Interview with John Austin, Author of So Now You're a Zombie
There are handbooks for humans to survive the zombie apocalypse all over the place, but who's ever given a thought to the zombies, and what it must be like to enter this new and confusing phase of unlife? John Austin has, and he's put it in his new book, So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead. You can see my short review of it here. I asked John some questions about his book, and here's what he said.
Back to the Brain Waves
What do you like about the zombie genre?
It's what I least like about zombies that fascinates me—a zombie outbreak could happen at any moment. This terrifies the heck out of me, but strangely lures me. An immediate second place is the carnage! You feel no pity when it comes to witnessing or participating in the annihilation of mobs of brain eaters. A zombie doesn't have a family, a home…or even a dog to let out, so who cares if you snipe a few from a rooftop for the fun of it.
When you were writing, were there any particular books that you were satirizing or emulating?
I wouldn't say emulating, but with a personal library full of "worst-case" literature, I suppose I subconsciously and/or purposely molded a picture of the stereotypical zombie pop culture has loved to hate.
Did you have to do research for the book, or was it mostly out of your head?
Originally I suspected there would be some casual research for this book, but that quickly changed when I started putting pen to paper. In the book, I talk about the inner workings of a zed body and how they maintain function even after heart stoppage. I needed to really figure out how a dead body could function and what are the side effects. I ran into a lot of answers that pointed out other side effects that really started drawing the blueprint of an undead functioning zed. A good example of this would be the direct side effect of dehydration, which can actually cause your eyeball to shorten. This shortening causes light rays to focus behind the retina. As a result, a zombie sees distant objects more clearly...who knew?
Any particular roadblocks while writing the book?
When writing the book, I had to keep in mind that I was going to have at least one illustration per page to visually capture some of this content. At times, I struggled with what would be the best illustration and how would I execute a chart that was clear and possibly dead-on. But in the end, everything turned out, including the Projectile Vomiting Chart (my favorite).
Writing a survival guide from the zombie point of view is a little different. Why did you choose to do it that way?
Who knows zombies better than zombies? While they are historically dumb (but motivated), what if you could actually extract some attack strategies from thousands of zeds and pool that knowledge together in a handbook. Yes, the zombies we've created in your minds do not read. Pop culture has trained us to expect unintelligent walking corpses, but how is this fact if it's fantasy? When the z-virus hits, we really have no idea what we'll be up against. The possibilities are endless. Think about it, what if reanimation unlocked some hidden brain potential...what then? The fact that I created a book for zombies and not about zombies is a good indication that anything is possible when it comes to a virus outbreak.
Did you have a particular kind of zombie in mind that you were writing this guide for?
Originally the manuscript was cross-referencing a few types of zombies, but then as the project progressed I narrowed it down just to the walking undead. I kicked all reference of the infected living and supernatural zombies out the door. With so many die-hard zed fans out there, it just made sense to stick with the original class. Unfortunately, when I did this the zombie family tree illustration was also discarded.
Are you a bigger fan of zombie movies or zombie books?
Although a good book always surpasses a movie, I'm just a fan of the movie experience. I like sitting there and being captivated with the cinematography for a few hours and then having the ability to share my thoughts about it with fellow viewers.
There have been a lot of classic books rewritten lately with zombies added into them. Which book or series would you like to see with zombies added to the plot?
While it might not be as popular as modern flicks, I'd like something set back in time to the Roman Empire or a Viking campaign. Warriors having to depend on cold steel and good old decapitation. I love seeing a machine gun mow down a few dozen zombies, but having to be within a few inches to perform cerebral neutralization is suspenseful.
Have you ever dressed up as a zombie yourself? What was the occasion?
I once woke up with my face completely covered in red permanent marker. Probably resembling someone from the undead, but that hardly classifies as an intentional zed costume. As of yet...no...but I fully support zombie walks and the causes they donate towards.
Have you written any screenplays or any other books? Anything being worked on now?
I do have a few screenplay ideas scribbled in a notebook, but nothing I've actually sat down and worked on. Yes, I have written and illustrated a few other books, mostly comical. I'm currently working on a follow-up book to the very popular MiniWeapons of Mass Destruction I had come out last year. I guess it's the toy designer in me...but I love small weaponry. (Who doesn't?)