Embodying the Avatar: Experiences in WoW

In my search for a good methodology, I’m trying out different techniques of gathering information. Some theory, some gathering player responses, some visual analysis. This one is some interviewing. I interviewed two friends, one over skype, the other through Facebook messaging, about how they relate to their avatars and experiences in WoW. The first one was entirely unstructured, I just kept asking questions. From what I asked them, I narrowed down the main topics of conversation and the second interview on FB was more semi-structured. For sake of convenience, let’s call the friend on Skype Grumpy Gills and the friend on FB Goat Herder.

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Continue reading Embodying the Avatar: Experiences in WoW

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Guilty Pleasures

Not specifically on undead, but relative to the romance side of paranormal/zom romance!

I’ve read a few comments and reviews on this doco and it’s been mostly negative. That the direction of the documentary shows those into romance books to be pathetic, sad sacks of loneliness or desperate for romantic attention, and ignores the range of romance readers. There’s one at Dear Author, and one at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

It’s available online at SMH.tv (maybe only for Australian viewers? If you are international, it might not work for you)

Despite or maybe because of the negative images around it, I decided to watch it. I’m still new to admitting I read romance (mostly historical outside paranormals and zombies), but a lot of my friends are romance – particularly paranormal – readers and I do wonder about the difference between the stereotyped Mills and Boon readers and the real readers I know. What is it about the books we like?

So I’ve jotted down some quotes and comments onthings that happened in the doco.

Note: Words not exact because the video was being evil for me and I couldn’t go back to get the words right :S

~

Women make male or neutral pseudonym for sci fi (and other genres) – men make female pseudonyms for romance books

“It’s okay for her [my wife] to read these novels to compensate what I can’t give her” – a reader’s husband

Men must be alphas, have to look imposing, got to present a good physical appearance, got to be fit, never fat. The kind of man every woman would fancy – Romance writer

Mills and Boon readers are usually past the bloom of youth, intelligent, and have steamy determination – Romance writer

Sometimes are accused by ardent feminists of being anti-feminist, of  promising women things that they will never have, which I think is ludicrous. Readers know they are reading a work of fiction, they don’t expect it in real life. – Romance writer

A reader takes up ballroom dancing inspired by the novels she reads. She admits to dressing up specially for her private tutor, but not so for her husband.

‘It gets hotter and hotter’, ‘Why can’t we expect that in real life?’ – a reader and her friend

‘There was a lot missing in my life and that’s why I enjoyed reading the books. I think it’s escapism. You just indulge yourself in them and think ‘wow, I wish that was me’ – A reader

Romance reader who likes ballroom also watches competitions and seems to admire other men who are tall and Harlequin-heroesque, pointing out features of men not her husband that she likes.

Writer takes notebook to cafes and restaurants and will note down snippets of discussion or movements. That’s what readers like, little things rather than big things, little words, little looks.

Of course she likes reading. It’s a harmless past time. – Reader’s husband

You used to get a sex scene that faded into dots … but now it’s very different – Writer

The idea that any fool can write a Mills and Boon is a mistake – Writer

The sex scene must always be in the context of a loving relationship. – Writer

This is all fantasy, it’s not the real world. It’s a nicer world and we want to maintain that image – Writer

That’s why you read the books. You want all that romance … At the end of the day, you live in the real world and everyone has their downfalls.  – Reader

A Mills and Boon book is not just happy and straightforward –  they have to work through trials to get to a happy conclusion – Writer

Why do men find it so hard to say ‘I love you’? Maybe because it’s so trite, everyone says I love you. There’s almost an in-built fear of commitment, they don’t really want to say something that will tie them down. – Writer

She’s an extremist [about reading Mills and Boon]. Militant, feminist. – a reader’s separated husband

The dancing reader is not happy. Her husband has joined her in dancing so she can go in competitions, but she envies those couples where the husband/male teaches the female. The husband is nervous, but excited to be working with her.

Women are more interested in relationships and talking about relationships than men. Women like to be told things over and over again. – Writer

We’re all yearning for love … I think a fraction of 1% get to meet their true love. It’s so powerful it’s unstoppable. You have to believe in that.  – Model

In every book I write there is a development in the character. The person at the end of the book is not the same as at the beginning, they’ve both learned something about themselves. – Writer

Mills and Boons create an excitement in my life … but it’s not something I’m setting my heart on, because real life is about different things. It’s about romance in your self, that will save you. Relationships will come and go … but it’s the relationship with yourself and how you develop that – Reader

If you think it is getting a bit stale, you have to throw something in there – Reader’s husband

We celebrate, in every Mills and Boon book, the emotion of love which is in everyone’s lifes – Writer

Real life begins where the Mills and Boon ends – Reader

~

After thoughts:

So a lot of this was about true life love and relationships and not just the romances. It feels a bit awkward to have watched someone else’s unfulfilled relationship.

I’m not so sure that reading the romances gave the women an unachievable relationship to desire as the film seemed to suggest. They wanted to be respected, to have some fun in the times they spent together and to enjoy each other’s company and work with their passions.

I didn’t think there was enough breadth in the film – there was no happily married/together couple of which one reads romance, there had to be something lacking or different in the relationship. The people were set up to be seen as trying to live in their own fantasy world, but I didn’t feel that’s what was really going on. Also, the restriction of only connecting with Mills and Boon romance – there are soooo many other imprints and publishers and types out there.

And none of them seemed to read or write or model for paranormal romance. Mores the pity, because I think it brings a new dimension in. I particularly love when the female is the special paranormal, and the male is lesser aware of the paranormal because all too often, it’s men as alpha weres/head vamps and women as the humans. Where once a woman had to be a lady to marry a lord – and there’s more than enough stories about lower class women and higher class men – it’s about changing an entire life-state, not just being able to pick nice clothes and not insult a royal guest. Could argue that romance is the same all around, it’s just paranormal types  ramp up the problems that can be had in any normal relationship. Still, I think it’s a missed opportunity to show only one kind.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Narrelle Harris

Over April I looked at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. While Aussie Author Month is over for this year, it is now Zombie Awareness Month! Start getting prepared today!

Lady of the dark beings and mysterious shadows, Narrelle Harris, is deep within the realms of the undead, and comes from the coffin today:

Why do zombies make good bad guys?
The threat of zombies is an en masse kind of threat, and one of the real horrors I think is not that you’ll be eaten alive, although that’s a very horrible concept, but that you’ll lose yourself and become part of the mass. You become part of the virus or the machine and then maybe harm those you love because you don’t know who you are any more. So as a bad guy, they kind of metaphorically stand for all those things in the world that can reduce us like that – not just disease, but mob mentality, the pressures of consumer society, even sometimes the willingness humans can have to willingly give up their autonomy for others to make choices for them.

Really, zombies are as rich in metaphor as vampires, but in the opposite direction. Becoming a vampire sets you apart; becoming a zombie absorbs your individuality in to the unthinking mass. They’re different ways of exploring humanity, but they’re both effective.
~

What are the limits of a zombie before it becomes something not a zombie?
Like vampires, the concepts of what makes a zombie vary a lot, and have departed hugely from their origins. There’s a lot of scope for playing with the idea, too. Romero zombies are hugely removed from John Lindqvist’s tragic zombies in Handling the Undead.

I suppose for me, for a zombie to be a zombie they have to lose rational thought and be part of the mass hunger. That doesn’t mean they have to be mindless, or forget how to love. In fact, I think it’s an interesting story idea to explore how a zombie might reclaim their lost selves. It is, after all, something of the story of all of us, trying not to just be part of the consumption machine, or the societal machine. It’s so telling that at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead it takes people ages to realise the zombie apocalypse is upon them, because so many people are kind of spiritually or mentally zombified already, just by their lives.
~

What is your favourite/most influential zombie text and why?
Felicity Dowker’s Bread and Circuses really opened my eyes up to the potential for zombie stories. I found it very moving. I love the first season of The Walking Dead too, because it really made you feel compassion for the (un)dead. It also is a great example of my theory that vampire stories reflect our aspirations outward, onto the vampire, while zombie stories are more like mirrors that make us reflect on our own humanity and who we, the survivors, are and want to be.
~

Tell us about ‘The Truth About Brains’ and how you manipulate the zombie.
I decided to go back to the original idea of zombies being raised by magic, so it’s not a zombie apocalypse, it’s one dumb kid’s stupid choice to raise the dead with an incantation.  I thought, too, that what magic can do, magic can undo, because I wanted hope that Dylan could be saved, if only his sister Amy could find out how. Really she just wants to fix Dylan before their mum finds out, because she’s going to be in SO much trouble, otherwise, for letting her baby brother get zombified.

I’ve always got ulterior motives for the paranormal tropes I use, though. This time I wanted to explore a family dynamic in an unusual way. I was inspired originally by the mental image of an exasperated teenage girl being followed to the shops by her zombie brother. I have four brothers, two of them younger than me, and that image resonated with me. 😀 Don’t tell my brothers I said so.
~

What are your plans for the zombie apocalypse?
My plans are to hide out in my fifth floor apartment in the CBD, maybe pooling resources with the others on my floor, to ride it out. My expectations are that I’ll either a) be overrun and eaten b) starve to death and my cat will have to eat me to survive or c) leap to my death from the window. None of those scenarios see me surviving. I’ve seen the zombie apocalypse films. I know my chances. Practically nil.

~

Narrelle has a number of books, vampires, witches, zombies and all the things we love (with some crime and non-fiction and more sprinkled in!)  and you can keep up with her at her website.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Martin Livings

Over the month I’ll be looking at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, so please help out if you can, whether by posting about it or donating.

Delving into the dark is Martin Livings – and further below, a free short offered by the man himself called Ewwsday!

Why do zombies make good bad guys?

I think its their relentlessness, and their near silence, it’s just unnerving. I’m a firm believer in the old-fashioned zombie, in general; the shamblers of “Night of the Living Dead”, not the sprinters of “Resident Evil”. I love the fact that one zombie is barely a menace, even two or three aren’t so bad, but its when they come at you en masse, there’s simply no way to stop them. I remember watching the footage of the Japanese tsunami last year, and having that same awful sinking feeling, seeing that wave of black water and burning debris moving across the landscape with a deceptive slowness, swallowing everything in its wake. Zombies have their true power in numbers, overwhelming everything in their path. And, of course, the fact that they’re US, each one of us they kill becomes one of them. It’s genuinely the enemy within.
~

What are the limits of zombies?

I’m a bit of a traditionalist, as I said before, but that’s just a personal preference, and not a solid one either. I still dig things like “28 Days Later” (yes yes, they’re not actually zombies, I know!) and the “Resident Evil” movies, even though their zombies disobey all the old-fashioned “rules”. Personally I feel that zombies can vary quite wildly in their abilities, depending on how they died and how they were treated after death. For example, if you could keep oxygen getting to the brain, I think a zombie could retain its cognitive abilities. In fact, that’s something I’m counting on in a book I’m working on as we speak!

~
What is your favourite/most influential zombie text?

It’s weird that there is no real seminal zombie novel for us to work off, really. Zombies essentially have their roots in cinema, because it’s such a visual trope; it’s hard to evoke the same feeling of dread describing a zombie horde coming at you as you can by simply showing it. The movies that influenced me the most were the original Romero trilogy, “Night”, “Dawn” and “Day”, which I still go back to and watch on a regular basis. They hold up really well even today, and have influenced everyone creating in this field ever since. On the page, though, Felicity Dowker’s short story “Bread and Circuses” from Ticonderoga Books’ _Scary Kisses_ still sticks in my brain, an excellent and visceral examination of love and death and undead love.

~
Tell us about your horror stories.

My first collection, _Living With the Dead_, will be out later this year, a twenty year retrospective. Bloody hell, have I really been doing this for twenty years??? Sadly, despite the title and the cover, there are no zombie stories in it. I’ve really only written one zombie story, and that was just for fun, called “Eeeewsday!”. It appears in my free eBook, _Ten Minutes to Dumbsday_, available from Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/70526), and also at the end of this interview! Bonus!

I am working on a series of zombie novels at the moment, though, which was sparked by the very silly idea of a zombie James Bond. Immediately I pictured the cover and title of the book (Nys: Posted above!), but quickly realised that (a) just doing a straight pastiche would be lazy and dull, and (b) the estate of Ian Fleming and the Broccolis would sue the pants off me if I ever tried it, so it’s become very much its own creature now, retitled _Sleeper Awake_ (listen to the Sarah Blasko song of the same name if you want to hear the title music of the movie in my head!) but that basic core still remains. The same way Mira Grant’s novels _Feed_ and _Deadline_ are zombie political thrillers, my book and the ones that follow it will hopefully still be a big action spy thriller with glamourous international locations, beautiful and deadly women, and many, many explosions. And zombies. Many, many zombies.

~
What is your plan for the zombie apocalypse?

Develop a brain oxygenator, then kill myself with it attached. Might as well be on the winning side!

~

Check out his website here.

~

“Eeeewsday!”
(c) Martin Livings

I knew I shouldn’t have dropped acid last night. It was all trippy and good, sure, but it hasn’t really left my system yet. The walls of the train aren’t quite melting, as it rocks and sways from station to station, but there’s a rainbow tinge to everything. My eyes hurt. And my back.

What did I get up to last night? I don’t remember much beyond putting the little square of brightly coloured paper on my tongue. Did I go clubbing? I don’t know. It must have been something, I’m so sore. I feel like death.

Jesus, what day is it? I have to think hard to recall. Yesterday was Monday, Funday, Annie get your Gunday, so today is… of course. I’m on a train.

Choo-choosday.

Everyone’s staring at me. I must look a sight. I didn’t really pay much attention to getting dressed this morning, just threw on whatever I could find, the least rumpled business skirt and blouse on the floor, and ran a brush through my unruly hair. If my eyes are as red as they feel, I probably look like a vampire bat. A vampire bat who went out clubbing last night.

Some guy’s listening to a portable radio with an earpiece opposite me. I almost laugh, but i know that’d hurt too damn much. Who carries those anymore? Ipods, sure, but old transistor radios? That’s so twentieth century. He looks worried. Bad news? Or maybe it’s an Avril Lavigne song. Same effect, really.

What did I DO last night?

I guess I had some options. Clubbing would have been the most likely one. I’m not much into pubs at the best of times, and on acid they’re just beer-soaked dens of weirdness. I’d have to have made a choice.

Chooseday. Yeah, that sounds right.

I think I remember dancing. Stumbling out of the rear exit of some warehouse in the early hours of the morning. Then… what? Dancing some more? That sounds almost right, but not quite. No music to dance to.

No tunesday.

My stomach rumbles. I skipped breakfast this morning, didn’t really feel like it, but here, on this packed train full of sweaty people ignoring one another, I’m finally finding my appetite. Weird. Must be the acid. Or maybe I smoked some dope last night as well, and having a delayed attack of the munchies. I don’t know.

The guy listening to his radio is looking more worried by the second. His eyes dart around the train, frantic. Then they land on me, and stay there. They widen.

I smile back at him, even though it hurts. It doesn’t seem to comfort him. Man, what have I done to my back? I reach over my shoulder and massage the aching spot. I wish I was somewhere else. Maybe on a ship, drifting from tropical island to tropical island, picking up cheap jewelry and cheap men as I go.

Cruiseday.

The guy shrinks against his seat, away from me. The earpiece comes out of his radio, allowing the inbuilt speaker to start buzzing in its tinny voice.

“…the brain. I repeat, this is not a hoax. The recently deceased are returning to life and attacking the living. The only way to stop them is to remove the head or destroy the brain. They are very dangerous, and should be avoided at all costs. If you encounter one of these creatures…”

I stop massaging my shoulder, bring my hand back in front of me. It’s covered in blood. Old blood, tacky and brown, and clear liquid as well. It smells bad, but somehow it doesn’t affect my growing appetite.

I remember now. I left the club through the rear exit, and was jumped by some homeless guy. He grabbed me like he was close dancing with me. We circled the alleyway a bit, kicked over some trash cans. And he bit my shoulder before I broke free and ran home.

Laughing all the way, off my face. Yahoosday.

I look at my hands, past the blood, at the pallid, greyish skin of my palms. Some of it is peeling away. Is that bone?

I look up, at the man opposite me, at the other commuters. They all look terrified. I don’t care. I’m hungry. I smile again.

Chewsday.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Gary Kemble

Over the month I’ll be looking at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, so please help out if you can, whether by posting about it or donating.

Opening up his brain for us now is Gary Kemble!


Why do zombies make good bad guys?

I’m a fan of the zombie apocalypse scenario so I think strength in numbers. A zombie by itself isn’t such a threat but they usually travel in hordes which makes them more of a challenge.

I also like the fact that you can almost feel sorry for them. There’s that classic scene in the original Dawn of the Dead where the nun zombie has her wimple stuck in one of the doors, until Francine opens the door a crack and lets her lurch free.

But the funny thing about zombies is while you can empathise with them, you feel no compunction at all about seeing them blown away with shotguns, beheaded with machetes etc etc etc.

~

What do zombies mean to you?

The science behind zombies is important to me so I like to see zombies obey rules that kinda make sense. I think if someone has just been zombified it’s fine for them to run, but a zombie that’s been dead a while shouldn’t get much over a fast lurch.

Similarly, I feel it’s ‘unrealistic’ for zombies to not rot over time.

Having said all that, playing Left 4 Dead is a blast even though the special infected (and the whole respawning thing when you die) make no sense at all.

~

What is your favourite/most influential text on zombies?

I really enjoyed World War Z by Max Brooks. I loved the broad scale and getting to see how people from all over the world dealt with the zombie apocalypse.

In terms of movies, you can’t go past George Romero’s original Dead trilogy and I also enjoyed the 2004 Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead.

~

Tell us about your latest/favourite of your own stories and what you do to the zombie mythology.

‘Dead Air’ (first published in Robert N Stephenson’s Zombies, reprinted in Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror 2008) was a lot of fun to write. It’s about a zombie outbreak onboard a 747 en route from LA to Brisbane.

Strictly speaking, they’re more like the infected in 28 Days Later than Romero’s zombies, but let’s not quibble over details. 🙂

I threw in as many zombie references I could think of — I wanted it to be a homage to the sub-genre.

There is a sequel — ‘Deadweight’ — set on a ship in the Pacific. I’m hoping this will claw its way out of the grave some time over the next few months.

~

What are your plans for the zombie apocalypse?

I’ve got a friend with some land out west of Brisbane. I think we could fortify it pretty well, grow some crops. I recommend bladed weapons over firearms, because you don’t have to worry about running out of ammo. 😉

~

Check out his website here.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Holly Kench

Over the month I’ll be looking at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, so please help out if you can, whether by posting about it or donating.

This time is Holly Kench, part of a new initiative called In Fabula-Divinos with Nicole Murphy. We’ll find out more about In Fabula-Divinos after Holly’s interview.

 

Why do zombies make good bad guys?

You mean the best bad guys?!

The fact that they are neither alive nor truly dead plays on many of our societal fears, and I think this is the essence of their horror. Their ‘inbetween-ness’ is fundamentally discomforting, and an ability to create a sense of unease is always a great characteristic in a good bad guy.

For me personally, though, zombies are intrinsically funny and terrifying, and I don’t think there could be a better combination of attributes for the perfect villain.

~

What are the limits of classifying a zombie?

I like my zombies undead, rotting, without a care in the world other than the desire for human flesh.

The thought of zombies with a romantic agenda makes me cringe. Zombies don’t care about romance, they care about eating people. This is, again, part of why they are such good bad guys. They are the people we used to love, but who can’t love us anymore, and instead want to eat us.

Physically, I’m not such a purist. While I think the classic slow, uncoordinated zombies are both funnier and scarier, I’m not opposed to fast zombies, especially if a reason for their speed is given. (I liked the idea in Eloise J. Knapp’s “The Undead Situation” that zombies only become slow once rigamortis sets in, but, until then, anything goes!)

~

What is your favourite/most influential zombie text and why?

That’s a hard one, because I just love the whole genre (some texts more than others), but I think the entire concept of zombies (and their various incarnations) influences me more than any one text.

Certainly, there’s no going past Max Brooks’ “The Zombie Survival Guide” in terms of detailed survival advice. It is hilarious, but also really clever. He has a survival plan worked out down to the last firearm and escape vehicle.

I have to admit that the “Resident Evil” films (especially the first) are comfort food to me, like a fluffy blanket or a tub of ice-cream. My current favourite text (film or novel) at the moment, though, would have to be “Planet Terror”. It asks a lot of questions about so many issues that are close to my heart (including feminism), and uses zombies to achieve it! Apart from anything else, it’s also really funny. I just love it. Unfortunately, I think I’m the only person I know who feels this way. Everyone else I force to watch it seems to find it either ‘offensive’ or just ‘weird’, but then, there’s no pleasing some people.

~

Tell us about “The Secret Life of a Zombie fan”

“The Secret Life of a Zombie Fan” is about two zombie enthusiasts who are excited by the thought of the apocalypse, and who believe that they are ready to deal with any zombies headed their way. They think they have a good plan, but when the apocalypse arrives, they discover that it’s not quite what they expected.

~

What are your plans for the zombie apocalypse?

I’d like to think that I’d take the zombie apocalypse head on. However, without the assistance of a machine gun for a leg (like Cherry Darling), I expect I will end up hiding under my bed and eating my weight in chocolate, while awaiting my likely fate as a zombie’s dinner.

~

And now to find out more about In Fabula-Divinos with the project founder, Nicole Murphy:

~

What is In fabula-divinos?

In fabula-divinos (Latin for The tale-tellers) is a project I devised to combine three passions of mine – editing, teaching and paying it forward.

I’ve been really lucky over my writing career to have some great teachers and mentors (and I still do) and I wanted to find a way to give newer writers a hand.

At the same time, I wanted to get back into editing. I love writing, I’ll never stop, but I really enjoy editing as well – taking a story, working out the good and the bad and then helping an author see that and fix it. Plus there’s always the glow that comes from making another person happy.

Over time, all those things coalesced into In fabula-divinos. Here’s how it works – I choose one story a month and I work with the author to polish it, giving them as close an experience of a professional edit as possible. At the end of the month, the story gets published at the website (http://thetaletellers.wordpress.com). Rinse and repeat with a new story

After a year, I’ll gather the twelve stories and, along with some friends that I’m going to con into taking part, I’ll publish an anthology. My hope is the sales of that anthology will help fund the continuation of the project.

Each participating author gets $100 and if the anthologies take off, they’ll get a percentage of the profits as well.

~

Why did you choose Holly’s story?

Firstly, Holly’s story appealed because of the end. It’s got a twist that you won’t see coming  Second, it was a toss-up between her story and another and I decided that the first story I chose for In fabula-divinos needed to say something about me and the project. Holly was a woman, and Australian, and that got her over the line for this time.

~

What do zombies mean to you?

The thing that gets me about zombies is the wondering about how much of the original person is still in there. How aware are they of what they’re doing, what they’ve become? I think that’s why for me, my favourite zombie story is Felicity Gray’s Bread and Circuses, in Scary Kisses. I’ve just finished reading Jason Fischer’s zombie novellas turned novel, and the re-humans are in a similar boat for me – terrifying that they may have known all along what they’d done. That is really horrifying.

~

You can find Holly at her website, Nicole at hers, and In Fabula Divinos at theirs.

Aussie (Zombie) Author Month: Rob Hood

Over the month I’ll be looking at a bunch of Aussie authors who write zombie fiction. Why? Well I do run Aussie Author Month myself, and while there are few Aussie names out there for zombies, they are damned good ones! Aussie Author Month also supports the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, so please help out if you can, whether by posting about it or donating.

And now, a Zombie Master himself, Rob Hood.

Why do zombies make good bad guys?
RH: Are modern apocalyptic zombies even “bad guys” at all? Being a Bad Guy implies some sort of conscious motivation. Before Romero, the walking corpses were: vengeful revenants back from the dead to seek retribution for evil done to them in life; resurrected Bad Guys (usually through their own machinations) pursuing some hellish intent; or, mindless drones under the command of a Big Bad Houngan or controller. Such characters are classic antagonists, focused and, most importantly, motivated (even if by default). The stories they are in focus on the consequences of an individual’s decisions and the struggle between Good and Evil. After Romero the trope that took the world by storm depersonalized “zombies” into a characterless and implacable horde, driving an apocalypse that had nothing to do with Intent. This modern zombie is a force of nature, like a tsunami or a plague (hence the prevalence of infection as an origin for the Living Dead). From a storytelling point-of-view these zombies thematically focus attention on the human protagonists and their struggle to survive, which is why such stories more commonly ask questions about the nature of humanity and of human society itself rather than dwelling on the nature of Evil. Add the spice of the zombies’ unnatural existence and you have an uncanny undercurrent that arises from their power as a metaphor for mortality – humanity’s ultimate “enemy”. Death is implacable, inevitable, inescapable. It feeds on life. In the face of it, how do individuals, and society as a whole, act? Given the inevitability of death, is there value beyond a mindless struggle for survival? This is what makes zombies so culturally potent. They are the ultimate metaphor.

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How do you use zombies in your works?
RH: I’ve written quite a few stories with zombies in them, from very corporeal ghosts to the Romero-style hungry dead. I don’t think I’ve followed any distinctively original pattern in them. How I use them depends on the story and what it is about – and what very many of my stories are about is mortality. Writing about zombies seems inevitable in that context, or at least it does to me. I like ghost stories and their sense of the persistence of memory — the desire for resolution inherent in the past’s influence on the present. Inevitably this has led to stories in which the corpse returns to remind its murderer that nothing remains hidden – or which simply explore the lingering influence of the past. A number of my zombie stories have a pseudo scientific rationale to them, offering futures in which there exist technologies that allow corpses to be animated, controlled and used as “slaves” – sort of an economic rationalist slant. One of these is an otherwise traditional hardboiled detective murder mystery. Another is political satire (and this one has a veneer of voodoo lore about it). I have on occasion used apocalyptic zombie tropes to humorous effect, as in the evangelistic tale “In the Service of the Flesh” and in “Zombie au Gratin”, which appeared as part of a “scary food” cookbook. It’s only really in recent years that I’ve ventured into “traditional” zombie apocalypse territory, having been invited to do so. It’s been fun trying to give a fresh feel to what has become an almost by-the-numbers sub-genre.

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One time I was telling you about zombie romances, and you said that you didn’t consider them zombies. What are the limits of classifying a zombie?
RH: Well, I guess I was being provocatively narrow in defining what a zombie is, so I’ll continue along that line. For me zombies are always about mortality, unnatural mortality – so anything that waters down the impact of that central metaphor rarely sits well. That’s why, in the old argument about “slow” versus “fast” zombies I usually come down on the side of the shamblers. In movies in particular (and the cinema has, unusually, driven the development of the apocalyptic/hungry zombie subgenre on the literary side), too much speed takes away the uncanny qualities that are, for me, central to making an effective zombie. They should feel unnatural: lifeless corpses that move about and thus by their very existence undermine reality as we know it. The really fast and vicious zombies appear to have purpose and will. They’re no different from your average maniac — and too lively to appear dead. What they convey is sheer danger. The fear for the audience lies in the violent aspects of their threat rather than in the implications of their unnatural existence.
But, you know, tropes get re-worked for better or worse – and so they should. And of course there have been some excellent and effective zombie romance films. One of my favourites is Zombie Honeymoon, a film about a honeymooning couple whose holiday (and relationship) is put under threat when the husband is bitten by a random zombie, dies and comes back from the dead. The filmmakers do a great job of developing a surprisingly complex metaphor for what happens when a “life partner” turns out to be very different from what they were when you committed to them – it is in effect about the moment when love dies.
So in the end, whatever works is valid enough. Having said so, however, it’s also true that when a zombie gets far enough from the core of what a zombie is (an unnaturally animated corpse) that the definitions don’t apply any more, why call them zombies at all? Werewolves are humans who turn into wolves (or vice versa). If you have a werewolf character who drinks blood and only ever turns into a bat, even under the full moon, maybe it would be sensible if to call them something else.

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Tell us about your latest zombie-inclusive story.
RH: Actually I have two works coming out this year that have zombies in them. The most classically zombie-like is a novella written for an anthology based on the IDW comic franchise, Zombies vs Robots. Writing for a franchise is always challenging, but I had a great time concocting a story set in Cold War Russia and featuring arcane experiments, zombies and a clunky zombie-hunting robot from the future. When the story appears (as a monograph with a couple of other stories and later in the full anthology) readers should check the books out. The anthology includes a horde of big-name writers (and me) and the concept is so good the books can’t fail to be compelling.
The other zombie story of mine due to appear this year is an epic fantasy novel called Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead from Borgo Press / Wildside Press in the US. I’ve been trying to get this one published for some time, though its somewhat complex nature (often referred to as “literary”) has made it a hard sell. Anyway it features a character that isn’t the protagonist, but is central to everything that happens. He’s a corpse whose unnatural movement is driven not by infection but by what amounts to a curse, a curse that compels him to find and recover a mysterious object that was once in his hands and which he lost in a long-distant apocalyptic event. The object is greatly desired by all and sundry as it is reputed to be the source of ultimate power. The corpse (the titular Valarl) follows the path the object took through history, inexorably retracing where it was taken. Driven by the curse, Valarl only gets violent if someone gets in his way. He has no will of his own and only a faint recollection of himself as a human being. When other seekers of the object realize that Valarl will sooner or later catch up with the object in time, he becomes the central focus of their search. But of course nothing is what it seems and the problem with an Ultimate Power is that the one who finds it may discover they didn’t really want what it has to offer after all.
Naturally I think Fragments is a compelling and quite unique novel, albeit appearing at first glance to be in fairly straight-forward fantasy mode. Jack Dann has described it as “one of the strangest and most interesting visions to come out of the modern horror/fantasy genres” and I hope others will agree. I have no exact date for its release yet but there is a nascent website where anyone who wants to follow its progress can come to check what’s happening: http://fragmentsnovel.undeadbackbrain.com/. No one should expect a standard zombie story though.

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Do you have a plan in case of zombie apocalypse?
RH: Yes, offer the zombies a copy of my collected works and while they’re busy trying to see how they fit into the scheme of things, run like hell!

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You can check out Rob’s website for his full bibliography and his website on horror media at Undead Backbrain.

Looking for more? Here’s his zombie bibliography complete with comments.

Dem Bones
Intimate Armageddons, edited by Bill Congreve. Wollongong, Five Islands Press 1992
Immaterial. Ghost Stories by Robert Hood, MirrorDanse Books 2002.
Comment: It’s a skeleton, but it’s a pretty physical one.

Voyeur Night
Crosstown Traffic. Edited by Stuart Coupe, Julie Ogden and Robert Hood, Five Islands Press, 1993
Comment: Scientifically animated corpses…

A Place For The Dead
Bloodsongs 3, 1994
Immaterial. Ghost Stories by Robert Hood, MirrorDanse Books 2002
Comment: Um, well,….. people don’t leave their bodies even after they’re dead and get nasty…. oh, just read it.

Dead in the Glamour of Moonlight
Moonlight Becomes You: Crimes for Summer, edited by Jean Bedford, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1995
Sunday Sun-Herald, 28 Jan. 1996
Bonescribes. Years Best Australian Horror. Sydney, MirrorDanse Books, 1996
Immaterial. Ghost Stories by Robert Hood, MirrorDanse Books 2002
Comment: Ghostly revenge, but very physical.

Heartless
Aurealis No. 31, 2003
Creeping in Reptile Flesh, Robert Hood, Altair Australia Books 2008
Creeping in Reptile Flesh, Robert Hood, Morrigan Press, 2011 (revised and expanded)
Comment: Um… sort of…. An alien heart creature that enters and animates the dead.

In the Service of the Flesh
Aurealis #35, 2005/6
Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror 2007, edited Angela Challis, Brimstone Press, 2007
Comment: Zombie evangelists… but not at first.

Moments of Dying
Black magazine, #1, edited Angela Challis, Brimstone Press 2008
Comment: A resurrected corpse in the “First Moment of Dying” section

Zombie Au Gratin
Scary Food, edited by Cat Sparks, Agog! Press 2008
Comment: Zombie recipe book…

Behind Dark Blue Eyes
Exotic Gothic 3, edited Danel Olson, Ash-Tree Press, December 2009
Comment: Haitian zombies in politics… sort of…

Professor Cadaveros’ Experiments in Transcendent Mortality as Reflected in Zombie Cinema
Faux “history” of major zombie films, in Continuum: Future Tense convention booklet, February 26–28, 2010
Comment: No comment…

Wasting Matilda
Zombie Apocalypse! edited by Stephen Jones, Robinson Press/Mammoth Books UK, and Running Press US, 2010
Comment: Traditional Romeroesque zombie apocalypse

Walking the Dead Beat
Damnation and Dames, edited by Amanda Pillar and Liz Grzyb, Ticonderoga Publications, 2012
Comment: Scattered throughout the story… some of them prostitutes!

Footprints in Venom
In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh, edited Mark S. Deniz, Gilgamesh Press, TBA
Comment: Re-constructing Gilgamesh from archeological remains, so… sort of zombie…

Soul Killer [novella]
ZvR Diplomacy (tentative title), edited by Jeff Conner, IDW Publishing, [scheduled for this year]
and later in large This Means War! Vol. 2 from same publisher (big anthology)
Comment: Set in the Zombies vs Robots comic franchise world…

An “epic fantasy” novel Fragments of a Broken World: Valarl Undead is being published by Borgo Press/Wildside Press this year — and a zombie plays an important part (hence the secondary title).