that so many of our celebrities now are nothing more than walking billboards for excess and greed confirms that. Rappers put out new songs celebrating a lifestyle devoted to nothing more than making money. The Kardashians have replaced Paris Hilton as the new benchmarks of hip conformity and bland mediocrity. And what about poor ole’ Paris Hilton? Like all commodities, she was eventually tossed away when a shinier model emerged.

I used to have nightmares about zombies. Whenever I found myself in a stressful period, or depressed, the undead would shuffle into my bad dreams. And here’s the weird part: these dreams always seemed to be part of the same big, over-arching scenario. They seemed to be actually moving forward, from one mind-searing encounter to the next.

So I wanted to write about them, to translate some of the nightmares into a manageable story.
For a long time, I resisted the urge. The world really didn’t need another zombie story, I figured. I decided that, if I could ever think of a new twist on zombie mythology, maybe then I would do it.

But after a few years I had sort of an epiphany—a new twist wasn’t what I needed.
Every single good zombie story has the exact same plot: zombies invade, group of survivors interact and try to stay alive. Bam. That’s it. That’s the formula. Oh, sure, someone may occasionally tweak the zombies a bit (in their origins and in their behavior) but the formula remains the same.

So why do we continue to watch/read them? Because we are interested in the characters. If we don’t care about the protagonists, then the whole story is a wash.

And so… with DEADLAND USA, I shifted focus away from trying to add a new element to the mythology, and focused instead on presenting a narrator and a set of characters the reader could care about, or be interested in. Maybe some human-types that you haven’t seen in a zombie scenario before.

The narrator, Sam Lynch, is a young punk—a kid who was lazy and shiftless before the zombies came. He suffers from depression (has to take pills to keep himself going), is haunted by bad decisions before and after the world ended, and is constantly close to suicide. But he has to keep all that to himself, because the small band of survivors he’s with have taken to looking to him for leadership. It’s a role he isn’t suited for, but… he’ll have to grow into it.
DEADLAND USA is a coming-of-age story. A story about sacrifice, and suppressing one’s own fears and doubts to serve the greater good.

And it’s also a story about massive zombie carnage. And punk rock.

I hope you check it out.