Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fast vrs Slow Zombies - Walter Greatshell - Biggest Aha Moments in Writing

I’m not sure it’s possible to write a zombie novel anymore.  There have
been too many of them.  Also too many zombie movies, TV shows, comic
books, videogames, magazine articles, and bloviating blog posts like this
one.  I myself am sick of zombies.

When I was writing my first novel back in 2001, I was excited about the
subject because the only zombie novel I had ever heard of was I Am Legend,
by Richard Matheson, which had been published way back in the 1950s.  Even
zombie movies were rare; the last one I had seen was Return of the Living
Dead in 1985.  So I felt zombies were due for a revival.

Even so, I did not intend to simply rip off Matheson or George A. Romero.
I knew that Romero’s first movie, Night of the Living Dead, had been
inspired by Matheson’s book, but Romero’s undead were significantly
different from Matheson’s vampires: they were hungry for flesh, not blood;
they had no power of speech; they could walk in the daylight; and they
could be destroyed by a bullet (or a hammer, or a machete) to the brain.

Now, of course, everyone thinks of these traits as the standard definition
of a zombie, because so many have “borrowed” from Romero, but at the time
it was important to me that my zombies be unique — hence I created
Xombies.  Xombies are nigh-unkillable, fast-moving, intelligent ghouls, as
opposed to Romero-style “slow zombies,” but I wasn’t making a value
judgment about fast versus slow.  I was just respecting Romero’s brilliant

A couple of years ago I was on a panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, sitting
next to Max Brooks (World War Z) and Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and
Prejudice and Zombies).  After the moderator introduced us, the opening
remark fell to Max Brooks, who shouted “Fast zombies suck!”  This drew a
cheer from the crowd.

Then it was Seth Grahame-Smith’s turn to speak, and he shouted, “Fast
zombies do suck!”  More cheering.

This was all very weird to me, but I knew it was nothing personal; they
had simply never heard of me or my books.  Now it was my turn.  What had I
gotten myself into?

Leaning close to the microphone, I said the only thing I could say: “I
write fast zombies.”

This got a big appreciative laugh, and reassured me that the audience
wasn’t against me.  They didn’t care any more than I did whether zombies
shuffled or sprinted, as long as the story was good.

The final irony of all this is that the movie version of World War Z is
about to come out, and from the trailers I’ve seen it looks like the
ultimate example of fast zombies.  In fact they look more like Xombies
than zombies.  I wonder how Max Brooks feels about that?

In closing, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that it’s boring to be
a copycat.  We live in an age of the rehash, the reboot, the tepid remake,
the uninspired sequel.  These things are deemed safer bets than original
work, so the corporate bean-counters like them — which doesn’t mean you
have to.

If you must write about zombies (or vampires, or any other overused
trope), do what Romero did: put your own stamp on the material, change the
formula and thereby create something new.  Better yet, go off the
reservation completely and create the Next Big Thing — something that no
one but you could have thought of.  Then the copycats will have to copy

Walter Greatshell is the author of the Xombies trilogy and the novels Mad
Skills, Enormity (under the name W.G. Marshall), and Terminal Island.

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