Sean Beaudoin is the author of FADE TO BLUE and YOU KILLED WESLEY PAYNE. HIs latest novel is the rude zombie opus THE INFECTS. His stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including THE ONION, the San Francisco CHRONICLE, SLATE, and SPIRIT, the inflight magazine of Southwest Airlines. He frequently ends his bio with an ironic or self-deprecating personal comment. Nero, the protagonist of your new novel, THE INFECTS, is on a wilderness trek when zombies (in the form of camp counselors!) strike. He and cohorts must rely on their knowledge of zombies in pop culture to survive. Which books, movies, or TV shows would you rely on in if you were in the same situation?
Definitely Voltaire. And Hunter S. Thompson. Also, the Dirty Harry series. I’d probably need a healthy dose of BREAKING BAD and THE SOPRANOS. And multiple viewings of STEEL MAGNOLIAS and ROAD WARRIOR. Dr. Ely Kyburg’s ZOMBIE DIANETICS would no doubt be indispensible as well. THE INFECTS, like most stories involving an undead apocalypse, is pretty heavy on blood, violence, and gore. How difficult was it to stay true to the tropes of the genre, yet still write something that teens would find fun, relevant, and entertaining?
When I first sat down to put zombie to paper, my only caveat was that I was either going to write an undead novel that staked out new territory, or I was not going to do it at all. I may be naïve or even deluded, but I think THE INFECTS has a unique origin story and internal logic. In terms of gore, I’m under the impression that it’s on the light side compared to what’s typical of the genre. I think of it more as a black comedy than straight horror.
As far as predicting what teens find relevant or entertaining, I remain mystified. I just try to write stuff that I would have dug at sixteen and hope there are enough like-minds around to sell out a printing or two. You’ve noted that zombie stories can be a way of discussing serious global problems (i.e., poverty, global warming, etc.) in a very entertaining way. What about the flesh-eating undead makes them a fun vehicle for exploring such serious topics?
I guess because they’re sort of a blank slate upon which almost any sublimated fear, violent fantasy, or political viewpoint can be grafted. There’s always another zombie angle. For instance, I’ve always wanted to know what happens when there’s no one left to fight back or hide or barricade themselves in basements. When there’s no one left to brain zombie skull with baseball bats or run screaming through the woods. What happens after the last human is eaten? Do all the zombies suddenly look up and shrug? Do they shuffle around purposelessly for months, years, decades? Do they just lie down and never get up again?
I want to see a movie about post-human zombie society, where the zombie leaders all come together like the United Nations and decide what their stated goals and resolutions are. How they eventually get over their differences and build schools and hospitals and libraries. How they start to get fat and comfortable, watching reality TV and giving each other the finger on the highway.
When the zombies win, we all win.
Because then we are them, and they are us.
Just with worse breath. Reviewers have noted that THE INFECTS includes a critique of fast food/large scale chicken production. How does that fit into the context of a zombie story?
Fast food freaks me out. I literally haven’t eaten McDonalds since 1986. My abstention is not so much political in nature—although I’m sympathetic to that line of thinking—as it is that factory scale meat processing strikes me as hallucinatory and demented. To be able to sit down and eat a Quarter Pounder with bacon and cheese you simply can’t allow yourself to ponder the steps required for it to arrive boxed and steaming in front of you. I wanted readers to think about that just a little bit, without being preachy.
Personally, I’d always rather hear a good chicken-anus joke than listen to a lecture. And the bottom line is that people are going to eat what tastes good to them, regardless. But so are zombies. And, as we all know, zombies mostly prefer sweaty, alienated teenagers. You’ve said that you write YA because you feel it allows you to reach people who really care about what they are reading. What experiences or observations have led you to this conclusion?
I sometimes get letters from teens alluding to a deep connection with one of my books, in ways I’d never anticipated while writing them, and expressed with a combination of heart-melting enthusiasm and intelligence. I don’t think I can describe many letters I’ve received from adults in quite the same way.
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