Talking Zombies With Nate Southard

The Dishonored Dead just recently came out, and as my friend Nate Southard recently had a zombie novel come out, we thought it would be fun to interview each other about our books. Below is my interview with him. You can check out his interview with me over at his website.

RS: So tell us a little bit about Scavengers.

NS: Gladly. Scavengers tells the story of five men from Millwood, a small Indiana town that survived a zombie outbreak through equal parts isolation and dumb luck, who are sent to the neighboring town of Rundberg in search of much-needed supplies. Of course, the last anyone saw of Rundberg, it had been overrun with the walking dead. It’s probably a suicide mission, but desperate times and all that ...

I originally told this story in my 2005 graphic novel A Trip to Rundberg, but I wanted to expand and improve it. I think I pulled that off.

RS: What is it about zombies that interests you? Is there a certain fascination with them? And is there anything about Scavengers that is different from most zombie stories?

NS: For me, zombies represent a certain level of hopelessness in horror that I find especially chilling. Once the dead stop staying dead, there’s no return to normalcy. You can fake it for a while, sure, but sooner or later reality will crash through. You don’t see that sort of finality with some of your other genre touchstones.

On more of a guilty pleasure angle, they make excellent fodder. You could have told Die Hard with zombies and had a body count in the hundreds. No one would have batted an eye. I think it’s important not to fall back on that, though. It’s a lowest common denominator type of story, and I know I don’t want to read one of those.

As for what makes Scavengers different? At first, I just wanted to tell a small town catastrophe piece. I grew up in rural Indiana, and sometimes imagining having to escape impossible odds is the most fun you could have. I was a little tired of urban zombie stories.

I also wanted to toy with the idea that mankind deserves to survive. So many of these body muncher stories have that big reveal of “We are the monsters!” I Am LegendNight of the Living Dead. Mankind is the real enemy. I wanted humans to deserve survival. A disaster didn’t drive these people apart. Instead, it pushed them together. I like that.

And don’t worry. I know I Am Legend is a vampire story.

RS: Well, at least not the Will Smith remake; those were like a vampire/zombie hybrid.

Anyway, Scavengers is being released by Creeping Hemlock’s zombie imprint Print is Dead. What came first — your expansion into novel form or did they contact you first and from there you came up with the idea? Also, what was it like adapting the novel from an already published graphic novel? (For some reason I’m put to mind of Max Allan Collins writing the novelization to the screenplay based on his graphic novel of Road to Perdition, though I know this is completely different.)

NS: Oh, the adaptation came first. I’d been toying with the idea for a little while, and then Night Shade released a call for zombie novels. I decided to go for it, but I made the decision about three weeks before deadline. In that space of time, I busted out two or three drafts, sending large chunks at a time to my pre-readers. Months later, I gave it another rewrite, this time giving it the time it deserved. A few months later, Creeping Hemlock announced their submissions call, and I jumped on immediately.

I had a lot of fun adapting it. The graphic novel moves so fast, it’s probably more of a short story than a novel. With the adaptation, I was able to not only expand the story of this desperate mission, but I could look back into the characters’ lives to see what they’d been up to at the time of the outbreak. It made for a great writing experience. Then again, I rewrite like I’m addicted to it. I could probably write this story seven different ways and still be happy.

RS: Any plan to write any more zombie novels or short stories?

NS: I wouldn’t say I have plans, but I can’t see myself never working with them again. There are still plenty of fun stories I can tell with the Scavengers characters, not to mention all the possible takes on zombies. Once I’ve got a zombie story that needs telling, I’m sure I'll jump right back in.

RS: Any favorite zombie novels or graphic novels or movies you care to mention?

NS: The Walking Dead is pretty amazing. It has its ups and downs, but Robert Kirkman never devolves into bad writing.

As for novels, I’d have to go with Simon Clark’s Blood Crazy. It’s a different twist on zombies, and it’s pretty epic. The best part is that it never explains why these events (which walk the line between horrific and bizarre) are happening. They don’t matter as much as the terror of the new world.

RS: Man, it’s been years since I read Blood Crazy but I remember loving it. And I’ve only read the first volume of The Walking Dead so far, but I really enjoyed it, too. Thanks for answering some questions, Nate, and good luck with Scavengers!

Purchase the trade paperback of Scavengers at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or the e-book at the insanely low price of $2.99 at the Kindle Store.