Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Great News!

My zombie novel (and first novel of any kind) has been accepted for publication by the nice folks at Permuted Press. I am thrilled, of course, and will keep you all up to date on its progress through the publication process.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Zombie vs. shark

I was reading somewhere about the famous zombie vs. shark scene that is part of what is supposed to make Fulci's Zombie the greatest zombie flick of all time. So, a little Google and someone else going to the trouble of posting it and I got to see it:

Like the other clips on the site, I think all you can say is "Hmm, that was interesting." Not scarey, not creepy, not exciting, just interesting. I was surprised the shark did as well as it did. I guess I was thinking that a crowd of zombies would be able to bring it down, but on further thought (if such a thing deserves further thought), one zombie would probably end up like this one. Now, a crowd of zombies versus several sharks, with more showing up all the time because of the blood in the water... hmm, now that's sounding very interesting. Or, wait, zombies versus piranhas! I think that's got it. The zombies aren't quick or coordinated enough to grab such little adversaries, but if the water was just teeming with them, the undead might grab a few and chomp them, while being torn to bits themselves. That'd be out of control. In fact, a zombie would reach up to a low tree branch, to try to save itself from the carnage, and all that'd be left would be its arms, head, and upper torso. Wicked sick. Well, at least, that's how I'd do the scene. If I believed that zombies attack animals. Which I don't. Well, in order to make such a wicked sick scene, maybe I do.

But, trying to leave nitpicking aside (but failing), this isn't too much in the way of film making, is it? The shark's toothlessness is clear in one shot (which could have been left out easily enough, to help maintain the illusion), and he is awfully darn slow. He's also in perfect shape on the second pass, even though the zombie had supposedly taken a big bite out of him on the first pass. And maybe most absurdly, why'd they have the fake arm tear off and leave the sleeve intact? It wouldn't seem asking too much to have the whole thing rigged up to tear off and leave a jagged sleeve.

Mall zombies and the process of reanimation

Was at the mall yesterday, and I'm wondering if, at least at this time of year, Romero's vision in Dawn does not apply so much to the zombies when they're wandering aimlessly, but when they're ravenously attacking. At least, that's more what the shoppers looked like yesterday in the Poughkeepsie Galleria. I'm glad it was a short visit, and hopefully the last this season.

Someone asked me about whether all dead bodies will reanimate, or just those who have been bitten. I answered that this was a difference in some of the newer movies, but Romero has continued the tradition of universal reanimation for all dead, non-decayed flesh, still attached to a (semi-)functioning brain. In my fiction, I had actually played around with trying to offer a "logical" or "scientific" explanation for this (that there was an airborne version of the zombie virus that everyone was infected with, and this airborne strain was not deadly, but did cause reanimation), but as I put it on the page, I just didn't see the narrative payoff. In other words, it was a long speech by a scientist to explain a plot device that really didn't need explaining, and wouldn't affect how the characters acted. (I had thought to have it be the device whereby one character would be immune to zombie bites, but as I already had one character who was immune because of exposure to another strain, it was redundant.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stoker, The Road, new projects

Gospel of the Living Dead is continuing to get recommendations for the Stoker Award. Thanks again to those of you who recommended it, and again, anyone out there who is an active HWA member, or anyone who has a blog or zine and might review it, you're entitled to a free copy. Just get me your snail mail address. And I'm not giving away just a PDF file, either, but a real, sick, night-vision-green-covered copy that you'd actually pay for on Amazon or Ebay.

I just finished reading the apocalyptic, semi-zombie novel The Road. (The first scene where you see how far people go to survive, you'll see that "semi-zombie" is in some ways worse than full-blown corpse reanimation. This ain't Mad Max.) I guess I felt a little let down by the end. No spoilers here, but let's just say it's more of a whimper than a bang. And after some of the stuff he'd shown us in the previous pages, it seemed incongruous. But, as I tried to indicate in the previous post, I can't imagine better, colder, sharper prose for what he was talking about. And you know what he was talking about? It wasn't about war or violence or nukes: it's just about human nature and love and God. And for such a clear and searing vision, any reader or aspiring writer should be grateful.

I wrote two short stories in the last couple weeks and am waiting to hear back about them. The first was a very gentle ghost story (the most that happens is some broken glasses), but I think it had some nice points about closure and responsibility and the nature of love. The second is a zombie story of father and son, under the influence of The Road. Except for the road part. It's just about a father and son fighting zombies. But as I wrote it, I felt a real urge to hold back on the violence and expand the exposition and conversation, to kind of keep it more suggestive and thoughtful, and I really started getting excited that maybe it could be expanded into a YA novel. A YA zombie novel? Wow. I'm excited.

Thanksgiving and Chainsaw Massacre

Did some great cooking yesterday (only marginally related to the undead, but I did remember some cartoons or claymation in which the turkey rose from the platter and grabbed a knife and started chasing people). My wife had put in a request for cranberry relish (uncooked, as opposed to the cooked sauce) and for pecan pie, and my son had asked for cheesecake, so we ended up without pumpkin pie (fine with me, as it's my least favorite pie, though I'm told I make a good one). Poor Sophia hadn't requested anything, and she even helped in the kitchen, as usual. I'd never made a cheesecake before, and was terrified when the top expanded way beyond the top of the pan, then slowly sank as it cooled (I also don't make souffles, but I've heard that's the problem - they collapse completely). But it stopped sinking about a half inch below the top of the pan, so it made a perfect little pool for holding mashed raspberries. And that was a good cheesecake (and similar to pumpkin pie, I don't really like cheesecake, so if I like it, that's a good sign). The turkey was moist and with a good, crispy skin (who doesn't like charred skin?) but not much flavor. I warmed up a tiny hunk of ham, since Sophia and I like the combo, and it was pretty good. Stuffing was exceptionally celerylicious (what you get when the supermarket does BOGO for celery bunches), and the brussel sprouts were nice and tangy. And, finally, the sometimes bane of my cooking - the GRAVY - was perfect. Maybe that's where al the flavor from the turkey went, because it was so intense. And not a single lump, perfect consistency.

Anyway, at midnight I was getting ready to go to bed, and channel surfing, and there was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And, as embarrassing as it is to admit to horror fans, I'd never seen it. Well, I managed to stay up for 80 minutes of it. (I'd read a spoiler of the end, so I didn't think it was imperative I make it all the way to 2am.) I could definitely see why it's a classic. The failure to follow what would later be cliches - no one dies during sex, there's no monster-cam view, the most annoying and vulnerable character is not the first to go - was in itself amazing. And the composition of many shots - the clouds above the van, characters framed in the middle of the screen and backlit - was haunting and beautiful. Finally, the ability to build utterly creepy scenes without showing anything was amazing - when they're in the van with the hitchhiker I was just out of my mind, when nothing much really happens. But you'd have to say the attacks themselves (at least in this showing, I don't know how much they've edited, but at midnight on cable, I don't think it'd be too much) are pretty tame, and perfunctory, pretty much just EEK! WHACK!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Back from DC

Where I did my best to enlighten the living as to the importance of our undead brethren. Though many remained unconvinced (won't they be surprised when the dead rise and go on their mindless, unstoppable killing and eating spree?), many more were curious, and some were downright interested, a fair number of whom actually bought the book.

While there I heard a paper by a colleague, Robert K. Johnston, on Ecclesiastes and film, especially comparing the biblical book to American Beauty. It was a fascinating way to open up how art 2500 years apart gets at some perennial pessimism and hope in human existence. It made me think of As Good as It Gets as another film where the character is pretty far gone in his cynicism, but still seems to enjoy life. And while he seems redeemed, it also doesn't seem the typical "gee whiz," "everything turns out fine" kind of Hollywood ending. (And I hate the inverse of that - the "boo-hoo, something bad happened" movie, like Pay It Forward, which made my skin crawl.) Even if my own tastes run towards the more dark, I'm going to think more on that, as I do have a little bit of a guilty pleasure for watching movies with (marginally) happy endings.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Off to DC and the Line between Living and Dead

Where I will present my work on zombie films to my bemused colleagues in religious studies. Oh, and at the book display I'll see these HUGE stacks of my book - probably four or five stacks of them, each waist high. Any of you who've written know how good that's going to feel.

I was thinking the other day about some of the less scarey limens between life and death, when my daughter and I were raking leaves. She ran over to me and swore there were snakes in the leaves. I assured her that was unlikely in our clime and at this time of year, but I had to investigate. There were some squiggly things, each about 3 inches long, under the leaves. I told her they were worms that had gotten frozen, but she insisted, so I looked closer. Sure enough, they had heads and were definitely not worms. It was about 50 degrees, and there had been two nights in a row below freezing, so I wasn't too afraid to reach down and pick up the dead fellows and hold them in my palm. As I looked even closer, though, I saw they had legs, too, so they were skinks, I guess. About then I noticed how warm it was getting in the sun, and I'd remembered years before I'd done something similar with some insects I found, so I said "Watch this!" I cupped my hands around the frozen skinks and blew on them, as I held them up to the sunlight, and sure enough, they suddenly darted around in my hand. I did feel like life is almost certainly more powerful than death, at that moment.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Current zombie fiction

I started reading a bunch of stuff in the summer and when the semester first started. But it's all come crashing to a halt with midterms and papers and it isn't going to free up until Christmas break. But over the summer I read David Wellington's Monster Island. Awesome zombie novel with its own little personality and quirks. First person narrative, makes it really immediate and personal. If you know the geography of NYC, you'll love the local color as the protagonists run around the city - fighting, killing, and dying. The fights in the subway ("Oh - what's this big bag of nails and broken glass? Smells like..." BUH-WHAM!!! - I was laughing like mad) and in Central Park were classic. Then I read Max Brook's World War Z. This one's not about individual fights, but all about two things - political satire (biting and cold), and the minutiae of how to fight zombies. So if you want to see how Chinese communism, Soviet Communism, and American capitalism all have their pluses and minuses when it comes to dealing with the unexpected problem of billions of walking, cannibal corpses, and then you want to see how we deal with all the zombies walking around the bottom of the sea or frozen in Canada and Siberia, then this is the one for you. Recently I started The Road (not technically a zombie novel, but apocalyptic and bleak) and that's where the semester stopped me, but what I read was bleak and breathtaking. Imagine a margarita, only, after you pour the tequila and the ice into the blender, you don't add margarita mix, but instead you pour in the broken glass from the windows of a bombed-out church and add the tears of a thousand murdered orphans, and then when you hit "puree" you stick your hand in, so the blender blades whack off your fingertips. That's what his prose is like - gritty, painful, desperate, sad, exhilirating. I speak for all aspiring authors when I say I'd kill to write like that. I hope I can finish it over Thanksgiving, because it was so powerful. I hope your zombie reading is going well also.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Stoker?

Dare I hope? The Stoker Award is the most prestigious award for horror writing. I have a few copies of my book for active HWA members who may wish to read it or recommend it for the award. Send me your snail mail (to and I'll send you a copy, at least until I run out. Thanks.

Fast or Slow?

I can tell I'm talking to a fan and not a fellow academic when that's the first question, so I guess I better weigh in on it. (If it's a fellow academic, then the question is something like, "So that's what you can write about, now that you have tenure?!" *Grin*)

I'm going to have to go with slow. While the attacks by individual, fast zombies in movies like 28 Days Later and the Dawn remake are more harrowing and thrilling, I think the movies and the zombies lose a lot of their lurking, abiding terror when they're not depicted as an enormous, shambling horde. Part of the terror of zombies is how personality-less they've become: the ultimate fear of all modern people in the industrialized west is that we are faceless, interchangeable drones leading meaningless, pointless lives. Fast zombies look more like packs of wolves, when I think the real zombie menace is to look outside like the people do in Night or the original Dawn and see this crowd just waiting. Not attacking, but just not going anywhere. Ever. Just waiting. As long as it takes. And unlike the zombies, the humans have to sleep. And they run out of supplies. And, most importantly and frighteningly - they fight amongst themselves. More fear.

Now, don't get me wrong: there's no sense becoming an ossified traditionalist in either religion or horror movie fandom, and new directors and writers should be encouraged to develop and change the imagery and parameters of the myth as they see fit. It's how genres stay alive and evolve. And, to be honest, I never would've written the book if I hadn't stood in line at the opening night of the Dawn remake, to be thrilled and horrified anew, in a way I hadn't remembered or thought of for years.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

New Blog

I'm still not sold on the idea of blogs in general, but I've decided to give it a try. Here I will post news and thoughts related to my non-fiction zombie work, Gospel of the Living Dead. There will also be news on future zombie and horror-related projects, especially my zombie novel, Dying 2 Live. I hope we all have a constructive conversation. As part of entering the zombie, blogospheric community, let me say that if you link to my blog and let me know, I'll link to yours.

First, let's start with some reviews of GotLD.

Here are some print ones. The first is from Rue Morgue (Sept 2006):

A study of Romero's classic zombie quadrilogy, as well as Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, the book puts forth a compelling argument that the films parallel Dante's Divine Comedy as an epic journey into the fallen human condition and its scant chance at salvation in a world beset by sin, temptation and demonic entities. The analysis is thorough, smart and comprehensible to the average reader, but only a diehard fan or academic will likely want to wade in deeper than the 25-page introduction, which succinctly lays out Paffenroth's main arguments. Having said that, the subsequent chapters offer their own delights. Paffenroth provides a synopsis, shooting history, and analysis of each of the films, showing their relation to the nine rings of Dante's Hell and to the lesser-known terrain of Purgatory. Many critics have sussed out the subversive elements in Romero's zombie films, arguing that individually and as a series they portray a racist, consumerist America literally eaten alive by its own irreconcilable appetites, but Paffenroth offers a fuller, more humane look at the modern zombie. She [sic] is especially adept at showing how often Romero blurs the line between living and dead, human and zombie, reminding us that the only thing separating us from our shuffling brethren is a few degrees of skin temperature and our target scores at shooting range.

This is from Publishers Weekly (Oct 2006):

You don't have to be a fan of zombie movies to learn from them, but it probably helps. Paffenroth, an associate professor of religious studies at Iona College, is one fan who has turned his fascination into a detailed narrative analysis of the George Romero zombie films (Night of the Living Dead; Dawn of the Dead; Land of the Dead), which he calls "secular descendants of Dante's Inferno." He finds ample social criticism and illustration of old-fashioned "sin" in each film, which gives him optimism for the future of the zombie genre. Written with academic rigor but not with academic jargon, Paffenroth invites us to search the sometimes silly and profane zombie films for deeper religious meanings about how we, the living, act with less humanity at times than the "undead." Paffenroth weaves Christian theology, social criticism and allusions to Dante's Inferno throughout his discussion of films that feature cannibalism, mayhem and terror—a feat that probably has to be read to be believed. This is an excellent resource not just for fans of low-budget zombie films, but for anyone who wants to understand the appeal of the genre.

Links to other reviews, interviews, and articles about the book:

Now, as for the novel, here's the pitch that I have posted on Publisher's Marketplace: If you're for real and not someone trying to sell me on self-publishing, subsidy publishing, book doctoring, or otherwise trying to take my money (as opposed to someone legitimate in publishing, who would be seeking to give me some money), then drop me a line.

And if you're a fan, post a comment and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.


Triumph of The Walking Dead