Meet Eric Shapiro, author of STORIES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, a collection of three apocalyptic novellas and and seven short stories, and director and producer of THE RULE OF THREE. You can learn more about Eric’s work here.
Craig: Eric, welcome! What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Eric: Most of my genre fiction to date is collected in Permuted’s STORIES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD. I also produced and directed a feature film called RULE OF THREE, which is probably the best known thing I’ve done, since its Netflix presence gives it a wide daily audience.
Craig: What type of storytelling in the genre do you consider your niche?
Eric: I think my thing is putting psychologically believable characters into genre situations. Like the scenario can be insane or less than realistic — which is the case in both my film and my Permuted stories — but I work hard on making the characters documentary-like.
Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or
unique innovation as an author?
Eric: Each of the three times I’ve written zombies — twice for Permuted and once for John Skipp’s ZOMBIES: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HUNGRY DEAD — I’ve leaned toward slow ones, so I must have a subconscious preference. The most innovative thing I’ve done with the undead is presenting them as mutated, half-human, half-tortoise creatures in my story THE HILL (in STORIES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD).
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Eric: I recently wrote an essay about this for a new collection coming from Armand Rosamilia’s press. I think they’re a really strong mirror for our fascination with death. They represent our fate as corpses, but they’re standing up and walking around.
Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Eric: The list is endless. Matheson’s “I Am Legend” had a significant influence on my apocalyptic novella “It’s Only Temporary,” along with the early work of Chuck Palahniuk. Denis Johnson and William T. Vollmann aren’t horror writers, but both have generated terrifying material, and they’re two of the best alive.
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Eric: There’s a book by Guy Burt called THE HOLE that caught me off-guard. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was so scared when it was over that I felt like running out of the room. I’ve also been reading Ketchum’s PEACEABLE KINGDOM a lot lately, ’cause I adapted his story MAIL ORDER into a short film, which will be available soon.
Craig: What is your favorite zombie metaphor in fiction or film?
Eric: You can’t beat the mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD. I think for any thinking person, malls are generally just a little bit terrifying. All that plastic, soul-sucking conformity. The bad food, bad lighting. Putting zombies into that setting is a natural; malls are a hotbed of dehumanization.
Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Eric: I don’t have a favorite, but I think 28 WEEKS LATER gets overlooked as a truly great sequel. It’s a very simple, physical, unpredictable, and powerful film.
Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Eric: The apocalypse never seems to lose its fascination for me. Particularly since it’s occurring in the form of climate change! It’s pretty hard to get away from as a concept, so if you’re a writer interested in urgent themes, that one’s always right in front you.
Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Eric: I love it when we’re seeing the collapse. That’s harder in a way; you have to stay more active as an author when you’re doing that. Not only is the story progressing, but the world’s falling apart. Post-apocalyptic is satisfying because it’s more somber and quiet, but the insanity factor can be lower.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Eric: I try to write from my solar plexus. I spend half the day getting wound up — reading, talking to people, running errands — then try to trick myself to a point where I’m ready to explode. When I hit that point, it’s time to sit down at the keyboard.
Craig: What is the best review you ever received on Amazon, and why did you like it?
Eric: Somebody said that STORIES FOR THE END OF THE WORLD gave them nightmares. For a horror writer, that’s as good as it gets. It’s like a comedian getting laughs; you can’t fake that stuff.
Craig: Without naming names or quoting, what is the worst review you ever received on Amazon, and if you could respond to it, what would you say?
Eric: Any review on Amazon — and this happens on Netflix, too — that suspects that any positive review must be planted is awful. Think about that: How stupid is a person who can’t conceive of somebody having a legitimate difference in opinion from their own?
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Eric: It sounds obvious, but there has to actually be a “story,” meaning a narrative. People overlook that narrative reflects the way human beings think and reason all day long. We wake up, we have goals. Have to have breakfast, have to call this person, have to resolve this conflict. As we attempt these things, stuff stands in our way: the toast gets burnt, the person has no cell signal, the conflict deepens. That’s what life is like. And think of how we regard people who have no goals: we disrespect them; we put them in the attic. So a book with no narrative might be trying to be different, but often ends up being aimless and uninteresting.
Craig: What makes a great character?
Eric: I think there has to be a balance between familiarity and serious, surprising flaws. Great characters are people you could imagine coming across, but who have massive defects (not necessarily dangerous or evil ones, but serious ones) that sneak up on you and put you in touch with your own vulnerability. Mediocre or bad characters just have the first part.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Eric: I’m closing in on the end of a novella for John Skipp’s new Ravenous Shadows line of books. It’s called THE DEVOTED, and is about the last day in the life of a suicide cult. Skipp is an iron horse; he’s one of the only people I’ve ever met who pushes me harder than I push myself. It’s like having a lucid, colossal, super-talented roommate in your brain, affably yelling orders through a bullhorn. I’m loving the ride. Film-wise, keep an eye out for MAIL ORDER, and also my next feature with my wife/co-producer Rhoda Jordan, GIRL ZERO. It’s about something your readers might know a little bit about: the apocalypse.
Craig: Sounds great, Eric. Thanks for joining us today.
Eric: Thanks for doing this, Craig!