Humans in the Foreground: 11 Writers on Writing Zombie Fiction

Christopher L. Dinkins & Jeremy L. C. Jones

The living dead.  The restless dead.  The walking dead.  No matter what you call them, zombies make for great stories.  With that in mind, we asked 11 of the contributors to James Lowder’s anthology, The Best of All Flesh, to share their thoughts on the joys of writing zombie fiction.

This and our earlier post on zombies were inspired by Christopher Davis, a student at Shared Worlds 2010, and his love of zombies. 

“Zombies are so versatile for a writer,” Davis said.  “They can be fast, slow, any number of things.  You just have to have multiple zombies.  And then things get really interesting.”

Lowder selected the stories from his previous collections, The Book of All Flesh, The Book of More Flesh, and The Book of Final Flesh, with an eye toward variety and toward showcasing stories that hadn’t been re-printed elsewhere.

Overall, the stories in The Best of All Flesh emphasize, as Michael Jasper said, “the impact [zombies] have on the people in the story.”
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Those Who Are Left Alive: 11 Writers on Reading Zombie Fiction

By Christopher L. Dinkins & Jeremy L. C. Jones

Zombie Boy is a student at the Shared Worlds 2010 creative writing camp.  His parents know him as Christopher Davis.  But his love of all things zombie earned him the moniker, Zombie Boy, at Shared Worlds 2009.  The name has stuck and he is proud of it. 

Zombie Boy hails from coastal California.  He is an avid gamer who likes to kick back and shoot zombies in his spare time.  We asked him, “Why are zombies scary?”

“Because they never stop coming for you,” he said.  “And your life just gets harder and harder…”

In honor of Chris’ fondness for the undead, we contacted 11 of the contributors to James Lowder’s anthology, The Best of All Flesh, which gathers stories from Lowder’s out of print classics of zombie literature, The Book of All Flesh, The Book of More Flesh, and The Book of Final Flesh.

Below, in the first of multiple posts, the contributors talk about fear, humor, loss of control, and the break-down of civilization.  In other words, they talk about why they like to read zombie stories.
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Books that Would Entertain Me: James Reasoner on Writing the West

“I’m lucky in that I just love what I’m doing,” said novelist James Reasoner.  “Writing has always been fun for me.  It keeps me entertained.  On a practical level, I know that there will be times when it’s not as easy, and I’ve learned not to obsess about them.  I just keep working and do what I can, because I know it’ll get better.” 

Reasoner has published more than 200 novels.  He writes under his own name and nearly three dozen pen and house names, such as Dana Fuller Ross, Brett Halliday, Tabor Evans, Jon Sharpe, Jake Logan, and Gabriel Hunt.  He’s been writing stories since the late 70s and novels since 1980.  Over the years, he’s written Westerns, detective stories, action-adventure, military, fantasy and just about any other type of novel and story.

 

“The author of the cult classic P.I. novel Texas Wind under his own name, James Reasoner has nevertheless made his living writing books he received no credit for,” said Robert J. Randisi author of The Ham Reporter and, as J. R. Roberts, the Gunsmith series. “But I give him credit. The best thing I can say about him is this:  he’s a helluva Professional.”

 

Reasoner moves among the genres seemingly with great ease.  Though I suspect a lot of hard work goes into making it look so easy.  From book to book, series to series, Reasoner’s stories seem to follow one pattern – good character, good story, and good fun. 

 

Below, Reasoner and I talk about entertaining himself first and writing the West. 

 

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What do you enjoy about writing the West?

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James Reasoner:  Traditionally, Westerns have both strong characters and strong plots, and I enjoy combining those two elements.  Plus, I grew up reading Western novels and watching Western TV series during the Fifties and Sixties, and it’s just great fun being able to follow in the footsteps of creators whose work gave me so much pleasure and entertainment over the years.

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And what is the biggest challenge in writing the West?
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James Reasoner:
  Getting all the historical details correct.  Readers will let you know if you get something wrong.  I try to be as accurate as I can in my writing, but mistakes still slip through from time to time. 
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What sort of Westerns do you write, and what are they key elements?
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James Reasoner:  I write traditional Westerns that are not that much different than the ones published in decades past, although I think the characterization in today’s Westerns (not just mine) is usually deeper and better developed than it was during the pulp era.  Of course, there are exceptions to that, since some of the pulp writers were very good at characterization.  I’ve also written quite a few books for several of the so-called Adult Western series, as well as big historical sagas that are more concerned with actual events and characters in Western history. 
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How have your novels and/or your approach to writing them changed over the years?
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James Reasoner:  My style has evolved over the thirty-plus years I’ve been writing, but it’s been a gradual process that’s still going on.  I’m constantly learning new things about how to make my writing more effective.  My approach is still the same, though:  I try to do the best I can on each project and write books that would entertain me as a reader.  If I’m not having fun, the readers won’t, either. 
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You write both under your own name and under pseudonyms and house names.  Do you approach writing “as someone else” differently?  What does it allow you to do that writing “as yourself” doesn’t?
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James Reasoner:  I touched on that in the previous answer.  If I’m writing for a particular series, I’ll definitely try to make my book fit in with the others in that series.  Each series has its own way of doing things.  But as far as my general approach to the work goes, there’s really no difference.  When I sit down in front of the computer to produce my day’s pages, that my book I’m working on.  I have to like it and enjoy it.  When it’s turned in, of course, I’m professional enough to accept that sometimes it’s not mine anymore.  But in my heart, it still kind of is.  That’s why I can look at a book in the store that doesn’t have my name anywhere on it, but if I wrote it, I’m still proud of it.
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You wrote the first novel in the Gabriel Hunt series.  How much freedom did you have in shaping the character and the direction of the series?
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James Reasoner:  Charles Ardai, the creator and editor of the series, wrote a fantastic bible for it, one of the best series bibles I’ve ever seen.  So he had developed the character of Gabriel Hunt pretty extensively before I wrote my book.  However, I was able to add some touches of my own that Charles adopted for the rest of the series.  Writing that book was a very enjoyable experience.
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What are you working on now, and what’s next?

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James Reasoner:  I’m writing a traditional Western novel that will be out under my name next year, plus developing an outline for a house-name book also scheduled for next year.  The next manuscript in the schedule after the current one will be a house-name Western.  I have quite a bit of work lined up, and that’s the way I like it.

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What can a writer who doesn’t usually read Westerns learn from reading within the genre? 

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 James Reasoner:  How to balance plotting and characterization, and how to get the details right.  Plus a lot of Western authors are just really good storytellers and know how to pace a book so that the reader wants to keep turning the pages. 
 

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Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006. 



 

Content Dictates Form: Jane Candia Coleman on Writing the West

“The West is vast and varied,” said Western writer Jane Candia Coleman.  “It has mountains, desserts, great rivers and small ones, endless sky, pine forests and cactus, cliffs and canyons that beg to be captured in words.  (I am a frustrated painter, so I do it in words.)  In my books the land is always present, as much a characters as the human protagonists.  In short, I love this country and all in it and find it endlessly captivating.”

Jane Candia Coleman writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.  She is the author of such books as The Silver Queen, Bandit Queen, and the forthcoming Range Queen.  Five of her 21 books have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and three have won the Western Heritage Awards given by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.  When not writing, she teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Carlow University.

“I first discovered Jane Candia Coleman in Louis L’Amour Western Magazine,” said Johnny D. Boggs, author of Whiskey Kills and other Killstraight stories, “first with her short story ‘Lou,’ which I thought was brilliant, then a few years later with another short story, ‘Are You Coming Back, Phin Montana?,’ which also blew me away. She’s an absolutely amazing writer — whether she’s writing short fiction or historical novels — with a strong sense of place, and wonderful characters. Her prose often reads like pure poetry. No surprise there. She’s also an incredible poet.”
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