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Today’s guest is Eric A. Shelman, author of the Dead Hunger series. Readers can follow the journey of Flex, his niece Trina, Gem, Hemp and Charlie as they make their way through a zombie infested world.
Eric’s first book was a non-fiction work. Co-authored with Dr. Stephen Lazoritz, Out of the Darkness: The Story of Mary Ellen Wilson tells the story of the first successful rescue of an abused child in America. Specifically, nine-year old Mary Ellen was saved from a terrible situation in 1874 by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA. The case shined a much needed light on the dangers children face and was the precursor to many of the child abuse prevention laws in place today.
Thanks for helping me out today, Eric.
NOTE: BOLD=BQB; ITALICS=ERIC
Q. Zombies. They shuffle along. They groan and grunt. They eat brains. You’d think authors would have run out of ways to make them unique and original by now but sure enough, writers are always coming up with new spins on the zombie genre. How do they do it and what’s your secret?
A. Zombies can absolutely be shufflers and shamblers and have some new features, too. My Dead Hunger series has several interesting aspects to it; the very process that reanimated them also incorporated other chemical reactions within the zombies, which I suppose is to be expected. These reactions became abilities. This is even more true in my females who were pregnant when they turned. What in nature is created – no matter how it’s created – without any offensive or defensive skills? The lowly cow is even designed with its eyes on the sides of its head so that it has better peripheral vision to assist it in escaping predators before it’s too late. Birds have talons, sharp beaks and great eyesight. Most creatures are equipped for the task at hand. Why not zombies, too?
Q. My first observation about Dead Hunger is the collection of characters. People from different backgrounds working together for survival. There’s scientist/mechanical engineer Hemp, punk rocker Charlie, Flex the electrician and Gem the artist. What is it about a zombie apocalypse that brings people together? Would these folks have likely bothered with one another without a common threat facing them?
A. I believe in any apocalyptic situation, you’re going to encounter compatibles and non-compatibles. The latter you’ll just say hi and bye to, but the former you’ll try to get to come along. Sometimes the latter want to kill you and take your stuff! That’s when you’re forced to take them out. But with regard to Flex and Gem, of course they’d have been together … eventually. They were once together, after all. No, they would likely have never met the likes of Hemp and Charlie, and Hemp and Charlie would never have encountered one another, but that’s the beauty of a disaster, right? Giving strange bedfellows a chance to actually become “familiar bedfellows.” AND to find out that the other isn’t so strange after all.
Q. Hemp experiments on zombies in a mobile lab to figure out what makes them tick. While I don’t mean to ask for spoilers, do you have any general thoughts on zombie physiology? Are there any prevailing theories on what could, hypothetically speaking, cause a human to become zombified?
A. In Dead Hunger, each individual cell within the zombie’s body is converted into a meat-seeking entity. If you were to take a lil’ microscopic chunk of raw beef and insert it into the epidermis of a zombie, all the neighboring cells would zip right in and devour it. Because the eyes still work, and the senses that ramp up hunger, the muscles coordinate and move in the direction of sustenance. Yeah, that would be us … human meat. So … my zombies reanimate on a cellular level – whatever the hell that even means.
Q. On your author page, you mention that in 1999, after writing a 53,000 word book about witches and reincarnation, you couldn’t figure out how to finish it and ended up on a twelve year writing hiatus only to be inspired by reading about the success of other zombie authors on Facebook. It’s never to late to pick up a delayed dream, is it? For anyone who’s set a goal aside for awhile, what advice would you have to motivate him/her to pick it up, dust it off and give it another try?
A. I was a fool to have quit writing for so long. Imagine all the fiction I could’ve produced in that decade? I mean, I’ve got 15 books now, and 11 of them were written just since 2011. Just FOUR years! So yes – it’s never too late to start pursuing your dream of becoming whatever it is you want to become. It’s important to remember though, that in my early writing career, I sent out queries and did all the things you’re supposed to do. I never really had any success back then. All that rejection helped me hone and polish my skills, though, and I believe every writer has to do the work and experience that negative feedback in order to figure out where improvement is needed. As for me, I guess maybe I needed that additional dozen years for things to become easier for individuals, through programs and offerings such as CreateSpace, Kindle and ACX for audiobook production. They made it possible for me to kick the old guard to the curb and hatch my own creations. Some of what we indies put out are hits – others misses. I hope my readers feel I’ve given them more hits than otherwise.
Q. You’ve also written non-fiction with the case of Mary Ellen Wilson. What drew you into writing about this case?
A. Back in the mid-nineties, I was ready to write a novel. I was a big fan of horror, and had written several short horror stories, but found that the market for publication of these stories seemed to be shrinking. The logical next step was to go all out and finally just write a book. I discovered a book of what were deemed “amazing-but-true” stories, and thought I would take one of those “true” stories and use it as the basis for a horror novel. Within the book, I discovered the story of a little nine-year-old girl named Mary Ellen, who, in 1874, was rescued from her abusive home by the American Society for the Cruelty to Animals. (ASPCA) I immediately became interested, as it was essentially the story of the beginning of the child protection movement, but nobody had ever written about her before.
After researching her case, I began the book. With more research, I found the man who would eventually become my co-author, Dr. Stephen Lazoritz. He was a pediatrician who specialized in child abuse cases. Together, we made connections that allowed us to be the ONLY people in America to secure a copy of the court transcripts for the trial that prosecuted Mary Ellen’s foster mother, Mary Connolly. These transcripts also allowed us to complete the book, with all of the newfound knowledge the transcripts contained. The book was released in 1999, and since that time, thousands have been sold and both Stephen and I have spoken at national conferences and on CSPAN-2’s Book TV. (1999)
Q. For those interested in writing non-fiction, do you have any tips to share?
A. Find a compelling story that nobody’s written enough about – then write about it! Figure out how you want to impart the information, and have a LOT of people read it before you publish it.
Q. Eric, thanks for offering your expertise in light of my zombie infestation. Before I go, do you have any list minute words of wisdom that might help my friends and I survive the East Randomtown Zombie Apocalypse?
Get a good group of loyal people around you and get to a remote location where you don’t have far to go for food and water supplies. Develop defenses – spiked pits, anything that can get between you and them. Set up makeshift alarms in the woods – use cowbells. Zombies run into shit. So that’s pretty much it! Oh, yeah … try to figure out what caused it, because that might help you figure out how it can be stopped, at least on an individual basis.