Like words but hate to look at them? Well, I’ve got some good news, especially if you like zombies. Dead Things is now available as an audiobook. I read an interview with the narrator recently, I’m looking forward to hear what actor/computer scientist Michael Riffle (@Rifflock) does with the book.
Published on Jan 26, 2014
Published on Dec 21, 2012
My recent interview with Anthony Wessel of Digital Book Today...
Our interview today is with Matt Darst author of Dead Things (4.2 stars, 58 reviews). Before we get to the interview a brief book description: Nearly two decades have passed since the fall of the United States and the rise of the church to fill the void. Science is heresy, and the dead must be decapitated to avoid an unholy resurrection. When a plane crash strands Ian Sumner and a band of survivors miles from the fortified walls of the church state, survival depends on secrets too dangerous to speak aloud.
Interview with Matt Darst
Q1. Briefly describe your book.
A1. Dead Things is a mash-up of horror and sci-fi, kind of Richard Matheson’s I am Legend meets H.G. Wells or Michael Crichton. It is not a “run and gun” story. It’s a zombie book that aims more at the characters than the monsters.
Q2. Zombies are extremely popular today. What sets Dead Things apart and makes it unique to the genre? How did you avoid writing something derivative?
A2. I admit that zombies have been “done to death.” My goal, though, was to introduce something fresh to the genre while staying true to George Romero’s original vision.
In truth, I forced myself to take a break from the genre for few years while writing Dead Things. I was worried about being derivative. I didn’t want something that I read or watched subconsciously creeping into my text.
Rather than write about the apocalypse as it happens, the novel takes place nearly twenty years later. Government has ceased to be and the church has filled the vacuum. In this new world the church-state has absolute power…and we all know the corruptive value of absolutes.
The setting—a land where science has been subverted to religion—not only provided a backdrop for my characters’ adventure, it propelled it. The reader shares the characters’ journey of discovery, learning contemporaneously about the biology, physics, and cause of zombies.
Q3. Was there a lot of research required in that regard?
A3. Yes, although I’m not sure I’d call it research as much as pleasure reading. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd that way. Science—including virology, ecology, and biology—is inspiring and thought-provoking. It makes you ask questions, like how would a zombie microbe elude our immune system and slip through the blood-brain barrier? What slows a zombie’s rate of decomposition? How do you reconcile the various methods of transmission? How can a zombie groan without working lungs? Dead Things allowed me to explore these ideas.
Q4. What other themes did you try to tackle in Dead Things?
A4. There were primarily three themes (“the 3 S’” as I’ve been calling them): science, sociology, and source. We discussed the first. “Sociology” as a theme, however, is a little bit more nuanced.
There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the competing notions of faith and science in America today. I’ve never really understood why these concepts are mutually exclusive, but debate has raged for centuries, the pendulum of popular opinion swinging back and forth. What would happen, however, if some freak event halted a pendulum swing at its peak? What if society never returned to equilibrium? What are the social ramifications of a theocracy?
The third theme is “source.” My dad introduced me to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead when I was a kid. It was very different from other monster fare (“creature features”). Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, zombies were actually scary. I think that’s because zombies represent a fate worse than death: the perpetual loss of individuality. That’s a very persistent theme (think Fahrenheit 451, 1984, or The Stepford Wives) that continues to have significant relevance today (body scanners, enhanced pat downs, identity theft, etc.).
Q5. How did you go about developing your characters? How do they evolve throughout the story?
A5. There’s a bit of me in every character. Ian, Van, Kari, Burt, Jessica, Peter…they all echo parts of my personality. There are even hints of me in the unlikeable characters. Experienced writers will tell you that it’s critical to write what you know. So, although my characters may all seem very different, there are pieces of me—and my experiences—in each one.
Ian has what is probably the most noticeable character arc. He’s plagued by fear and doubt early but takes to action as the story progresses. Others, like Kari, Burt, Anne, and Peter evolve as well. These are normal people literally caught in life-or-death situations. Hopefully, readers will find themselves rooting for Ian and the others to succeed. Other characters, however, they might find themselves wishing would disappear.
Q6. Tell me a little about how you started writing and about your writing process.
A6. I was fortunate to grow up in a very creative environment. My mom and dad are both artists, and I had the benefit of their encouragement. I loved books and writing fiction as a kid. My dad would often let me collaborate on skits or plays he was working on. By twelve, I was begging my parents for a typewriter. I spent countless hours hammering out stories on that thing.
My career path and my love of writing probably seem a bit contradictory. It is hard to reconcile because, admittedly, law school and work delayed much artistic output for years. But being an attorney also informed my writing. Legal writing, at its core, is about conveying a clear and persuasive message. So, from that perspective, law really helped me hone my writing.
Still, writing a novel is different. Before putting pen to pad I read a lot about what it takes to write a book. It is, by all accounts, a frustratingly slow process: editing, rewrites, cover design, submissions… Knowing all of that in advance helped me stay the course.
I had a rough idea for Dead Things several years ago and mentioned it to my brother and sister at Christmas. The next Christmas came and went without anything but some research to show for it. Sometime during the next year (almost two years after I first mentioned the concept) I was blathering on about it again to my brother, and he stopped me. “When are you going to stop talking about it and start writing it?” he asked. That’s when I realized I needed to really commit myself to writing and carve out bits of “me time” to spend on the book.
Some advice to new authors from another new author: if you enjoy something, stick with it, no matter how long it may take. Find time to do it, and surround yourself with people who encourage you.
Q7. How do you get past writers block or distractions like the Internet?
A7. I think focus is a problem that plagues many creative types. Focusing your energy on an endeavor, especially in the Internet age, can be difficult. Everyone gets stuck occasionally. Eventually, though, the words come. Unfortunately, it might be in the shower, walking the dog, or during a dream. So I try to keep a notepad close.
As for distractions, they come in many forms, and, personally, the day-to-day aspects of life conspire to slow my writing more than the Web. It’s a conscious decision to find your space, and I just have to remind myself of that from time to time.
Q8. What was the toughest thing about writing a novel?
A8. This may sound cliché, but finding your “voice” can be difficult. This is especially true when you don’t write regularly. Writing in spurts sacrifices flow.
Q9. How will you define success with your first book?
A9. I write because I like to write. I like to problem solve. And there is no greater puzzle than a book waiting to be written. If I finish the puzzle, that’s a success.
Now I’m not going to lie and say that’s where it all ends. I definitely don’t begrudge people who can make a living doing what they love creatively. If I could only be so lucky! I want people to read my book. I want them to like it. I want them to tell others about it. But that’s gravy, if you will. I’ll continue to write regardless.
Published on Dec 21, 2012
An excerpt from a recent guest blog at BuyZombie...
When I heard about last month’s WindyCon, I freaked out. This installment—the 39th incarnation of this popular science fiction/fantasy/horror convention—was dedicated to my favorite monster, the zeitgeist known as the zombie.
I started to tremble. Oh. My. God. I’m going to meet some zombies.
I immediately contacted the WindyCon powers that be, and they arranged a book signing and reading, as well as a slot on a panel, “Zombies as a Social Metaphor.” Then I counted the hours until I’d be shoulder to stump with the undead.
I arrived at the Con, books in hand, eager to bump into a monster. I was certain that I’d see some of the grossest, most mind-blowing make-ups this side of Dead Alive. I entered the hotel and…
Nothing. No shamblers. No deadites. Not one erroneous cry for “Braaaiins.” Not a single stinking zombie.
Just…people. The living, instead of the living dead. Bummer.
I thought about asking for a refund. Then I bumped into Jay Bonansinga.
Jay is, perhaps, one of the coolest guys in zombie literature. You’ve probably heard of a little something called The Walking Dead? Well, Jay just happened to write the 2011 Diamond Gem Award-Winning The Rise of the Governor with Robert Kirkman. Then he followed that smash with another hit, The Road to Woodbury. Despite his fame, he didn’t display an ounce of pretense as he patiently answered my questions about the craft and signed a book for me.
It’s funny. Why is it that genre greats like Jay, Joe McKinney, and David Moody, who dip their pens in gore and guts, are so darn nice? And well-rounded. Like Messrs. McKinney and Moody, Jay doesn’t confine his writing to revenants. He writes thrillers, non-fiction, and non-zombie horror as well.
Then it was off to the panel. Again, no zombies there, but I did find a rogues gallery of zombie aficionados.
Sam Perkins was the helmsman, deftly steering the panel discussion through the treacherous waters of digression. Not once did we lose our way. It should not have come as a surprise though. In addition to spreading ZPOC awareness via The Undead Report and hunting zeds in his sleep, Sam is the first mate on Tall Ship Red Witch in Chicago. Our ship of fools was in very good hands.
John D. Jones had a unique take on zombies and their relevance today. John is a supporter of Horror Society and the talented crew at Joone Studios. He’s also a friend of Zombie Army Productions and an all out horror buff. John posited that the draw of The Walking Dead is its world without rules. People just don’t want to deal with reality, and some simply can’t. What they don’t realize is that zombies are like taxes and parking tickets. The bill might be slow in coming, but when it does arrive, you’re definitely paying.
Melissa Huston was the panel’s resident anthropologist. She educated us about zombies as a cultural universal. To many, zombies represent a recent entrant into the ranks of classic horror. But Melissa argues that all cultures believe or have believed, in some way or another, in the dead coming back to devour the living. In fact The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of literature, may contain the oldest reference to zombies.
A couple of authors—Scott Kenemore, the author of the acclaimed Zombie Illinois, and yours truly—rounded out the panel.
My contribution? Well, for the first few minutes, it consisted of staring blankly and watching in awe as the esteemed panelists did their thing. But once I found my sea legs, I was contributing too, picking up where Melissa left off and talking about the “Bram Stoker Effect.” We need the living dead in our lives, and when we try to tame them (à la Stoker turning vampires into aristocrats or Stephanie Meyer applying loads of glitter), we just give them a new name…like “zombie.” I could ramble on and on, but why do that when you can grab my presentation notes here.
The audience was really engaged in the discussion as well, and I had an opportunity to talk to a couple of the attendees—Stephan Kelly and Dennis Kuhn—after the dust had settled.
Stephan told me he enjoyed the panel. He liked how it examined “the correlation between the rising popularity of the zombie genre and the current social and political mentality of the average U.S. citizen.”
It should be noted that Stephan and Dennis are writers in their own right. Stephan is working on a short story featuring zombies called “Gravedigger” and an urban fantasy novel about trailer park vampires (um, awesome!), while Dennis is working on a book called “Blood In, Blood Out,” a tale about an occult archaeologist turned vampire (also awesome!).
So, despite the conspicuous absence of zombies, I had a lot of fun. Should that come as a surprise? Probably not. Like good zombie fiction, good zombie cons are more about the people than the corpses.
Published on Dec 14, 2012
Some fun stuff. The Downers Grove Reporter recently printed an interview about Dead Things. What makes this all the more exciting is that I used to deliver The Reporter when I was a kid. I even rode around on the float during the 4th of July parade when I was ten years old. I guess what they say is true: you can always go home.
Published on Nov 7, 2012
Already going through Halloween withdrawal? Missing the gore and scares of the holiday? Got the blues because the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins have left for another year?
No worries! Windycon 39 is to the rescue!
Windycon runs from November 9th to 11th, focusing on zombies, horror, and science fiction. The entrance fee on Saturday is $45. I'll be there for a signing, reading, and panel discussion. If you're in the Chicago area, why not stop by?
My schedule on Saturday, November 10th:
12 PM - 1 PM: Book signing. "Dead Things" will be available for $6 while supplies last;
1 PM - 2 PM: Reading from "Dead Things" in the Walnut Room;
2 PM - 3 PM: Panel discussion: "Zombies as a Social Metaphor"
About the panel discussion:
"Romero’s movies were biting social commentary on consumerism and apathy. Current movies, TV series, and survivalist reality programs echo a larger distrust of government, fear of a panic-filled populace, and a seething hidden desire to destroy the world and start over. Zombie culture serves as the perfect metaphor for the shaky and nervous weltgeist. S. Perkin, J. Martinez, M. Darst, M. Huston, J. Jones, Lilac A"
By the way, I had to look up "weltgeist." This should be a fun and considered discussion on zombies, fear, and society. : )
Hope to see you there!
Published on Oct 15, 2012
Somehow I missed the fact that not only was Dead Things nominated for an indie publishing award, it was a finalist. The 2012 eFestival of Words recognizes independent works of fiction, including science fiction and horror. Dead Things was a finalist in the best horror category along with 61 A.D. (McAfee), The Zombie Bible (Litore), Knock Knock (Miskowski), and Origin (Konrath). Even though it didn't win, I'm very honored to have been nominated and considered.
Published on Oct 15, 2012
It’s official! We have a date and time for the book release party. The Globe Pub will be hosting the release party for Dead Things on October 26, 2012. Come by, have a pint, and listen to me read an excerpt from the novel. The reading is free for the public, and copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event ($6 while supplies last).
Published on Sep 26, 2012
Dead Things was recently honored by Brains Magazine. The folks at Brains Magazine (the very same team behind zombieseatpeople.net) named Dead Things in their Top 5 of Zombie Fiction. It's a great honor, and I'm very thankful.
Published on Aug 8, 2012
...quickly took on a life of its own. I guess that's what happens when you write a book about zombies.
Several weeks ago, I decided to create a book trailer to promote Dead Things. It was an especially grand plan considering my budget ($0), film-making background (I worked as an usher in a movie theater once, does that count?), and graphic design skills (nil, unless you count the fact that I know who Peter Saville is). Still, I was not dissuaded. I figured I could promote the book using the alphabet, some simple imagery, and may be an erie soundtrack. An "A to Z Guide to the Apocalypse," if you will. I also figured that I could somehow do this on the cheap.
I could not have known then that I had set myself on a strange path, a course that would see me learn a new presentation tool (Prezi), investigate screen capture software (I settled on Screencast-O-Matic), attempt to create art, and write what is, perhaps, one of the most disturbing treatments of the English language alphabet since Sue Grafton began writing mysteries.
I typed, "A is for Apocalypse." With those few words, a simple project became something bigger. Each letter, rhyme, and rudimentary piece of artwork built on the last. My vision of a book trailer quickly evolved. This was no longer just about promoting Dead Things, this was about creating a stand alone, read-along alphabet book.
While I ultimately decided against adding a music track (so as not to interrupt the reader's rhythm), I think the graphics, although simplistic, add a nice children's book vibe. While I harbor no illusion that this video will teach letter knowledge, print awareness, or phonological skills, I can say that this video was a lot of fun to make. Plus, all of the tools I used to make it were free.
There are some Easter Eggs as well. Can you spot the references to some of the genre greats, including authors David Moody, Joe McKinney, and Iain McKinnon? Watch for a nod to George Romero as well!
I hope you read, enjoy, and share. Thank you!
You can watch "A is for Apocalypse" now (viewed best in 720p) on youtube.
Published on Jun 25, 2012
John Boden works for Shock Totem Publications, an American small press focusing on dark fantasy and horror. Mr. Boden recently won Dead Things via a Goodreads giveaway and posted a review.
Mr. Boden reports that he was initally put off by the subject matter (zombies...again?). He decided, though, to give the book a chance. "I started it that night, and within two or three nights had finished it," he says. "It was that good."
The review, in part:
"Darst uses a number of nifty maneuvers to keep this a fresh offering. The dialogue is smart and witty. The science behind the story is very well thought out and smart. This is...a well-written, smartly entertaining debut. Integral to the plot are the zombies; however, it is more than a zombie novel. It’s a novel about humans being, a novel where the monsters we become are far more frightening than the things shambling from the graves to gnaw on our flesh."
For the full review and some great titles, please visit Shock Totem today.