You might be surprised at how often I get that question.
In September of 1978, I was taken to see a movie. That movie was 1974 The Exorcist ripoff, Beyond the Door with Juliette Mills. When it had first come out, just the commercial terrified me. When she would say, “Who are you?” I felt my skin get all goosebumpy. As with so many things that we build up in our minds, it turned out to be a disappointment. However, this was the 70s and movies were often shown as double features. The second film was a movie I had never heard of and actually the feature film of the pairing. The movie was titled Dawn of the Dead. If you are a zombie fan and have not seen the original DotD, stop reading. You need to watch that movie far more than you need to be reading this little post.
When a girl a few rows ahead of me got sick into her date’s popcorn, I was hooked for life. Granted, I was already fascinated by horror. I stayed up many a night watching the local channel’s hosted midnight scary movie show (back when they used to have those…and there were only 5 channels…and I walked to school uphill in the snow both ways). All the classics were immortalized in posters, comic books, and even models like my Frankenstein with glow-in-the-dark head and hands. Zombies were a total mystery until that day.
Without the internet to help me, I scoured the world for more and eventually discovered a classic black-and-white film called Night of the Living Dead. I was stoked to discover that it was directed by that same Romero guy who had done DotD. From there, it was slim pickings, but an occasional nugget like Zombies! would crop up. (Zombie versus Great White Shark equals AWESOME!)
Still, there was never a thought about taking up the torch. Even when I began chasing my dream of becoming an author, zombies were the farthest thing from my mind. It was not until around 2008 after a college prof who taught my creative writing class made the suggestion following an assignment where she told us to step outside our “comfort box” and write something fun. She said that I had really shown a flare for capturing vivid and real characters that made the reader feel love or hate. She said that it was obvious that I had enjoyed the writing and that I should dip my toe in the zombie pool.
Funny thing, while you can’t come close to counting the number of zombie-themed titles that are in existence now, just a few short years ago, that was not the case. In fact, after Brian Keene, Max Brooks, and David Wellington, it was a wasteland of vamps and anything but zombies in the literary world (and yes, I am using the term “literary” in its loosest definition). Horror in written form meant the two “Ks”…King and Koontz. Sure there were others, but you would be hard pressed (back then) to name that many. Horror in print was as scarce as a comedy being nominated for “Best Picture” at the Academy Awards.
I spent a few days trying to decide where to even begin. After all, Romero was it. What could be said or done after him? Apparently (judging by the amazing and talented writers that I have come to know and be fans of these past years) a great deal. The zombie genre is—pardon the pun—alive and well. Sure, we get treated like the red-headed, bastard step-child of the literary world, but somehow, we continue to not simply survive, but, in many cases, thrive.
People are fascinated by the zombie. And despite the constant cry that it is “played out” or “overdone”, people continue to scoop up zombie books in droves. And once they find something that they like, there is no more loyal fan in the world. The zombie fans of today are a lot like the KISS fans of the 80s. Everybody said that the band sucked, the music was stale, and the act had gone sour and was done. Yet, they continue to sell millions of records to this day, pack stadiums and arenas, and produce a merchandise empire that is the gold standard when it comes down to marketing coverage.
Your friends might roll their eyes when they see what you are reading, but somebody is tuning in and making The Walking Dead the most watched cable show in history. It is fascinating that so many people claim to “hate” the zombie genre, yet you cannot argue with the numbers.
As an author of the six-book Zomblog series as well as the DEAD series where I completed a 12 book saga and am now working on a spin off series that already has three titles, I rely on people like you (yes, you…the person reading this) for my livelihood. I rely on zombies continuing to be an obsession or a dirty little secret. I used to think that my small group of friends and I were the only ones who “got” the whole zombie thing. I am glad to be wrong. I am thrilled that you took a moment to find out where it all began for me. And, yes, I do hope that you check out my books and like what you see.