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.
What is the appeal of zombies to you as a reader?
Rebecca Brock : As a reader (and writer), zombies appeal to me because they are literally our worst fears come alive: death, corruption, helplessness, violence. We can become the monsters at any moment — all it takes is one unpleasant nip and we join the ranks. The thought of seeing friends and loved ones as rotted corpses is deeply unsettling.
With zombies, everybody is on an even playing field because we’re all human and we all have the capacity to turn into a monster upon our deaths … or sometimes before. We’re all zombies in the making.
Ed Greenwood: Zombies appeal to me as mirrors and sounding boards, as mutely vengeful forces and inexorable forces.
Rebecca Brock : Plus, there’s the whole break-down of “civil” civilization to deal with, as well.
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: Zombies are more fun than vampires or other monsters. They appeal to that sense that we all have of a monster inside us, of course, but to my mind they are closer to the mundane world we have to live in. It’s inherently funny to imagine a zombie working in an office or retail store, for instance, while vampires or werewolves doing the same thing is more evocative of the horror to come. I like to be scared, but I also like to laugh.
Michael Jasper: There’s not a lot that can top the fear of being chased by a relentless, shambling pursuer who can’t be killed except at close range. A pursuer who’s losing bits and pieces of himself or herself, intent on grabbing you and eating your brains is inherently funny while being scary as hell. What’s not to love about a villain like that?
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 the old line from the Pogo comic strip goes, “We have met the enemy and they is us.” Who is sitting in the office chair on the other side of your cubicle wall? You think you know, but do you? Dare you look?
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 reader, I find zombies — especially shambling masses of zombies — interesting as a metaphor for city dwellers. Often city dwellers may feel like part of a big anonymous herd, treated like cattle by major corporations and the government. Zombies may be a herd of undead cows, so to speak, but they’re damned hard to milk! They won’t settle for being pushed around. They’ll bite back.
Jim C. Hines: Zombies are all about the loss of control. Any individual zombie can usually be destroyed pretty easily, but the zombie horde never stops. It’s inevitability embodied in shambling, brain-munching corpse form. Even when the living win, it’s often a temporary battle only. But watching how we deal with the inevitable, that’s where you get great stories.
Jesse Bullington: To quote Dennis Hopper in the best part of Romero’s Land of the Dead, “Zombies, man, they creep me out!” It’s of dubious note that Dennis is picking his nose when he voices this sentiment. Perhaps because we too often do have such a static notion of what a zombie is (stupid, slow, scared of fire, hungry), what I enjoy most about zombies in fiction is seeing how authors can make the stale concept fresh again. Horror so often lies in the unknown and unknowable, and I love being reminded that even the commonplace can be made interesting and creepy in the hands of an accomplished writer.
Myke Cole: I was never interested in zombies for zombie’s sake. Sure, the walking dead have a certain cool factor to them, but so do superheroes, giant dinosaurs, transforming robots, ninjas, or just about any of the other speculative fiction mainstays us geeks love to get our nerd on. I came to zombies like most folk do, through George Romero flicks, and always thought of them as a motion picture phenomenon. They were fun, but not so fun that I wanted to spend a whole lot of time with them.
You can blame Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead [series] for turning that around. (I know comics are visual, but I still consider them a literary medium). Kirkman’s work doesn’t dwell on the zombies themselves at all but rather on how the zombie apocalypse affects those who are left alive and uninfected.
Michael Jasper: Zombies represent the one thing people understand the least and probably fear the most — death. They take our concept of a peaceful afterlife and flip it on its lid. And every author does zombies differently, so the most fun for me as a reader is seeing how the author fiddles with the formula to come up with something fresh and original.
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’m drawn to monsters in general, as I am to most things with a pulpy feel. I appreciate that, unlike vampires and werewolves, zombies have not been romanticized and eroticized. I mean, anyone who’s read my stuff knows that I don’t shy away from sex, but the notion of murderous monsters as romantic objects of desire doesn’t jibe with me.
Myke Cole: The question the best zombie writers ask is, “What do people do when the world goes away?” Any holocaust can set up that petri dish, but zombies have a unique horror, hunger, survivability and eerie resemblance to a sentient enemy who could potentially be negotiated with.
Michael Laimo: There’s a sense of true realism in the zombie, and this in and of itself appeals to me on many levels. When we lose a loved one, we deeply wish for that loved one to be with us again. If our wish were granted, literally, then we’d find ourselves buried in terror. Then, the simple idea of something dead coming back to life intrigues us, scares us, and then as we discover that the once dead human, now alive, possesses a triggered instinct to feast on warm flesh, it terrifies us.
Michael Jasper: The real horror is that these undead beasts used to be normal folks who’d never do such terrible things while they were alive…
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.