Day and I went to see Max Brooks, author of “The Zombie Survival Guide” and “World War Z” Monday night at the Jewish Community Center of D.C. It was such a wonderful event, in a really intimate venue with a lot of really crazy folks and Max making it worthwhile!
He is so effortlessly funny and engaging, that it didn’t seem like a lecture so much as a stand up routine (which is what it was SUPPOSED to resemble, I am sure). The lecture was presented in the form of an actual “informational lecture” on defeating the zombies. When someone asked him where he got the “idea” for his book he looked at them, as serious as could be and said, “This is from actual documented historical fact!” After that the crowed got into it asking questions like, “In the recent movie ‘I Am Legend’ there was a contention that zombies might be able to be cured and returned to a human state.” To which he responded, “You’re with the ACLU, aren’t you?” – his basic ‘serious’ answer was no, btw, because when you are dead there is no cure.
Some of the best lines of the night included a discussion of “zombieploitation films” that he has issue with, such as the new “Dawn of the Dead” who’s only redeeming scene was the one where they stood on top of the building with a sign that said, “PLEASE HELP” and the helicopter just flew by… “Because THAT’S never happened before.” *lol* There was also a live demonstration of the single most effective move you can use to defeat a zombie. He invited someone up to “pretend” to be a zombie, limbered up a bit, took off his jacket, got in fighting stance and when the “zombie” took a step toward him he walked away.
Still the best thing was all the writerly food for thought he gave me! Let me share…
First, he used the word “micro-horror” and my little writer brain began to turn. He described horror (world encompassing, disaster horror) as being very micro in scope. One guy, one group, one select area being followed and explored. He said he had always wondered what was going on in the rest of the world as he read/watched these things. He even went so far as to say: “During Independence Day I didn’t care what Jeff Goldblum was doing, I wondered how the Chinese were handling the aliens.” Thus he wrote World War Z as an oral history…basically in answer to all the questions he’d had that had never been addressed.
For me, as a lover of disasters and a writer of horror, this was a mind-blowing statement.
Would I have come up with this concept? Well…no, because I didn’t. Instead in my world disaster book I would have had my characters do the same things all the other characters do in all the other books/movies. Suddenly there would be a communication from the outside, the radio crackles to life or someone has a working television or passing groups exchange gossip on the road…very typical and expected but that is what happens to genre it gets very typical and expected (why? Likely because it has other things to keep it fresh, I mean hey, monsters are often strange enough to carry an entire book with little other support…but that is another blog).
So now my personal challenge, my goal, is to try to write a macro-horror like Max did. Find a way to broaden my horror/disaster scope and show the world in the throes of its chaos…and not just in the typical ways either. I’m not sure how, exactly, to accomplish this yet…but let me think on it.
The other thing I realized after listening to Max speak was that the man basically wrote an entire novel of short stories and sold it without having a name to hook it on. That’s amazing. Short story collections are nearly impossible to sell (or at least that’s what I’ve heard) unless you’ve got a name that is recognizable to a majority of your target audience…and I don’t think “The Zombie Survival Guide” shot him into that level of notoriety. Not just that, but the stories he wrote all in the same world, revolving around the same events, but with different characters and he still managed to pull it off.
It shows how truly talented this man is, that he can write a two page story that to this day gives me shivers when I think about it (the one I have in mind is about the “feral child” talking about her mother trying to kill her before the zombies arrive). He is such an effective writer, so crisp and yet powerful. He has distilled his writing down to such a concentrated form that digesting them seems easy until they lump in your stomach and you find yourself planning your escape with loved ones. Or worse yet, you look over your shoulder at night…not for muggers or rapists, but for zombies. I’m so impressed with him, so very, very impressed and not just with his writing either. He was personable and sweet…and damn that man had a smile that could light up a room. He was great, and if you get the chance go see him!
While there we picked up our own copy of World War Z and Zombie Survival Guide and had him sign them both. Squeee!
I know I talked about the book before, but let me use this time and place to once again plug “World War Z”…where one is encouraged to “don’t run, walk fast.”
-Find your peace, and live it…even if it has zombies!