Today we chat with Kristal Stittle, author of the SURVIVAL INSTINCT series.
DD: Thanks for plugging in, Kristal! First off, tell us about your SURVIVAL INSTINCT zombie series. We're four books in - is there more to come?
KS: Thanks so much for having me! Survival Instinct and its sequels are about several people from various walks of life, and how they adapt and survive (or not) the situations that arise from the outbreak of a zombie virus. Each chapter follows a different character than the one before it, and I’ve tried to give each character his or her own voice, their own way of seeing the world. I once had a reviewer say that some of the chapters felt like they had been written by a different author, so I think that means I succeeded? There is definitely going to be a fifth book, but I’m not yet sure what form it will take. I have a growing pile of short stories, all of which take place in the same world, and I’m planning to compile them into an anthology one day. There’s an idea for a longer story percolating in my mind, but until I start writing it, I don’t know if it’ll be a full novel, or a novella that I can group with the collection. Right now I’m stretching my legs in other genres, but I always end up back among the zombie hordes.
DD: The story follows survivors in the wake of a zombie outbreak. Are there social norms that can become liabilities once social order has collapsed?
KS: Definitely, for sure. This is a huge topic, one that can cover our reliance on electricity, to farming, to buying and even washing clothes. If I had a mind for it, I could probably write a whole essay on the topic, but I think I’ll narrow it down to something much shorter. I’d say there’s a new social norm to photograph or record everything even remotely interesting in your life, and that’s not always a good thing. We’ve already had problems with people getting in the way or getting hurt because they were watching events unfold through a camera lens. I think that taking pictures partly removes you from the situation, so you’re not as focused or aware of your surroundings. When bad stuff is going down, you need to look out for yourself. You should be thinking about whether you’re in danger, not how many ‘likes’ or views you’re going to get. Also, where I live, the social norm is to not be a hunter, so once we lose our access to prepared foods, especially meats, we’re done for. I know I would certainly starve if I lost my source for chicken nuggets!
DD: On the flip side, do you think there are any behaviors considered "antisocial" or "abnormal" that could help a group thrive? (As opposed to a sociopath only looking out for him/herself.)
KS: As someone who tends to be a bit unsocial, I certainly hope so! There is one skill that I think would be very helpful: being able to keep one’s self occupied. When you don’t socialize a lot, you find other things with which to fill the time. Provided someone is able to share those ideas with the group, it could help keep boredom from setting in. The collapse of society wouldn’t be all destruction and mayhem all the time, and you need to keep from going stir crazy. It’s abnormal to not want to go out and do things, and there will certainly be times when you need to stay in place for extended periods. The more knowledge and experience the group has to draw from, the better. Also, where I live, I’ve heard it’s apparently a bit abnormal to carry around a pocket knife all the time, but I have to say, even in day-to-day life, people who know I have a Swiss army knife always end up asking to borrow it for one thing or another.
DD: Do dreams and nightmares inspire you as a writer? Do you record your dreams?
KS: I seem to have very vivid dreams most nights, but I don’t often record them. The best ones, though, I’ve stored their details away in various notebooks, because I definitely want to explore them in the future. I think some have the potential to make good books down the line. So yeah, I definitely say they inspire me. I’m also fairly certain that my subconscious has held onto a few details of some dreams that it sprinkles about in my work.
DD: Is there anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in zombiedom?
KS: I’m always a fan of more animals. Lots of people I know have pets, including myself, so I’m always wondering about them. There’s a reason for all the dogs and cats in my series, haha. I’d love to see some exotic animals though, the ones I don’t have much experience with. I think it would be cool to see what someone who knows about kangaroos would have them do should a zombie approach. As for less, I’m a bit tired of there always being that one guy who wants to take over the leadership role of the group, and causes problems because of it. Those people definitely exist, but I’ve come across one too many stories where, from the reader’s point of view, the leader hasn’t done anything wrong and the guy who wants to take over is just a selfish jerk.
Posted by Dave Dunwoody at 7:59 PM
The series keeps rolling along with one of my favorite guys in the genre, Peter Clines.
DD: Thanks for plugging in, Peter! First off: can you tell us anything about the future or your EX-HEROES zombie/superhero franchise?
PC: Well, book five, Ex-Isle, just came out in February. It’s got the heroes discovering a floating, man-made island out in the Pacific, so St. George, Zzzap, and Corpse Girl go out there to make contact with the survivors and... well, the folks out there have some ideas of their own about what they think happened to the world. And meanwhile, back home, Danielle’s dealing with the fact that she has to rebuild the Cerberus armor, which is forcing her to confront a lot of things about herself
I’ve been playing around with some ideas for a book six, and when I talked with my editor about it at San Diego Comic-Con he didn’t seem entirely horrified by the idea, so I think that’s going to happen. My current title for it is Ex-Tension. I’ve sketched out some basic ideas for it and I really like it. This one’ll probably have more of Stealth and Captain Freedom, just because they didn’t get much time in Ex-Isle.
And I have a few slim ideas for one more after that, but I guess we’ll see what happens. I’ve pretty much been writing every book in the series off the premise, “well, they’ll never let me do another one of these...”
DD: This year a new edition was released of your genre mash-up, THE EERIE ADVENTURES OF THE LYCANTHROPE ROBINSON CRUSOE. How did this concept form in your mind? Any challenges as you blended the worlds of Defoe and Lovecraft?
PC: That whole book was just one huge challenge. Back in 2009, when the idea of it first came up, the whole mash-up craze was just exploding. But I didn’t want to do one of the jokey, tongue-in-cheek books that so many of those first mash-ups were. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it’s just not what I wanted to write. So I spent months researching the time period, reading and rereading the original book, studying Defoe’s style. And I also threw myself into Lovecraft and reread a ton of stories. Which turned about to be a lot of fun, because so often his stories refer back to this ancestor or those past events, and so many of them fell in the era Crusoe is set in. It gave me lots of crossover space.
So, in the end, I like to think I write a perfect, early 18th century adventure-horror novel. And the only real problem was that I’d written a perfect, early 18th century adventure-horror novel, which it turns out there wasn’t a huge market for. So I was kind of caught off guard when Permuted Press said they wanted to re-release it, because it’s never exactly been a money maker (I’m not sure, but I think it still hasn’t earned back its fairly small advance). But I’m very proud of the story, and the new edition is seriously gorgeous. Somebody there really did a knockout job with it.
DD: It's the zombie apocalypse, and you know you're done for. What's your last meal & beverage? (Don't say poison, that's cheating)
PC: “Done for” meaning dead, or just this is sort of game over for normal life?
Well, either way I’d probably get a nice pizza. Really, is there anything better than a hot-from-the-over thin crust with sausage, mushroom, and garlic? It’ll either be a great last meal, period, or a great last meal before I’m eating watery oatmeal and dandelions for the next few years...
DD: Is there a book, game, film or TV series you'd love to see invaded by zombies?
DD: Is there a book, game, film or TV series you'd love to see invaded by zombies?
PC: I’m really dying to see where they’re going to go with the “Zombie Nick” plot thread on Grimm. Does that count? I don’t know. A lot of my favorite shows already have zombies. Game of Thrones has ‘em. The Flash did a zombie episode. So did Bob’s Burgers. iZombie is heading into major zombie apocalypse territory, based off how they ended last season.
Maybe Agents of SHIELD, because that would effectively bring the idea of zombies into the whole MCU. They’re going to have Ghost Rider this season, so if they’re embracing the supernatural maybe they could do a Simon Garth nod? That’d be pretty cool, and maybe give them another way to tie in to Doctor Strange.
DD: Anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in zombiedom?
PC: Honestly, the one thing I got tired of really fast would be what I’d call the “prepper confirmation” trope. The one where Bob has either always been a prepper or randomly decided to become one last month, and so he’s completely ready for it when the zombie apocalypse comes. Like, obscenely prepared. The story only exists to show how right people with this mindset are. Everyone else was wrong, they were right, ha-ha, showed you all, bow down and worship me as your savior now. The main character has no needs, no dangers, no fears, no... nothing. If I’ve got someone who’s uber-prepared and capable, there’s no threat, and that means there’s no stakes. And that’s just boring.
It’s frustrating to me because I’ve seen some fantastic stories that subvert that trope. C. Dulaney has The Plan, where the main characters have this really solid survival scheme which starts unraveling on day one. Eloise Knapp has The Undead Situation, where the main character, Cyrus, thinks he’s a badass but the reader quickly realizes all he did was stock up on snacks, candy, and pet food. Tim Long did it in his Beyond the Barriers books, too, where he has a totally capable guy who just gets caught flat footed. That’s all so much more interesting to me.
Posted by Dave Dunwoody at 7:16 PM
A new interview series launching in conjunction with THE STRANGE DEAD, the Nano Interview plugs into the brains of talented zombie artists and extracts their wit, wisdom and anything else it can get its teeth into.
That intro aside, we begin with a guy who himself needs none—monster maestro Jonathan Maberry.
DD: Thanks for plugging in, Jonathan! First off, DARKOF NIGHT. The novella ties together the worlds of three successful series: ROT & RUIN, DEAD OF NIGHT and the Joe Ledger books. What motivated you to bring these series together?
JM: I’ve been bringing in elements of my various horror-themed series together for years now. My four primary series are the Pine Deep Novels (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising), the First Night series (Dead of Night and Fall of Night), my teen-themed Rot & Ruin series (Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone, Fire & Ash, and Bits & Pieces), and the ongoing Joe Ledger thrillers (of which Patient Zero was first and Kill Switch is 8th, with more to come). In one way or another all of those series connect, and it’s often Joe Ledger who serves as the nexus. He is a very tough man to kill. If any of my characters are likely to survive the zombie apocalypse, it’ll be Joe. He’s a former cop who now works as a Special Ops gunslinger for a secret government organization that goes up against terrorists armed with cutting-edge science weapons. The potential for a catastrophic outbreak to happen when he’s off the clock has always been a possibility. That’s what happens in Dead of Night and we see the effect fourteen years later in the Rot & Ruin series. The dead rose and we fell. By the time we look in on the world in Rot & Ruin there are thirty thousand people left and seven billion zombies.
In Rot & Ruin the kids wonder about ‘First Night’, which is what they call the night when everything went off the rails. I got so much reader mail –tens of thousands of requests—for that story, but most of those letters came from the adults who read the teen books rather than the teens. So I decided to write it in a single volume, Dead of Night. As soon as it came out there was a lot of pressure to have me follow it up, to tell what happened to Pennsylvania rural cop Desdemona ‘Dez’ Fox, and so I picked up the story five minutes later with Fall of Night. And I again thought I’d told enough of the story to satisfy me. But the letters and emails kept coming in. Around the same time Fall came out Simon & Schuster published the fifth teen book, Bits & Pieces, which was a collection of short stories that fleshed out the Rot & Ruin world. One of those stories dealt with a group of cosplayers who survived the apocalypse by emulating the heroic nature of the superheroes they portrayed. The lead character was based on a young woman who had been a writing student of mine ten years ago. She is a serious cosplayer whose group often does performances for children’s hospitals. Her real name is Rachael Lavin but she cosplays as Rachael Elle, so that’s the name I used.
When I decided to do a novella –a short novel—that checks in on Dez Fox and also introduces Joe Ledger to the equation, I asked Rachael to come in and write with me. I wrote the A and C storylines, which featured Dez Fox and Joe Ledger, and Rachael wrote the B storyline which focused on Rachael Elle.
DD: Were there any challenges in blending the three mythos?
JM: No, they fit together seamlessly. But here’s the weird part, this may only be a possible future for Joe Ledger. In my recent novel, Kill Switch, Joe experiences a series of traumatic shifts (that may be hallucinogens or may be him being transported back and forth through his own timeline) and in one of them he also meets Dez Fox, but in a different way. And at the resolution of that adventure he has foreknowledge of the coming pathogenic outbreak that will cause the dead to rise. The questions then become can he stop it? Which of the futures he’s seen is real? Are any of them? Or is he doomed to see the world he’s been fighting to protect crumble as the legions of the dead wave their war of hunger and death?
As this opens a can of worms I expect there will be more stories to tell.
Actually, to further complicate the whole thing, I’m co-editing an anthology with George A. Romero, who created this entire genre. Our book is Nights of the Living Dead, and will be out next fall. All of the stories are set in the 48-hours surrounding the events of that landmark film. George has asked me to write a story that officially combines Dead of Night to Night of the Living Dead. And that, my friend, is a career high.
DD: Are there any totems or muses you keep on your desk? (For example, I have a robot whose head comes off. He's filled with Zoloft)
JM: I am very superstitious person and I always buy something that will act as a good luck charm for a new project. And I have some weird stuff that’s there only because it’s weird. On or around my desk, I have the skull of a housecat, a megalodon tooth, a collection of fighting knives with which I am very proficient, tiny wind-up robots, a rubber brain, a plastic and blood-spattered hand, action figures of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, a statue of Wolverine as a zombie, stuffed Cthulhu in a Hawaiian shirt and straw hat, a copy of the shooting script for Night of the Living Dead signed by George Romero and John Russo, a bobble-head statue of Edgar Allan Poe, a statue of Godzilla (Japanese version, not the U.S. revisionist critter), several gargoyles, several statues of the Hindu god Ganesha (I’m not Hindu, but he’s the patron god of writers), two Steampunk pistols, a Beanie Baby bat, brass knuckles, a TARDIS coin bank, a statue of Anubis, several antique Halloween figures, action figures of both the Lon Chaney, Jr. and Benicio Del Toro versions of The Wolf Man, voodoo dolls, a replica of the planet Mars on a glass pedestal, several Day of the Dead musicians, a Navajo storyteller figure, a hand-carved Malaysian bat, a mask from Mardi Gras, a roll of crime scene tape, fifteen different kinds of rare rocks and crystals, a trophy from my induction into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, a wind-up Dalek, a magic 8-Ball I have been known to consult on serious business issues, a miniature Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000, an excellent statue of a lurching zombie, various pairs of nunchankus, five Bram Stoker Awards, a copy of V-Wars: a Game of Blood and Betrayal, which is based on my novels and comics, a Hollywood scene clapboard, four of the Eight Immortals (no idea where the other four have wandered off to), a miniature Easter Island Maoi, a zombie Elvis Presley statue, a jack-o-lantern squeezie-ball, a perfect replica of a human skull, and several glow-in-the-dark zombies. Oh, yeah, and a whole bunch of multi-colored tentacles sprout from the top of my pen holder, which also contains a replica of Dumbledore’s wand, a tiny and very sharp Samurai sword, a hand-carved pewter Gandalf the Gray based on one of my own drawings, a dish of lucky pennies, and a throwing knife that I use as a letter opener. So…yeah.
DD: Have dreams & nightmares inspired any of your works? Do you keep track of dreams?
JM: I began keeping a dream diary when I was six and kept it faithfully until my first marriage at age 32. I have ‘sequential dreams’, where my dreams often pick up where the last one left off, much like chapters in a book. They play out all the way to the end of the story. And then the next night I dream something else.
When that relationship crumbled my soon-to-be-ex burned the diaries, along with most of my photo albums and my grandmother’s 187-year-old set of hand-painted tarot cards. It was that kind of breakup.
Anyway, when I meditate since then I often try to go back and remember old dreams, and the old stories I used to tell my friends as a kid. And I’ve found some pages that, for whatever reason, I tore out of the diaries. I recently took a series of those dreams from when I was in 5th grade and updated and adapted them into a novel, The Orphan Army, Book 1 of The Nightsiders. It was a direct collaboration between my 58-year old self and my 11-year old self. That kid was weird, too. The story’s about human and supernatural monster kids teaming up to fight back against alien invaders. It was published last year and the sequel, Vault of Shadows, debuts August 30.
DD: Is there anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in zombiedom?
JM: Yes, and from a couple of different perspectives. On one hand it’s getting old having people say that ‘zombies are so over’ and ‘zombies are dead’, the latter said with an alarming ignorance of irony. Zombie stories will end when writers stop having good ideas, and last I checked there were a lot of good ‘fresh’ zombie stories out there. Hell, The Walking Dead is in its seventh season, and it’s still the #1 show on TV.
That said, I’d like to see more stories where we see intelligent groups of people working together and using rational thought to survive rather than sheer defensive brutality. And, yes, it would even make for compelling storytelling, but at least you’d have heroes you can root for, rather than waiting to see who survives.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, as well as standalone novels in multiple genres. His recent novels include KILL SWITCH, the 8th in his best-selling Joe Ledger thriller series; VAULT OF SHADOWS, a middle-grade sf/fantasy mash-up; and MARS ONE, a standalone teen space travel novel. He is the editor of many anthologies including THE X-FILES, SCARY OUT THERE, OUT OF TUNE, and V-WARS. His comic book works include, among others, CAPTAIN AMERICA, the Bram Stoker Award-winning BAD BLOOD, ROT & RUIN, V-WARS, the NY Times bests-selling MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, and others. His books EXTINCTION MACHINE, V-WARS and MARS ONE are in development for TV/film. A board game version of V-WARS was released in early 2016. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan spent twenty-five years as a magazine feature writer, martial arts instructor and playwright. He was a featured expert on the History Channel documentary, Zombies: A Living History and a regular expert on the TV series, True Monsters. He is one third of the very popular and mildly weird Three Guys With Beards pop-culture podcast. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo. www.jonathanmaberry.com
Posted by Dave Dunwoody at 4:13 PM