I recently had the opportunity to interview Peter Clines, author of the Permuted Press classic EX-HEROES and its recent sequel, EX-PATRIOTS, as well as THE EERIE ADVENTURES OF THE LYCANTHROPE ROBINSON CRUSOE, and the upcoming 14. I met Peter at zomBcon (where we sat next to each other signing books at the Permuted table), and found him a very likable guy–a thorough professional as well–somebody I’m looking forward to hanging out again at next year’s Crypticon and zomBcon.
Craig: Welcome, Peter! What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Peter: I think most folks know me for EX-HEROES. In a nutshell, it’s about a group of superheroes trying to hold things together after a zombie apocalypse here in Los Angeles. They’ve got a few thousand survivors holed up in a movie studio they’ve converted into a fortress, and they’re doing their best to rebuild society. The big challenge comes when they realize that this street gang that’s made their own base a few miles away is a lot more powerful than anyone realized. Conflict, hilarity, and zombie attacks ensue.
I’m still stunned by how popular it is, because it didn’t seem like simpler, less gritty superheroes would go over that well, especially if I mixed them with basic, Romero-style, shambler zombies. But people loved it—way more than I ever expected. The sequel’s out now (EX-PATRIOTS) and it’s getting great reviews, too. Sooooo… go figure.
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Peter: I think the joy of zombies is they’re blank slates. The tabula rasa, if you want to be all literary-like. They can be monsters, a force of nature, a disease, consumerism personified, or symbols of political extremism.
I also like them because they’re a big threat. Sure, a vampire is a threat. So’s a nuclear bomb, an assassin, or a driverless sedan roaring around the desert killing people. But when you say “zombies” there’s just an inherent understanding that there’s lots of them and they’re everywhere. They aren’t a threat you can escape. On one level or another, you must deal with them.
Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Peter: I’ve been a fan of Ray Bradbury since I was very little, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him a few times and also to hear him speak. He was probably the first writer to teach me that you could apply beautiful vocabulary and imagery to spaceships and Martians and mechanical spiders that would hunt you down for smelling like books. Clive Barker showed me that you could use imagery like this specifically for serious, all-out horror. The man writes gorgeous scenes of blood and brutality. Lee Child makes writing about the military mindset look effortless and accessible for anyone. I think anyone dabbling in the horror genre who says they haven’t been influenced by Stephen King is nuts or a liar. Possibly both. I’m from Maine, so I must embrace the effect he’s had on my writing. For the record, King and Bradbury have both written great books about writing, as has Dean Koontz (but his is out of print).
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Peter: Does it make me look too kiss-ass if I say THE INFECTION? And can I say “ass” on your site? I’m not sure where the bar’s been set for earthy language…
Craig: Thanks for that, Peter! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And you can say “ass” here. So you were saying …
Peter: I’ve been working my way through the pile of stuff I got at ZomBCon, plus some books I’m reading for blurbs. I started THE INFECTION the night before I got the email about this interview and finished it three days later. It has such phenomenal characters it carried me all the way to the end. It’s probably my favorite book of the year. So stop doing online interviews and get to work on the sequel!
Craig: The sequel is on its way, I promise! Shifting gears a bit, what’s your favorite zombie movie and why?
Peter: I’ve got to go with SHAUN OF THE DEAD, for a couple reasons. One is that it really did bring attention back to zombies. They’d been sidelined for a while and Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg reminded everyone what a great, flexible monster they are. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, you can do anything with them.
Second is that it’s just a great movie on so many levels. It looks good, it’s well-acted, it’s brilliantly written. It completely mocks pretty much every zombie movie trope there is, yet it also embraces them. It’s a comedy, but it’s also one of the most heartfelt and scary zombie movies in ages. Plus, I think it’s still the only film that’s managed to pull off the “shooting your loved one” scene. It’s one of those things that’s so common and so hard to do right without being goofy or melodramatic. SHAUN OF THE DEAD nailed it.
Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Peter: I don’t think it’s any one element that appeals to me. It’s like asking what’s your favorite card in the deck. Single cards don’t mean anything, and your favorite probably depends on what game you’re playing. I’ve seen people who do the survival aspect phenomenally well, but their characters just suck. I’ve also seen some very clever takes on zombies and their origins, but in stories where nothing really happens. It’s how you balance all the elements that makes something appealing.
Look at it this way—waffles and pancakes have almost the exact same raw ingredients. It’s the ratios of those ingredients and how they’re combined that results in two different breakfast foods. But you can also take those ingredients and end up with a bowl of bitter, lukewarm gruel that your stomach can’t keep down.
Part 2 of this interview follows in the next post.