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.”

Below, we talk about the seemingly infinite possibilities that writing zombies offer a writer.

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What is the appeal of zombies to you as a writer?

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Michael Laimo is the author of Atmosphere and Deep in the Darkness.  Laimo’s story “Last Resort” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Michael Laimo:  There are so many levels on which a zombie can be used in fiction, that we as writers drool at the opportunity to creatively explore them.

 

Jesse Bullington is the author of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart.  Bullington’s short story “Charlie’s Hole” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Jesse Bullington:  First and foremost, zombies can be a lot of fun [to write] — as with all monsters, the original mythology has become distorted in all sorts of ways, and while an archetypal zombie idea has solidified (thanks, George [Romero]), there’re still endless permutations and interpretations to explore. The fun in writing about such an obvious symbol-monster is seeing just how you much you can subvert the expected definition.

 

Mark McLaughlin is the author of Raising Demons for Fun & Profit and Slime after Slime.  McLaughlin’s story “Scenes from a Foreign Horror Video, with Zombies and Tasteful Nudity” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Mark McLaughlin:  As a writer, I find that zombies may be the most flexible of all monsters. Vampires and werewolves have fairly specific guidelines and reader expectations, but zombies have more leeway. I’ve written stories in which zombies have been created by germs, chemicals, evil spells, mold, matter teleportation devices, and more. Zombies can be smart or stupid, have no personalities or very complex personalities.  They offer a lot of creative options.

 

Rebecca Brock is a librarian and the author The Giving Season and Abominations.  Brock’s short story “Night Shift” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Rebecca Brock:  As a writer, I love zombies because they really allow me to go for the gross-out (which, I confess, I love to do) as well as the emotional/mental breakdowns of my characters.

 

Ed Greenwood is the author Falconfar and the forthcoming Elminster Must Die.  Greenwood’s story “One Last, Little Revenge” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Ed Greenwood:  If voiceless, as my zombies always are, they really let me “show” rather than “tell.”  Zombies let me explore what it is to be human by showing readers the reactions of different humans to zombies, and by forcing moral choices on those humans, using a zombie menace or zombie entreaty for aid or the like.

 

Jim C. Hines is the author of Goblin Quest and Red Hood’s Revenge.  Hines’ story “Brainburgers and Bile Shakes” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Jim C. Hines:  In addition to all of the deep, metaphorical stuff, zombies mean I can torment my characters in new and creative ways.  In an early draft of a story I wrote for the upcoming Zombiesque anthology, I had a zombie cop literally rip off his own arm and beat the bad guy with it. 

 

Rebecca Brock :  The deterioration of society–scrounging for food, gathering in ragtag groups of survivors, fighting to survive every day–is also fascinating to me, and I love getting into the details of what it might be like in that kind of nightmare world. It’s the fatalistic pessimist in me, I guess. Zombies are the worst of humanity brought to life…or unlife, as it were.

 

Claude Lalumière is the author of Objects of Worship and the co-creator of Lost Myths.  Lalumière’s story “The Ethical Treatment of Meat” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Claude Lalumière:  I came to zombies by accident. I had never given much particular thought to zombies at all. But then I workshopped a friend’s zombie story, and my initial misreading of the first paragraph suggested an entirely different story to me. Which I then went and wrote.

 

Lana Brown is an English teacher and novelist.  Her story “Sifting out the Hearts of Men” co-written with Warren Brown appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Lana Brown:  Most of the people we meet in a day have an element of the zombie in them.  How does a zombie act at a family reunion, for instance, or when bullied in high school?  There’s a rich lode of choices there for a writer. 

 

Warren Brown is a short story writer.  His story “Sifting out the Hearts of Men” co-written with Lana Brown appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Warren Brown:  As writers we can extract and amplify personality traits from everyday and not so everyday people and mutate them into characters that frighten and fascinate–even amuse and inform readers.

 

Michael Jasper is the author of A Gathering of Doorways.  Jasper’s story “Goddamn Redneck Surfer Zombies” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Michael Jasper:  Coming up with a way to stand out from all the other zombie stories before (and around) me is the biggest challenge of writing about zombies.  I mean, really, it’s all been done before. But if you add one or two crazy elements to the mix, like super-fast zombies instead of limping shoe-draggers, or zombies with souls, or zombified pets – BAM! You’ve got something new to share with the world.

 

Rebecca Brock:  Other than evil aliens, zombies are just about the only things I have nightmares about. Writing about them allows me to confront those fears, as well as get a lot of violent tendencies out of my system. Some of my stories have been hardcore bloodfests, while some have been more character-driven. It all depends on what demons need to be exorcised at the moment.

 

Jesse Bullington:  As with any trope, [zombies let you do] whatever you can manage to pull off. In my upcoming novel The Enterprise of Death there are things that some people will consider zombies and some people will deny on principle. I’m using them differently than I can remember seeing before, and without giving too much away, I’m attempting to emphasize the tragic and the human elements more than the horrific where the undead are concerned. Mostly.
 

 

Michael Jasper:  Zombies let you talk about death in a different way, and show how people respond to danger and unexpected situations when the undead are unleashed on your town. You get to mix in a bunch of emotions, as well — fear, anger, grief, despair, hope. Hopefully all tied together in a fast-pace story of heroism and tragedy.

 

Mark McLaughlin:  Zombies allow me to have fun and be innovative. Because they offer a lot of creative leeway, I enjoy trying to think up new ways to bring the dead back to life. Life is energy, so how can one infuse new and terrible energy into a corpse? Dr. Frankenstein used lightning, but heck, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nuclear power, parasites, black magic, alien technology – so many energy sources to consider!

 

Michael Jasper:  They also give you the opportunity to be really gory and gross, and not feel so bad about it. Because, hey, zombies are already dead.

 

Myke Cole is the author of Latent.  His story “Shouting down the Moon” appears in The Best of All Flesh.

Myke Cole:  When I’m writing my best, I feel that all I’m doing is putting my characters through a science experiment to see how they’ll react. At the very best moments of that, it’s like taking dictation. There are lots of different ways to kick off the science experiment, but zombies are a pretty great way to get the chain reaction going. I strive to do what Robert Kirkman (and all the best SF writers) do: keep the zombies in the background and the humans in the foreground. Because, people, after all, are always the most compelling element of any story.

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Christopher L. Dinkins is a freelance writer and editor living in Spartanburg, SC.  His non-fiction has appeared in and Kobold Quarterly.  His debut short story will be appearing in the cyberpunk anthology, Foreshadows.  He is an instructor at Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers at Wofford College.

Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time professor.  Jones is a frequent contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine and Kobold Quarterly.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds.

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