Author’s note: This essay originally aired on this blog prior to the file purge of 2014. It is now being rerun for your reading pleasure. Please note Zomtropolis is no longer available as a free on-line serial and will be released in paperback and eBook in the near future.
Zombies are monsters. At least, that’s the standard definition. Someone dies, rises, has a taste of human flesh and so hunts down the living and, once the prey is caught, chows down and eats their guts. Oh, and they’re ugly, too, slowly rotting away with each passing day.
That’s the standard version of the zombie and the one most are familiar with.
It’s the one I knew of when I first discovered them, but as for their main backstory, I didn’t know what that wasy.
See, I grew up in a household where horror and monsters where off limits. This was a good thing, in that I didn’t have to view creepy faces, see blood and guts, watch people get killed, or be subject to dark forests like other kids I knew. I was probably saved hundreds of hours of nightmares as a result. This absence of horror made for a happier childhood, in that regard. My dad always said, “If you want to watch horror, watch the news.” And he was right, and still is. We live in a sad world with villains in it that outmatch most of what we create in books or on screen.
At the same time, being so sheltered was a detriment to a well-rounded upbringing because later on, I was naïve about a lot of things, including the darker side of life, both in terms of what humans were capable of and scary images.
My first exposure to monsters was seeing a ripped-from-a-magazine picture of Freddy Krueger lying in the playground in elementary. The image of a disfigured man with bubbles on his skin was so foreign to me that I had occasional nightmares from that single image for years. I never saw an actual Freddy movie until I was eighteen and living on my own, but I got to tell you: going to the video store to rent one sent up all sorts of red flags and I was scared to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time.
But zombies, werewolves or vampires growing up?
At most I saw the Halloween episode of Highway to Heaven where Michael Landon was a werewolf for part of it. Scared me to death. Same with that other episode with the devil.
Highway to Heaven. Good show, from what I remember, and it was allowed in the Christian household I grew up in for its message. It was also this growing up in a Christian household and the zero tolerance policy for horror and monsters that shaped my life, not only in terms of what I couldn’t see, but how I reacted when faced with the horrors that pop up in life now and then.
In fact, I only got into horror because of something painful that happened to me. It was in this place of darkness that I found comfort in other dark things for a long time.
Later, when I incorporated writing about zombies into my writing career, my view of the undead and fandom of them wasn’t your typical horror fan’s. It wasn’t the blood and guts that excited me or their spooky nature, the whole things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thing.
Instead, it was rooted in my first love: superheroes.
And they still are.
I’ve never viewed zombies as “horror monsters” in terms of how I create and write them. To me, they’ve always been supervillains, and I think it’s this definition of them that is more accurate: they are “super” because they can’t die via conventional means—only by the removal of the head—and are certainly not part of our everyday lives, and they are “villains” because of the evil act of eating others they commit.
When I set out to write my first zombie book, Blood of the Dead (book one of the Undead World Trilogy,) I didn’t want to write a standard zombie novel about a virus, people dying, people coming back, people surviving. I’ve never been one for formulas in my fiction and have always tried to do something new with each tale. Once the story was done, it immediately birthed unusual plans for the sequel, Poss