One of the cool things about this Summer of Zombie Blog Tour is meeting new people that I might have missed out on otherwise. James Cook has been off my radar, but, in a show of support and solidarity for the tour, you can bet he just landed on my TBR list. It helps that he is former Navy...and as a former sonarman, I got a lot of love for a fire controlman.
Describe your first zombie “experience”?
Back in 1999, while I was going through school to be a fire controlman for the Navy, my roommate fired up an old VCR (yeah, we still had those back then) and popped in the original George Romero Dawn of the Dead.
From that moment on, I was hooked.
In the years that followed, I always thought it would be fun to write a novel about a zombie apocalypse. There weren’t many out there back then, and I thought that zombie fans were an underserved audience. In March of 2011, I finally got off my ass and started writing. No Easy Hope, my first novel, was the result. People liked it, asked for more, and I’ve been at it ever since.
Favorite Dawn of the Dead (original) moment? Remake?
For the original, my favorite part was near the beginning. The newsroom is going ape-shit. There’s yelling, confusion, the two pundits on the broadcast are arguing vehemently. The people in the newsroom are trying to get an accurate listing of rescue stations, but they keep going dark. The mood grows increasingly desperate until the newsroom employees begin to leave. Their boss gets flustered and tries to order them all back into their desks. From the cops stationed in the corners of the set, you get the idea that the cops are keeping them there against their will to maintain the emergency broadcasts. Finally, as the newsroom is being abandoned, the boss cries out to a cop stationed in a hallway to stop his people from leaving. The cop gives him a desultory glance, grabs his jacket, and leaves. That moment, that crescendo of SHTF fear that culminates in that little snippet of film, encompasses what has always fascinated me about post-apocalyptic storytelling. I think the cop abandoning his post was symbolic. In times of crisis, we look to the authorities to tell us what to do. To lead us, to protect us, to get the situation under control and restore order. But in that scene, when that cop gave the news director a look that said fuck you, buddy, then grabbed his shit and bolted, that was when you knew things were really bad. I’ve always wondered if something like that happened in real life, when I reached that moment where all hope was gone, what would I do? I think that is, in essence, what people love the most about zombie stories.
As for the remake, my favourite part was the end. When they reach the island and get bum-rushed by about a million zombies. It’s the director’s way of throwing a sword into the audience, a la Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and saying, I know you care about these people after all this. But you know what? Fuck you. Fuck every last one of you. This is a horror film bitches, and in horror, the good guys die screaming. Did you get what you came for? Are you not entertained?
What is the last zombie book you read?
I was lucky enough to get a beta copy of Victim Zero by Joshua Guess. It’s not available yet, but it will be soon. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think it is one of the best zombie novels I have ever read. I think it’s going to do big things. Lots of action, believable characters, a fast-paced plot that keeps you turning pages. What more could you ask for?
Victim Zero. Josh Guess. Put it on your to-read list. It’s fantastic.
What makes your story stand out from the masses?
Surviving the Dead is not your typical zombie series. Rather than just being endless pages of zombie smashing, the story focuses on the two main characters as they struggle to maintain their humanity in an inhumane world, and to find a place where they can carve out peaceful lives for themselves. Along the way they make friends, and enemies, they laugh, they love, they fight, they kill, and they take damage. Mental, physical, and emotional. They watch people they care about get hurt and killed. They do things that give them nightmares and make them doubt the justice of their actions. They are not perfect, and they make mistakes. I think that’s what has driven the popularity of the series, and what keeps people interested in the story.
What will you tackle next? (If you are writing a series, what will you write after the series is over?)
My immediate plans are for an urban fantasy series titled, Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter, and a traditional fantasy series titled, Gladiator of Corsryn.
Jeremiah Cain is, in large part, a response to my general dissatisfaction with the urban fantasy genre. I’m tired of reading about people falling in love with vampires, and snuggling with werewolves. Since when are these monsters sympathetic characters? Screw that. You’re not going to see Cain getting mixed up in that nonsense. As far as he is concerned, the only good vampire is a dead one. And that same philosophy applies to anything else that goes bump in the night.
Gladiator of Corsryn is, as stated above, a more traditional fantasy series. However, don’t expect elves, and dwarves, and fairies and whatnot. The series was inspired by my love of the old Robert E. Howard Conan novels. Expect lots of fighting, killing, crushing of enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women.
After that, I may dip my toes into the military or paranormal thriller waters. Time will tell.
Worst reaction you have received about your writing?
Oh God, just go on Amazon and read any one of my bad reviews. According to some people, my work is complete shit and I have zero talent as an author. I think there are about sixty thousand or so people out there who would disagree with them, but it’s not my place to argue. I will say this, however: Just because someone doesn’t like my work, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing. People can leave all the bad reviews they want. I’m going to keep doing what I do. There will always be haters, but for every one of them, there are literally a thousand people who read my work and liked it. Those are the people I focus on.
And on the flip side, what is the best…the one that almost embarrassed you it was so effusive?
My best review was when I gave an advance copy of No Easy Hope, my first novel, to my father to beta read. Now, what you need to understand about my old man is that he doesn’t mince words, or spare feelings. If you ask for his honest, unbiased opinion, even if you are his offspring, this is exactly what you are going to get. If he thinks something is complete shit, he will tell you that it is complete shit. In those words.
Thankfully, he didn’t think it was complete shit. He thought it was pretty good, and told me that I’m a damn good writer. He sounded surprised. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Nevertheless, it was that praise, more than any other, that has spurred me to continue writing. And I’m glad that I did.
As for embarrassingly effusive? No such thing, friend. Doesn’t exist. I’m a Libra. Heap me with praise, I need it.
If any of your work was to be made into a film, which piece, and who is THE big star you would love to see in the leading role?
I would love to see the whole Surviving the Dead series adapted into an HBO series, and I would cast Chris Hemsworth in the role of Eric Riordan, and Joe Manganiello as Gabriel Garrett.
What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?
Event Horizon. It’s a 1997 sci-fi/horror film written by Philip Eisner. It’s about a spaceship that enters a black hole (or something), goes to hell (like, actual hell), and comes back. A team of scientists is sent to retrieve it, but when they get there, they find that the ship has brought a piece of hell back with it. What ensues is a ridiculously terrifying psychological gore-fest that fucked me up for months. I still have nightmares about that shit. Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.
What is something about you that would surprise your fans?
I don’t read a lot of zombie fiction. When you write the stuff for a living, you get kind of burned out on it after a while.
What is in your “to be read” pile right now?
The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie; A Serpent’s Tooth, by Craig Johnson; and Abandon, by Blake Crouch.