Daily Archives: October 23, 2015

#31ZombieAuthors – Day 23 Interview – Peter Cawdron – Outsmarting Zombies

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FIND THIS ZOMBIE AUTHOR ON:

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My guest today is Peter Cawdron, who comes from the land down under.  I don’t have to pay the Men At Work a royalty for saying that because Peter is an honest to God Australian zombie enthusiast.

Peter’s the author of the Z is for Zombie series of books which include What We Left Behind and All Our Tomorrows.  These books tell the story of teenager Hazel, who in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, searches for Steve, David, and Jane, the only people who ever understood her.

An avid fan of such classic science fiction writers as Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton, Peter is also a prolific science fiction author in his own right.

I wonder if there’s an extra charge to call Australia?  Aw screw it, the bill for this phone goes to Alien Jones anyway.

G’day Peter.

NOTE: BOLD=BQB; ITALICS=Peter

Q.  I just discovered that my perpetually angry uncle, who I thought never understood me, is in fact, the only person who ever understood me and what I need to make it in the world.  Unfortunately, he’s dead, though he visits me in ghost form from time to time.  Your protagonist, Hazel, feels like only three people understand her.  Is she really that confounding or is it typical teenage “no one gets me” angst?

41CT9h3vOuL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)A.  Teenage angst is cliche, and yet there is an element of personal growth we all go through where we’re learning about the world afresh. I don’t know that it stops as an adult, at least, it shouldn’t. It hasn’t for me. I’m always learning, and not just intellectually. Emotional learning is often more important than facts or figures. I think that’s one reason why coming-of-age books have such universal appeal. It’s a chance to re-learn and renew, regardless of how old we may be. 

In my novel What We Left Behind and the sequel All Our Tomorrows, we see life through the eyes of a teenager struggling toaccept the end of the world, fighting to make a change. All too often, it is the upcoming generation that is the catalyst for change. Us old farts need to respect that, listen and understand. It’s the youth of today that can change tomorrow, and that’s the message common to my novels as well as books like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and so many others. Change is good. It’s the status quo that’s scary.  

Q.  As a zombie fan, I’ve noticed that in most zompoc tales, zombies are never referred to as “zombies.”  They’re “walkers” or “the undead” or “creepers” and so on but never zombies.  Your characters refer to them as “Zee.”  Why is that?  Is “zombie” too informal?  Will we ever crack open a novel where a writer has a character saying, “Holy crap!  It’s a zombie!”

A.  Oh, they’re called zombies in What We Left Behind as well as Zee, but Zee makes things more personal, and I think that’s important. Zombie stories are notorious for being impersonal. Survivors are often portrayed as brutal if not more brutal than the zombies themselves, whereas zombie stories are really about survivors. And what is a zombie but a survivor that fell and failed. Zee makes that more poignant, reminding the reader that zombies aren’t simply cannon fodder. To the survivors, they once were as we are, and the term Zee keeps that fresh in mind.   

Q.  How did you get into the zombie craze?

A.  My kids love The Walking Dead, and I enjoy it too, but I get frustrated with the inaccuracies. Gasoline, as an example, has a shelf life of about nine months. Diesel’s a little better, but will be pretty nasty after a couple of years. So at some point everyone’s going to be walking, or riding bicycles or horses. The SUV might look like the ultimate zombie killing machine, but it’s not sustainable, so in All Our Tomorrows, they drive around in a Tesla with the doors stripped off and the seats torn out to keep the weight down, charging the car with solar panels. For me, it’s fun to consider practical stuff like that. 

Zombies are dumb, right? So what’s the greatest weapon in the zombie apocalypse? Smarts. I’ve tried to write novels that have smart, unique solutions to the zombie apocalypse rather than relying on shotguns and machetes all the time. Shotguns might work on the zombie in front of you, but the noise is going to bring in a dozen more zombies, while a machete is just plain stupid. It’s going to get stuck every time. 

41IgGgymVqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Q.  You’re also a sci-fi aficionado.  One work of yours that caught my eye is Little Green Men, about a crew of space travelers who set down on a frozen planet and are attacked by, sure enough, little green men.  Is a story about trustworthy, non-murderous aliens possible?  Does it say anything about us as humans that we have a tendency to think the worst about the possibility of life on other planets?

And by the way, I have a colleague named Alien Jones who is in fact, a little green man.  He’s been totally above board thus far, but do you think I should keep an eye on him?

A.  Little Green Men is brutal. It’s a homage to Philip K. Dick and has an alienesque feel to it (Alien Jones would love it), but yes, it is possible to write about trustworthy, non-murderous aliens. Anomaly is my best selling novel, having sold over 75,000 copies.  Anomaly was my debut novel and even today, a dozen stories down the road, it still outsells everything else I’ve written. If you enjoyed Carl Sagan’s Contact, you’ll love Anomaly.

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As for Alien Jones, he’s clearly hampered by a paranoid companion 🙂

Q.  On your Amazon page, you talk a bit about the difference between general and “hard” science fiction.  Could you explain it for my 3.5 readers?

A.  Hard science fiction is a misnomer. 

Science fiction shouldn’t be hard to understand or hard and inflexible. There’s merit in keeping scifi as accurate and plausible as possible. There’s always a degree of handwavium in science fiction when authors start projecting their thoughts into the future, but the limitations of concepts like the speed of light actually add to the realism of a story. 
As much as I love the Star Trek reboots, I cringe when they ignore common sense. There’s one scene in Star Trek Into Darkness where Kirk is on the Klingon home world some undisclosed number of light years away from Earth, and he calls up Scotty on his handheld communicator. Scotty is in a bar on Earth and answers Kirk’s technical question. To me, that’s a wasted opportunity. Even if Kirk was somewhere within our solar system, say on Mars, Scotty couldn’t have a realtime chat like that, he’d be waiting at least half an hour for a message to arrive. Communication between star systems would be like the letters of the 1700s taking months to years to transit the globe. Star Trek Into Darkness wasted a wonderful opportunity, as instead of taking the lazy, easy way out, the writer could have used that limitation to drive up the tension. Sure, Scotty’s got the answers. But he’s not there, so Kirk has to figure it out on his own and that’s far more rewarding for the audience than watching Kirk being given a get-out-of-jail-free card. 
Hard science isn’t difficult, it’s just plausible and believable, and it makes stories more gritty and realistic. 

Q.  Peter, thanks for taking my call.  Before I go, do you have any advice that might help my friends and I survive the East Randomtown Zombie Apocalypse?

A.  Think before you act. Remember,

  1. You’re smart. They’re not. 
  2. They have numbers. You don’t.  
 Keep those two facts in mind and you’ll do fine. Oh, and keep a copy of What We Left Behind handy, you might find some good tips in there. 
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BQB’s Zombie Apocalypse Survivor’s Journal – Day 23

We were all exceptionally bored.

Uncle Hardass

Uncle Hardass

A long day rolled into evening, nothing but a drip from the nearby showers to entertain us.

OK, there was also a plethora of streaming media content from Alien Jones’ perpetually charged space phone, but while the rest of the gang watched a movie, I wasn’t into it.

I felt an overwhelming urge to be alone and walked off into the shower room.  Once I was by myself, the tears flowed freely and I openly cried.

From behind me, I heard the voice of a grumbly old man.

“Waaahhh…waaah waaah!”

I turned around.

“Uncle Hardass?”

For those above and beyond this site’s average 3.5 reader count, I was raised by my Aunt Gertie and her husband, my Uncle Hardassimo “Hardass” J. Scrambler.

Before he died of a massive heart attack, Uncle Hardass’ favorite past times included:

  • Complaining about hippies, commies, and others he deemed no goodniks who didn’t work hard enough.
  • Slaving away at the salt mines.  Literally, he worked at Salt Mines, Inc. and his job was to dig hunks of salt out of the ground everyday.
  • Reminding me how much he did and how little I did in comparison.  I tried not to take it too personally, because he’d of reminded everyone else in the world too had they been willing to listen.

Despite watching his casket get lowered into the ground, I’m still haunted by his ghost to this very day.

That’s not a metaphor.  He actually just shows up at BQB Headquarters unannounced to bitch about whatever I’m doing, inform me that I’m doing it wrong, and to demand an answer as to when I’m going to abandon writing and take a job at the salt mines.

Writing, of course, to Uncle Hardass, is a pursuit beneath “real men” and is something that only hippies and commies do.

Ironically, despite his protestations against writing, Uncle Hardass, from time to time, manages to log on to my blog uninvited to offer his, Things That Really Frost My Ass column. It’s not really a column so much as it is a laundry list of things that are pissing him off at a given point in time.

“Yeah it’s me,”  Uncle Hardass said.  “Holy shit, look at you, ya’ blubbering crybaby! This really is the girls’ locker room, isn’t it?”

“Whatever,”  I said.  “Hit me while I’m down.  That’s what you do.”

“I’m not hitting you, Nancy.  What gives with the waterworks?”

“You want to know why I’m crying?”  I asked.  “Because you were right.”

“I always am,”  Uncle Hardass said.  “About what this time?”

“Writing.”

“Bahh!  Writing!”

Uncle Hardass raised his voice a few octaves, pretending to be all girly and mocked me.  “Oooo la dee da!  Look at me!  I’m a writer!  The world needs my thoughts and opinions!”

Then he reverted to his old, miserable self.

“Baloney.  Give me the salt mines any day.  Write a thousand words and you’ve got nothing but a bunch of shit on paper.  Yank a hunk of salt out of the ground and Salt Mines, Inc. will give you just compensation for it.  That’s the problem with your generation.  Everybody wants something for nothing.  Everybody thinks they’re so damn special.”

I laughed.

“Ohhhh, don’t worry about that, old man,”  I said.  “You worked on me long enough to convince me that I’m not special.  Every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is how exactly un-special I am.”

Uncle Hardass snapped his fingers and a table appeared in the middle of the showers.  There was a basket with cold cuts and bread in it.  He took a seat and proceeded to make himself a sandwich.

I took the other chair.

“Well,”  Uncle Hardass said as he spritzed a slice of bread with some mustard.  “It worked, didn’t it?”

It worked?”  I asked.  “That I’m acutely aware of how little I matter to the world?  Yes.  Yes it worked.”

“Do you have a job?”  Uncle Hardass asked.

“Yeah,”  I replied.  “At Beige Corp.  It’s boring as hell and pays shit.”

“But does it pay the bills?”  Uncle Hardass asked.

“Yes,”  I admitted.

“You’ve got a girlfriend?”  the old man inquired.

“Yes.”

“You don’t take her for granted do you?”

“No.”

Uncle Hardass cut his sandwich in half.

“Why?”

“Because she’s smart and pretty and could have anyone and if I don’t make her happy she’ll leave me because I’m not…”

Uncle Hardass perked up and pointed a knowing finger at me.

“Say it.”

“…special.”

“You’re welcome,”  Uncle Hardass said as he bit into his dinner.

“Oh whatever,”  I said.  “You’re really going to eat that?”

“I’m dead,”  Uncle Hardass said.  “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

He took another bite, then picked up a napkin and dabbed some mustard off his chin.

“Son, when you were growing up, every adult in your life had a job.  Your teachers were supposed to make you feel special because the idea that you could do anything made you study more.  Your aunt made you feel special because it made her feel special to see you smile but me?  I had the hardest job of all.  Life will take its size twelve boot and wedge it straight up your ass if you’re not careful and it was my job to dissuade you of all this ‘I’m special’ bullshit so that you were prepared for all the crap the world throws your way.  In spite of a world designed to tear the little guy apart, you’re still here..  You’re alive.  You have a roof over your head and people that give a shit about you and none of that came from writing so you’re welcome, Lord Fauntleroy.  My work here is done.”

“I’m never going to write again,”  I said.

“Glad to hear it,”  Uncle Hardass said.  “Writing is for weirdoes, primadonnas, and women.  But uh, just out of curiosity, why?”

“Writing got me into this mess,”  I said.  “A corrupt general conspired with the corrupt mayor of this settlement to frame me because he didn’t like something that was written on my blog.  Now my friends will pay because I had a big enough ego to think people would want to read my dumb blog in the first place.”

Uncle Hardass picked up the other half of his sandwich.

“You know, son, writing is a girlish hobby to be sure but, if it makes you happy and it’s legal then it’s your God given right as a citizen of the United States of America, the greatest f%^king country on the face of the Earth to do it if you want to.”

“You hate writing,”  I said.  “You don’t hate writing.  Make up your mind.”

“Oh it’s made up,”  Uncle Hardass said.  “Writing is stupid and unmanly.  But all I ever wanted for you was to be able to survive on your own, pay your own way through life and find a woman that can look at you for five seconds with puking and now that you’ve got all that, I could give three shits what you do in your spare time.  Personally, a real man would get a second job but if you want to mince around and tap out words like you’re the next Oscar Wilde have at it.”

“You’re the most complicated man I’ve ever met,”  I said.

“Not really,”  Uncle Hardass said as he made himself another sandwich.  “I like money.  I like to work hard for it.  I like being independent and that only comes from working hard for money.  Also, I like that now that I’m dead I can eat as much as I want and not get fat.  You want one?”

“Nah, I’m good,”  I said.

“Seems like the only thing a real man in your situation could do now is spring his friends out of this hooscow and get them out of harm’s way,”  Uncle Hardass said.

“Why?”  I asked.  “Apparently if you die you just get to visit your relatives and bitch at them.”

Uncle Hardass smiled.

“Am I really a ghost, BQB?”  Uncle Hardass asked.  “Or subconsciously, has your mind focused the practical, pragmatic tough-guy side of yourself into an apparition that looks like the only adult you knew when you were growing up that warned you that the real world doesn’t hand out participation ribbons?”

I sat and thought about that.

Uncle Hardass smacked the table and laughed.

“BAHH HA HA!  I’m just screwing with you!  Of course I’m a damn ghost, you jackass!”

The old man handed me the basket, snapped his fingers and made the table and chairs disappear.

“My boy, the thing to remember is this.  Whether it’s writing some kind of fruity novel or saving your pals from an unjust fate, the only way to get something done is to realize that you’re not special enough for the universe to take an interest and make things happen for you.  YOU have to make them happen for yourself.”

“Thanks,”  I said.

“But seriously, stop crying.  You look like a homosexual.”

I snickered and wiped a tear off my face.

“You’re not allowed to say stuff like that anymore.”

“Aww who gives a shit?  I’m dead.”

Poof.  He was gone.

I carried the basket into the locker room and set it down.  It was a welcome sight for everyone as our captors hadn’t thought/cared to leave us any food.

“Where’d this come from?”  VGRF asked.

“Uncle Hardass.”

As the Bookshelf Battle Blog’s Second-in-Command, VGRF was familiar with my ghost uncle.

“Sweet!  Pimento loaf from the great beyond!”

“Guys, I have to cut movie night short,”  I said as I grabbed the space phone.  “I gotta bust us out of here but first?  I need to call a zombie author.”

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