Brian Pinkerton is the author of the zombie trilogy How I Started the Apacolypse. He also writes horror, thrillers, mysteries, and humor. His next project is a psychological time travel story, a romance-thriller-horror novel masquerading as science fiction.
Carl Slaughter had the chance to interview Brian about zombies and writing across genres…
Carl Slaughter: Why jump on the zombie bandwagon?
Brian Pinkerton: I didn’t jump, I was pushed! And I’m glad it happened. Severed Press approached me and asked if I would be interested in creating a zombie series for them. I had previously written a short story for one of their anthologies, Zombie Zoology, about a swarm of mosquitoes carrying the zombie virus. They liked the story and offered me a book deal. My first reaction was concern that I couldn’t do anything new with the zombie genre. But then I came up with an idea to turn the cliché inside out: instead of humans threatened by zombies, what if a sympathetic zombie was threatened by humans? And Chaz was born.
CS: What’s the science premise? What kind of zombie is Chaz? Resurrected? Flesh eating? Rage infected? Shuffling in slow motion? Grunt talking? Does he retain intelligence and memory?
BP: Chaz is the subject of a secret government experiment to revive the recent dead. When the reanimated corpses display an uncontrollable appetite for human flesh, the lab is shut down and the zombies destroyed. But Chaz escapes.
Chaz is fully functional. He can walk and talk like anyone else, although he is in a pretty bad state of decay. He smells bad. He doesn’t grunt and shuffle around. He’s a “smart zombie,” trying to blend in with society. He remembers his past. He’s not real happy with his current predicament. He fights his addiction to flesh eating like an alcoholic trying to resist booze.
CS: What do the government agents plan to do with Chaz and why is a zombie ideally suited for the task?
BP: The goal of the experiment is to create a new breed of “super soldiers”. It’s the ultimate army. Just recycle corpses. You don’t have to deal with casualties because they’re already dead. You don’t have to pay out any military benefits. They can take a bullet or lose a limb and keep on fighting.
CS: Is Chaz a protagonist or an antagonist? Sure, he’s a victim of rogue government and he has feelings for his family. But he turns other people into zombies. How do you get readers to empathize with a character who is trying to exterminate humans and repopulate the planet with a zombie species? How do you get readers to empathize with a character who sets in motion an apocalyptic battle against the human race?
BP: That’s what makes him rich and engaging. He has good intentions but can’t control his impulses. Chaz needs to eat human flesh to survive, so he’s in self-preservation mode. But he’s fully aware of the implications of spreading the virus and ruining civilization for everybody else. In the beginning, he tries to only eat people who deserve it – the evildoers of society. After he feasts, he shoots his victims in the head to prevent their rebirth as zombies. That’s his plan anyway. But he fucks up and one thing leads to another…
In the first book, there’s a scene where he dines on a violent drunk and unwittingly becomes inebriated himself. Then he goes on an eating binge. He wakes up with one hell of a hangover and has to backtrack and find his victims.
CS: Which actor would play Chaz in a screen adaptation?
BP: Nicolas Cagehas the right mix of dark edge, quirky humor and tortured empathy. He can do action and Average Joe. Maybe Johnny Depp.
CS: Why did you change the cover art for the sequels?
BP: The first two books in the series originally came out with cartoony covers depicting smiley faces with increasing levels of decay. For the third book, the publisher suggested a fresh approach that included revisiting the first two book covers, and I agreed.
While the smiley faces hinted at the humor within, it was maybe tipped too far in that direction. The new covers are grittier, more focused on Chaz as he evolves from fugitive to leader of the uprising.
CS: How did you get Hugh Howey to write the introduction?
BP: It was the publisher’s idea. They had the connection with Hugh. When they suggested him, I wasn’t familiar with his work. I Googled him and discovered his book had just been optioned by Ridley Scott. He was on the verge of stardom. I later met him when he was in Chicago promoting Wool. He’s a very nice guy and an advocate for independent authors.
CS: In your book Anatomy of Evil, the characters are possessed by a spirit and start manifesting evil/base behavior. Is the premise that the possessed already have desiresthat are magnified after possession or that the possessor imparted an alien nature? Is there a message in the story?
BP: The possession targets a vulnerability in each of its victims and amplifies it. Essentially, it removes the self-control and notions of good that keep us from acting out on our darkest impulses. Evil emerges from seedlings that develop in our soul rather than channeling an external force or persuasion.
CS: Simultaneous to your zombie theory, you came out with Bender, which is like your earlier novels. Are you going to write more in the science/paranormal subgenres or was this a brief excursion?
I like to mix it up. Thrillers, horror, mystery, humor and often combinations of those elements. How I Started the Apocalypse is horror with dashes of humor. Killer’s Diary is horror with a mystery at its core. Bender is a thriller. The genres change but all of my stories feature ordinary people thrown into frightening, life-altering situations.
CS: What was the inspiration for Killing the Boss?
BP: I wanted to use the dynamics of an office setting for a murder mystery. The business world makes for a fun backdrop and it’s one I’m very familiar with. Several of my managers over the years have gleefully claimed to be the inspiration for this book.
The setting was also ideal for the unusual storytelling approach I wanted to use: telling a book-length narrative through emails, memos and other communication documents.
CS: Was this ever done by another mystery writer?
BP: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done to this degree, with such a diversity of source documents telling the story. I included receipts, faxes, newspaper clippings, all sorts of things. I’ve read novels composed entirely of emails or letters, but not assembled across this kind of mix of materials. I wanted to create the feeling of a detective going through a box of clues.
CS: Do you plan to do more documentary format murder mysteries? You certainly wouldn’t have much, if any, competition in this subgenre.
BP: Prior to Killing the Boss, I wrote a short story in this style that was published in Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It was fun, so I tried the same approach for a novel. I don’t know when I’ll do it again. It was extremely difficult, using this method to create characterizations and build out a plot. Not just the writing, but the formatting, since every document had a different look and feel. Turning it into an eBook was even more torturous, retaining the intricate tabs and settings so every piece of evidence looked right.
CS: What kind of research did you do for your article in Horror 201?
BP: That was easy. None. It was just me ranting about various things like CGI and the Loudness Wars.
CS: Are all the characters in your hilarious Rut comic series dysfunctional or are there any together characters?
BP: They all have quirks, but hopefully that’s what makes them endearing, funny and maybe even identifiable.
BP: I think many of us live in a rut. Stuck in a groove we can’t get out of, whether it’s our job, family drama or the little frustrations of everyday life.
CS: How does a horror writer who writes such scary and gruesome stories also write such irresistible and wholesome comedy skits?
BP: Because I’m schizo. I don’t know. I like a strange, wide range of stuff. I like classical music and industrial noise bands. John Waters films and Peanuts cartoons. Barry Manilow and GG Allin. I should have my head examined.
CS: How long will you continue the series? It’s easily as good or better than anything in the newspaper funnies pages. Any plans to go syndicated?
BP: Thank you! I created The Ruts back in the mid 1990s. I produced around 130 comic strips and sent them around to various places. I received a little bit of interest, but no syndication deal. Maybe they were ahead of their time. More recently, I self-published the cartoons in a book that I sell through Lulu. The cartoons are also available for free on my web site. I’ve enjoyed cartooning since I was very young.
CS: Why do you handwrite your stories?
BP: I think it connects back to the cartooning. I need paper and pen to release my imagination. I can’t create on a machine. Anything is possible when tackling a blank sheet with ink. It’s less distracting because I’m away from my computer and all of its convenient diversions.
The handwritten pages make for fun giveaways. If someone reviews one of my books online, like on Amazon or Goodreads, they can notify me through my web site, and I’ll send them an original page. They can see my creative process in all its scribbly glory.
CS: What projects are on the horizon?
BP: I’m outlining a new book, a psychological time travel story. It’s a romance-thriller-horror novel masquerading as science fiction. After the epic scope of the last few books, this one is more intimate and claustrophobic. Last year was hectic with the release of Bender, Anatomy of Evil and the third book in the Apocalypse series all converging, even though they were written at different times. I’m going to slow down a little bit, but I won’t stop creating. I can’t!
Carl Slaughter wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 counties on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) In college, Carl studied journalism, broadcasting, advertising, English, speech, and history. For several years, he was a stringer for the Associated Press. His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website. Carl subscribes to the Mike Resnick philosophy of fiction: It’s all about the characters. Check out Carl’s Diabolical Plots interviews, his Facebook photos with his students of all ages from around the world, and a short Youtube video of Carl with some VERY excited Thai kindergarteners.