ZZN had the great pleasure of talking to author Stant Litore when he first began self-publishing his series: The Zombie Bible. Things have really exploded for him, and he is now signed with 47North. On August 14, new editions of Death Has Come Up into Our Windows and What Our Eyes Have Witnessed (previously self-published) arrived from his new publisher, 47North. A third and never-before-seen novel, Strangers in the Land arrives October 16, 2012. Fans are stoked! Despite how busy he finds himself these days, Stant Litore was kind enough to answer a few of our Q’s.
WLF/ZZN: Hey Stant, it’s great to have you back. You are best known as the author of The Zombie Bible which features stories from the Christian Bible retold as zombie tales. Anything new going on with The Zombie Bible?
Yes, things are quite busy – in the best of ways. A new novel, Strangers in the Land, arrives this October, based on a memorable episode in the biblical book of Judges. I’m currently working on a novel featuring Samson and Delilah, and the first of the Jesus tales, both due out in 2013.
WLF/ZZN: What has the reaction been like from fans? Any angry letters?
Surprisingly, I haven’t received any angry letters. At least not yet. I did hear from one person on Twitter who was quite furious about the title of the series, but he clearly hadn’t even read the description of what it was about.
Most readers have found the books both reverent and fascinating. I’ve received a lot of letters praising the series, and a lot of very positive reviews. One reader made my day by quoting Mal Reynolds from Firefly: “You have done the impossible, and that makes you mighty.” I think that might be my writing war-cry for a while.
WLF/ZZN: Do you pay attention to reviewers? How’s that working out?
I do pay attention, meaning that I read them and learn from them. I learn what people loved most about the books, and I learn what caught them off guard. If by “pay attention” you mean respond to each review – I’ve seen a few writers, both traditional and indie, do that – I don’t do that. Sometimes I send a private note of thanks either for a good review or a review that made an interesting point. Good, bad, or mediocre, a review is an honor. It is a gift of someone’s time, and a gift of space in their brain.
Most of the reviews have been very complimentary of the series. My favorite review was by a book blogger who fell in love with Regina, a character in What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. The reviewer said that she kept misting up whenever she thought of the book.
WLF/ZZN: Have any religious authorities weighed in on your work?
An Episcopalian bishop and a Protestant pastor both weighed in on Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, both positively. They said they liked getting so deeply inside a prophet’s head.
Generally, readers are surprised to find God female and, well, to find zombies lurching through Scripture, but as one reader put it, “Litore’s writing powerfully evokes, and respects, the tremendous passion and faith of his characters.” The books are actually finding religiously diverse readers – meaning Christians, Jews, atheists, pagans, agnostics, and Buddhists… The novels speak to very big questions: How do we grieve for our dead? What do we learn about ourselves when we look into the eyes of our dead? When the world is overwhelmed by human bodies that exist only to feed on other people, what do we learn about the way we relate to others among the living? What do we do when God is silent? What do we do when the things we believe in falter?
WLF/ZZN: I’m aware that part of your love of zombie lit comes from your intense fear of the Undead. When did you first become aware of the omnipresent threat of zombies?
I have no idea. Maybe it was the first time I watched Night of the Living Dead. That zombie feeding scene around the old truck. Whew. I have never recovered from that.
WLF/ZZN: How did your fear of zombies affect your day-to-day life?
It doesn’t all that much, though I admit I am often acutely aware of the location of the nearest exit. I also sleep with a blade by my bedside. I’m not sure if that’s in case of burglars I might have to defend my family against, or in case of the dead, but at least it’s there.
WLF/ZZN: I’m also aware that like me, you are a die-hard Romero fan. George doesn’t write books, sadly. Who are your heroes in the world of zombie literature?
Max Brooks (World War Z); Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin); and Kim Paffenroth (Valley of the Dead). These are all books that changed what zombie fiction can do, books that change the way you look at the dead and that ask intelligent questions about how we look at the living.
Also, Garth Nix for Sabriel, which is a zombie novel set in a world of fantasy and necromancy, and one of the finest coming-of-age novels I’ve read. Finally, Rhiannon Frater, for her second novel Fighting to Survive, which is an action novel – I don’t usually go for that, but Frater’s characters are so memorable and some of the scenes are so truly chilling, that I couldn’t put it down.
WLF/ZZN: Last seasons’s The Walking Dead led to divisive reactions among fans. Where do you stand on this? (WLF note: My own feelings on this are noted for the record.)
My feelings aren’t all that strong on the matter. I loved Season 1. In Season 2, some moments were beautiful, some didn’t work, and there were a lot of turns I would have taken differently. I celebrate the moments that were great, and I look to see what Season 3 will be like. I am looking forward to Michonne.
I think my overall comment is that The Walking Dead does several of its male characters very well. Zombie fiction generally is often good at that. But there is a true dearth of strong female characters in zombie stories, despite strong women being a staple of its more genteel cousin, the vampire sub-genre. This is something that really ought to be remedied. My series features strong women in What Our Eyes Have Witnessed and definitely in Strangers in the Land – which comes out in October and is a novel focused on an aging female prophet trying to hold her people together as the dead swarm in. Most of the women I actually know are strong women. I grew up around strong women. It seems to me that in the event of zombies, there would be women as well as men who are tested and who show that inner strength and strength of will. So I write about them.
I’m excited to see what AMC’s series does with Michonne.
WLF/ZZN: You are no doubt aware of the zombie-themed counter protesting of the Westboro Baptist “Church.” What do you think leads zombies to become active on sociopolitical issues?
Zombies get people’s attention. That gives them an edge in politics.
WLF/ZZN: Do you support the zombies here, despite your fear of them?
Of course. There are no words for how much I loathe Westboro Baptist “Church”, what they do, what they stand for, and the fact that they insist on being called a “church.” If they are a church, then Adolf Hitler was a humanitarian. They are actually the walking dead; just like the shambling corpses in The Zombie Bible, they look at human beings and see nothing living, nothing that is kin to them: they see only fuel for their hates and fears, only food for their obsessions. Like the dead in my novels, they are objects of both loathing (because they consume and destroy) and pity (because they have lost some of their humanity and do not know how to get it back or even know enough to desire getting it back).
To describe either Westboro’s sign-wavers or the walking dead as evil is insufficient and inaccurate. They are starving and they are ravenous, and they can never be fed or filled. And the word for that is sorrowful. Inconceivably sorrowful and tragic.
WLF/ZZN: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
I write these novels for you. Enjoy them. Revel in them.
Other than that, I’d say: Honor your dead. Honor your living. Hold true to the one thing that separates you from the walking dead, the only thing: the act of gazing into another’s eyes and truly seeing them. Seeing who they are. Not just who you fear they are or who you want them to be. Never stop doing that. Never let yourself look at another person and see only a label, only a threat, or only a means to an end. Celebrate that you are alive, that you breathe and need and love. And celebrate that they are, too.
WLF/ZZN: Thanks so much, Stant. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got for us next! Fans can pick up the work of Stant Litore at Amazon.com