How would the real world deal with a zombie uprising? That’s the question Stoker award winning writer Jonathan Maberry answers with his new book, Zombie CSU – The Forensics of The Undead. With help from forensics experts, law enforcements officers, and the crem de la creme working in the zombie genre, Maberry creates a plausible scenario and then realistically explores whether the human race today could deal with the undead. If you’re a regular reader of Biff Bam Pop, you know that I was a big fan of Maberry’s Pine Deep Trilogy (2006’s Ghost Road Blues, 2007’s Dead Man’s Song, and 2008’s Bad Moon Rising), so I was extremely interested in how he would make the shift from horror fiction to fact. As you’ll see in our exclusive interview conducted via email below, it wasn’t as hard as you may think.
Andy B: Why zombies, and why now?
Jonathan Maberry: Zombies have become the hot monster. We just passed the 40th anniversary of the release of Night of the Living Dead, and the run up to that milestone saw the release of some outstanding zombie books, comics and movies. The key players are terrific, too. Authors like Brian Keene, David Wellington, Joe McKinney and Max Brooks; comic book writer Robert Kirkman; and films like 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil, and Land of the Dead all brought huge groups of fans to the genre. These books and movies brought in a lot of new fans. Hell, Shaun of the Dead was even a great date flick. My own attachment to zombies goes all the way back to when I was a ten year old kid sitting in the dark when Night of the Living Dead was first released. That left a hell of a mark on me. I’ve loved zombies ever since.
Andy B: I had no idea what to expect with Zombie CSU; in fact, to be honest, on first thought I assumed the book could be veering into World War Z territory. But when I started reading, it quickly became clear that wouldn’t be the case at all. I was immediately hooked. Could you explain the concept of Zombie CSU to our readers, and how you came up with it?
Jonathan Maberry: I have an odd background that includes over forty-four years as a practitioner and teacher of jujutsu, plus I’ve worked with law enforcement doing workshops on arrest and control techniques, and served as an Expert Witness for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for murder cases involving martial arts. Add to that a lifelong interest in folklore and the supernatural, and a fascination with science, and you have the components for someone who is positioned to do a book on the class between the practical and the weird.
When the opportunity came along for me to do a book on zombies for my Citadel Press –who had been publishing my nonfiction occult books—I pitched one in which I applied modern day science and police procedure to the zombies. ZOMBIE CSU (which stands for Crime Scene Unit) includes interviews with several hundred experts in law enforcement, forensic science, government and the military to ask how the real world would react, research and respond to a catastrophe like that presented in Romero’s Living Dead films.
I expanded the idea to include interviews with experts in the press, the clergy, therapists, and my fellow martial artists. And I tapped a lot of folks in pop culture, too. I wanted all possible points of view.
Andy B: I’m guessing you were working on your Pine Deep Trilogy, which is fiction, while also writing Zombie CSU, which feels to me like a melding of both fiction and fact. Was it difficult to transition between the two worlds?
Jonathan Maberry: Not as much as I thought it would be. I’ve been a nonfiction writer for thirty years now, so I’ve gotten very comfortable collecting and presenting facts and figures. In 2005 I took a swing at writing fiction, and the result was my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, which kicked off the Pine Deep Trilogy. I’d never written a novel before and I thought it was going to be a bit of culture shock, but it was incredibly fun. I had a blast writing it and by switching back and forth between fiction and nonfiction over the last few years I’ve found that the shift keeps me fresh.
DEAD MAN’S SONG and BAD MOON RISING, the second and third books in the trilogy, were a pleasure to do, and between those books I wrote VAMPIRE UNIVERSE and THE CRYPTOPEDIA, the first two books in a set of five nonfictions I’m writing for Citadel. I’m now working on my fifth novel, THE DRAGON FACTORY, sequel to PATIENT ZERO, which are techno-thrillers.
Andy B: You talk to a lot of actual professionals in the field of law enforcement throughout Zombie CSU. Considering the subject matter, I’m wondering what your approach was in getting their cooperation.
Jonathan Maberry: I just asked. No one turned me down. I started with 9-1-1 operators and got all the way up to Homeland Security, and there was cooperation at every step. Cops, SWAT, world class doctors, scientists…everyone was willing to give me their professional opinions. What was really surprising was how many of these people had already given thought to the subject, particularly in terms of how their knowledge, skills and professions would apply. That includes a lot of folks in SWAT and the military, and a whole lot of the scientists. I guess there are a lot of closet zombie fans out there.
Andy B: There’s an amazing amount of detail throughout Zombie CSU and you’ve clearly made a great effort in making the book as real world as possible, especially in the description of police procedures and forensics. How much did you know about all this “stuff” before you started writing, and how much, if anything, came as a revelation?
Jonathan Maberry: I have a pretty good working knowledge of forensics, police procedure and science, but at every level the professionals were able to tell me things I didn’t know. I was given tours of police labs, did ride-alongs with cops, visited hospitals and even spent some days with SWAT teams. Being able to watch the pros at work in their own world is fascinating. You learn things you never would through simple research.
As far as the zombie info…I’ve been a walking encyclopedia of living dead trivia for a long time.
Andy B: One of my favourite aspects of Zombie CSU is all the art of the dead that is contained throughout. Where did that idea come from and how did you get such a diverse array of talent involved?
Jonathan Maberry: I’m an artist myself and I love the concept of visual storytelling. With all of my nonfiction books I’ve reached out to artists around the world who work in fantasy, SF and horror art. That’s one of the great advantages of living in the Internet age –you can find and contact people all over the globe. There were also some folks whose work I went after specifically for this book. My good friend Jason Beam did a marvelous digital painting for the book, and I got spectacular stuff from Rob Papp, Rob Sacchetto, Peter Mihaichuk, Jason Parmentier, Chad Savage…and a few others whose work I’ve followed for years.
I put the word out through several online art forums to which I belong and soon I was being contacted by scads of artists. My goal was to do mini profiles on the artists so I could include their insights on why they used zombies as their inspiration.
Andy B: Throughout Zombie CSU you talk to a wide array of zombie players, including World War Z author Max Brooks and The Walking Dead scribe Robert Kirkman. Did you discover any similarities between all of these authors, actors, and artists who have become so synonymous with zombies in the new millennium?
Jonathan Maberry: If there’s a common thread I didn’t see it. Rather the reverse, in fact. Everyone appeared to be so normal. It left me with the impression that just about everybody likes a good zombie tale.
Jonathan Maberry: That’s such a complicated question. I love a bunch of zombie films for a different reasons. Night of the Living Dead will always be the top of the heap because it was the first; but the extended edition of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead is probably my all time favorite. I dig the cast, I love James Gunn’s script, and the movie just moves. But I have to give a shout out to all of Romero’s flicks as well as Return of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Re-Animator….the list goes on and on.
Andy B: Your least favorite?
Jonathan Maberry: It’s a dead-even tie between Zombie Nation, which is the most misogynistic and vile piece of crap, and the so-called ‘remake’ of Day of the Dead. Both are beyond worthless.
Andy B: And how about your favorite zombie book?
Jonathan Maberry: Without a doubt, it’s Jamie Russell’s Book of the Dead: The Complete Guide to Zombie Cinema. Though there are a lot of great zombie books out there, many of them written by chums of mine. I recommend that anyone who wants a good read check out World War Z by Max Brooks, The Rising by Brian Keene, Dying 2 Live by Kim Paffenroth, Dead City by Joe McKinney, Monster Island by David Wellington, just to name a few. But there’s great stuff out there by David Moody, Bowie Ibarra, Travis Adkins, and a bunch of others. Sick minds that produce great stuff.
Andy B: Taking a page from Zombie CSU – zombies, fast or slow?
Jonathan Maberry: Fast (because it’s scarier in movies), but slow if they show up in the real world.
Andy B: Seeing as how you’ve written about both zombies and vampires, in a real world situation which is the one that you’d least like to meet in a dark alley?
Jonathan Maberry: Vampires are stronger and faster, so they’d be the greatest challenge (though werewolves would be the real problem!). I’m pretty sure that, one on one, I could whup some zombie ass. Fast or slow.
Andy B: Since you and I first started communicating based in part because of the excellent use of musical references throughout your first novel Ghost Road Blues, I’ve got to ask, what was your soundtrack while working on Zombie CSU?
Jonathan Maberry: Eclectic! I had the following on heavy rotation: Tom Waits Raindogs; Mem Shannon 2nd Blues Album; The Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace with God; Pink Floyd The Division Bell; and Nice Cave Murder Ballads. With occasional segues into Leonard Cohen, Steely Dan, and the soundtrack to Across the Universe.
Andy B: Finally, I know you’re not ready to leave the land of the living dead yet – what can you tell me about your next book, Patient Zero?
Jonathan Maberry: PATIENT ZERO is the first of a new series of techno thrillers to be published in the USA by St. Martins Press and in the UK by Gollancz. In PATIENT ZERO, Baltimore cop Joe Ledger is recruited by a secret government organization to help stop terrorists who have a doomsday plague that turns people into zombies.
Jonathan Maberry’s Zombie CSU – The Forensics Of The Living Dead (ISBN 978-0-8065-2877-9) is published by Citadel Press and is in stores now.