Damn, I'm a hypocrite. As a writer who often writes horror, I often shake my head whenever I'm in a discussion or overhear someone dismiss horror fiction as not real writing or not real literature. Often this comes from folks who might never have actually read a horror novel or short story, or perhaps whose only experience with horror comes from pop culture horror films or even terribly written and produced schlocky movies.
Was it Douglas Winter who stated that horror is an emotion, not a genre?
Yes, books get given special covers geared to "attract" horror fans, and get placed in particular locations on bookstore shelves in a category known as horror. But there are countless "literary" novels I've read over the years that, to me, are really horror novels. They just got branded as fiction or literary and placed elsewhere on the bookstore and library shelves. This isn't to say that I look down on them. On the contrary. When I find any writer able to employ words in such a way that I am frightened or am made to think or even better, to feel, I look up to them all the more.
What I'm getting at here is that I recently made the mistake of thinking myself above "Zombie" novels? Why? Because I've seen a dozen or so "Zombie" movies, and while some of them have been good, I've got this particular stereotype in my mind that they're all the same and that there can't be anything new or interesting in them. (Yes, even despite the fact that Oprah picked a "zombie" novel for her book club recently - in Cormac McCarthy's The Road)
I can't believe I did this, because always had a real soft spot for apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tales. My enjoyment of these tales are one of the elements that drew me into reading science fiction and horror in the first place. And what are zombie novels other than apocalyptic tales of a horrific extreme. (I mean, not only are the dead rising and gnawing at me and my friends, but they're the bodies of the people I know and love. What's worse, that my dead wife's body has crawled out of the grave and is coming after me, or the fact that I have to shoot her in the head to save my own life? Some fascinating moral challenges to consider when reading a zombie novel)
So, yes, I've kept a closed mind on the zombie. My eyes were opened while I was at World Horror Con in Toronto in March. I was attending a panel themed something along the lines of "Zombies Verses Vampires" -- Horror author Brian Keene was on the panel and said something that stuck with me. He said that his first novel The Rising, was not a zombie novel, that it was a novel about a father's love for his son. He then explained that it was inspired by this one time he was on his way to pick up his son for a weekend together and he was stopped by a State Trooper who said the Interstate Highway he was on was closed and he'd have to turn back. When he ignored the Trooper, thinking that NOTHING was going to stop him from getting to his son, he then wondered what WOULD stop him. As he went through the list of various things that WOULD NOT stop him, he came across Zombies, and the genesis for his novel was born.
Immediately after WHC I special ordered his first two novels (The Rising and the sequel to it called City of the Dead). Yes, being a sappy father who loves his son more than anything, I was looking forward to following this tale of a father fighting his way through a post-apocalyptic America to get to his boy. What I wasn't suspecting was that I'd love so many of the other characters and situation that Keene set up in this novel. (It's so easy to see, after the fact, why he won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel for The Rising) Keene was also able to approach the concept of zombies in a way I'd never read before -- he has given them a new kind of intelligence and an interesting background. I'm intrigued to learn more as the story continues to unfold.
I finished the novel just the other day, and had been planning on reading the latest Michael Connelly novel once I finished it. But dammit -- Keene ended it in such a way that I absolutely HAD to pick up the sequel which I'm now already several chapters into it and enjoying it tremendously. (That, and I found out from my sales rep at Book Expo Canada that Keens has a third book in that series coming out in a few months -- woo hoo!)
Thanks Brian! Thanks for reopening my mind.
The moral of this story: Don't close your mind -- open a book.