Interview with Robin Becker: Author of “Brains: a Zombie Memoir”
I recently got a chance to sit down (By e-mail) and talk with Robin Becker, the author of “Brains: a zombie memoir,” to pick her brains (Yeah, I made that joke, I thought it funny) about her new novel and her opinions on zombies.
Robin Becker was incredibly kind enough to take the time to answer my questions in the interview below,
It is most definitely worth your time.
For my readers, can you tell us about your background and how you got started in writing?
I wrote my first story when I was nine. It was called “Jamie’s Mother, the Problem.” It was about a young girl with an alcoholic mother who quits drinking for her. I even illustrated it and made a cover like a real book! (I hasten to add it was not autobiographical, just in case my mom stumbles upon this.) I wrote off and on over the years, but didn’t start writing seriously (with an eye for publication) until I was 30. Then I went to an MFA program (in Baton Rouge at LSU) and wrote every day. I started with poetry, but let’s face it, there’s no money in it. I finished my first novel in 2000–it will never be published. In fact, it exists only on floppy disks!
Generally zombies are portrayed as the mindless antagonists in a story, but in your Novel “Brains: a zombie memoir”, you have your zombie characters taking center stage. Why do a story from the zombie’s perspective?
Because zombies need love too! And I’m not kidding. Romero said it best: “I have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us.” I wanted to do what Mary Shelley did for monsters in Frankenstein. Zombies just want to survive, like all of us. Indeed, aren’t they one of God’s creatures? Indeed, they are literally us! Let’s not forget zombies were once human. What if a vestige of humanity remained? What if we took their needs into account? What if we tried understanding and sympathy? The first step to peace is empathy. So I put myself in the zombies’ shuffling rotting shoes.
Your zombies don’t follow the “Romero/night of the living dead” rules for zombies. What can you tell us about the “Type” of zombies in your story? How are they different?
They do follow Romero in that they are slow and decaying. And most of them are mindless brainless brain-eating automatons who can’t figure out how to walk around a tree. They differ from Romero in that some of them–a select few–are mutations, and they retain sentience as well as talents. The main character can write, one can talk, one can even run. They also differ from Romero in that they really like brains–most of his movies don’t focus on the brains angle, but straight-up cannibalism. But there’s plenty of toe and guts-eating in Brains too! Brains also differs from Romero and most zombie movies in that all the characters are familiar with the zombie canon–they’ve all seen the movies and know the rules and discuss them.
A “quest for Zombie rights” is a pretty unique idea in a genre where zombies are generally shot on sight. Without revealing too many spoilers what can you share about the protagonists in your story and their goals?
Sadly, even though Jack (the main character and narrator) believes in equal rights, that proves to be quite difficult to obtain. Mainly because even though they’re smart and they want peace and co-existence, they’re still zombies. They want to eat us; they can’t help it. So if a peace does evolve, it’d be a very precarious and shaky one, and it would take a lot of trust on both sides. Let’s just say some of the zombies make it; some of them don’t. I won’t say which ones!
What type of preparations/research did you do to prepare yourself for writing this novel and how did you get started?
Research was awesome! I watched all the zombie movies I could–even some awful ones. Especially the awful ones! I read what I could as well–but when I started in 2005, there wasn’t nearly as much zombie literature as there is now. For that I’m glad because I felt like I was entering new territory, especially with the zombie point of view. I re-read Frankenstein and that was a great help, as was I, Robot, and a now out-of-print book called Hookman Speaks. And Anne Rice, of course!
Writing a novel on the undead has to give you a unique perspective on our living impaired friends. What type of zombies are your favorite? Fast, slow, supernatural, viral, intelligent? Basically what are your opinions on them?
My all-time favorite zombie is the Romero zombie. The slow sad sack. The zombie who is truly dead, the reanimated corpse. As the sheriff in Night of the Living Dead says, “They’re dead; they’re all messed up.” I feel sorry for these creatures. They’re so confused. That’s why I wrote the book.
The zombie that scares me the most is not really a zombie–it’s the humans infected by a virus who turn rabid or zombie-like. I love the 28-Later movies and Quarantine. And I even loved the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead–the zombies are corpses, but they’re fast.They make for great movie monsters. You can’t outwit or outrun them.
So I guess I’m old-school in that my true love is slow cadavers–but I totally appreciate the new faster zombies.
Getting a novel published is pretty impressive what can you tell us about your experiences in bringing this book to print?
It took a long time. As I mentioned, I started five years ago. It took me three years to write and then another two (or so) to land an agent and a publisher. I’m a bit of a zombie of a writer–slow and methodical. I’ll get there, I’ll finish the book (like a zombie will eat your brains), but it may take me a while.
What’s the next big project on your plate? Anymore zombie novels?
I’m working on a second novel–it’s not a zombie novel though. It’s also supernatural, but more of a thriller. I would like to continue Jack’s story, however. I’d like to follow him as he negotiates the new world. We’ll see!
In addition to teaching writing at University of Central Arkansas you play guitar in a band. (I have zero musical skill, so I’m thoroughly impressed by this) When and where can we see you play?
We’re called the Conway Twitties! Unfortunately, our rhythm section is moving. So live shows are out until we find a bass player and a drummer. If anyone reading this is in Central Arkansas, email me!
When the inevitable happens and the zombies begin to rise, what is your zombie defense plan?
I plan to become a zombie and relish my new ontological state. While zombies aren’t nearly as sexy as vampires, it’d be pretty cool to be one–especially if I could still think. And “live” forever.
Robin Becker is proud to have grown up in Hackensack, New Jersey, even though she left at 18 and never went back. She has lived in Philadelphia, Austin, San Francisco, Baton Rouge and Kirksville, Missouri. In the spring of 1987, she lived for three months in a 1972 Volkswagen Microbus, traveling across the land like a punk-rock Jack Kerouac. In 1994, she spent nine months backpacking throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe; hepatitis A put her in a Czech hospital and then she flew straight home. In 2000, she received her MFA from LSU.
In addition to writing, Robin plays sloppy guitar and has been in a slew of grrrl bands. Check out www.myspace.com/happyassrocks for one.
Robin currently lives in Toad Suck, Arkansas, with her husband Mark Spitzer. She enjoys cooking, fishing and teaching writing at the University of Central Arkansas.