I had recently had the opportunity to interview Kim Paffenroth, author of the DYING TO LIVE series from Permuted Press.
Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Kim: My first zombie novel, DYING TO LIVE, remains my best selling one. I don’t know what it’s “contributed” exactly, but people seem to respond to it for a couple reasons: it’s about a regular guy (and some other regular people) and I think the very ordinariness of the hero appealed to people and they identified with him. And the pauses in the action, when the survivors consider and discuss what’s happened, makes it a more thoughtful experience, and not just action and violence.
Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Kim: I started fooling around with smart zombies, and found I like that perspective. It raises more moral issues for the living survivors, if the zombies are not just animalistic and out of control – if they seem to have (or be returning to) some sense of humanity and reason. It also makes it possible to write from the zombie point of view, which I’ve found interesting.
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Kim: They’re just so ordinary, so they invite people to reflect on our human nature and how flawed and prone to degeneration it is.
Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Kim: It remains the original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). It blew me away when I saw it as a teen and it’s held up to the more serious scrutiny I’ve given it now as a scholar.
Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Kim: Definitely post-apocalyptic. I like considering how people would adapt, what institutions or rituals or even practical matters they’d develop for the new situation. It’s a more interesting scenario to me than just the collapse of civilization, as that kind of unfolds pretty much the same way each time.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Kim: I outline a lot more than I used to. I’m still flexible, but I need quite a few specifics of what people are going to be doing in a given chapter, before I can proceed.
Craig: What is the best review you ever received on Amazon, and why did you like it?
Kim: When someone “gets” it, in the sense that they’ve understood the subtext, and it has enhanced the experience for them. That is a very good feeling to an author.
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Kim: It’s all character for me. I spend a lot of time, especially at the beginning, setting up who these people are, what matters to them, what motivates them, what weaknesses they have. The action kind of takes care of itself, if the people matter to me and I’ve explained why/how they should matter to the reader.
Craig: What makes a great character?
Kim: Someone with great flaws and great strengths, but in both categories – someone with whom people can identify, put themselves in his/her place and feel how the actions are inevitable, in a way, and meaningful.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Kim: I’m working on a weird tale of obsession in a post-apocalyptic world, in which the one character is overwhelmed with what has happened, and seeks some kind of futile revenge against the zombies. At the same time, the zombies are evolving some strange organization among themselves, in which some are smarter than others and lead the dumb ones around, with very strange and inexplicable motives.