The Non-Horror Reader Survey is taking part of the Summer of Zombie Blog tour. We have a Guest Interview of Horror author Todd Brown (Dead series, Zomblog). We haven’t touched much on the subject of zombies here at NHRS because while it is a sub-genre, it is a large sub-genre. Many books have built the mythos of this undead creature. Just as many, if not more, have analyzed them. Whether you love them or hate them, zombies speak to a part of the human condition. If you enjoy the interview, please check out the Facebook Page of the blog tour and check out all the other posts going on.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Todd –In my off time I like to pluck around with one of my guitars, work with my Border Collie, or watch football…even though my team, the Seattle Seahawks, is simply dismal this season. I am the editor for May December Publications, so I am always reading and scoring peoples’ submissions for one of our anthologies or a novel somebody wants us to publish. When I can, I slip in a few pages of casual reading that has nothing to do with work. Then there is my own writing, which has suffered from neglect the past few months, but that is about to change very soon.
So what is the appeal of horror for you?
Todd – Ever since I was little, I just loved horror, which is odd since I was traumatized by The Excorcist. To me, there is something visceral about horror that is solely unique to the genre. Deep down, we all have fears, and can relate to jumping when something goes ‘bump’ in the night. Whereas comedy is totally subjective, one person may think the Python troupe is brilliant…another may only like Bill Cosby. I like being on the edge of my seat. And while I acknowledge that the umbrella of horror has expanded to include things like torture porn (Saw, Hostel, etc.), the element of being scared is so universal. We may not cringe at the violence, but when something jumps out of the shadows, even when we completely expect it, we all still jump.
When did you fall in love with it, and how do you think the genre has changed since that first bite?
Todd – The first scary movie I ever watched was the original Frankenstein on one of those local channel midnight horror movie programs with the cheesy host. I was home alone at age six or seven (when parents did that sort of thing without somebody calling the police for child neglect) when the movie started. I had no idea what it was, but it hooked me. From that point on, if it meant sneaking into the living room after my parents passed out, or even better, if they were gone, I was in front of the screen fascinated by vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of nuclear cautionary tales (although I had no idea what the whole nuclear thing was, or the symbolism and such being illustrated) like Godzilla and all manner of giant radiated insects and arachnids. Oddly enough I don’t recall seeing Night of the Living Dead…probably too violent for the time…an indication of how times have certainly changed. As for the way it has changed…well, the whole ‘torture porn’ craze that began with the first Halloween and is now seen in films like Saw are more about shock value. I am not a fan of the ‘violence for violence’s sake’ school of horror.
If you could pick one book or film that in your mind best sums up what you love about the genre, what would it be?
Todd – Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (although my favourite King title is The Stand). While the movie in the early 80s was a bit goofy, the book terrified me. I was around 14, when I read it and I slept with a cross under my pillow for almost a month. That story really did it for me. It was so real for lack of a better word. It scared me deep down in a way I couldn’t wrap my mind around at the time. When I revisited the book years later, it still had the thrill. I realized the fear came from absolute evil without a conscience, but withy a great deal of intelligence. And the evil wasn’t vanquished. In most stories, there is some sort of closure. But in Salem’s Lot, it was still out there…and nobody was really safe.
Todd – Zombie Strippers? Granted, there are a lot of really bad films out there, but that was not even “so bad it’s good” bad. It was just terrible. I felt dumber having sat through it. Sadly, I have a bit of an OCD thing…once I start a book or movie, I can’t discard it, no matter how bad. My wife will tell me to just put it down, but I can’t. It is one of those things. I try…but have to keep going. Somebody put in the effort to produce it, I picked it up, now I have to see it through. I wanted to turn off that movie SO bad that it became uncomfortable. It was slap dash with no respect for fans of zombies or strippers in my opinion. And that is my hang up, when something is just put out for consumption with no thought or care.
Can you tell us about your press May / December Publications, LLC?
Todd – We are small, my wife and I for now, with dreams of growing to something akin to Night Shade Books. To that end, we really try to focus on quality over quantity. We want to actually have two sides to our operation within five years. The ‘May’ side will be the speculative side with titles like Dakota which has an element of time travel, or Fervor which is almost sci-fi. Then the ‘December’ side will be horror and steampunk.
The name is a tribute to your first three kids, why did you choose this name?
Todd – I think that a label can pigeonhole you if you are not careful. Also, there are a lot of “death” based names already, I saw no reason to sink into the slurry. Plus, this let me pay homage to my children in a way that will be there for ages. Even if MDP were to go away, the books under that label will always exist.
What makes you different to other small presses?
Todd – This might step on a toe or ruffle a feather, but I believe what makes us different from the rest is how we select our stories. As somebody who has sent out a good number of story submissions myself, I know the frustration of the rejection letter. It is part of the business, and if you can’t deal with that, don’t write. However, there is a bit of a “publisher’s pet” problem in the small press realm. I actually sent a story in once, heard nothing back at all, then the anthology closed. I shrugged it off until a regular on one of the forums run by this small press made a comment on how she had missed the deadline. The response was “Oh, just send it in. It will make the cut, you never have to worry about that with your stories.” I was stunned. Sight unseen, this story was being accepted and I hadn’t even been given an acknowledgement that my story had been received. That is why all writer info is stripped from every story being considered for an anthology. The story is scored on a 1-100 scale and once the deadline arrives, the highest scores are included. That is the first that I will even know the names of those who submitted. The story is accepted on its merit, not who wrote it.
What was the first book you published?
Todd – The first was Zomblog, however, Eye Witness Zombie was our first anthology. Fervor, by Chantal Boudreau was our first novel (without my name on the cover).
Todd – I just roll up the sleeves and go. Sometimes my daughter, Jenifer, will flag a story and say I absolutely must read it. Sometimes Denise will put something in my Inbox. And yes…there is some dismal stuff out there. Sadly, there is a real glut of mediocre…and when it comes to edited, proofread, and submission ready, there seems to be a serious lack of people who have read Strunk & White. However, there are stories that I get on my screen that make me feel like there must be some mistake…how could somebody send me such a fine and entertaining piece. Those wipe all the bad away in a flash.
How in depth do you go with rejection letters?
Todd – It depends. There has been the occasional story that I could tell by reading it that the writer trimmed it down for one of our anthologies. I sent a reply telling the writer that and then signed them to a book contract (Cryptic by D A Chaney comes out this month actually). I have offered writers the chance to ask why their particular story was rejected with the forewarning that I would be brutally honest. I have had a few writers take me up on that offer. We are starting to get so many submissions that I can’t be as personal as I’d like. The hardest stories to write a rejection letter for are the full-length novels. That is somebody’s dream I am stepping on. I always try to say something positive while still passing on their story.
Have you ever been subject to an author meltdown?
Todd – Funny you should ask…we just went through one. Names and details are not important, but I will say that in this era, nothing you say goes unobserved. A writer who makes demands then throws a tantrum on social media just made a whole slew of other potential publishers add their name to a “beware” list.
So far you have published mainly zombie themed stories, there is a debate raging across some websites that thinks it is time to shoot zombie fiction in the head, what do you say to this?
Todd – While I feel there has been a glut, I also believe that there are some good stories out there. It is like anything that gets a surge in popularity…people who had no opinion about vampires a few years ago will jump on the “I hate vampires” bandwagon simply because it is a popular thing to do and they don’t want to feel left out. To that end, I look for zombie stories that are character vehicles, not simply mind-numbing gore scenes. It is now and will always be a fringe genre, it won’t ever really die.
What are your favourite examples of zombie fiction?
Todd – The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer, The Tales of Lake Wobegotten by Harrison Geillor. Stories that have a unique hook to them. I really enjoyed Breathers by S. G. Brown. That said, I am always looking for somebody who pens one in the classic vein with three dimensional characters who come alive on the page.
Todd – It started as a college assignment. The teacher pulled me up and said I needed to keep writing. It was picked up by a small press, but right before publication they wanted to change the contract…more money for them and less for me. I took a pass. It was my wife who surprised me on Christmas with a copy of my book and the LLC for May December Publications. As for the story, I actually wrote book one in the trilogy day by day just like a journal. It was posted as a blog. That is actually how it was discovered and I received that first offer.
Did you always intended on writing it in the form of blog posts, or was this something that came to you after you started to write it?
Todd – The class assignment was to create a fictional journal that read like a story. I just never intended it to be read by an audience. It has built a respectable following that continues to surprise me.
And what about Dead: The Ugly Beginning? Is this in the same universe as Zomblog?
Todd – Same mythology, but no, there is no universal correlation between the two. Zomblog begins in around January. The Dead series has the rising begin in around April.
What type of zombies are they?
Todd – They are the classic slow type. However, I stole an idea from my all-time favorite novel, The Stand by Stephen King and will say that in both universes, the bite may not be a hundred percent lethal.
Do you provide any reasons as to why there are zombies, or do you just let the reader take a leap of faith?
Todd – I do couch the possible cause in Zomblog. However, I make a point of leaving the possible cause open to speculation in Dead. One of the characters gives a bit of a monolog on the subject in the opening chapter.
What would be the ideal soundtrack to reading these books?
Todd – Dead Cities by Future Sounds of London. Most of what I wrote was done so with that playing on a lood in the background.
Could you tell us about Dakota?
Todd – Dakota is actually out and available now. It is nothing like my zombie fiction. In fact, I wrote Dakota in the 90s. I received an acceptance letter from an agency while sitting in jail and had to politely decline their representation. It is about two modern day DEA types who end up in Charleston, South Carolina just prior to the start of the American Civil War. That is the only sci-fi hook to the story…the time travel. After that it is a straight-forward adventure; very mainstream. I am very proud of that story and feel it is what will most likely lead to my “discovery” should that ever happen on a bigger level.
Your are also working on a graphic novel called Vampyrates: Blood Curse, can you tell us about that.
Todd – It will be a non-glittering vampire series. The central figures will be a very unsavoury bunch. It has some very unpleasant themes and events. Also, a few more artists will probably be involved now that we are looking at it seriously rather than as just something fun to do with our time.
And who is going to get first billing on the cover?
Todd – I think a lot of people read graphic novels to look at the art. To that end, I will probably but the artists’ names in big letters. Then, someplace on the bottom it will probably say “Story By T W Brown”.
So what does the future hold for you?
Todd – Lots of reading, writing, and editing. I feel lucky to be doing something that I truly love. It may not make me rich, but I enjoy it and that is what counts in the end.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/TW-Brown/e/B00363NQI6/
And my Blog:
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All six of us – Todd Brown, Mark Tufo, Ian Woodhead, Armand Rosamilia, John O’Brien and Dave Jeffery – hope you’ll keep following us on the Summer of Zombie blog tour, and comment as we go along.
And… one lucky commenter for each blog will receive a Free eBook or Print book from one of the authors! Simply leave a comment with your e-mail address and we’ll pick a random winner each day! Simple as that!