a short piece questioning whether there are just too many zombie books out there now and if the quality is suffering as a result. When David Moody very kindly offered to write a post for the blog I couldn't resist the opportunity to have a guy who has written several very well received zombie novels answer that question for me. Put yourself in my shoes and you wouldn't have passed up the chance either. Here's what David had to say and there's a lot for me to think about...
“Are there really too many zombies Graeme?”
Firstly, it’s a pleasure to be guest posting here at Graeme’s site today. I’ve been a loyal follower since he reviewed the original self-published version of my novel Autumn way, way, way back in the dim and distant past. He’s been very kind to my work over the years, posting positive reviews of my books, many of which feature zombies, or variations thereof. So imagine my horror when, back in September, Graeme wrote a post entitled: Too Many Zombies? Thing is, to an extent, I think he’s absolutely right. But I don’t think we should completely write the living dead off just yet. I’ll explain...
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. People are always interested when they ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m an author. The inevitable follow-up question is always ‘what do you write?’. When I tell them I write horror, many folks are admirably honest and explain that they don’t really like horror, then proceed to spend the next ten or fifteen minutes telling me exactly what they do like. But here’s my concern... of those who continue the conversation because they genuinely are fans of the genre, many of them switch off as soon as I mention the dreaded ‘z word’. So why is that? Is it just a question of overkill?
One of the living dead’s greatest strengths, I think, is their adaptability. Think of a situation and, one way or another, if you try hard enough you can usually find a way to get zombies in there. As well as the usual tried and tested shopping mall and isolated farmhouse scenarios, more recently we’ve had zombies in Iraq, zombies in the Arctic, zombies at a Star Trek convention, Nazi zombies, Viking zombies, zombies in Star Wars, zombies in the past, present and future, and so on and so on. When you boil stories down to their most basic level, wherever there are people, you can almost always shove in a zombie horde or two. As well as being a strength, though, this adaptability can also be a problem because as a result zombies seem to have become the lazy horror writer and film-maker’s monster of choice. A bit of blood, the odd groan, a slow, stilted walk with arms outstretched, a bag of offal from the butcher’s and there you go... Bob’s your (undead) uncle. It’s very easy to go for drama only to quickly descend into Zombieland-like parody.
It doesn’t help matters that the typical zombie story has become something of a cliché either. It usually goes something like this: initial outbreak > denial/cover-up > it’s too late, the Z-poc’s here > a small group of survivors escape and hole-up somewhere > they have a plan > it doesn’t work > one of them gets infected and tries to hide it from the rest > he/she ‘turns’ at the least opportune moment > almost everyone else gets bitten/eaten > a lone survivor is forced to admit defeat in a bleak and nihilistic ending. Along the way there will be copious excuses for ‘intense scenes of graphic, bloody violence’ (as it usually says on the back of the DVD). Of course, there are people who only want ‘intense scenes of graphic, bloody violence’, and I’m sure they’re happy with the way things are. But I don’t think those folks are likely to be frequent visitors to Graeme’s blog.
My time with the living dead is coming to an end through personal choice. I’ve written more than my fair share: five Autumn novels, more than 120,000 words worth of free zombie fiction (available at www.lastoftheliving.net), copious short stories, not to mention the three book Hater series which isn’t about zombies at all but which everyone still insists on labelling as zombie novels anyway... I think I’ve done as much as I can do with dead bodies (and I appreciate how wrong that sentence sounds). But I’m still fascinated by the zombie sub-genre, and remain an unashamed fan. Here’s why.
For every few bad zombie stories you have to plough through, you can usually find at least one gem. I said earlier that wherever you have people, you can have zombies. The undead are a mirror: you and me in an uncomfortably familiar yet wildly different alternative reality. They are the people we love, and the people we hate. They are the world outside your window. They are the faceless corporation you work for, the government you didn’t elect but are stuck with anyway. They are your kids and your parents, your lover even. They are everyone but you. Zombies are capable of bringing out the very best and the very worst in us. They can give you a reason to fight and survive or, just as easily, they can drag you down to gutter level and render you helpless and lost.
To an extent, though, the dead are simply the dead – devoid of all character, no longer young, old, male, female, short, tall, able-bodied, disabled, etc. etc.... just dead. It’s the other characters in zombie stories which matter most, and how they deal with the situation they’re presented with. So whether it’s the suicidal overweight vicar in Adam Baker’s Outpost, the disillusioned police officers of Belfast in Wayne Simmons’ Flu, the jaded zombie-hunter from V M Zito’s The Return Man, the Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes, or anyone else from the many other excellent zombie stories I’ve read recently, it doesn’t matter.
I think a zombie novel’s success boils down to its focus and the bottom line is this: give me an intelligent, thought-provoking story with characters I care about and I’ll lap it up, and if that book also happens to feature hundreds of thousands of zombies, then so be it. But if your book is about walking corpses and just happens to feature a few survivors, then I’m with Graeme: too many zombies!
Thanks David :o)
You can find David's website over Here and he's right, I've reviewed a fair few of his books. You'll find reviews Here, Here, Here, Here and Here; all of them are worth picking up.