Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature
CHATROOM (2010) & HER (2013)

Reviewed by Anthony Servante






Sorry, dear readers, but Movie Tuesday is on hiatus. Meanwhile, allow me to revive the Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature. Why the fuss? I'll tell ya. One of the movies for review today I saw a few nights ago; the other movie I viewed today. And guess what? They both had to do with the internet, while the new "JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT" did not. And besides, Keven Costner would have made a better Ryan. But to the point. We wish to address the two points of view of the internet in our two features today. So scrunch up in the darkness, movie lovers as we begin with a look at CHATROOM.




Summary: 

A handful of teenagers make the mistake of baring their souls to the wrong person in this thriller. Eva (Imogen Poots) is a young model whose good looks and poise disguise her aching doubts about herself and her wishes she could be more like others. Jim (Matthew Beard) is still wrestling with the demons brought on by a painful childhood and tries to beat back his fears with drugs. Emily (Hannah Murray) feels plain and unattractive and is filled with resentment towards her ambitious father and mother. And Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) struggles with his sexual desires for children, in particular the sister of a close friend. These four young people are frequent visitors to an internet chat room, where they can talk about their fears and anxieties while being drawn out by the compassionate moderator. But the man who runs the chat room is not all he seems. William (Aaron Johnson) is the unstable and neglected son of a successful author (Megan Dodds); he's grown to hate his more confident brother Ripley (Richard Madden) and has established the chat room in order to manipulate others to his own ends by getting them to share their secrets and using this knowledge against them. Chatroom was the second English-language feature from Japanese horror veteran Hideo Nakata. (from Rotten Tomatoes).

Review:

Chatroom is about the Internet, capital I. Sure, there aren't really any chatrooms anymore, but it's a metaphor, you see, for the new improved cyber gathering sites like Facebook and Google +. And to take the metaphor one step further, the movie depicts cyberspace as a cheap gaudy hotel, the ugly cousin of the Overlook from the novel, The Shining by Stephen King, and the film by Stanley Kubrick. In the less than fancy but well-lit hotel, there are claustrophobic hallways, that represent "internet surfing", and hundreds of rooms, that represent the various social hangouts on the world wide web. William picks an empty room, spray-paints the name "Chelsea Teenagers!" on the door. Four emotionally damaged teens find their way to the room and reveal their vulnerabilities to William, whose goal is to get them to commit suicide so he can record them. 





The film moves back and forth between the Internet Hotel and the real world. You can tell the real world because it is not well-lit. Oh, and on the Internet, we see the teens as they envision themselves or as they would like to look, while in the outside reality, they are normal looking kids without make-up or lighting. There is one particularly shocking scene where an old man walks into the chatroom looking for young girls. When William asks if he is a young girl, the old man becomes a young girl. But he can't sustain the lie, so he flickers from old perv to pre-teen. Then William changes into a young girl and threatens to find the pedophile on the "pedo" registry. The old man vanishes (as in he turned off his computer). This scene is important because it shows William's darker side and foreshadows how he will be treating his chatroom guests.

The teens, however, do not pick up on the Machiavellian William until it is too late. He knows of other chatrooms known for their bullying or manipulations and turns one of the teens to seek help from some nut case whose cure for everything is to kill oneself. It echoes the Suicide Clubs so infamous in Japan ten years or so ago. And by the time the lovely Eva sees through William's machinations, she is in a race to save a fellow chatroom friend from eating a bullet. In the finale, the film flips between the well-lit Hotel and the drab foggy England where the teens live. 


Metaphoric Internet as Hotel Hallway
with Doorways to Groups/Chatrooms.


I was quite mesmerized by the film and as a Hideo Nakata (Dark Water 2005) fan, I enjoyed the Neon lit hallways of the Hotel, where internet surfers are seen wearing S&M outfits, using taboo tools, and literally chatting up complete strangers. So, imagine my surprise when I found that the critics panned the movie (it received a sad 10% critics approval on Rotten Tomatoes and a 34% audience approval--not exactly a vote of confidence). But upon reading several reviews, I found that the critics found the "real world" scenes too boring to keep up with the flashiness of the rundown cyber hotel. No big deal for me. The Hotel as Internet metaphor worked fine for me. The other criticism was that there are no longer chatrooms and therefore the film is dated, though only a few years old (and based on a play written in 2005). Again, no problem. I understood that the "chatrooms" could be Facebook groups or private pages. It actually seemed relevant from the kinds of posts I sometimes see on Facebook. It's quite easy to imagine it as a big gaudy hotel.  

So, don't be put off by the bad reviews. CHATROOM is worth a look-see just for the Hotel metaphor. The plot is engaging but not always believable. These teens are damaged, not stupid. But this film presents a view of the internet that is important for people who don't understand social media to get a clue. It's not a great movie, but it's an important lesson to consider when dealing with the new complexities of the cybernet circles of friends. 
********





Summary:

Set in the Los Angeles of the slight future, the story follows Theodore Twombly, a complex, soulful man who makes his living writing touching, personal letters for other people. Heartbroken after the end of a long relationship, he becomes intrigued with a new, advanced operating system, which promises to be an intuitive entity in its own right, individual to each user. Upon initiating it, he is delighted to meet "Samantha," a bright, female voice, who is insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny. As her needs and desires grow, in tandem with his own, their friendship deepens into an eventual love for each other. Written and directed by Spike Jonze (from IMDb).

Review:

In HER, the Internet has merged with human life and love, and individuality is not so easy to discern. Humans are losing their connections to each other as the new Operating System One (OS1) has tightened the ties man has to computers. Instead of connecting to the internet, one merely asks their computer to check their email, organize their schedules, or hook them up with a masturbation date. Yes, you heard me right. Our hero, Theodore, can't sleep so he links with a woman who is also having trouble sleeping. So they get each other off sexually, but the joke is that when the woman has orgasmed, she cuts the link before the surprised Theo can reach his own grand finale. There's even a joke about a publisher who still publishes "books".

Enter Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She quickly asserts her individuality to do her job of assisting Theo. But, as she continues to learn how to help the sensitive writer, Sam learns about herself, first in relationship to Theo, but later, in relationship to other OS1s. As humans break up and divorce (Olivia Wilde makes a nice cameo as a desperate single woman looking for a steady boyfriend and is willing to risk giving herself up to blind dates and one-night stands to find one who will call the next day; and that's not Theo), the OS1s bond ever closer to their "masters", the needy humans. 




But Sam in becoming sentient initially wishes to be corporeal. She longs to share her physical love with Theo as she can only love him when they feign sex in the dark together (if you can imagine a computer program masturbating). She brings in a lovely young woman to act as her body so Theo can make love to her via a sort of live feed (think human body instead of a monitor). When that fails, Sam creates an Alan Watts OS1 to advise her. At this point she begins to see humans as imperfect creatures and begins to experience a sort of cyber omnipotence. The OS1s unite and I'll let you find out what they do to gain their freedom.




Throughout the film, Theo walks through and gazes at beautiful panorama shots that can only happen in a fantasy Los Angeles. What we see is what Sam feels. There's nothing new here. We've seen it in a dozen horror movies like I, Robot with Will Smith. But what Spike Jonze does is replace the word "horror" with the word "love" and creates a "robot" that widens our view of our emotional world. It is not so far-fetched to meet something you care about online. What Jonze does, however, is make the internet itself the "her" we grow to love and in so doing reconnect with the human voices behind those cyber posts. It's a nice reminder that it's okay to be sad as long as we don't forget to be happy as well with our Internet experience.     .  


Monday, January 13, 2014

Religion and Horror: Between Heaven, Hell, and Earth

Part One: The Question of Evil.


Introduction written by & Essays compiled 
by Anthony Servante


What is Evil?


Introduction:

Oft-times, the definition of “evil” comes down to angels and demons. We imagine an angel on our right shoulder and a devil on the left. Note: the right side is where our heart is and “right” is “good”, while “left” in Latin means “sinister” or evil.  These creatures whisper advice in our ears, convincing us to make a decision when we are at a crossroads between choosing a good or bad action (e.g., when we want to shoplift a candy bar).


"Ash" Williams caught in the middle



When we choose the bad decision, we did something bad, and when we choose the good, we did something good. We choose between good and bad as if they existed outside ourselves in a tangible form, because if our action had no definition, our decisions would have no meaning and that existence outside ourselves would simply be “chaos” and anarchy. So, where does our definition of “evil” come from, if not from ourselves or “something” outside ourselves? That’s where religion comes in.



Heaven & Hell



Religion gives us boundaries so we know the limits and consequences of our actions. We have Heaven and Hell. We have Karma. We have Reincarnation. We have a set of rules. We have the Ten Commandments. But, as we have seen since time in memoriam, these rules often have various interpretations. This variance exists because science and philosophy give us so many options. Evolution versus Creation, for one. Free Will versus Predetermination, for another. Let’s look at the definition of “evil” through the eyes of William James to start things off.


Willaim James, Father of Psychology



For James, Evil is the absence of order. Without rules, there can only be evil actions. Consider that the universe is part of a divine plan, a perfect unity; then evil and good would play opposing roles but fall under the same umbrella, thereby rendering them both equally “good” under God’s divinity. James believed evil could not exist in a perfect or divine order. Therefore, evil had to be the opposite of order: chaos. Good is defined by our following the divine plan, while evil is defined by our following no plan. For instance, a perfect person who obeys all the laws can do no evil; if he accidentally kills a person while obeying a law, then he did no evil. Maybe he was wrong, but wrong is not evil, no more than guessing the wrong answer on a test is evil. But if a perfect person intentionally kills a person, he is disobeying the law and doing evil and wrong. While the former person committed “manslaughter”, unintentional murder, the latter person committed first degree murder, intentional murder (premeditated). For James, the former person is called “healthy-minded”, happy within the rules of divinity, while the latter is called a “sick soul”, happy outside the rules of divinity. Think Hannibal Lecter happy. James sums it up: “Evil is empirically there for them [evil doers] as it is for everybody” (Varieties of Religious Experience). In other words, we can choose evil; we can disobey the divine rules as easily as we can the legal laws of civilization.



C.S. Lewis



Similarly, CS Lewis believed that there exists a “dualism”, good and evil forces fighting for the decisions of man, much as our devil and angel sitting on our shoulders. Our conscience is constantly at odds to make the right choice, but often mislead by bad advice. The divine plan is still in motion, regardless of the choice one makes; the choice was always God’s will. Thus CS Lewis argues, “The moral difficulty is that Dualism gives evil a positive, substantive, self-consistent nature, like that of good.” The contradiction here is then that the Devil, Satan himself, is part of the plan, a predetermined agent of free will, leaning toward evil, just as Christ is a predetermined agent for good. Still, as with William James, we have a person willing to choose evil for its own sake. How often have we heard after a great disaster of death, an earthquake or hurricane that takes many lives, or a small tragedy where one innocent child is killed, “It is God’s will” or “God works in mysterious ways” or “God wanted these victims now rather than later”? It falls that "evil" was always part of the plan. Hannibal Lecter plays a part in divinity.


Lecter an agent for "Good"?

  
But let’s not stop here. We have with us three authors of Horror who will continue this purview of “evil” and help further to define, or, at least, clarify it for us. Let’s welcome Lori R. Lopez, Mark Parker, and Jeff Parish. Each has written an essay on the subject specifically for this article.


THE ESSAYS:


Lori Lopez on Evil:





(On “the nature of evil”)
 by
Lori R. Lopez


          Throughout my horror I have danced with a diversified range of devils to craft the evil described in my books, stories, and dark verse.  It could be complex, a distinct hierarchy of rules and goals and ranks.  It might be incredibly simple or down-to-earth.  “Not all monsters looked scary, Dwayne would discern.  Some looked like a dentist.”  This is a quote from MONSTROSITIES, the tale of a very warped individual who learned about evil from his father, a bully and sadist.  The elder Mumsby enjoyed torturing the clientele of his dental practice.  He also relished tormenting his family.  As another villainous patriarch states in an upcoming ghost story:  “Evil, like charity, begins at home.”
          How many real-life killers had troubled childhoods?  Nothing twists a mind better than a dysfunctional history of abuse or neglect at the hands of a parent from Hell, or another trusted adult.  My protagonist Dwayne Mumsby was taught the finer points of Evil during actual lessons with dear old Dad, who wanted to pass on the tricks of his trade to the same child serving as one of the tyrant’s primary victims.  Not only did Dwayne suffer physically and emotionally at the hands of his father, he was forced to endure psychological misery and woe by witnessing the man’s terrors as a dentist.  Many people are afraid of dentists who do not deliberately make them suffer, who instead wish to cure their suffering.  Dwayne’s father is a very cruel man who fears nothing and no one.  In his mind he is God, wielding absolute power, although his behavior is as demonic as it is depraved.
          Through the ages humans pondered the root of Evil, whether it be religious, supernatural, or manmade.  My horror tales run the gamut.  I myself believe there is evil in the universe, and it is not always derived from the deeds of men.  However, some of the most frightful horror can indeed stem from the heart of humanity.  I grew up in Wisconsin, home to various documented cases of evil behavior including Ed Gein, who inspired PSYCHO and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  As a child I heard tales about him making furniture out of people.  Following his arrest, he would reside in a mental institution a very short distance from my home.  Despite loving horror-themed entertainment since early childhood, this made me a little uneasy . . . especially at night.
          We understand now that some of the sickest minds were created by other disturbed minds, that they were themselves victims in a chain of abuse or violence that passed on generation to generation.  I echo this in MONSTROSITIES, where the son becomes even more twisted than the parent.  In the religious sense, true evil is a force greater than men.  Yet human beings have committed atrocities that rival those of demons.  At times actions speak louder than words or intent, and even the noblest cause can resort to what might be viewed as terror by different perspectives.  I dabbled with such themes in my first story collection, OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, while my first novel DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS presents a magical setting inhabited by ancient gods and talking animals that spills over into the modern realistic world, combining mythologies in the guise of religions, similar to the way I tend to blend genres.  Spiritualism is a central current that carries a few of the characters through the wicked mayhem.  My novel AN ILL WIND BLOWS contains an evil storm, a wind deity who swallows a bellyful of good and bad “guys” then puts them through humorous and horrific challenges.  Gods in my tales are depicted as ambitious, often unfair, possessing a quirky assortment of pros and cons.
          In MONSTROSITIES I state:  “Society molded monsters.  Humans conceived more humans, but in the process of supporting them to maturity, the next generation might become less human.”  My evil protagonist Dwayne Mumsby is both victim and villain, raised by a devilish father and an unsupportive mother who could not or would not stand up to her husband and protect her child.  Nobody in his sad life defended him, not even Dwayne himself.  As a result, the poor fellow is quite insane.
          Tragically, fiction is not so far-fetched compared to the ordeals endured by too many in the real world.  Drawing on my own childhood for some of the darkness in my work, I try to speak up against bullying, against abuse and other evils that can and do in certain extremes beget further evil.
          I also like to let my imagination roam loose.  I do not feel bound to a certain trope or type of villain and conjure a number of them myself, basing others on established trends but tinkering with the formula.  Fascination with the dreary and macabre seems to come naturally; therefore, I will continue to examine and explore the vast nature of Evil as I write, seeking answers, providing insight or sustenance, provoking thought.  I have found that the chills and thrills of horror fiction help push back the darkness and give courage for coping with our dreads and actual woes.  I think the darkness makes the light shine all the brighter.
          To quote from my novel THE FAIRY FLY:  “Unfortunately, there will always be evil in the world to balance the good.  But virtues are priceless gems that no quantity of greed or heartlessness can gain.”
          Evil reminds each of us to be better.


Mark Parker on Evil:






ON THE NATURE OF EVIL
Evil: The Result of Freedom Put to the Test?

by

Mark Parker

For as long as human kind has been in existence, the question of evil, and its nature, has been on the minds, and in the hearts, of those in the natural order, created with intellect and the power to reason.  From the beginning of humanity’s inception, the struggle between good and evil—to find an apt correlation between the two—has been wrestled with by men and women, in hopes of finding some semblance of what the actual meaning of evil is.  But, more importantly, what it might mean to our lives; the import and impact it might have on us, both physically and spiritually. 
One might ask, how could any of us rightly know what evil is—or what it isn’t?  As is the same when attempting to define a universal concept such as love, try as we might, none of us really come close to defining what we’re attempting to, in considering such a thing.  Rather, in attempting to do so, we primarily point to the attributes a thing like evil is imbued with—as if doing so might sufficiently explain what our mere vocabulary cannot.
When asked to define evil, we mostly speak around the topic; talking of ghosts and goblins, demons and devils, possession and the possessed, as if each of these things might substantially offer some sort of true meaning to what it is that we’re questioning.  But, of course, to some extent even that fails—or at least falls short.  Humanity’s ongoing struggle to give definition to a concept like evil, only serves to produce a kind of existential, metaphysical tension in our hearts, minds, and souls, causing us to remain frustrated at still having no further clarity on the topic, despite how far we've managed to get in our discussions.  Why must it all be so difficult, we ask?  Can’t the meaning of evil really be as simple or un-convoluted as the playground assertion that evil is merely the word live spelled backwards?
In some ways, perhaps it can be—at least in rudimentary ways.  More often than not, the direst truths are based on a simple crux, inverted or otherwise.  In speaking of evil as the word live spelled backwards, we point to a simplistic rationale that in some ways makes perfect sense when we think about it.  And, why wouldn’t it?  Surely it can be said that evil is the counterpart or opposite of what is termed to be ‘good.’  The contrast to that which is, at the very least, life-giving.
Following St. Augustine and scholastics such as St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas, it is suggested that in our attempt to define evil, we must not attribute to evil what is not proper to it, namely a nature or substantial existence of its own.  “Evil has no existence in itself, for it is merely a privation of good in some being, and not a positive being [in itself].  Evil is an absence, defect, a negation, a privation.  Evil is a lack of something in a good which is proper to it and which it ought to possess.”

When we consider what the origin of evil might be, most of us only have what generations of religious teachings or posited moral constructs have taught us.  And naturally so.  Scripture asserts that evil was the natural consequence of man choosing to “eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 3), when he was specifically instructed not to.  That, in fact, evil was the rightful result of man choosing disobedience over fidelity to his creator.  Disobedience inasmuch as our first parents chose to act in a way that was out of accord with what was intended, therefore relinquishing paradise in favor of subjugation.  The moral prison created through their act of betrayal.      
In most Western religious teachings—Christianity, most specifically—the time of man’s fall from grace created a path of diversion for the rest of humanity to follow—or at least, a move from man’s original innocence, to a state of original sin.
In an effort to illustrate this, if we consider a vessel carrying crude oil, should that vessel run aground—through the fault of the one operating it—therefore bleeding a hull of crude into an ecosystem that was pure prior to the vessel’s wreckage—it is clear to see how such an incident of the crude co-mingling with the system around it, forever tainted all that it came in contact with, thereby irreversibly altering the balanced purity of what existed before. 
Scripture would hold that, similarly, when our first parents chose to act in a way that was deigned to be out of accord with what their creator had provided for their sufficient good, they were left to live the result of their action; the same action that altered what was to follow in man’s continuing story.  This assertion speaks to the consequential breach that was formed, between who we were created to be…and who we've become through our oftentimes wrong exercising of the gift of our Free Will.
In studying the Spanish language, one quickly learns the word sin in Spanish translates to mean without, which is both interesting and telling in this instance.  Perhaps it could then be said that “evil” defines those times when humans act in ways contrary to their nature, or the will of the one who created us—outside the embrace of providential love.
Scripture would go on to suggest that in man’s fallen state, we have become consciously aware of our own propensity to choose evil, act in evil ways, or do evil things, and therefore are made all the more desperate for it.  While Christianity would assert that humanity was created with the gift of Free Will in order to choose freely to love our Creator, and love one another.   Simply put . . . when we live separate from this truth—this gift—we are living ‘in sin,’ or under the burden (or problem) of evil.  So in attempting to determine just what evil is, or what its nature is—whether it is cause or consequence—perhaps we might conclude it’s a bit of both.
In Clive Barker’s novel, The Damnation Game, the following quote opens the book, and aptly so:
“Hell is the place of those who have denied;
They find there what they planted and what dug,
A Lake of Spaces, and a Wood of Nothing,
And wander there and drift, and never cease
Wailing for substance.”
                                                        
                                                  —W. B. Yeats, The Hour Glass




Jeff Parish on Evil:




CHASING “EVIL”
By Jeff Parish
On the cartoon Spongebob, the geriatric Mermaid Man is famous for shouting “Evil!” and running off in some random direction. The evil may be a true villain, a tree or a water fountain. Some, like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, would have us believe the notions of “good” and “evil” are just as silly, mere abstract terms that have no real meaning. Among the more religious-minded, however, evil is a very real problem.
But what is “evil”?
In English, the word has two basic meanings. One is something that causes injury or harm. This is an archaic usage frequently found in the Bible. After Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he spent forty days on Mount Sinai talking with God and receiving the Commandments. In that time period, the Israelites decided to make a golden calf and worship it. Which understandably made the Lord angry. He decided He would wipe out the nation and start over with Moses (Exodus 32:10). But thanks to Moses’ intercession, “the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (Exodus 32:14). Or as the New American Standard puts it: “So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
The more prevalent meaning of “evil” and the we understand it is as a force in nature that governs and gives rise to wickedness and sin. This definition is even more common in Scripture. The account of the Flood begins with, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  Judges 2:11 echoes a common refrain found throughout the book:  “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” In 2 Samuel 12:9, Nathan asks King David, “Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.”
But where does this wickedness come from? Some argue that it must be God since He is the primum movens. Except Scripture says otherwise. Psalm 5:4 tells us the Lord is “not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: Neither shall evil dwell with thee.” The New Testament takes it a step further with James 1:13 -- “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” The apostle John perhaps summed it up best in 3 John 11: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”
God does not create evil. In fact, evil is the antithesis of God. Genesis tells us what the Lord creates is good. C.S. Lewis notes in the ninth letter of The Screwtape Letters that evil lacks the power of creation. It can twist and distort that which God has provided, but it cannot truly make something new. Anything good can be warped and perverted. Take the desire to provide for a family or oneself. Push it a little further, and you get Ebenezer Scrooge.  Patriotism and love of one’s country can drive men to perform great, selfless deeds. They can also be used as an excuse for atrocities and give rise to men like Adolf Hitler. These are not things God created; they are what man has accomplished with what God has given him -- namely, free will.
As far back as the Garden, God has always given the human race a choice as to whether or not to follow His instructions. Life is a pass/fail, sink-or-swim kind of test, but the decisions are ours. We are not robots receiving instructions and mindlessly repeating a task over and over again. We are free moral agents. And that is something we should all embrace. Far from being cruel, God’s gift of free will is the ultimate display of love. As parents, we teach our children and send them out into the world with the ability to make their own decisions. We hope they choose good. We train them to do so, but that does not mean they will not stumble. Even with the best upbringing, a child may well make bad decisions and have to live with the consequences, be they personal, financial, or even criminal. Does that mean we hate our children? Of course not. Any parent who has to deal with a wayward child grieves and hurts like no other, but neither generation has a claim on the sins of the other, whether they were sins of omission or commission. We certainly have plenty of both.
History shows us that evil comes in two forms: Passive and active. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand. Names scream of cruelty and mass murder from the annals of time: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, the Khmer Rouge, the Inquisition. There is no doubt that these people and more did horrible things -- often in the name of helping their fellow man -- but how many of them could have climbed to such horrific heights without the broader population’s help? And how often did that aid come in the form of apathy or a blind eye? As John Stuart Mill said, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” God does not come into this picture, except as an absence.
          Mankind has no one to blame but himself if his time on this earth is more Hell than Paradise. And that is evil, indeed.
********

Thank you to our authors for enlightening us on the subject of Evil. As we can see, our writers echo the main thesis of the introduction with terms like "free will" and "providence", the common elements tying "evil" to mankind's choices to act on anti-social behavior and connecting to God's plan for these choices to fit a predetermined course. 

But we can only delve so deep before we must look to examples to support our thesis. And that's where the second piece of our article will continue the aim of our thesis. 
In Part Two of Religion and Horror, we will look at eight works exemplifying the various views on religious evil as discussed in our introduction and in our essays. 

Here is a list of the works that will be analyzed:

Milton: Paradise Lost

William Peter Blatty The Exorcist

Billie Sue Mosiman Banished

Lisa Lane Myths of Gods

Hank Schwaeble Diabolical

Kat Yares Vengeance is Mine

Lori R. Lopez: Monstrosities

Elizabeth Massie Sineater.


We will announce on Facebook the date Part Two will go live. Check Anthony Servante’s timeline for updates. Until next time, choose the Darkness at least once a week. And thank you for visiting















Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Zombie Spotlight On
Dead Hunger by Eric A. Shelman

Reviewed by Anthony Servante


Introduction:

The Zombie Spotlight On column focuses on authors who participated in the Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods series interviews. This series delves into the evolution of the undead in Zombie Apocalypse literature. I seek out what's new in the zombie genre. How have these living dead creatures changed since the George Romero undead in his classic ground-breaking movie, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)? 

The changes so far have been two-fold: one, the zombies have evolved beyond lumbering corpses seeking living flesh to feast on; two, the origin of the zombies has been given new history and a variety of catalysts. But I should add a third change: the human survivors have been more widely drawn and given more character development and depth. So, these are the elements I seek to examine with this column. For more background on the column and the series, check the archives on the right of this article. 

Let's begin by turning our spotlight on...



Click here to purchase



Summary:

A phone call to his sister leads Flex Sheridan into a nightmare and a quest to save his family from a new, horrifying epidemic that's turning humans into zombies. As he makes his way from Georgia to Gainesville, Florida and back, he picks up old and new friends and survivors. Flex re-connects with perhaps the strongest woman he's ever known, Gem Cardoza, his former girlfriend. Together they take his six-year-old niece Trina - the only uninfected survivor of his sister's famiy - and his infected sister Jamie, and make a run from central Florida back to his isolated Georgia home. As they head north, they encounter another uninfected, Hemphill "Hemp" Chatsworth. Hemp is British, and extremely smart. He holds a biology degree with a major in Epidemiology, as well as a degree in mechanical engineering, both of which this group will need. Along with the crossbow-wielding Charlene "Charlie" Sanders and a pregnant Great Pyrenees dog, this small group uses street smarts and technology to defend against the new "Abnormals" that walk the earth. But Hemp is also compelled to learn how they got this way, and if possible, how to reverse the condition and save Flex's sister. So grab your machine gun and take a ride in their fortified vehicles and mobile lab; you're going to want these people on your side when the Dead Hunger . . .




Eric A. Shelman


Biography: 

Wow. Damned zombies. Who ever thought I'd go from my first book, a story of an abused child in 1870's New York being rescued by the ASPCA to zombies? Yes, the first book is true - all the rest, except for my second book on Mary Ellen Wilson - the little abused girl - are fiction. Serial killers, witches, and of course, my most popular books to date, the Dead Hunger series.

I sing. I write. I paint. I collect microphones, but only new awesome ones. My quirkiest thing is that I have over 200 videos on YouTube. Yes, they are of ME singing. It's cuckoo, I know. Another weird tidbit? My Van Morrison Brown Eyed Girl cover has over 3,500,000 hits. Yes, over 3.5 million.

So check out my writing. Download a sample for Kindle if you like. I think you'll like my style, because I write how people talk. I don't write how geniuses try to tell you to write. So conversational is my style, and I like to keep the shit real.

Thanks for reading! Visit my web page at www.ericshelman.com. I'll keep you updated on my new releases! You can also email me if you want to order shirts or autographed books. ALSO, look me up on Facebook - it's Author Shelman there, too.

Thanks!


~ Eric




Review:

DEAD HUNGER recounts the story of Flex Sheridan. Right off, the Prologue tells us that Jaime, his sister, "turned", that is, became a zombie or as Shelman writes, "abnormals" (but eventually succumbs to the term "zombie"). Then he gets right to the point: "I’ll tell you how this started. It’ll introduce you to me and my friends, but your guess will be as good as mine as to what comes next for us in this bizarre new world. Any other time I’d sound crazy as shit, but if you’re reading this, then you know I’m not. The dead have risen." So far, this follows the structure of the classic zombie apocalypse. People start turning, survivors try to figure out what's going on, and finally the number of the undead reaches cataclysmic proportions. But Shelman's zombies "have more ingenuity and instinct" and other "abilities". This is our first clue that we will not be facing Romeroesque living dead. 

The narrative early on explains that we are secondhand witnesses to Flex's accounts of the apocalypse. "I’ve been reluctant to use the word zombie, because I don’t want to give this recount of our experiences anything like a comic feel. There’s nothing funny about it, and again – if you’re alive to read this, then you know that already." This declaration is a common feature for most ZA literature, and one of its weaknesses. Before the author can approach the subject of the undead infestation, he must make sure that we know that his novel's universe exists in a world where zombies exist in fictional form. Thereby, when the real deal appears, his characters can react to them appropriately. Many authors have their zombies pop out of the blue and the narrators learn as they go on how to deal with these undead creatures (you know, a bullet to the head, the flesh-eating habit, and so forth). In ZA novels where zombies don't exist in fiction, the narrative works to convince us that "this" is how it would work in real life if they did exist. 

When Flex makes a big deal about whether or not to call the "abnormals" zombies, he is as much telling the reader that the situation is not like in the ZA literature, that "reality" is a lot scarier. And that's what either makes or breaks a zombie book, whether or not the reader buys into the premise that here there be zombies for real. Shelman deals with this weakness by using a simple prose, realistic language (it should come as no surprise that children curse worse than adults, and when the rules of civilization go asunder, so do the rules of etiquette), and a journal narrative to address (hopefully) the survivors of the apocalypse in the future, serve as a survival guide for wayfarers, or record the horrific event for posterity. Either way, the novel works on this level.

Eric A. Shelman has created a believable Zombie Apocalypse with characters that develop and learn and "abnormals" that are realistic in this fictional universe. DEAD HUNGER is a welcome addition to the intelligent evolution of the zombie novel. 



Wednesday, January 1, 2014



Anthony Servante's Horror Story of the Month
January 2014




SHE’S A WINNER

by

Billie Sue Mosiman


She could do all manner of things. Fix cars, swap hard drives and write code in computers, cook a perfect mousse, climb mountains, surf Hawaiian waves, and she could kill if she had to.
She rarely had to. She more often married them, siphoned off every penny they possessed, left them completely broke, and moved on.
Her given name was Maybelline Gottleib. Before she was seven she had people, even her parents, calling her Margaret. When she was of legal age she went to court and had her name changed to Margaret Channing. No way in this world was she a Gottleib. And she certainly was not a Maybelline. She laughed at the very thought. Needless to say her parents were stupid and poor. She left home when she turned sixteen.
Changing her name was a wasted tactic, however, because she picked up identities and names like some people collect silver spoons from every state in the Union.
Today she was Margaret Benchly and she was in her wedding dress (her sixth) to be married to a man thirty years her senior called Charles Bomont. In an hour she would be Margaret Bomont. Another simply horrible name, she thought.
Not that she'd remain weighed down by that moniker one minute longer than she had to. Charles owned a gas company in New Orleans and he had financed the buy with his own money. The man was rolling in it. She'd get her hands on the money fast as possible and get the hell out of Louisiana. She hated anything Cajun, she hated swamps, and she hated the world, given that. Right now she had to stand and bear it.
She walked down the aisle carrying a spray of white roses. She gave her virginal smile and people in the church pews oohed and ahhed behind their hands.
The wedding night was disappointing, at least for the groom. He couldn't stay hard long enough to consummate the marriage, his second. His first wife of many years had died five years before. Margaret patted her new husband's rotund belly and whispered, “It's all right, Charlie. These things happen. Too much champagne and excitement.” She then snuggled under his arm, wrinkling her nose at his sweat and tried to get some sleep.
The months in New Orleans dragged on like a snake through mud. For a while Margaret cheered herself with buying sprees. A diamond necklace, new luggage by Valextra, the leather supple and made in Milan, six pair of Louis Vuitton shoes. Charlie didn't care. None of them ever cared how much money she spent. Men like this were used to women with expensive tastes. They expected it.
Charlie often couldn't make love to her, and that was fine. She always got up from bed and went to the kitchen to make him a fat sandwich. The man liked eating almost as much as he liked fondling her breasts.
She made a sight on Charlie's arm as he squired her to all the best parties in town. Privately she despised rich people. Truthfully, she didn't like poor or middle income people either; she didn't like anyone but herself and she didn't find that odd. She believed everyone was that way. Dog eat dog is how most of the wealthy got their wealth. And one dog doesn't eat another unless he doesn't give one damn for him in the first place.
Still, the days were beginning to lag and all the light had leeched out of her personal sky. She was trapped, essentially, and time was passing, her beauty fading increment by increment, and she couldn't spend forever and a day on one mark.
She began to pilfer his bank accounts. When he noticed, she told him, “But baby, I need my own account, don't I? You don't want me to feel obligated, do you?” She said this with her full, pouting lips and she sidled up to him and pressed herself close against his body. He could hardly catch his breath he was so aroused and he just nodded and said, “I'm not complaining, don't worry about it, Maggie.”
She hated when he called her Maggie. Magpie! She wasn't Maggie, Meg, or Mary Magdalene! She was Margaret, a classy name she'd chosen herself, and she ignored whatever he said when he called her Maggie.
She had no bank account. The money she withdrew from Charlie's accounts she tucked into her largest Coach bag and kept it on the top shelf in her closet. When it was full, she would decamp New Orleans and the fat Bomont gas company man for better, sunnier climes.
That happened in July. The city was a hot, stinking whore and the gutters smelled of piss. Margaret walked as far from the street as possible swinging the electric blue Coach bag from one shoulder and a Hermes bag with her toiletries and IDs from her hand. She had a million dollars, give or take, and she didn't give a damn how much it hurt Charles when he found out his accounts were depleted. She was on her way to rent a car. Under an assumed name, of course, one Margaret Miles, for which she had a driver's license and a Social Security card, and a Discovery credit card.
Driving across the Old and Lost Rivers toward Texas, Margaret felt her stomach growl and decided to stop at the next restaurant she saw for some food.
Not far from the river she saw Cato's Crab Shack and pulled into the gravel parking lot. She locked the car with the Coach bag of money in the trunk, and went inside to heavenly air conditioning. It was 101 degrees in Texas, hot enough to fry eggs on car hoods.
She sat at a table in the center of the floor, always facing the door in case she ever needed a quick exit, and saw the drifter come in while she sipped a frosty glass of iced tea. He immediately snagged her attention. Tall, gangly, raw-boned, not much older than her, and sporting the bluest eyes West of the Mississippi. Or the Old and Lost Rivers, at least.
She smiled when he caught her eye and he came toward her as if they were old friends meeting up. “Mind if I sit here?” he asked.
His smile was devilish. She was always attracted to this type of man—a little dangerous, a little unpredictable, and a whole lot gorgeous. She hadn't had a good lay since marrying Charlie and she was hot for a hay roll.
She nodded and he took the seat opposite her. He put out a rough, calloused hand. “Gene,” he said.
“Margaret.” She shook and let her hand linger in his a couple of seconds longer than expected. He smiled widely and his teeth were white as those of a crocodile.
They shared lunch and then sat longer having a cocktail. He drank whiskey and Margaret ordered a margarita.
“I'd invite you back to my place, but unfortunately I don't have one right now,” Gene said, his eyes twinkling.
“Me either,” she said. “I guess we're both traveling.”
“Well, I'm hitchhiking.”
She figured as much. She knew she'd be paying the tab for their food and drinks. “Want a ride? I'm headed west.”
“Don't mind if I do,” he said, lifting his second whiskey to down it in one gulp.
All the way across the more than eight hundred miles of Texas Margaret and Gene talked. Most of what she said to him was a pack of lies, stories she made up as she went along, but she suspected his stories were the same. They laughed, told one another jokes, and when the sun set she bought a motel room for them on the credit card.
“Got anything you need in the trunk?” Gene asked. “I can get it.”
“No, just a bag in the back seat with a few things.”
He reached in the back and brought forth the smallest piece of her Venextra luggage. They were barely through the door of room 143 when he took her into his arms, waltzed her to the bed with his lips firmly on hers, and fell with her onto the mattress. They laughed. They threw off their clothes like children at the side of a lake, and they dove in.
The next day, driving across New Mexico and into Arizona, Margaret ran out of stories to tell and decided it was about time to drop Gene off somewhere so he could pick up his next pretty woman.
She exited to a truck stop saying, “How about a burger for lunch?”
While he was eating, she excused herself for the ladies room and disappeared. She waited for a woman with her three girls to exit the ladies room and joined them as if one of their group. She walked behind the woman and girls as they headed for the front door. Margaret didn't look toward the table where she'd left Gene.
Outside, she broke away from the woman and kids and made for her rental. Standing next to it she saw Gene lounging, smoking a cigarette.
“Oh hi!” She didn't yet know what else to say.
“I figured you were so long in the ladies, maybe it was time we got back on the road. I brought your burger along for you.” He held out a white sack stained with grease and stinking of fried hamburger meat.
She smiled, took the bag, and unlocked the doors.
Inside the car she made an excuse for coming out of the cafe without him, a lame excuse, and one she knew he wasn't going to buy, but she owed him nothing.
Outside of Phoenix she got another motel room. After showering, she came out fully dressed and carrying her bag. “I'm sorry, Gene, this is the end of the road. I have someone to meet outside of Phoenix and I have to leave. It's been good traveling with you. Hail fellow, well met, and all that...”
He wasn't smiling. Her own smile faltered. A hardness came into her eyes. “I said I was sorry. I've already paid for the room so you're welcome to stay the night. I have to leave.”
“Without this?” Gene held up the blue Coach bag and Margaret's knees turned to butter. She sat down heavily in the easy chair near the bed, dropping her luggage bag to the floor.
“How'd you get hold of that?”
“While you were sleeping last night,” he said. “I stashed it in the back floor board out of sight.”
“That's my property.” Now she was outraged and her cheeks grew red, her eyes flinty. “You've no right snooping around in the trunk of my car.” She stood up. “Give that to me.”
Gene stood and went to the door. He opened it and Charles Bomont walked in frowning at her.
“Oh Jesus God,” she said, sagging back into the chair.
“Gene tailed you all the way to Texas,” Charles said. He made a tut-tut sound. “Didn't think you could get away with my money that easy, did you, Maggie?”
“Don't call me Maggie! My name is Margaret.”
“I doubt that,” he said, taking the Coach bag from Gene. He unzipped it and looked inside at the cash. He whistled. “I couldn't get a handle on just how much you took, but this is more than I thought.”
He turned to the door and opened it, calling out,  “She's in here.”
Two brutish looking men dressed in polyester slacks and short sleeved shirts crowded into the room. They looked at her as if she were a steak.
“Come on, Gene. We'll settle on the way back to New Orleans.” Charlie made for the door.
“Wait, Charlie! Don't leave me here with these goons, come on, I didn't mean anything by it, take the money back, I'm sorry, all right?”
Charles turned at the door, his hand on the knob. “No, it's not all right, Maggie. You're not all right. You've got the heart of a black devil. If you ever walk again I suggest you get into another line of work.”
The door closed with a solid snap and the two big men stood watching her with eyes as cold as the moon.
            “Gentlemen, I..I...”
            One of the men turned to the other and said, “We're gentlemen now, not goons. Raymond, are you a gentleman?”
            Raymond advanced toward the woman in the chair and said, “No, I think I'm a goon. Charlie used to call me Jack of all trades back in Jersey, but tonight I'm a real goon. Come on, Maggie, we got business.”
            Margaret looked into the man's dead eyes and began scheming how to pay her coming hospital bill, how to find enough for a plastic surgeon, and how to survive the next few hours so she could return to her game. She knew one thing only—everything was survivable. Sometimes you won, sometimes you lost, but a girl like her could get through just about anything.

THE END


Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods IV
Literature of the Zombie Apocalypse

Compiled by Anthony Servante.

Welcome to our fourth look at the literature of the Zombie Apocalypse. So far, we've established that the George Romero "zombie" was a combination of a "white zombie", a human placed under a spell to obey the voodoo master's commands, and a ghoul, a creature that fed on humans and traveled in packs. With the movie, Invisible Invaders, where space creatures attack the Earth by inhabiting the bodies of the dead in cemeteries, we reached the Romeroesque "zombie" in Night of the Living Dead (1968).


"SHE WAS NOT ALIVE NOR DEAD"


A Typical Ghoul Outing


Possessed by Space Invaders


Undead, Reasons Unknown


Death as Godly Immortal


But since 1968, we have seen the evolution of the zombie in film and literature, with every director and writer trying to reboot the lumbering undead from the classic Romero movie. With each new spin on the genre, themes have shifted from the cause of the zombie outbreak, to the survivors being worse than the undead, to new types of zombie that emulate the original. And questions arose: why do the undead eat? do they decay to nothingness or do they live forever in their state of death? Thus the idea arose: are zombies immortal like the gods of old? The variations on these themes are what keep the genre fresh and interesting, for it would be a sad state if the same set of characters from Night of the Living Dead was imitated again and again, as has been the case in the early literature of the undead. However, thanks to the new wave of authors today, the literature of the zombie has been revived, so to speak. 

Thus, we look to the writers of today to see what new direction they are taking the literature of the undead. With us today, we have five authors: Mark Onspaugh, Vincenzo Bilof, Lori R. Lopez, Franklin E. Wales, and Jonathan Maberry. We will also bid farewell to Philip Nutman. Mike Malloy has put together a blog piece and video that pay tribute to the acclaimed author. 

So, we begin with Mark Onspaugh. 



Mark Onspaugh






Biography:

As a kid, I always gravitated to monsters and science fiction. I loved watching shows like Chiller, Strange Tales of Science Fiction (these recycled Universal monster movies and 50’s drive-in fare), The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. My taste in comics was strictly DC, and many of its titles had a science fiction influence: Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash and the Legion of Superheroes – even Batman was fighting aliens and using ultra-high tech gear. For a time, my choice in reading was strictly science fiction and that’s all I would write. I read the genre voraciously and occasionally strayed over to fantasy, eschewing even The Lord of the Rings until college. My early forays into horror came from reading these great Dell paperbacks supposedly edited by Alfred Hitchcock with titles like Stories My Mother Never Told Me, Witch’s Brew and A Hangman’s Dozen. It was there I read authors like Robert Bloch and saw the darker side of Richard Matheson. Reading Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and Robert McCammon’s They Thirst sealed my fate, as it were. I began devouring horror with the same insatiable appetite as science fiction. In school, I hoped to become an astronaut and one day work on a starship like the U.S.S. Enterprise, but soon realized our space program would never be a match for what I saw on Star Trek. I switched to biology, then psychology, not thinking I could make a living as a writer. But I really didn’t want to make a living in psychology, so I tried other things. I majored in Exotic Animal Training & Management at Moorpark Community College in California, an intense two year program that offered hands-on work with exotics (everything from big cats to primates to marine mammals) and insights from famous trainers, vets and zoo administrators. I fancied myself graduating and going off to the bush to study gorillas.

One problem, I was very much a “people person” and realized I would not be happy with only a troop of apes to talk to. I worked mall security after graduating and wrote short stories, trying to get published in Twilight Zone Magazine. I studied improve comedy with The Groundlings and was lucky enough to have teachers the likes of Lisa Kudrow (Friends), Heather Morgan (Bark!) and Michael McDonald (MAD TV). I loved doing improv, and it helped with my writing, particularly creating characters and dialog. For a while I considered going into special effects makeup, and wrote to Rob Bottin, who was then working on Carpenter’s The Thing. I had seen Bottin’s amazing work on The Howling and thought that was the career for me. Rob and I became friends and I worked with him on an episode of Amazing Stories. I also studied under Thomas R. Burman (Cat People, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and learned from industry greats like Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, King Kong). But through it all, I wrote. Writing is what I love. When I told Bottin I was abandoning effects makeup for writing, he wanted to know why. “Because,” I said, “as a makeup artist I might create creature or the look of a character – as a writer, I create the entire world.” Rob laughed and told me I had a “God complex” – I guess I do. I only know that no other career choice makes me as happy, or challenges me as much, as writing.

Bibliography:

The Thetis Plague published by Severed Press
The Faceless One published by Hydra/Random House
Tales from Tomorrow published by Dark Ride Dark
Valentines published by Dark Ride
Christmas Ghost Stories published by Dark Ride


Links: 


The Questions:

Why have zombies become such a cultural phenomenon in TV, movies, and books?
Zombies are a travesty of what we are, and the very worst of humanity is in them – they are mindless, violent, voracious, gluttonous, dirty, smelly and inarticulate. They remind us that no matter how much we work out, eat well and rely on cosmetic surgery, the grave is waiting. We don’t like to think about our mortality – we rarely leave our dead on display, certainly not if they’ve begun to visibly decay – we arrest the process through chemicals and makeup, then bury or burn them. Zombies put death in our face, so to speak – and, to make matters worse, they want to eat us, preferably alive – some might come to terms with a rotting loved one, but only if they weren’t cannibalistic. They aren’t sophisticated or regal like vampires, or noble and cunning like werewolves. They are driven only to eat, and to keep on eating. There is no joy in their unlives, only the search for food and mindless rambling. They remind us that we have lost touch with the earth and with ourselves, as we stare at small screens and mindlessly consume, consume, consume.
And, they’re scary as hell.

What does your take on zombies add to the evolving definition of the undead?
Like most, I use Romeroesque zombies (cannibalistic shamblers), though in some stories I have zombies that also are as fast or faster than people (“Good Neighbor Sam” in Dead Set, Michelle McCrary & Joe McKinney, ed.) I often try to offer a quasi-scientific explanation for my zombies. In my story, “The Decay of Unknown Particles” (Dead Science, A.P. Fuchs, ed.), a test of the hadron super-collider results in dark energy creating the undead. In The Thetis Plague, a probe returning from Venus crashes, releasing spores that mutate into “brain worms” – these worms consume the brain and replace it and the nervous system, reanimating the body to spread the plague. Incidentally, my initial jumping off point was that Romero’s Night of the Living Dead mentions a Venus probe, which some took to be an explanation for the dead rising up.

Tell us about your “human” survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.
My book is the first of a trilogy and begins at UCLA, my alma mater. It’s a campus I know well and has served as the setting for other works of mine (the film script “Kill Katie Malone”, for instance). My main characters are college students, including my protagonist Tom, who is unable to save the girl he loves from being devoured. He carries the guilt of this failure for much of the book, and his vow not to let something like that happen again will inform his character. His friends all have virtues and flaws, and one member of their fraternity is downright evil, something that will become more important in the next two books. Besides zombies (called verms or vermin), survivors, thieves and rapists, a segment of the populace begins to think the plague from Venus is a godsend – are not the dead rising? They form the Church of the Worm and begin recruiting members in the worst way possible.

What Zombie literature, films, or TV shows do you recommend for your fans?
The Walking Dead is a standout – it’s become the most popular cable show in history, and its audience is growing. The series of graphic novels it’s based on helped revolutionize the genre, helping to show that zombie could (and needed to be) more than just about chomping monsters. Romero’s first three zombie films are brilliant, and his later work, while not up to the standards of the “trilogy,” always have something to offer. There are a lot of giants in the field of zombie literature these days, but I would also recommend people read the novels of Stephen King or Robert McCammon to see how to create gripping characters and how they react in the face of the horrific and the inexplicable.

Which of your zombie books would make the best movie? 
The Thetis Plague, although I have a zombie screenplay that may be getting some traction – rotting fingers crossed!

Authors such as yourself determine whether or not the zombie craze is temporary or permanent (as with vampires); how do you plan to keep zombies around for a long, long time?
I love horror, and zombies scare me more than anything (except maybe black widow spiders) – the genre may recede for a time (as vampires did), but the creatures are part of our mythology, now. I’ll keep writing (and reading) – as long as publishers see an appetite for such fare, it will stay on the menu!

Review: 

THE THETIS PLAGUE (Under Construction).
********


Vincenzo Bilof






Biography

From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof has been called "The Metallica of Poetry" and "The Shakespeare of Gore". He likes to think Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Baudelaire would be proud of his work. It's possible the ghosts of Roberto Bolano and Syd Barrett are playing chess at his dining table. Vincenzo is the co-conspirator behind the "Anti-Poetry" poetry movement.
A member of the Horror Writers Association, Vincenzo is the author of the Zombie Ascension series and "Nightmare of the Dead". His latest book happens to include aliens; "Gravity Comics Massacre", available from Bizarro Pulp Press. A novel written as a collection of poems, "The Horror Show" is another one of his nonsensical works.
When he's not chasing his kids around the house or watching bad horror films, he reads and reviews horror fiction, though his tastes are more literary. Forthcoming projects include "Japanese Werewolf Apocalypse", and "Vampire Strippers from Saturn".
Gonzo is his favorite Muppet



Biliography

Confessions of the Impaler (Dynatox Ministries)
The Horror Show (Bizarro Pulp Press)
Gravity Comics Massacre (Bizarro Pulp Press)

Necropolis Now (Zombie Ascension I)-Severed Press
Queen of the Dead (Zombie Ascension II)-Severed Press
Nightmare of the Dead-Severed Press


Links





The Questions:

Why have zombies become such a cultural phenomenon in TV, movies, and books?

An apocalyptic scenario is similar to a natural-disaster; most of your zombie stories involve people trying to cope with a scenario that fundamentally changes the world around them and challenges their morality. A survivor is suddenly thrust into a world where all the rules have changed, only there might not be any “rules”. Humanity has been stripped bare and is forced to see the world for what it really is. It’s a frightening notion; to have all of your dreams and possessions, your loved ones—to witness its destruction and move on in a world that can’t acknowledge that which has been destroyed.

Of course, not all zombie stories are post-apocalyptic. The creature itself is a dark reflection of something primal, something deadly. Every human is capable of violence; Gandhi could be a zombie, his passive philosophy as dead as his rotting organs. It’s a horrifying notion, once we forget the video game love affair with zombies. Every human wants to eat you. All of them want you. This is beyond celebrity, beyond being a god. There isn’t a zombie that could refuse to eat you, and they will crowd through the alleys and climb atop each other—they will crawl and they will squirm—just to get you.

I think there are several reasons why zombie fiction is relevant, but I prefer to examine zombies as a phenomenon that is horrific, even if we’re dealing with a sort of “stranded on a deserted island” concept where survival tactics come into play. The scenario is still horrifying.


What does your take on zombies add to the evolving definition of the undead?

I don’t think I’ve tried to redefine or add anything to the definition of the undead. I think there is a lot of potential in the zombie genre; there is a lot of unexplored territory. I’m not going to say that my work is “different” from the rest of the zombie books out there, but I will say that I can’t write what someone else has written. I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t enjoy using the same tried and true plot formula, with the same type of prose that is reproduced so many times over. I think the method—the approach—to writing a zombie novel, as well as the themes, sets the book apart from the rest.

With that being said, I don’t think I will ever get to that “place,” because I am always trying to find what that is. Just when I think I’ve gone “far enough”, I realize that I haven’t. I want to write the one book in the zombie genre that is “too far,” a book that crosses the line in terms of prose and imagery. I will say that the third book in the Zombie Ascension series will truly be a “hardcore-horror” type of zombie book, so the readers who’ve enjoyed the first two zombie books might find themselves turning away from this one, especially since it’s the end of the trilogy. There will still be plenty of explosions in the third book.


Tell us about your “human” survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.

My characters are flawed and damaged. Thousands of people are thrown into this violent scenario, and I can’t envision “nice” people surviving. I believe the psychosis of a character helps inform their actions; readers should be familiar with a character’s actions and should be able to predict their next move because they know who these characters are.

I’m not interested in heroic characters. In my stories, Superman isn’t going to show up and save the world, and Moses isn’t going to part the Red Sea. I like to think some of my characters are a sort of reversal from Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead. Rick is slowly changed by the events, but many of my characters are already at his lowest point, so they go in the direction where he started by attempting to survive. I wanted to test these characters to see if they could become better people, not worse.


What Zombie literature, films, or TV shows do you recommend for your fans?

I think people who’ve read my books have already seen the classics. I think the zombie gore/imagery would be similar to something you would see in Burial Ground, Zombi, or Day of the Dead. I think readers who enjoy zombie fiction should check out the likes of Brian Keene, David Moody, Joe McKinney, Mark Tufo, Armand Rosamilia, Jonathan Maberry, and Patrick D’Orazio. Rosamilia and D’Orazio are very effective at describing zombies, which is something I always look for when I’m eating a zombie book. I mean reading a zombie book.


Which of your zombie books would make the best movie?

Well, since Zombie Ascension is a trilogy, we have to start with the first book! Explosions, sex, gore; Michael Bay would be proud, but I think Clive Barker would have to direct it. Maybe Stanley Kubrick, if he’s available. I would allow Roman Polanski to write the screenplay.


Authors such as yourself determine whether or not the zombie craze is temporary or permanent (as with vampires); how do you plan to keep zombies around for a long, long time?

As long as readers believe a katana used by a character who hasn’t been trained with it can cut through muscle, bone, flesh, and fat to sever heads and limbs, then the zombie genre will keep on rolling. The genre doesn’t need one author. Apparently, it needs video games, Brad Pitt, and the NRA.

The only way a genre can stay relevant is if something new and fresh is published. I’m talking about a book that is bold in its approach, because courageous writers resurrected this genre from the dead and made it a viable brand for Hallmark stores all over the world. I understand that readers want the same thing over and over again, and I understand that it makes money, but it will bleed a genre and stifle creativity.


Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension
by Vincenzo Bilof



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Summary:

Detroit has become a war zone. Slow, shambling corpses feast upon the living while fire consumes the city. Amparo Vega, a haunted mercenary, fights through streets that are choked with the dead. Her mission: extract the legendary soldier, Jim Traverse, who holds the terrifying secret behind the zombie epidemic. While the bullets fly, Traverse befriends a group of survivors whose fates are forever linked to his: an infamous arms dealer, a young lawyer, and a former detective struggle against the zombies together. Can Vega's elite cadre of mercenaries find Traverse before the epidemic becomes global?


Review:

In the Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods series, we look for new twists and angles from the literature of the Zombie Apocalypse. How far have we come from the zombies of George A. Romero? This is the question I wanted to address when reading Vincenzo's take on the zombie tale. So, let's jump right in.

Necropolis Now is a slice of zombie apocalypse life. It is engrossing prose, with flurries of poetic writing, and a cast of heroes and anti-heroes who may or not be with us at any given turn of the page. As such, the deaths of the characters, and there are plenty, cannot be predicted; good guys and bad guys die alike without foreshadowing. Which is the whole point. Bilof paints a real portrait of the days that follow Ground Zero for the new apocalypse of the undead. 

Although his characters are larger than life, that's because he pulls them from extreme realities: a junkie rescued from a crack house by his brother, a female mercenary who teeters on the brink of madness when confronted with this new type of enemy to fight, an ex-cop who gave up his career and family to film pornography, and so on. They each face the living dead with emotions that range from the insanity of empathy to the selflessness of leadership to the animal instinct for survival. In many ZA books, there is one strong character leading the charge. Here Bilof supplies several.

I was a bit disappointed that there wasn't more poetic language from our narrator. There was plenty of room for it. For instance, Bilof writes, "...she looked for the stars that twinkled out of existence as dawn threatened to murder the night." The literature of the ZA is ripe for such language. We also see glimpses of his poetic mind in the dialogue. There's a breathtakingly surreal scene with our pornographer Griggs returning to his apartment to pick up a weapon and having a normal conversation with his neighbor Frank as zombies munch on victims all around them. Frank meanwhile hammers away at a struggling body on the floor and Griggs asks, "Zombie trouble?" To which he responds, "No, wife trouble". And their small talk continues seamlessly and concludes with Frank asking Griggs to pick him up something from Taco Bell on his way back. Griggs absentmindedly asks if he should pick up something for the wife as well. Frank says, "Nah", even as both men know he just finished smashing his wife's face in with a hammer. 
With these poetic flourishes and subtle character conversations verging on manic screaming, all held together by one zombie attack after another, Necropolis Now: Zombie Ascension by Vincenzo Bilof introduces that maddening sense of the surreal to the literature of the zombie apocalypse. 

I addressed my one criticism of the book to Vincenzo himself. Why the abrupt ending? He answered, "That's a fair question. In my mind the book was finished ... Thematically. Cliffhangers are cheap, and so I made sure the second book has a more definitive ending, so much that the series could have ended with it. I don't regret the ending to the first book, because as a writer.. It was finished. But again, I took that into account and made sure it wouldn't happen again..." 

Which brings us to The Queen of the Dead: ZOMBIE ASCENSION: Book Two by Vincenzo Bilof and Joe McKinney (Aug 26, 2013). So, keep that in mind: Book One and Two of Zombie Ascension are basically one complete story with an opening for a Book Three. So, if all your questions aren't answered in part one, rest assured they will be in part two. And I'll be sure to add my review of Book Two to the Zombie Spotlight On... series. 

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Lori R. Lopez





Biography

Lori R. Lopez is the author of CHOCOLATE-COVERED EYES, AN ILL WIND BLOWS, THE MACABRE MIND OF LORI R. LOPEZ, DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS, OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, THE FAIRY FLY and more. She is a resident of Southern California who has been an avid horror fan since she was born or thereabouts. A writer of prose and poetry, she pens a semi-monthly column called "Poetic Reflections" that contains dark verse and humor. She is also an artist who does her own book covers and illustrations. Most of her work is appropriate for ages twelve through adult.


Bibliography

You can find her stories and verse online and through bookstores. They have appeared in anthologies such as MIRAGES: TALES FROM AUTHORS OF THE MACABRE, MASTERS OF HORROR: DAMNED IF YOU DON’T, SPLATTERPUNK SAINTS, DARLINGS OF DECAY, I BELIEVE IN WEREWOLVES, SOUP OF SOULS, THIRSTY ARE THE DAMNED, and SCARE PACKAGE: 14 TALES OF TERROR. Fifteen of Lori’s poems were published for an anthology titled IN DARKNESS WE PLAY. While she enjoys writing a variety of genres, Horror is her favorite. She takes great delight in chilling your blood as well as your bones. Better dress warm.


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The Questions:

Why have zombies become such a cultural phenomenon in TV, movies, and books?
I would say that zombies are so popular because they are extremely lovable. The carefree decaying-lurching-growling routine is very appealing in contrast to the sophisticated, health-conscious, hyper-sensitive atmosphere of modern society. Apocalyptic scenarios can be kind of pleasant to imagine ― not having to worry about jobs and rent or mortgage payments, money for this, money for that. The only rules are the most basic and critical, how to stay alive. And ever since the dawn of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, we’ve had these walking corpses who really look like corpses clawing out of graves, or waking up again after being killed. I think they appeal to our sense of the macabre, at least for horror fanatics. They’re monsters, and they’re everywhere! Add to that a steady diet of Romero films, not to mention humorous ones like SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND, public Zombie Walks that anyone can participate in, horror and comic-book conventions, and then the WALKING DEAD of page and screen, which has exploded in popularity . . . zombies have taken off in recent years. Some people are actively awaiting the Z.A., Zombie Apocalypse; some writers are devoted to the genre. There are survival guides geared towards it. Let’s face it, zombies have become a way of life. They’re dead and they’re not going away! I wouldn’t be surprised to see a category for them under Race on official forms.

What does your take on zombies add to the evolving definition of the undead?
I currently have three zombie titles, all short fiction so far, though the first one HEARTBEAT will have a number of sequels and become book-length. I had fun with each of them.
In HEARTBEAT we have a civilization that learned to accept zombies as nuisances, and there is a youth movement aimed at protecting them from bounty hunters. There is a semblance of society, but many comforts and traditions are just memories from generations ago.
With THE FRUIT OF THY WOMB, I came up with an unconventional cause for the Z.A., involving pesticides being pumped into the air to fight growing populations of insects due to Global Warming. Fruit Flies mutate and become carnivorous; they also begin spreading a disease: the zombie virus. Victims eaten by them become zombies, and these will create more zombies. It spreads pretty fast. As in HEARTBEAT, there is a personal tale about a mother and son.
My third foray, 3-Z, is a trio of shorter pieces released on Halloween. The first (“Pound Of Flesh”) involves the Z.A. starting during a Zombie Walk on All Hallows’ Eve, which only adds to the confusion, and depicts the plight of a woman pinned on the street next to a famished dead guy. The emphasis, rather than action, is on emotion. The second (“A Big Problem”) takes a turn toward the bizarre, introducing a nutty world with a problem-fixer who makes a housecall and encounters a zombie. The third short (“Knock Knock”) presents an older lady who mistakes the zombie at her door for a Trick-Or-Treater.
The stories feature my unique style and quirky humor. THE FRUIT OF THY WOMB and 3-Z are available free.


Tell us about your “human” survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.
The main characters in HEARTBEAT are zombie fans, a group of kids who each have their own issues to deal with and are still considered nerds even in a world turned upside down. They enjoy more freedom than kids in the real world, yet there are also plenty of restrictions and dangers. They are endeavoring to balance safety with defending the undead.
In FRUIT OF THY WOMB, there is a man suffering most of his life from losing his family after he wandered away from home when small. There is a woman who lost her son. They will meet in the midst of turmoil at a park where the woman took her child to play and now lingers as a homeless broken widow.
The characters of 3-Z are diverse. The woman trapped with a zombie is a mother desperately afraid for her daughter, who was left with a babysitter. The protagonist of “A Big Problem” is a logical yet peculiar man whose life is his work and who is devoted to smoothing out the wrinkles in society. He will come face to face with his worst nightmare, one very large and illogical zombie. The elderly cat lady in “Knock Knock” is sad and lonely, so she invites the young man at her door inside for a snack, believing he is there for candy on Halloween. She was napping during the news that people are acting weird . . .


What Zombie literature, films, or TV shows do you recommend for your fans?
I mentioned several of my favorite undead films and THE WALKING DEAD. I have also been seeing a number of great indie novels out there for zombie-hungry readers, short stories as well, and survival manuals. The other authors being interviewed have interesting projects. I would recommend them, and to keep your eyes open because there are many terrific books to choose from!


Which of your zombie books would make the best movie?
I think HEARTBEAT would make a very fun film. Also FRUIT and POUND OF FLESH, or all of 3-Z together. Okay, any of them. All of them. I write with vivid scenes in my head. It translates well to film.


Authors such as yourself determine whether or not the zombie craze is temporary or permanent (as with vampires); how do you plan to keep zombies around for a long, long time?
By continuing to write interesting, creative, exciting stories and books. As long as that happens, zombies will keep stumbling through our lives. In Horror as with any genre, it’s all about the story. That is the base. If you tell a fascinating tale, the interest will remain.
I am always challenging myself to be original and creative; to do better than I have already done. I have many ideas clamoring to be finished. Sometimes I fear my head will explode. They are not all about zombies, but there will be more between the HEARTBEAT series and new projects. There will definitely be more.


Review: The Fruit of Thy Womb (Under Construction)
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Franklin E. Wales






Biography

"Wales can write, that's for sure." --Edgar and Bram Stoker Nominated Author, Billie Sue Mosiman

The author of six novels and numerous shorter works of fiction and nonfiction, Frank prefers the title of Storyteller to Novelist or Journalist. "It's a time honored tradition passed down through our parents and our grandparents," he says. "No matter what I am writing, it is my goal to entertain you with the story I'm telling."

Born and raised in Conway, NH, Frank now lives with his beautiful photographer wife, Jacki, in the South Florida home they share with their two dogs and a cat named Oz (as in Wizard of).


Bibliography

Scare Package by Franklin E. Wales, Jeffrey Kosh and Leigh M. Lane (Oct 11, 2012)

Purgatory Junction by Franklin E. Wales and Alex Zonn (Oct 11, 2013)

Deadheads: Evolution by Franklin E. Wales, Joseph "Jody" Adams and Jacki Wales (Jan 1, 2012) 


Link
 
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The Questions:

Why have zombies become such a cultural phenomenon in TV, movies, and books?
FEW: Because they are fun! It’s not really new; so much as it is their time to come back around in the circle. We’ve been reading about them in one form or another since 1929 when W. B. Seabrook wrote “The Magic Island.” According to TIME the book "introduced 'zombi' into U.S. speech".


What does your take on zombies add to the evolving definition of the undead?
FEW: I like this question since my book is called “Deadheads: Evolution.” In my take it’s been nearly three years since the world went to hell and in that time the Deadheads (zombies) have realized that WE are their food source. Rather than simply kill at random, many of the undead have begun to group and form societies of their own. They no longer leave a victim to turn, but behead it so that it can’t come back and threaten the food supply. They are also beginning to contain us for future meals. We have become livestock for them.


Tell us about your “human” survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.
FEW: The lead in my novel is a man named Gage Owens (I didn’t realize at the time I had actually used the same name as the dead child in King’s Pet Sematary) Gage was suffering with terminal Cancer when infected. Instead of turning him, the Deadhead virus cured his Cancer and left him with one foot in each world. The remaining characters are a collection of everyday people who for one reason or another did not succumb to the original virus.

 
What Zombie literature, films, or TV shows do you recommend for your fans?
FEW: As for literature, you’ve got a virtual who’s who in contemporary undead fiction: Maberry, Onspaugh, Long, Bilof, Lopez and Martin. Fine authors all. Off the top of my head I’d add, Eric S Brown, David Dunwoody and Joseph M. Monks. If we were all at a convention and someone asked, “Who else should I read?” I’d just point them down the tables to these folks.
When it comes to TV, it’s rather moot at the moment. If you’re not watching The Walking Dead, you probably aren’t looking to read zombie tales.
As for movies, I go old school obscure. If you enjoy zombie tales, I always suggest you look into the golden age Eurotrash and see where some of today’s stuff came from. I like “Zombie Lake” and “Shock Waves” because there is something about Nazi Zombies that get’s the blood pumping. I also recommend  Andrea Bianchi's, “Burial Ground.” Despite its flaws, it is one kick ass flick. For something a bit more current there’s Michele Soavi's, “Cemetery Man.” Not only a great genre flick, but it’s funny as hell to see Rupert Everett fighting the undead three years before he costarred with Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding. (Geese look at me. Don’t get me started on old zombie flicks!)
 

Which of your zombie books would make the best movie?
FEW: Ironically I only have the one so far, but Deadheads: Evolution is currently under option with a Chicago based film company for production in 2014.


Authors such as yourself determine whether or not the zombie craze is temporary or permanent (as with vampires); how do you plan to keep zombies around for a long, long time?
FEW: The craze will dim, they always do, but zombies in entertainment will never die. (Not even a headshot will kill the genre.) From 1929’s ““The Magic Island” in literature and 1936’s “White Zombie” in film, zombies have stood the test of time. When the craze fades, when it’s not “cool” any more, folks like us will keep putting out the entertainment for those that still crave it and hopefully we will all still be telling our tales when zombies come back around in popularity.

Review: Deadheads: Evolution. (Under Construction)
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Jonathan Maberry






Biography/Bibliography

JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning horror and thriller author, editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer. His books have been sold to more than two-dozen countries.

He writes in several genres. His young adult fiction includes ROT & RUIN (2011; now in development for film; named in Booklist’s Ten Best Horror Novels for Young Adults, a Bram Stoker and Pennsylvania Keystone to Reading winner; nominee for several state Teen Book Awards; winner of the Cybils Award, the Eva Perry Mock Printz medal, Dead Letter Best Novel Award, and four Melinda Awards); DUST & DECAY (winner of the 2011 Bram Stoker Award; FLESH & BONE (winner of the Bram Stoker Award; 2012; and FIRE & ASH (August 2013). His thrillers include The Joe Ledger Thrillers from St. Martin’s Griffin (PATIENT ZERO, 2009, winner of the Black Quill and a Bram Stoker Award finalist for Best Novel; THE DRAGON FACTORY, 2010; THE KING OF PLAGUES, 2011; ASSASSIN’S CODE, 2011; EXTINCTION MACHINE, 2013; CODE ZER0, 2014, and PREDATOR ONE, 2015.

His mystery novels include the upcoming Dylan Quinn mystery-thriller series for teens: WATCH OVER ME (Simon & Schuster, 2014) and COLD, COLD HEART (2015); and the NIGHTSIDERS series of middle-grade horror/sci-fi adventures, which debut in 2015.

His horror novels include The Pine Deep Trilogy from Pinnacle Books (GHOST ROAD BLUES, 2006, winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and named one of the 25 Best Horror Novels of the New Millennium; DEAD MAN’S SONG, 2007; and BAD MOON RISING, 2008), as well as DEAD OF NIGHT, 2011 and its forthcoming sequel, FALL OF NIGHT, 2014. He also wrote the movie novelization, THE WOLFMAN, 2010, winner of the Scribe Award for Best Adaptation; and is scheduled to write DEADLANDS: GHOSTWALKERS, an original novel inspired by the million-copy-selling role-playing game.

He is also editor and co-author of V-WARS, a shared-world vampire anthology from IDW, and its forthcoming sequel, V-WARS: BLOOD AND FIRE; and he’ll be writing a new V-WARS ongoing comic book.

He is also the co-editor for the REDNECK ZOMBIES FROM OUTER SPACE (2013) and editor of the forthcoming dark fantasy anthology, OUT OF TUNE (JournalStone, 2014).
Jonathan was an expert on the History Channel documentary, ZOMBIES: A Living History. He will also be featured in That $#(!'ll Rot Your Brain: How the Monster Kids Transformed Popular Culture, a forthcoming documentary on horror movies directed by Robert Tinnell. And he was participated in the commentary tracks for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: REANIMATED.

His many nonfiction works include VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006); THE CRYPTOPEDIA (Citadel, 2007 –winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction; co-authored by David F. Kramer); ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Winner of the Hinzman and Black Quill Awards and finalist for a Stoker Award; 2008); THEY BITE! (2009 co-authored by David F. Kramer); WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (2010; Bram Stoker finalist; co-authored by Janice Gable Bashman); THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (2001, written under the pen name of Shane MacDougall); ULTIMATE JUJUTSU (Strider Nolan, 2001); ULTIMATE SPARRING (Strider Nolan, 2000); JUDO AND YOU (Kendall Hunt 1991); and many others.

He writes a variety of projects for Marvel Comics involving CAPTAIN AMERICA, BLACK PANTHER, DOOMWAR, WOLVERINE, DEADPOOL, THE X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR, the NY Times bestselling MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, MARVEL UNIVERSE vs THE PUNISHER. MARVEL UNIVERSE vs WOLVERINE and MARVEL UNIVERSE vs THE AVENGERS. In 2014 he’ll launch two new comic book titles: BAD BLOOD (Dark Horse) and V-WARS (IDW), and will be writing a ROT & RUIN ongoing comic for IDW as well. All of Jonathan’s comic book collections are released as Graphic Novel collections within a month or two of individual comic publication.

Jonathan has published several dozen short stories in a variety of genres: mystery, horror, thriller, science fiction, military fiction, fantasy, western, urban fantasy, humor and others. His collections include JOE LEDGER: THE MISSING FILES, 2011 from Blackstone Audio; HUNGRY TALES (2012) and TALES FROM THE FIRE ZONE (2012) and the forthcoming JOE LEDGER: SPECIAL OPS (2014, JournalStone). His work also appears in the audio anthology LIAR LIAR from The Liars Club (released by Blackstone Audio in 2013).

Jonathan is the co-creator (with Laura Schrock) of ON THE SLAB, an entertainment news show in development by Stage 9 for ABC Disney / Stage 9. He was also a ‘blog correspondent’ on Sony’s zombie-themed web show ‘WOKE UP DEAD’; and was a recurring character on Laura Schrock’s ‘IT’S TODD’S SHOW’.

Jonathan’s Big Scary Blog (www.jonathanmaberry.com) focuses on the publishing industry. Jonathan’s interviews include Sandra Brown, Gayle Lynds, Alafair Burke, Charlaine Harris, James Rollins, Harlan Coben, Jeff Abbott, John Saul, Jonathan Kellerman, Barry Eisler, CJ Box, Laurell K. Hamilton, Jack Ketchum, Tom Piccarilli, Dale Brown, Kevin J. Anderson, Joe Lansdale, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Carrie Ryan, and many other best-selling authors. Jonathan also writes the SCARY OUT THERE blog, through which he and his guests explore teen horror fiction in its many aspects. Current and upcoming guests include R.L. Stine, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Nancy Holder, Kim Harrison, Ellen Hopkins and many others. That blog can be found on the website of the Horror Writers Association: http://www.horror.org/yahorror/?p=280. In 2014 he’ll launch THRILL RIDE, a new blog discussing mysteries and thrillers for teens.

He is a frequent keynote speaker, guest of honor and workshop leader at genre cons, libraries, writers conferences and publishing industry events, including the American Library Association, KeyCon, American Library Association, ThrillerFest, Zombie Fest, Heather Graham’s The Writers for New Orleans, Central Coast Writers Conference, NeCon, NY Comic Con, Texas Library Association Annual Conference, Sisters in Crime, BackSpace, PennWriters, Dragon*Con, PhilCon, Horror-Realm, Boucher Con, HorrorFind, Monster Mania, Philadelphia Writers Conference, Balticon, Romance Writers of America, American Library Association, ZenKaiKon,The Write Stuff, Hypericon, AnthoCon, KillerCon, NAIBA, LunaCon, and many others.

Jonathan has sold more than 1,200 feature articles and 3,000 columns; as well as greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, technical manuals, call-floor scripts, and two plays, including Tales from the Fire Zone. He is developing a psychological thriller novel based on that play.

Jonathan is a Contributing Editor for The Big Thrill (the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers), and is a member of SFWA, IAMTW, MWA, SCBWI, SFWA and HWA, as well as a jurist for the Edgar, Stoker, and Scribe Awards.

Jonathan was the Executive Director of the Writers Room of Bucks County (2005-06) and co-owner of the Writers Corner USA (2006-2009). Jonathan regularly visits local middle schools, high schools and colleges to talk about books, reading, publishing and the writing life. He is a board member of the River Union Stage, a professional equity theater based in Stockton, New Jersey. In 2006 he helped found the Wild River Review, an notable online literary journal.

Jonathan is a founding member of The Liars Club, a group of networking publishing professionals that includes celebrated authors Merry Jones, Gregory Frost, Jon McGoran, Ed Pettit, Dennis Tafoya, Keith Strunk, Don Lafferty, Kelly Simmons, Marie Lamba, Solomon Jones, Stephen Susco, Chuck Wendig, Janice Gable Bashman, Cordelia Biddle, Eric Red, Amber Benson, Kathryn Craft, Jeff Marriott, Nancy Holder and Michael Boatman. The Liars Club works to support booksellers, raise awareness and support for public libraries, and cultivate a joy of reading and books. The late NY Times bestseller L. A. Banks was a founding member of the Liars Club.

Jonathan created the Writers Coffeehouse, a free three-hour open-agenda networking and discussion session for writers of all genres and levels of skill in multiple locations each month.

Jonathan has been a popular writing teacher and career counselor for writers for the last two decades. He teaches a highly regard series of classes and workshops including Write Your Novel in Nine Months, Act Like a Writer, Revise & Sell, Experimental Writing for Teens, and others. Many of his students have gone on to obtain representation and/or publish in short and novel-length fiction, magazine feature writing, nonfiction books, TV, film, and comics.

In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field.

Jonathan and his wife, Sara Jo, to whom he dedicates all of his published works, and their dog, Rosie, live in Del Mar, California.


Links: 

Visit his website/blog and sign up for his free newsletter at:

www.twitter.com/jonathanmaberry
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The Questions:

QUESTION: Why have zombies become such a cultural phenomenon in TV, movies, and books?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Zombies are the perfect storytelling blank canvas. They invited and even encourage metaphor. They are the stand-ins for any societal, existential or philosophical issue we care to explore. At the same time they represent an immediate shared threat that engulfs and impact every character in exactly the same way. Once introduced, we can shift our focus very quickly away from the monsters and pay attention to the experience of the human characters. In a sense, this allows us to tell virtually any kind of story, from a tale of unrelenting horror to a tender love story to a slapstick comedy.

QUESTION: What does your take on zombies add to the evolving definition of the undead?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m a very nuts and bolts person, so a lot of my story offers a common-sense view of how to survive in a zombie-rich environment. How people protect themselves, how they manage their fear, how they carry on with ordinary lives.
At the same time I explore the nature of the zombies themselves. As one of the teens in ROT & RUIN discovers, the zombies are simply monsters to fear and to destroy. They were once people. It’s a simple fact that’s often glossed over in fiction. Each and every zombie was a person who expected to have a life, a future, goals, happiness. All of that was stolen from them by whatever caused the plague. Each of them died in pain and fear. To dismiss that experience is to not only dehumanize the zombie and disrespect it’s former humanity; it dehumanizes us.

QUESTION: Tell us about your “human” survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse.
JONATHAN MABERRY: My four teen novels in the ROT & RUIN series focus on the experiences of a group of teenagers who were born around the time of the zombie apocalypse. They’ve grown up in a world where the apocalypse is past-tense, which means they aren’t linked to what was lost –society, technology, and so on. This is their world. Their challenge is to find a way to build a meaningful future is a world dominated by the living dead. The story, then, doesn’t focus on the death and destruction –although these are elements—but rather on the value of human life, the nature of hope, and the question of what makes us human.

QUESTION: What Zombie literature, films, or TV shows do you recommend for your fans?
JONATHAN MABERRY: A few years ago it would have been relatively easy to recommend a few good books and movies in the zombie genre. Now we’re flooded with them, and there are a lot of good ones despite the volume. Among the many outstanding anthologies, I recommend John Skipp’s ZOMBIES, which includes many of the stories originally published in his landmark antho, BOOKS OF THE DEAD, co-edited by Craig Spector; and also Christopher Golden’s THE NEW DEAD.
For novels, some of my favorites include Joe McKinney’s action-packed DEAD CITY; S.G. Browne’s acerbic BREATHERS; Carrie Ryan’s excellent THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH; and Charlie Higson’s twist on the genre, THE ENEMY.
For movies, my all-time facvorite is the Zack Snyder unrated director’s cut of DAWN OF THE DEAD; though I love SHAUN OF THE DEAD, FIDO, THE DEAD, BERLIN UNDEAD, LA HORDE, and the first three Romero classics.
On TV, for me it’s a split decision between THE WALKING DEAD and the BBC grossly overlooked DEAD SET.

QUESTION: Which of your zombie books would make the best movie?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I believe all of them would. Two are already in development for film –ROT & RUIN and DEAD OF NIGHT are being prepped for the movies. The former is aimed at teens; the latter is definitely for adults. My first zombie novel, PATIENT ZERO, is also being discussed as a possible movie or TV show.

QUESTION: Authors such as yourself determine whether or not the zombie craze is temporary or permanent (as with vampires); how do you plan to keep zombies around for a long, long time?
JONATHAN MABERRY: The popularity of the zombie genre will wax and wane according to whatever drives it. Right now it’s being driven by the success of The Walking Dead, World War Z, Warm Bodies, some excellent prose and comics, and a bunch of hot video games. Once The Walking Dead goes off the air, or if the show should lose momentum, the genre will slow down. But, then something else will take its place. It is an endlessly elastic trope, which means that it only requires clever storytellers to breathe new life into our undead fellow citizens.
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ROT AND RUIN by Jonathan Maberry

Reviewed by Anthony Servante



Click here to purchase.



Book Summary: 

"In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human." (Amazon).


The Review:

It has been my custom to peruse the Horror section at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena for over thirty years. On my last visit, I saw a sign for Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. But when I looked for a copy of the zombie book, there was none to be found. I asked the store clerk, who just happened to be the person in charge of stocking the Horror section, if I could order the Maberry book. He responded, "That's in our Young Adult [YA] section upstairs."  He saw the dubious look on my face and asked if I wanted him to fetch me a copy. I nodded yes.

When he returned with the book, I asked him why the book was advertised in the Horror section but sold in the YA section. He told me that the publisher decides those things.

This is as good a time as any to mention my book giveaway program: Read THIS! Scaring Up Readers. Authors from my Facebook circle of friends donate books in the genres of Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Crime Noir (but I'm open to other genres as well), and I, in turn, give these books to students in my SAT and ACT classes, young college-bound teens, as encouragement for them to read the genres that we write and love (as F. Paul Wilson says, "New recruits."). That's a good way to put it. You can see pictures in the photos section of my Facebook page of many of these students posing with their gifted book in hand.

Which brings me to Rot and Ruin [R&R]. What is it about the novel/series that makes it YA? Because that is what the Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods articles are about--watching for new angles and trends to the Zombie Apocalypse [ZA] genre.

Firstly, R&R reads like Tom and Huck on the Zombie Frontier. In this case, it's Benny and Tom Imura. Benny has just turned fifteen years of age and must contribute to the community for his food. He must face responsibility and turns to his half-brother only after failing to secure employment. His resentment for Tom surfaces as they face the rot and ruin of the zombie wastelands. In other words, R&R is a coming of age story. But that alone does not make it YA.

Secondly, Maberry does not minimize the blood and gore for younger readers. R&R is still a ZA novel with all the accouterments one has come to expect from a living dead story. The zombies are interchangeably pathetic and terrifying (George Romero perfected this switch in Dawn of the Dead [1978]). The human characters also play both villains and heroes, thus making the bad guys at times more dangerous than the undead. But Benny learns that there is a grey area between good and bad, so R&R does not follow traditional YA by having the good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black, so to speak.

Thirdly, the community of Mountainside houses dark secrets that the zombie hunters are aware of; Benny must face the truth about life outside his home in order to finally accept his place in it. So, as he grows emotionally and physically, so, too, does the fate of Mountainside hinge on these secrets coming to light. As Benny grows, so does the community, but at a cost (of course, this cost aims the reader's expectations toward book two of the series). Still, I don't quite see the words "Young Adult" written in the plot or storyline. It's still good ol' Jonathan Maberry pounding out great zombie narratives.

So, we get back to what the clerk at Vroman's told me: "The publisher decides those things." Rot and Ruin is basic Maberry 101 marketed to YA readers. And here I must mention my book giveaway program again. I am all for introducing young readers to the genres we as Horror writers love to write and read. I agree with Paul's assessment: It's recruitment. For a good cause. My only complaint is with the marketing. Why not put the Rot and Ruin series in both the YA and Horror sections? I have no complaint with putting Maberry's whole catalog in the YA and Horror sections.

YA Horror strives to do the same thing as my program: to reach a new and younger audience. As a matter of fact, Jonathan Maberry has donated books to the program. With the advent of programs like The Walking Dead on TV for families to watch together and discuss afterward with The Talking Dead host and guests, Jonathan Maberry has written a Zombie Apocalypse novel that enters the grey area of marketing: a YA novel for adults and an adult novel for older teens. And that's quite a contribution to the new trends in the literature of the living dead.


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Philip Nutman Tribute by Mike Malloy.



Philip Nutman R.I.P.

I was reading WET WORK by Philip Nutman when I heard he was in hospital. I was planning to do another chapter in the Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods series and his zombie novel was recommended to me. I wanted to include his anthem to the Zombie Apocalypse genre. Sadly, he passed away. But he left us a magnificent contribution to the evolution of the genre, and I wanted to include it in this chapter of my zombie series. But I was not qualified to talk about the man, so I turned to the community that knew him for help. I'd like to thank those who guided me to Mike Malloy, who has written a piece on his friend, Philip, and has produced a video on the author. Here are the links to Mike's tribute to Philip Nutman.

Tough and Gritty Blog Tribute to Philip Nutman by Mike Malloy (click link below)

http://toughandgritty.blogspot.com/2013/10/godspeed-philip-tough-nutman.html


And the video tribute:




Review: Wet Work (Under Construction)

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Thank you, readers, for joining us on another look at the literature of the Zombie Apocalypse. Please join us again when we present Zombies, Ghouls, and Gods V.