You’re listening to WZMB…
Wait, wrong, wrong, wrong! Let us pause to re-direct our thoughts.
Much better. Here in the world of The Zombie King, we “Jack” a lot of people and this time around another writer has hopped onto the discussion throne for another round of Get Jack’d. Ladies and gentlemen, I would love to introduce you to Eric A. Shelman.
Let’s get him Jack’d.
JW: You’ve been there. You’ve read bad horror and thought “I can do better than that!” That is either a “write” of passage for most writers, or a call to arms – or both. But for horror authors, it’s much more. It’s a challenge, a need, a burning desire to give the audience what they deserve. Or, in some cases, it’s an author wanting to write the book he wanted to read all along.
This is especially true with the zombie genre. The rise of The Walking Dead brought about a rise in writers wanting to glom onto the coattails of that fame. So we wound up with a ton of writers penning books in a genre they weren’t “born into”.
And then there are those of us who have known, all along, horror was as much a calling as is the priesthood. It’s in our blood, our hearts, our minds, and souls. We are the keepers of the dark fantastic and we take that duty with pride and honor.
Or we just love to fuck with peoples heads.
ES: Thanks for letting me invade your space, Jack. Yeah, to address your first presumption, we’ve all read bad horror. We’ve read bad horror from good authors like King and Koontz and Strieber, too. Just because you’ve got a big publishing house doesn’t mean the story is any good, it just means the publisher knows people will buy it on name recognition alone and the readers will likely let one bad book slide, hopeful the next will be better.
To be honest, after reading a couple of books in the zombie genre, I didn’t think I could write a better book – I pretty much knew I could write a book that was at least as good. I thought that if I could create some likable characters that the readers could get behind and want to follow, I’d be in good shape. And despite the fact that I’ve written seven volumes of my Dead Hunger series now, I can’t help the nagging suspicion that I somehow got in a tad too late.
Yes, the zombie craze is still in full swing, so I’m not saying I missed it. BUT some of the top zombie authors out there – and I do not yet consider myself one of them – jumped in a year or two earlier than I did. This means fans rabid for zombie action latched onto them, devoured them, and established their favorites. For me, it just means I have to write a better novel with each subsequent volume, and I have to continue to ratchet up the intensity and entertainment value as the story moves forward. I’ll get ‘em eventually. Sometimes it takes a while for word-of-mouth to spread, and I am really working hard to make that happen. I’m seeing a lot more activity in the UK and other places, so I’m gaining on the market!
I AM one of the writers to whom you referred who was not “born into” the genre. I had not been a big zombie movie watcher, I had not been focused on zombies at all. A full season of The Walking Dead had already taken place unbeknownst to me until after I wrote Dead Hunger I: The Flex Sheridan Chronicle. It didn’t matter though, because to me, a zompoc is exactly like any other plague that wipes out most of humankind, with one exception; the afflicted come back to try and eat you. All this does is make it impossible for survivors just mind their own fucking business because every time they turn around, the plague is knocking on their door – or clawing at the door. This gives survivors a shitload of interesting things to do.
Horror is in my blood, though. As a kid I had an entire room filled with monster models – Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dr. Phibes, Wolfman, etc. etc. I loved staying up late watching Outer Limits, Thriller, Twilight Zone and Night Gallery … I was HOOKED on HORROR, brother.
JW: Horror is one of those things, once it’s in you…there’s no getting out!
As for coming in late or not…who’s to say? My only concern is that most people will judge all zombie literature and writers pre- and post-TWD. The new-born fans often don’t even realize the huge canon of films and literature outside of the realm of television series. From my perspective, if you don’t know Romero, you don’t know the genre. Period. Not that Romero created the definitive work in the genre, but he single-handedly invented the modern zombie genre. It’s important, at least from my perspective, to understand his work. As we craft our own niche in the genre, we do so with an eye to shake up the norm and improve on the metaphor Romero gave us.
You mentioned Dr. Phibes. Oh how I loved that film when I was a child. Vincent Price could do no wrong. I think the very core of who I am was shaped by that entire period of horror cinema.
ES: Man, you’ve gone and made me think, and I don’t like doing that. Here’s the deal. I don’t really buy into any of the social commentary aspects of zombie movies, though I don’t deny the fact that Romero was using Night of the Living Dead to tap into the fears during the Cold War of radiation and its effects. All horror is more frightening if the perpetrator of that horror can tie the fear factor into something we all experience or have the potential to experience. Koontz and King do it very well, using bits and pieces of everyday life that we’ve all experienced, but twisting it in a way to make us say, “I’ve done that before … what if?”
Many movies have been made about creatures spawned from man’s pollution of the earth. I remember reading Prophecy the 1979 film, “Prophecy”. It was that kind of movie, and while I saw it as a good premise, and found the movie to be freakin’ scary at the time, I did not analyze the movie or like it any more or less because of the way the creature was created. The book was written after the movie, but again – a scary monster is often enough for me – at least as a kid and young man. (Which I am NOT anymore.)
Romero’s next effort, Dawn of the Dead then moves into an analysis of consumerism in many analysts’ eyes, but I remain steadfast that Romero just thought a mall would be a cool place to shoot a movie because of all the back passages, halls and exits. Maybe Romero explained his motivation to expose our desire for material things in the film, but I think he pretty much wanted to scare us.
In my mind, all you have to know is what a zombie is and what it does. I don’t go for social commentary in my books and I don’t try to change the way anyone thinks or views the world. Yes, if my characters are doing what ordinary people would do, or they’re responding to a particular situation in a logical way, the reader is going to relate to them and perhaps want to BE with them. I’m into storytelling. I’m into excitement and action and emotion; I want to show that even in a world gone mad, regular love and loss still occurs outside of the menace. Of course that includes the greedy, the power hungry and the outright evil people who walk among us. I’m making NO statements on global warming, fracking, republicans versus democrats, consumerism, overconsumption, pollution or the 99% versus the 1%. I am only writing stories that keep you up late into the night turning that next page whether you know you should or not.
Eric A. Shelman was born in 1960 in Fort Worth, Texas. In his early teens, his widowed mother remarried and they moved the family to southern California. Eric used to write short stories that featured all of his friends as characters, but because Eric was a longhair living in Laguna Beach, California in the 1970s, you can bet they usually involved drugs of some kind.
Fast forward … to the mid-nineties. Eric started writing some short stories, and finally had one published. After that, he felt it was time to write a book. He initially intended to write supernatural fiction, along the lines of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as many others. But when he discovered the story of a little, abused girl who was rescued by the ASPCA in 1874, he got sidetracked and wrote the very first book on her case, Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson. It came out in 1999, and since that time, thousands have read it, and it is one of his biggest selling books ever. It’s also been optioned for a Major Motion Picture.
From there he wrote a thriller called A Reason to Kill and shelved it. Eric began work on a witch novel called Generation Evil that involved past lives, but he became so confused while writing the book that he put it down at 53,000 words and didn’t write again for eleven years.
Wow. That was dumb. Zombies actually brought an author back to life – he wrote Dead Hunger after the long hiatus. For Eric, it was like bursting from the starting gate, pumped up on adrenaline and unable to stop. Over the next three years, he would write or revise and release TEN novels, including 7 volumes of his Dead Hunger zombie series. He spends an average of 4 months to write a 400+ page novel.
So … time travel, zombies, witches and serial killers. Something for everyone … everyone twisted, that is. You should check him out. You’re falling WAY behind, you know.
Eric A. Shelman lives in Southern Florida with his wife of 27 years, Linda. The future looks bright.
Life is good.