21st Century Dead Authors Roundtable: 3 Rotten Questions About Zombies

21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden
21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden
The authors from 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology, Daniel H. Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Simon R. Green, John M. McIlveen, Stephen Susco, Chelsea Cain, S.G. Browne, Dan Chaon, and Rio Youers weigh in on their first undead loves, why life would be better in a zombie movie, and more! (Bonus points for identifying the author photos in their post-horde incarnations without peeking at the captions.)

Many thanks to anthology editor Christopher Golden for helping wrangle the answers to 3 rotten questions about zombies, and don’t forget to register for a chance to win your own advance copy of 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology!

1) Who was your first Undead Love?

Daniel H. Wilson:  My imagination really ran with Stephen King’s short story, “Home Delivery,” in which islanders have to fight off hordes of their own relatives coming back from the dead. I loved how nothing was explained, and the island community provided a perfect “no escape” survival setting.

Stephen Susco:  “The Dust Witch,” from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Jonathan Maberry:  I’m a true purist. I was ten years old when Night of the Living Dead premiered in October 1968. I snuck into the Midway Theater–one of those old, vast Art Deco monsters left over from Vaudeville days. I dragged a friend of mine along and we went up into the closed (and officially condemned) balcony with root beers and a big box of Night & Day candy. We’d seen every Universal, RKO, and Hammer film to date and we thought we had the whole killing monsters science down pat. Then Romero changed the game on us and gave us tens of thousands of monsters. Monsters who used to be friends, neighbors, loved ones. It was a total game changer and it scared the bejesus out of both of us. My friend had nightmares for years (no joke). I stayed to see it again and went back every day that it was showing. From then on I was a lifelong, card-carrying fan of the living dead.

Rio Youers:  I used to have a lot of sleepless nights when I was young, so my old man pinned several pictures of a beautiful woman to my bedroom wall. All I knew was that her name was Lily. Being young and influential, I fell in love . . . and when I asked my dad where I could find Lily, he told me—rather heartlessly—that she’d been dead since 1929. Naturally, I was devastated. But for a long time those pictures made my life so wonderful.

Ken Bruen:  Ingrid Pitt, in The Brides of Dracula. Made the Undead throb!

Simon R. Green:  Has to be George Romero. Night of the Living Dead is still the best word on the subject.

John M. McIlveen:  Undoubtedly Frankenstein. You can argue that he’s not undead, but I say he is . . . because I said so.

S.G. Browne:  Bill Heinzman, the cemetery zombie at the beginning of Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead, which I saw on Creature Feature when I was eleven years old. Bill was my first zombie and while there were others that followed, none of them could quite measure up.

Chelsea Cain:  My first? Probably Frankenstein’s monster from the 1931 movie. I think kids relate to him in a very real way. He’s lonely. He’s confused. He just wants to be loved. Everyone misunderstands him. Everyone is always yelling at him, and telling him what to do. I still find that movie sort of heartbreaking. The second most influential zombie of my childhood was the cat from the movie/book Pet Sematary. I mean, come on! Your dead cat comes back from the grave? I remember weighing the pros and cons. You get your cat back, but he stinks and tears apart small live animals. But you get your cat back. To me, as a kid, it seemed worth it.

Dan Chaon: Ray Bradbury and his stories.

Zombified Authors (from left to right): Rio Youers, Ken Bruen, Jonathan Maberry, Daniel H. Wilson
Zombified Authors (from left to right): Rio Youers, Ken Bruen, Jonathan Maberry, Daniel H. Wilson

2) Do you ever think it would be easier to join the horde?

Daniel H. Wilson:  As a slight narcissist, I’d hate to join the horde. Who wants to be one of the slavering masses when you can be a member of the slavered-for minority?

Jonathan Maberry: Nah. I’m a fighter and an alpha-type. I’ve got nearly fifty years of jujutsu behind me and a weirdly ferocious protective streak. I also have a pretty good survival scenario worked out in my head. Stick with me, kids, and we’ll get through this.

Rio Youers:  Dude, we are the horde. Everybody is plugged in to cell phones or video games or goddam reality TV. The only people not wired into something are six feet under. It sometimes seems that they’re more attached to life than we are.

Ken Bruen:  No, never was one for joining and would probably be on the side taking zombie notes, being…um…dead cool.

Simon R. Green:  I refuse to belong to any horde that would accept the likes of me as a member.

John M. McIlveen:  Hmmm . . . a society of non-thinking, non-communicative, murderous carnivores who don’t have to pay taxes, college tuition, or worry about performance anxiety, so . . . sure!

S.G. Browne:  Well, since I write about zombies from their POV and cast them as the heroes, I guess you could say I’m already a member.

Chelsea Cain:  It is always easier to join the horde. But then what? You’re eating warm flesh. You look terrible. People are trying to set you on fire. You stink to high heaven. The horde isn’t really that great when it comes down to it. Me? I’d rather take my chances holing up in a basement with a rifle.

Dan Chaon: I already have.

Zombified Authors (from left to right): Stephen Susco, S.G. Browne, John M. McIlveen, Chelsea Cain
Zombified Authors (from left to right): Stephen Susco, S.G. Browne, John M. McIlveen, Chelsea Cain

3)  What in real life do you wish operated like it does in zombie stories?

Daniel H. Wilson:  In a zombie story your adversaries are dumb as rocks, but in real life people are just too damn conniving and smart. I’d feel safer with the zombies, honestly.

Jonathan Maberry: In the movies you can feed loud-mouth dumbasses to the zoms. I could probably get behind that kind of thing.

Rio Youers:  For me, the whole dying thing. It’s so friggin’ dull, right? We die. We have our internal organs weighed and our eyes glued shut. Then we’re thrown into a box and buried. How boring is that? It’d be waaaay cooler if we rose from the dead and shambled around the shopping mall–only to finally meet our end by way of a Ving Rhames lookalike brandishing a 25mm chaingun with optional ripsaw attachment.

I’m everybody’s ideal point man in a zombie apocalypse, who knew...
I’m everybody’s ideal point man in a zombie apocalypse, who knew…
Ken Bruen:  Supermarkets, shopping malls, as in Dawn of the Dead, with Ving Rhames as point man, shopping would be a blast

Simon R. Green:  Shopping malls. Make shopping a real challenge.

John M. McIlveen:  Wow, you’re kind of twisted, but okay, I’ll play. No corporate America, commercialism, politics, TSA, rush hour, extreme right wingers, or Christmas crowds at Wal*Mart.

S.G. Browne:  I’d say politics, but Congress is already filled with a bunch of brain-dead, soulless humans who feast on society.

Chelsea Cain:  As far as highly contagious illnesses go, at least people who are infected (i.e., zombies) are easy to spot. They’re the ones jerking down the street with maggots in their eyes, muttering “Brains . . . ” In real life, people with contagious illnesses blend in. They move through our world greasing up doorknobs with their germs, coughing on our salad bars, and contaminating elevator buttons. With zombies, you have a chance. You can make an effort to avoid them. Whereas people with the flu? They walk among us. This seems to me to be a disadvantage.

Dan Chaon:   Kindergarten.  

Zombified Dan Chaon
Zombified Dan Chaon




Hat tip to MakeMeZombie.com for making all our authors zombified!

S.G. Browne is the author of the dark comedy novels Breathers and Fated.  His latest novel, Lucky Bastard, was published in May 2012.

Ken Bruen is the author of the Jack Taylor novel series, the latest of which is Headstone, and many other crime novels, including London Boulevard and Blitz, both of which were adapted to film in recent years.

Chelsea Cain is the author of the bestselling Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series, currently being adapted for TV by FX. Her next book, Kill You Twice, is out in August.

Dan Chaon is the acclaimed author of Among the Missing, a finalist for the National Book Award. His fiction has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and teaches at Oberlin College, where he is the Pauline M. Delaney Professor of Creative Writing.

Simon R. Green is the best-selling author of the Nightside series, the Deathstalker series, and the Secret Histories. His latest Nightside novel is The Bride Wore Black Leather, and his latest release is the Secret Histories novel, Live and Let Drood, which hit stores in June 2012.

Jonathan Maberry is the New York Times best-selling author of the Pine Deep Trilogy, which began with Ghost Road Blues, and the Joe Ledger thriller series, which began with Patient Zero. He is also the author of the Benny Imura series of YA zombie thrillers, which includes Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay.  His latest novels are Assassin’s Code and Flesh & Bone.

John M. McIlveen has recently completed his first novel, Hannawhere.  His short fiction has been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The Monster’s Corner and From the Borderlands and 21st Century Dead.

Stephen Susco is best known as a screenwriter for film and television. His film credits include The Grudge and The Grudge 2. His latest film, High School, opened in June 2012.

Daniel H. Wilson is the New York Times best-selling author of Robopocalypse and seven other books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising and A Boy and His Bot. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Masters degrees in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. The movie adaptation of his novel Robopocalypse will be directed by Steven Spielberg. Daniel’s next novel, Amped, was released on June 5, 2012.

Rio Youers is a rising star in speculative fiction, the author of the novel End Times, novellas Mama Fish and Old Man Scratch, and the short story collection Dark Dreams, Pale Horses. His latest novel, the critically acclaimed Westlake Soul, was released in May 2012.