That’s not the real question. The real question is “What is a zombie to you, the author?”
That’s important because we can’t know what every reader out there thinks about these transformed humans; we don’t know whether they see the zombie as symbolic in some way, or just as monsters, created by some corporate giant, a pharmaceutical lab or a diabolical villain.
… or the earth itself.
To me, zombies are just fictional creatures. Monsters. No different than the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves, or even … yes, brutal serial killers. The primary difference is in their sheer numbers. No other creature comes even close in horror, if you don’t go for the True Blood or Twilight scenario where it seems like everybody’s a freakin’ monster.
So … back to my original point. What are zombies … to you?
Because I can’t know what they are to you, I must address the scenario involving these monsters from the character side – the living character. Zombies eat flesh, and that’s pretty much it. They don’t strategize. They fumble around, following noises or scent (how they would do that without respiratory systems, I have no idea … or growl, for that matter,) and go toward anything they think might be food.
It makes sense that zombies go after all living meat – not just humans. They are not really there brain-wise, so I’m betting they can’t figure out the difference between a man and a dog or a cow. They just know it’s raw flesh and they gotta get ‘em some.
So to the point – if an author can’t figure out whether you believe zombies are some metaphor for human consumption, pollution of the planet for profit, or created by some other corporate greed, how are we to approach it to satisfy everyone’s view?
It comes down to characters to me. You have to create a bunch of characters that people feel as if they know; people who love one another, protect one another, and who grieve for their lost loved ones and friends. The apocalypse should always begin – again in my opinion – with the primaries not really understanding or accepting what’s happening. This likely causes many to be lost initially, because they have no real concept of what they’re facing. That makes for a good book 1 of a series. The discovery can only happen once in a series – unless you’re Dead Hunger – and it should be riveting and real.
So here it is. To THIS author, zombies are fictional monsters with massive numbers that simply overwhelm and destroy most of society, save for small pockets. My characters come from me, so are just … me. And you. And the guy next door or in the next cubicle at work. Yes, if they are to survive, they must hone their fighting skills awfully fast, and if they don’t, they’re dead. That takes another bit of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but here are my thoughts on that:
If the author creates characters that the reader likes and trusts, then even if they aren’t entirely on board with the fact that zombies exist, they will believe it because their friends and family – the LIVING characters – believe it. The reader trusts what their “friends” are seeing and recounting, so they fall in and become part of the horrific drama as it unfolds. Again, they’re not trusting me, the author; they are trusting the characters this author created.
Much of Dead Hunger is told in first person. This feels as though the character is talking directly to you, the reader. You’re a fly on the wall, and you know very well what Flex, Gem, Hemp, Charlie, Dave and the rest of them are thinking. Furthermore, in this series we always go back to an individual character’s beginning – so you DO get to experience the beginning of the apocalypse from other eyes, over and over again. Repetitive? Not at all – everybody’s experience is horrifying, but different.
So … in the end, zombies are just monsters. Fiction. But they MUST be trying to eat people that the reader cares about. That cannot be missed. If it is, then a zombie book is just another zombie book.
That’s my ramble for today. Thanks for taking the time.