Undead Anonymous

Ask Andy – Southern Hospitality

April 14th, 2011

Frank from somewhere-in-the-south asks:

What would your suggestion be to fellow zombies trying to etch out a life in the south? It’s really humid here and homeless are scarce in the country. Moonshine seems to slow the decay but it’s hard to find work when you smell like Charlie Sheen waking up in a dumpster.

Well Frank, having resurrected on the west coast, I don’t have any first-hand experience with the challenges of being a zombie in the south. But since heat and humidity tend to speed up decomposition, the first thing you’ll want to do is to get thick with your local mortician. You need industrial strength formaldehyde and you need it fast. Moonshine and cosmetic products will only go so far at warding off the rapid decay of your body. See if you can set up some kind of a payment plan if you have access to any money. Or better yet, do a trade. Maybe offer to bring him more business for a weekly formaldehyde fix.

As for employment, I don’t know about the southern states, but zombies in California aren’t allowed to hold jobs. So the best I can suggest is to find some zombie-friendly businesses and do some freelance work. Try telemarketing. Or phone sex. That way you don’t have to worry about how you smell.

If all else fails, then just embrace your zombie-ness, get yourself some cooking oil and tasty seasoning, and start chowing down on some good southern-fried cooking.

H is for High, Hitchhiking, and Heartshaped

June 2nd, 2010

Actually, that would be an interesting way to make your way across the country. Though I’m not really sure about the heartshaped part. Maybe that just means you’re full of love for mankind. Or else you’ve got some serious physical abnormalities.

Some titles that didn’t make the final cut for my favorite book titles that begin with the letter H include The Hobbit, Hocus Pocus, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Hunt for Red October.  Come to think of it, I never read that last one.  I just saw the movie.  Which, admittedly, I do a lot.

On to the winners…

Best of the best:
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
Although I saw the movie first and loved it (I’m a big John Cusack fan), I thought the novel about a neurotic record collector and his failed relationships was an excellent read. Well-written, entertaining, funny, and populated with characters that I enjoyed getting to know. As far as first novels go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Second best:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Another instance where I saw the film before I read the book. While I haven’t read the other novels that comprise the rest of the story, I had a lot of fun with this, enjoying the premise and the social commentary and the humor, as well as the excerpts from the Hitchhiker’s Guide. And I have to say as far as the movie goes, Alan Rickman was the perfect voice for Marvin, the cynical and depressed robot.

Best of the rest:
Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill
I don’t know if Joe Hill admits to the influence his famous father had on his writing, but for me, Heart Shaped Box is a chip off the Richard Bachman block. Bachman, of course, being the pseudonym of Stephen King, who tended to write a little darker and edgier and with a more feverish pace than King. This is probably the best horror novel I’ve read in the past five years.

Series of books I never got into:

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling
I read the first few chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and then stopped. I found the concept of muggles and wizards more interesting than when Harry went to Hogwarts and the story ended up being all about the wizards. But then, I don’t have as much money as J.K. Rowling.

B is for Beat, Black, and Breakfast

April 18th, 2010

Not Beat as in the Beat Generation.  I’ve never read any Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, or Jack Kerouac.  I never had a Naked Lunch or went On the Road.  I suppose at some point I should, just to see what all the fuss is about, but right now they’re not on my list of books to read.

When I look at my bookshelf and I try to recount some of the books I’ve read, some of the books that didn’t make the list for the letter B include Beowulf, Brave New World, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I didn’t include because it was a novella and I’m trying to focus on novels.  And while I know a lot of people love the film version with Audrey Hepburn, I can’t stand it.  It’s popcorn while the novella by Capote is filet mignon.

Okay, enough stalling.  On to my selections for the favorite books I’ve read that start with the letter B:

First Place
Beat the Reaper, Josh Bazell
A fun, imaginative read that bounces back and forth between the present day life and the hidden past of Peter Brown, mob hit man turned Manhattan intern. The writing is crisp and sharp and funny and the medical research done by Bazell, who wrote the novel while completing his internship, makes you never want to spend any time in a hospital. Clever and funny in all the right places. One of my favorite reads of 2009.

The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
I picked up Ellroy’s first installment of his L.A. Quartet because I loved the film L.A. Confidential, which is the third of the four novels. I’ll also note here that I stopped caring about the Academy Awards when Titanic took home the 1997 Best Picture Oscar instead of L.A. Confidential. But as for the novel, I enjoyed Ellroy’s narrative and the way he wove in the real life murder of Elizabeth Short in 1947 Los Angeles. As in real life, the crime is never solved, but the story is about the relationship between those involved in the investigation and how it consumes their lives.

Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
I’m planning to re-read this because it’s been so long since I enjoyed it, but it’s still one of my favorite Vonnegut novels. Although I like Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five better, this is classic Vonnegut, dark and satirical, skewering America and creating tragic characters in his own inimitable way.

Oh, and as a follow-up note to the last entry, A is for American (Psycho and Gods), somehow I managed to forget about Animal Farm by George Orwell. It should have been a definite runner-up.  My apologies to Orwell for the oversight.

Dead Body 101

March 18th, 2010

Some people are under the impression that I’m comfortable around dead bodies because I wrote a book about zombies with a lot of detail about what happens to the human body when it decomposes.  That if I ever came upon a fresh corpse, I’d study it for research.  Well, here’s a little story.

A couple of years back, when I was doing property management for some apartment buildings here in San Francisco, I was performing apartment inspections and discovered that the tenant in one unit, a big, friendly guy in his 50s, had been dead for several days. After walking out of the bedroom and seeking the safety of the kitchen, I called the landlord.  Then I called 911. This is pretty much how the conversation went.

“911. What is your emergency?”
“I’d like to report a dead body in my apartment building.”
(I then provide my name and the address.)
“How do you know the body is dead, sir?”
“Well, he’s on his back and he’s not breathing and his eyes are wide open.”
“Are you sure he’s not breathing?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Is the body cold?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t touch him.”
“Can you check to see if the body is cold, sir?”
“You want me to touch him?”
“Yes sir.”
“Do I have to touch him?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
(After a pause.) “Okay, fine. Hold on a second.”
(I walk back into the bedroom, bend down, then reach out a single index finger and poke him in the shoulder.)
“Yes, he’s cold.”
“Do you have a defibrillator?”
(A defibrillator? No, I don’t have a defibrillator. Who the hell carries around a defibrillator?)
“No. I don’t have a defibrillator. And I don’t know CPR, either, so if you want someone to try to resuscitate him, then I’m not the man for the job.”
“Are you alone, sir?”
“Yes. So if you could you please send someone over here who deals with dead bodies I’d appreciate it, because this isn’t really my forte.”
“We’ll send someone right over.”

10 Questions With Eric S. Brown

February 1st, 2010

Eric S Brown has been called “the king of zombies” by Dread Central and he was featured in the book Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (by Jonathan Maberry) as an expert on the genre.

World War of the Dead, his first solo zombie novel, came out in 2009 while The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, a zombie mash-up of the H.G. Wells classic, finished as #8 in the Preditors & Editors readers’ poll for the Best Horror Novel of 2009.

His short fiction has been published hundreds of times, in places such as Dead Worlds 5, Dead History, The Zombist, and Gentlemen of Horror, among others.

When he’s not writing about the living dead, Eric also writes an ongoing column on the world of comic books for Abandoned Towers magazine.

Tell us about your first zombie experience. How did you lose your undead virginity?
My family had just gotten a VCR. Yes, I am that old. I saw Night of the Living Dead on a discount rack of VHS stuff and snagged it because I thought it looked cool. After watching it, I had nightmares for two weeks and fell in love. I raced out and rented a copy of Dawn of the Dead. From that moment on, I was a zombie junkie for life.

What’s your favorite zombie film?
Both Dawn of the Dead films. Though completely different, I love them both. The first is the perfect thinking person’s Z film and the remake is a masterpiece of zombie action.

Other than a reliable weapon, what one item would be on your Must Have List for the zombie apocalypse?
That is a tough one. How about a solar powered laptop with the complete DC and Marvel libraries of everything the two companies have ever published on it? That would help keep me sane and give me something to do when not running for my life.

If you could have a pet zombie, what would you name it and who would you feed it?
Howard, after my beloved cat that passed away a few years back. As to who I would feed it, just annoying people in general. That way I can pick as I go.

What’s the first thing you remember reading that inspired you to want to become a writer?
The Green Lantern comic series from DC. We had career day at school and I went as a GL but they told me I couldn’t be an interstellar cop with a power ring so I looked back down at my shirt and said, “Okay, I’ll be a writer then.” Seriously, I cut my teeth on comics. Series like Green Lantern and the Fantastic Four taught me SF and series like The Legion of Superheroes taught me character development and plot structure. I wanted to create worlds and characters like DC was doing.

Who’s your favorite author?
Of all time? Only one? That’s insane mate. I love David Drake for his action and military SF. I love Lovecraft because he was so ahead of his time and a lot like me on the social level. I really enjoy Dan Simmons’ work and F. Paul Wilson’s. The Keep is one of the greatest books ever. How about a favorite book instead? My favorite, most read book of my life is the first Book of the Dead anthology (this is of course excluding comics).

What’s your favorite word?

What’s your favorite non-zombie film?
Ghostbusters! There’s NO question there. It’s the greatest SF/comedy ever made. I couldn’t begin to tell you how times I have watched it. It has some of the best lines ever like, “Back off man, I’m a scientist!” and “Remember that time you tried to drill a hole in your head?”  I spent my whole fifth grade year of school decked out in Ghostbusters clothing and today at 35, I can almost quote the entire movie, line for line, from beginning to end.

If you weren’t writing about zombies, what would you write about?
This year, I’ll be trying my hand at two of my other loves: Bigfoot and Superheroes. Bigfoot has terrified me since I was a young child in rural North Carolina. Coscom Entertainment will be releasing my book, Bigfoot War, very shortly, which is my answer to all those annoying Bigfoot movies that only have one monster. Bigfoot War has a whole freaking tribe of ticked off Sasquatchs taking on a southern town and is very true to the Eric S Brown style of gut spilling action that readers saw in Season of Rot.

Also this year, Altered Dimensions Press and The Library of Science Fiction Press will be releasing superhero books from me featuring my own original character, Agent Robert Death. Death is a really screwed up guy with as many issues as he has powers. He leads a rotating team (due to the high mortality rate) of super-powered operatives against both science based and supernatural forces that threaten our plane of existence. Writing superheroes was a scary thing for me because I have been in love with that genre since I was four years old and with comics being such a HUGE part of my life, I had a lot to live up to in my mind. Hopefully, I pulled it off and The Human Experiment and Anti-Heroes (co-written by David Dunwoody) will rock pretty hardcore this coming fall.

If you had a theme song that played when you walked into a room, what would it be?
“The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash or the theme from Greatest American Hero. I can be the most depressing person in the room without trying but I also tend to shock fans with how “geeky” I am in person.

Shameless self-promotion bonus question: What’s coming up next?
Bigfoot War is coming very soon from Coscom Entertainment. It’s my own personal most looked forward to book of the year from me. I also have the superhero books I mentioned above coming later this year and a new collection called Tandems of Terror (with John Grover) that’s being released. However, I would like to say if you haven’t read World War of the Dead or The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies yet, you should really check those out.

If you’re interested in following Eric’s writing endeavors, you can find him on his Facebook profile page.

Favorite Reads of 2009

January 4th, 2010

First of all, I want to make one thing clear:

This is not a Best of List.  A Best of List implies that I thought these were the best books of 2009.  While to some extent that’s true, a Best of List is only my opinion, not a statement of fact, and has nothing to do with the value or the quality of the writing of the books I included. It’s just a reflection of my own personal tastes and perceptions.

I’m attempting to make this subtle clarification because people tend to take Best of Lists a little too personally and passionately, as if by leaving a particular book off the list I was somehow disparaging the author or showing my lack of taste or literary judgment. And I can show that just fine without being reminded of it, thank you.

So instead, these are simply my favorite books – the reads I enjoyed the most, for one reason or another. And before you say, “Hey, that book didn’t come out in 2009,” I never said these were my favorite books that hit the shelves last year.  Just the favorite books I read.

1) Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
Books capture my imagination for a number of reasons, but this one captured them for all of them. Narrative voice, structure, style, flow, and a story populated with characters that I felt I could reach out and touch. Who doesn’t love a good story about a circus? I recommend this book to everyone. It was my favorite read of 2009.

2) Beat the Reaper (Josh Bazell)
“So I’m on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow…” How can you top that for an opening line in a novel? A fun, unabashedly dark and imaginative debut novel, this one pushed all of my buttons. Darkly comic, entertaining, and a plot that never lets up. If you like your romance sprinkled with mafia hit men and hospital hi-jinks, then this is the book for you.

3) The Likeness (Tana French)
This is the follow up to Tana French’s debut In The Woods. Both novels are mysteries set in small towns on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland. While I found the story and the mystery of her first novel more complex and compelling, The Likeness is one of those books where the characters seem so real that you can’t believe they’re not still hanging about once you’ve finished with the book. This one stayed with me for several days after I finished it.

4) Fool (Christopher Moore)
If you haven’t read any of Moore’s novels, you can’t go wrong starting off with this one. Richly detailed with research, Fool tells the story of King Lear from the viewpoint of Pocket, the King’s fool. Filled with trademark Christopher Moore humor and lots of tawdry Shakespearean antics, Fool is Christopher Moore at his best.

5) American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
Filled with beautiful prose and a dark, compelling, poignant story about the battle between the forgotten gods of the old world and the new gods who have sprung up to take their place, Gaiman manages to make the fantastic and magical seem possible. A rich, satisfying read.

It’s All About the Peanut Butter

December 10th, 2009

This is a story about love.
And desperation
And madness.

It’s about suffering and redemption.
Infidelity and infertility.
Betrayal and heartbreak.

It’s about the choices people make when at their most vulnerable.
Their most courageous.
Their most inebriated.

But mostly, it’s about peanut butter.

The players are the usual suspects. The hero. The villain. The doting wife. The overbearing mother. The comic relief sidekick. And the lovable dog who inevitably gets hit by a car or otherwise injured and yet miraculously survives in the end.

Nothing changes. There’s no character arc. No one learns anything.  They all exist in a cocoon of consumer excess and designer drugs and reality television. So don’t expect growth and revelations. These are, after all, mostly men.

So why would anyone care about what happens to these people? That’s simple…

Because of the peanut butter.

M is for Maggots

May 12th, 2009

It’s not easy being a zombie.

In addition to post-reanimation stress and spontaneous dismemberment, the undead have a host of unique challenges to contend with:

Fraternity pledge scavenger hunts.

We can fight off putrefaction with regular formaldehyde fixes.  We can laugh in the face of a society that no longer considers us human.  We can run away from fraternity pledges or even bite them.  (Which doesn’t turn them into zombies, by the way.  That’s just more Hollywood propaganda.  But it can lead to a nasty infection.)

We can do all of this and more.  But none of it matters if we don’t maintain our personal hygiene.  All it takes is one fly to lay its eggs on an open, festering wound and before you can say George Romero, you’ve got a full-blown maggot infestation.

When a corpse is fresh, it tends to draw flies to it like Republicans to a Democrat sex scandal.  Fortunately, since zombies mimic the living in their movements, flies don’t get a chance to lay their eggs on the various points of entry: eyes, mouth, genitalia.  But exposed flesh wounds are open invitations for a maggot smorgasbord.

Once the eggs have hatched, the maggots eventually eat their way under the skin, feasting on subcutaneous fat.  As I’ve mentioned before, if you get close enough to an infested corpse, you can hear the maggots feeding.  It sounds like Rice Krispies.

There’s nothing more disheartening than coming back from the dead and avoiding random dismemberment and staving off the effects of decomposition, only to let careless hygiene turn you into a walking Rice Krispies treat.  Whereas the average embalmed zombie can expect an undeath expectancy of anywhere from three to seven years depending on the climate, once you’re infested with maggots, you can figure on lasting about as long as a vow of fidelity at a Playboy Bunny orgy.

(Next entry:  N is for Naomi)

K is for Kibosh (or why zombies don’t believe in God)

April 27th, 2009

(This entry brought to you courtesy of Andy)

I supposed K could have been for Kill.  (Obvious)  Or Kidney.  (Good stuffed in mushrooms)  Or Kinky.  (Zombie sex)  Or even Kyanize, which is defined as:

to make resistant to decay by treatment with a solution of mercuric chloride

Of course, this only pertains to wood, which doesn’t help the living dead and would only cause Jerry to snicker and make some comment about “sporting wood…”

Jerry: Dude, you said “wood.”

See what I mean?  So you get the point.  In any case, none of them appealed to me or to the author, who is a bit of a shut-in and could use a trip to the Hustler Club, if you get my drift.  So we ended up going with Kibosh.

Why Kibosh?  Because of this line in Breathers:

“…being able to smell your own rotting flesh tends to put the kibosh on your belief in a divine power.”

Needless to say, zombies don’t tend to have a lot of faith in God.  You don’t see the undead shambling to the local church in their Sunday best to sing the praises of a higher intelligence.  Most of us would rather stay home and watch football.  Or curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.

Once you reanimate, you wonder what kind of God would purposely do this to you?  Never mind about the life that you’ve lost and are now forced to watch from the sidelines.  Forget about the way your dog rolls on your or the way your cats use you for a scratching post.  What you wonder is what kind of a higher intelligence would bring you back from the dead to be ridiculed and vilified and imprisoned in a zombie zoo?  Or worse, on a reality TV show?  While it’s bad enough to have to deal with the embarrassment of public sloughage, there’s nothing worse than suffering through the indignities of putrefaction on network television.

It’s enough to turn even the most devout believers into skeptics, so it’s not surprising that zombies can tend to get a little surly.  Of course, just because we have our doubts about the existence of a supreme being doesn’t mean we don’t have a conscience.  After all, when you’ve started eating human flesh, even if you’ve never believed in God or heaven, you still tend to wonder about eternal damnation.

(Next entry:  L is for Lullaby)

Draggers, Freshies, and Melters

February 11th, 2009

To most Breathers, all zombies look alike. It’s a common misperception, as there are obvious differences that separate us even in undeath. Of course, all Breathers look like lunch to us, so I guess I shouldn’t throw stones.

Among the living dead, you’ll find Draggers, who don’t have the use of their legs and have to drag themselves around by their arms. You don’t see too many Draggers. For one, they typically get donated to science shortly after reanimating and for another, they have a hard time outrunning drunk bowling leagues.

Then there are Freshies, the recently reanimated who have the stink of the living still on them. Still, most of them don’t exactly smell like Irish Spring. More like summer compost. Unless they’ve had a formaldehyde fix. Some embalmed Freshies could even pass for Breathers if it weren’t for the gray pallor and the occasional belch of hydrogen sulphide.

Other zombies are like walking science experiments, serving host to a plethora of bacteria, fungi, and maggots. These are the unlucky ones who didn’t get embalmed and who suffer the indignities of putrefaction as their muscles collapse, their skin slips, and their internal organs turn to chicken soup.

In zombie circles, we refer to these pathetic souls as Melters.

For obvious reasons, Melters don’t have long shelf lives. If they don’t disintegrate first, most Melters end up getting carted off to medical research farms or placed in the temporary exhibits at zombie zoos. Though they don’t make good candidates as crash test dummies since Melters tend to explode on impact.