by Jay Wilburn
It is just a zombie story after all. Should we expect deep characters, high-minded dialogue, and literary symbolism? Do we want social commentary like Romero tried to accomplish in his films or is it better to just layer on the action, violence, and gore? Is it asking too much to even have the stories well edited?
Zombie fans have put up with a lot of sub rate material over the years. On the film side in particular, fans of the genre have endured one bad zombie movie after another in order to find the few gems that are out there. In some cases, they were willing to settle for “it was good for a zombie movie.”
One reality of the genre is that zombies are an easy entry point for low budget filming. It may be more accurate to say there is a low bar for entry. The setting can be wherever you point the camera. Costume can be rips and dirt. Make-up can be coloring, fake blood, and raccoon circles around the eyes. On the upside, effects are getting to be easier to upgrade with practical gore designs and laptop CGI. Amazing stuff is possible on the home level. On the downside, that does not automatically fix a weak script or stilted dialogue.
The requirements to film a steampunk story or a historic piece are much tougher, so less likely to be tackled by a beginning filmmaker.
On the written story side, the same may still be true. Zombie stories have a natural entry level framework for beginning storytellers. The outbreak, the reaction of the characters, the cheap drama of easy deaths, the run and hide plot lines, the undead escape hatch for plot holes where zombies can pop up at any time in any situation to move the story whenever the author or the characters get stuck. If you don’t give it much thought, the books can still almost write themselves. Maybe not well, but good enough to pop up on CreateSpace.
The glut of zombie stories online is almost legendary. It is undead white noise for zombie readers looking for the next book or series to wet their never ending appetites.
So what do we expect? What should we expect? I’ve been a slush reader off and on for various groups over my writing career. Zombie stories that came in were not disappointing because they were zombie stories. They were disappointing because they were bad and empty stories that happened to be about zombies. They were the undead shambling shells of stories, plots, and characters. They had all the shape and bones of a story, but there was no soul left in the shambling corpse of a tale I was forced to read. As a zombie fan and a zombie writer, I was saddened by this and I grew to understand why publishers so often said, “no zombies” in their calls. They were willing to sweep out the gems with the piles and piles of stinking corpses of stories. I could hardly blame them.
As I have read more within the genre in preparation for the Summer and Winter of Zombie tours, my faith has been renewed. There is a lot of great zombie fiction out there. I was cursed with a blessing of abundance and had to say no to more and more great work and great authors simply because I could not include everyone on the tour.
I learned that it isn’t asking too much to want greatness from a zombie story. Dimensional characters, meaningful story, powerful prose, and deep stories are not too much to look for in your next zombie read. I did not limit my picks to my own personal tastes in zombie fiction though. I tried to cast a wide net to get tales that range from the classic to the more unusual. I looked for the historic and the modern. I found stories that open with the outbreak and ones that went deeper and deeper into the apocalypse. I looked for seasoned authors with established series and authors with new, fresh eyes on our favorite undead monsters.
There is a lot to look through, if you dare to explore new works in zombie fiction. Hopefully, the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours serve as a resource on digging out more of the gems for those of you willing to “ask too much of your zombie books.” Check out the intro post to see a quick breakdown of who is on the tour this time around.
If have not found what you really want in zombies in a while, don’t give up. Don’t settle for less than what you want in a story. Your standards are important for getting the best work out there into the hands of readers. Asking for more may be what it takes to get the gems to the top of the heap.