20 October 2013

Guest Blog: Stephen Kozeniewski on the zombie genre

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big runner.  I quit the U.S. Army, in fact, due to my passionate hatred of running.  And getting up at 4 am.  And eating sawmill gravy.  And getting mortared.  Look, let’s not complicate the issue.  Let’s just pretend like the reason (or even the main reason) I quit was running. 

I don’t recall there ever being theme runs when I was a kid or as recently as a few years ago when I was still chuff-chuff-chuffing away daily.  (Well, if there was a theme, it was like, muscular dystrophy or something, and it wasn’t so much a theme as it was a charity we were running for.)  These days, though, everyone seems to be going on theme runs, and after several hours of closely researching my Facebook newsfeed I have classified these theme runs into three main types:

1)  “Spartan” runs which are to ancient Sparta roughly what Lucky Charms are to modern Dublin

2)  Mud runs which seem to degenerate into pun name contests (“The Dirty Birdies?  That rhymes!  But I still wish we had come up with Sticks in the Mud!”)

3)  Zombie runs

For our purposes today I’m going to focus on the third one.  Well, not really, since everything I’ve written up to now has been part of a throwaway gag that really just kind of ballooned out of control.  So let’s move on to the next portion of this blogpost.

Can you name a movie released this past year that grossed over a half a billion (with a “b”) dollars?  There are a handful, but I know of at least one: World War Z.

Here’s another leading question for you: do you know what the most popular show not just on cable today, but in cable history is?  Well, even if you didn’t before just now, you probably inferred it already from all of the hints I’ve been dropping.  I’ll just say it anyway, though: The Walking Dead.

Now let’s take this random assortment of half-truths and factoids and attempt to cohere them into some kind of unassailable unified field theory.  What we know at present is that zombie movies are still making big money, television has been reinvigorated by the zombie genre, and the shambling dead have so infiltrated our society that otherwise ordinary people are willing to get out of bed and exercise on their behalves.  Heck, I even learned the other day that the Centers for Disease Control here in the U.S. has a zombie preparedness comic book.

Regular old folks seem to love their flesh-munching corpses.  That’s my conclusion, anyway, and there’s no arguing with popularity.  Well, there is, but it mostly ends up with me getting sand kicked in my face and Cheryl stepping out on me with that stupid Elvis-looking beach hunk even though I paid for those French fries, Cheryl!  But nevertheless, let’s take this analysis one step further.  Name a popular zombie novel.

Got it?  What’d you come up with?

Obviously, we’re not really having a conversation.  I mean, we sort of can in the comments section.  You can call me a half-educated buffoon and tell me I forgot about <insert name of important zombie novel here.>  But if I had to guess, if you’re an average Joe, you probably came up with nothing.  Or maybe World War Z.  Although, to be fair, I did mention the movie just a few short paragraphs ago, so I’m going to claim the credit for that one myself.

Of course, World War Z (the novel) came out in 2006.  The other big zombie novel that jumps to my mind is The Rising, which came out even longer ago, in 2003.

The Newsflesh trilogy is a little more recent.  Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesWarm Bodies.  I’m not going to lie: after I kind of wracked my own brain I checked the internet and there weren’t a whole lot I was missing.  In terms of mass marketed, significant zombie literature it seems like there’s a bit of a drought lately.

There could be any number of reasons for that.  It could be that the zombie, conceived in folklore but born of filmmaking is an inherently cinematic creation.  Perhaps the walking dead just don’t “play” off the screen, either big or small.  For my own selfish reasons (which I will get to in a moment) I hope that isn’t the case.

Another possibility is that I’m focusing too much on big, popular, traditionally published books.  It’s entirely possible (and according to my GoodReads suggestion list, apparently true) that a whole shambling herd of self-published and small press zombie novels have filled the corpse-shaped hole in our collective hearts.  The death of a thousand bites, if you will, rather than a single killer app.

I’m *pretty* sure this last scenario is the case.  I can tell you from my own trials and travails trying to get my own, admittedly offbeat, zombie novel published that publishing industry professionals seem to feel the market is saturated.  I was perplexed by this attitude for all of the reasons I’ve outlined above: the living dead seem to be at the height of their popularity with the public and yet there aren’t a whole lot of big-time zombie novels that jump out and bite me on the fontanelle.  I think that people are satisfying their zombie fix with the indies.

But a third possibility, and an entirely self-serving one at that, also occurs to me.  Maybe it’s simply that no one has written the Great Undead Novel yet.  The reason that’s self serving is because my own novel, BRAINEATER JONES, came out last week and I humbly offer it to you, dear reader, as a contender for that title.  BRAINEATER JONES is the story of a man who woke up facedown, naked, and dead in a swimming pool.  With alcohol the only thing that keeps his brain functioning he sets out into the Prohibition-era urban jungle to solve his own murder. 

Has JONES got what it takes to become the ULYSSES (or, if you’re a philistine, the MOBY-DICK) of the living dead?  I don’t know.  Probably not.  But one thing it does have is moxie.  That’s a ‘30s term for, like, heart, except that, you know, zombies’ hearts don’t beat.  I guess I could’ve said “pluck,” too, but that didn’t really work out for that half-baked pun I just sort of made.

If you’d like to contribute to the groundswell, you can purchase BRAINEATER JONES at any of these fine retailers:

<links pending>

Or, to hear more of my disjointed ramblings, you can follow my blog at http://manuscriptsburn.blogspot.com or my twitter account at https://twitter.com/outfortune.


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