by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
& Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have something with both a fantasy/horror and mystery twist to it–an interview with fantasy/horror/zombie writer Stefan Petrucha, a review of his latest book Dead Mann Walking featuring a zombie police detective, and a chance to win a copy of this book at the end of this article.
Dead Mann Walking by Stefan Petrucha
Review by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
The original zombies of legend and literature were slave workers, bewitched by voodoo. Then George Romero made them into brain-eating corpses, the evil dead brought forth by a comet’s radiation. Government experiments and toxic waste spawned other stories. Now, Stefan Petrucha’s Dead Mann Walking brings us the Radical Invigoration Process—RIP. Rich people revived their dearly departed family members…until Grandma got lonely and depressed, started moaning, turned feral, and ate anything she could sink her false teeth into. The courts used ripping to atone for wrongful executions where trial misconduct was found.
That’s where Hessius Mann comes in. A police detective given the death penalty for the murder of his wife (she had been having an affair with his boss), Mann was brought back to life when it was discovered that some evidence had been suppressed. Now, Mann works as a private investigator, still unsure of his innocence or guilt, because the revived have memories so unreliable that they are not legal witnesses in court.
The medically-created zombies, called chakz after a foreign word for dried meat, are living in abandoned buildings, trying to protect themselves from live bloods who go joy hunting, out to D-cap some chakz. The police seldom interfere, unless the dead fight back.
While D-capped, chopped-up chakz are turning up in the city and the desert, Hessius is hired by an odd client to find a chak who may be heir to a fortune. Mann’s journey takes him through chak housing, into the mansion of a zombie collector, to a chak-rights rally that turns bloody for all concerned, onto the trail of a serial killer, and into something resembling love. And…why does that lumpy duffel bag keep moving and making noises?
Petrucha creates a tight, gritty mystery in the noir vein, peopled with memorable characters—Mann’s former boss, who still thinks Hessius was guilty as charged; the former crack head who works as Mann’s secretary, able to go places chakz aren’t allowed; and the wacky chak with a lot of damage and a laugh that will haunt you.
Will Hessius Mann survive his investigation—he can’t live through it, he’s already dead—and will he get the dead girl? Or—will this little zombie shuffle off to Buffalo?
Interview with fantasy & horror author Stefan Petrucha
Lorie: How did you first get into writing?
Stefan: When I was ten it dawned on me that making up sentences came particularly easy. I was very into comic books and had a friend (Papercutz editor, Jim Salicrup) who had a knack for drawing. So, I figured I’d be a writer. For whatever reasons, stubbornness, natural inclination, fate, gypsy curse, it stuck.
Lorie: I notice you write a variety of different types of things and subjects—how did you get involved in all of these and can you tell us a little about what all you write?
Stefan: I’ve been writing stories, poems and screenplays since elementary school. By college, on the one hand, I was drawn into “high” literature, but on the other, I was writing and directing some very low-brow video satires.
Professionally, I broke into things from the comic end, then sidestepped into Young Adult and genre fiction. It looks like a lot, but I’ve been at it for twenty years, and it all made sense at the time!
These days, I’m more focused on genre novels, like Dead Mann Walking and the upcoming Ripper, but I’m also working on some non-fiction projects, and keep a hand in graphic novels via publisher Papercutz with things like Harry Potty, The Power Rangers and Nancy Drew.
Lorie: Do you prefer one type of writing over another?
Stefan: Not really. With comics you have several partners, the artist, sometimes also an inker and colorist – when it works, it’s fantastic, and I’ve been lucky in that respect, but there are more things that can go wrong.
On the other hand, when writing a novel, you’re master of the universe, so to speak, except of course for the editor, the publisher, and ultimately, the reader. It asks more of me, and I enjoy that.
Lorie: Is there any form or genre of writing you still want to try?
Stefan: In terms of content, I’ve always liked writing between genres, a bit of this or that, trying to make something new. That may be what they call Urban Fantasy these days. Anyway, I have dozens of ideas, but nothing I’d describe as being part of a genre I haven’t tried. I do tend toward the fantastic in one way or another.
In terms of form, I’ve written spec film and TV scripts and would certainly love a shot at doing something like that professionally.
Lorie: Where are you from?
Stefan: Born in the Bronx, I lived in NY state most of my life, gravitating between the urban and the suburban. These days I’m in a college town in Massachusetts, which feels like the best of both worlds.
Lorie: Have you always been able to support yourself with your writing or have you had some interesting day jobs?
Stefan: I’ve been fortunate enough to often support myself and my family by writing, but it’s always touch and go, and there have been lean times. Even then, I’ve gravitated toward one form of writing or another – I’ve been a technical writer and an education writer, for instance.
My most interesting, and fun, day-job, was working as the personal assistant to Joseph L. Mankiewicz, four-time Academy Award winning writer/director of classics like All About Eve. Working in his home with Joe and his wife Rosemary was a precious time.
Lorie: Tell us about your latest book. How did you come up with the plot?
Stefan: Zombies have always been in the back of my mind, I suppose, but one day I was in my car with the radio on and NPR was airing a discussion on the death penalty.
One of the speakers said something like, “The reason people oppose death penalty is the fact that it can’t be taken back.”
And I started thinking, well, what if they could? And what if, like most things, the process is flawed? They’d be dead, rotting, and impaired, not traditional zombies, but more like a misunderstood underclass. That would make the undead more the victims, turning the trope on its head.
In the book, they’re called chakz, after charqui for dried beef. If they get too depressed though, they go feral. Then, they’re more like traditional zombies, only it’s not so much that they hunger for human flesh as much as they’ll eat anything.
Toss in a detective wrongly accused of murder, executed, then brought back, trying to continue his existence, and that was about it.
Lorie: And your main characters?
Stefan: Given the origin of the chakz, I had to call my main character Mann, just to use the title. Past that, I wanted Hess to feel familiar to detective fans, at the same time open a window on this brave new world. Of course he had to have a loyal assistant, Misty, a recovering drug addict, still alive but equally down on her luck.
Lorie: Did you set out to write a zombie book?
Stefan: I’ve been into zombies forever. Loved Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, and even shot a satire of the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, in college. It was called Afternoon of the Airheads, about a creeping insipidness.
So, while I’d wanted to write a zombie novel for a while, I didn’t want to simply repeat what I’d seen and read. It was really listening to that NPR show that made everything click.
Lorie: Did you do a lot of research and if so what kind?
Stefan: Sure – especially for historical novels, like the upcoming Ripper, set in 1895 NYC.
For Dead Mann, I steeped myself in zombies, detectives and noir, both films and books. On the noir side I enjoyed re-reading Hamett’s The Glass Key – a great exercise in style.
Lorie: Why did you decide to make yours a zombie detective? (I like the idea by the way).
Stefan: Thanks. The fatalistic underbelly of the zombie myth, which says, basically, we’re all gonna die real soon, just seemed to dove-tail nicely with the jaded noir atmosphere of the hard-boiled dick. Plus, I also like detectives.
Lorie: What is your writing routine? Do you write daily, certain time of day, certain amount of pages, do you outline, etc?
Stefan: It changes, but currently, I get up around 6 a.m., see the girls off to school and my wife off to work (I’m sort of the Barbara Billingsley of the household) then I shamble up to my office, answer messages, and get down to writing for anywhere from 2-6 hours. I tend to set a page-count goal when working on a deadline.
I do use an outline – I know some writers prefer to surprise themselves, but I think if you don’t know where the book’s headed, you abdicate some important story-telling tools, like foreshadowing. That said, I’m free to change the outline as I go along, and I often do.
Lorie: Future writing goals and dreams?
Lorie: More Dead Mann books! I’m currently writing the sequel, and hope to soon start on the sequel to Ripper, so it’s all zombies and murder for a while.
Lorie: What else are you currently working on?
Stefan: The big thing coming up is Ripper, out in hardcover from Philomel in March 2012. It’s a young adult page-turner set, as mentioned, in 1895 NYC. I like to describe it as being sort of like Harry Potter, except without magic and with a serial killer. It also sports an absolutely amazing cover. It’s gotten a great reaction so far, with several foreign rights already placed and a lot of movie talk in process.
Lorie: What type of promotion do you do for your books, and what do you feel works best?
Stefan: Massive ad budgets and TV appearances aside, near as I can tell, word-of-mouth is the only thing that really works. Authors can prime the pump to an extent, and I do what I can in terms of social media, blogging, interviews, etc. For Dead Mann, for instance, I tweeted a quote a day from the book – and hard-rocker Jazan Wild recording a great song to help promote it.
Did it work? Some quotes were retweeted, and the song’s being downloaded at a good clip, so it helps get word around, but in the end, I think it’s less about any individual effort and more about reaching a tipping point in public awareness.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Stefan: Lots! In fact, I’m teaching, for the first time this winter, an online course via the University of Massachusetts, called Writing for a Living.
Basically, though – people like to say write what you love. I think it’s more about developing great taste, then writing what you love.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Stefan: Anything that saves trees and eliminates the distance between the writer and the reader is great. As for the rise of e-books, they’re so much cheaper and easier, no matter how romantically one may view the printed book, electronic dominance is inevitable.
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself? If so favorite e-book reader?
Stefan: Nope – not yet! I can’t stand the little flash of e-ink you get when you turn the page. They seem to have reduced or eliminated it with the newer models, so I’m hoping someone buys me one for Christmas.
Lorie: Who are your writing heroes?
Stefan: Oh, there are so many. On the literary end, Kafka, Beckett, Steinbeck. In genre, Phillip K. Dick, Hammett, Lovecraft. In Young Adult, MT Anderson is king, and I also enjoy Scott Westerfeld. In comics, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Stan Lee. Dozens more I’m forgetting at the moment.
Lorie: What are your favorite zombie books, TV or movies?
Stefan: Night of the Living Dead, as mentioned, White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, Shaun of the Dead. I haven’t read many zombie books, but Monster Island by David Wellington is great. I also enjoy The Walking Dead graphic novels, drawn by Charlie Adlard (with whom I did the X-Files comic from Topps ages back).
Lorie: Any time for hobbies?
Stefan: Not lately! Video games, but they’re a time-suck I’m currently avoiding (today, anyway).
Stefan: My daughters have had several. The recent east coast blackout cost us a puffer fish, so right now, it’s just some hermit crabs, which is lucky for me, since I’m allergic to everything.
Lorie: Is there anything that our readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Stefan: Well, aside from having the proportional strength of a spider, I also appeared on television as a researcher on several episodes of the A&E reality show, Paranormal State, starring Ryan Buell. Aside from co-authoring his first book, Paranormal State: My Journey into the Unknown, I’m happily involved with a couple of exciting projects with Ryan these days.
Lorie: Website, Facebook, Twitter?
Lorie: Anything else that you would like to add?
Stefan: Thanks for the opportunity! Buy Dead Mann Walking!
To enter to win a copy of Dead Mann Walking, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Walking”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 3, 2011. U.S. residents only.