(Max Brooks, author of zombie books, World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide. C. Verstraete photo)
(Note: this is a two-part story. See part 2 at Zombie Pop)
Max Brooks Still Talks - and Fears - Zombies
Max Brooks is a man of two natures.
There is the serious Brooks, the man who talks about zombies and links them with real life issues. Then there is the entertainer who gets his point across with wry and often hysterical humor.
But in whatever persona he is, to this author of the still popular zombie books, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, zombies are more than just scary monsters. They are real life--just in another form and body. And that real stuff is what actually has kept him interested in the whole zombie thing for the past decade.
"It's fear," he said in a phone interview Friday prior to his lecture appearance at Harper College in Palatine, Ill. "For me, they're a global threat."
Global meaning real life disasters - the floods, the earthquakes, the Katrinas, that can turn life into an apocalypse at any moment. That is the underlying message of his books, Brooks says: "I like writing about stuff from a real perspective. The only part of a zombie story that should be unreal should be the zombies."
That message is what he tries to share in the countless lectures he's done across the country since his first book, The Zombie Survival Guide, was published in 2003. He does not take ideas of an apocalypse or natural disaster lightly and says neither should we. Those zombie preppers you read about? Extreme, maybe, but not as crazy as you might think. Being prepared is the one thing they do have right, Brooks says. He can relate.
"The nice thing is zombie peppers have a kit ready for natural disasters," he says. "...I had an earthquake prep kit as a kid. A student journalist asked me, 'what if you have it wrong?' What's wrong about if you don't know how to purify water, you will die...? Zombies are Katrina. It's all how you look at it."
How Brooks looks at it is with humor, natural for a guy who was a writer with Saturday Night Live (SNL) from 2001 to 2003. And being the son of legendary actor Mel Brooks must have rubbed off, too. Such credentials certainly helped him make the jump to author, right?
Brooks wrote the first book, The Zombie Survival Guide, thinking it would fail - and it almost did. "I thought it was a book that would get stuck in a drawer," he says. "Who would want to buy a real survival guide on something that wasn't real?"
Being linked to SNL actually made it worse, he adds: "That hurt me. It haunted me the first years of publication. I was at a big disadvantage. (Bookstores) put it (the book) in the humor section. The hardcore (zombie) fans thought I was pissing on them. The humor fans expected a joke book and didn't get it."
The solution? Brooks began his lectures as a way to promote the book and thanks to a genius suggestion by wife Michelle Kholos, things turned around.
"I started the lectures to hand-sell the books," he says. "She suggested I go directly to the Better Homes and Gardens of Horror, Fangoria, and ask to plead my case. They did an interview."
These days he's been doing so many lectures, "I don't know how many," that he says he and his wife had a serious talk. "It was getting to the point, I was afraid to be away from my family (for too long). My son is eight-years-old. He needs a dad more than we need a zombie author."
The Extinction Parade.
The first of a 12-part series tells the story of a zombie plague through the eyes of vampires. Or as he says, again relating back to his preparedness theme, "vampires have always been at the top of the food chain so they never developed survival skills. With zombies, they realize, what are they going to eat? It's an exploration of the downside of privilege, people who don't know how to work, don't know how to struggle, don't know how to (survive). You can apply this to an actual disaster. There is nothing cool or sexy about it. Zombies are just the catalyst."
* Read more about Max Brooks' Lecture: Zombie Facts, but Funny:
Zombies and preparing for that zombie apocalypse were never so funny, not unless you are Max Brooks, former Saturday Night Live (SNL) writer and author of the popular zombie books, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War and The Zombie Survival Guide.** Read the rest at ZombiePop.
Student "zombies" added some "reality" to the lecture event. (Photos: C.Verstraete)