March 16, 2010

Brain Picking: Interview with Tony Faville (author KINGS OF THE DEAD)

(author Kings of the Dead)

Add half a cup of Day by Day Armageddon, a cup of The Diary of Ann Frank, season with The Road Warrior, mix, and then bake for 30 days and you'll have Tony Faville's novel Kings of the Dead (REVIEW). One man's journal documenting his efforts at surviving a zombie apocalypse while attempting to keep his family, friends and sanity intact. Serves 4.

I had the opportunity to talk with Tony about being a first-time author, his love of the zombie genre, the connection between food and zombie fiction, and the experience of inserting himself as the hero of his own novel. 

Zed Word (ZW)Kings of the Dead is your first book, and to write it you draw on a variety of job experiences and hobbies. For example, you’ve worked in the military and as a chef. Given your life experience, what inspired you to take up writing? Why a zombie novel? .

Tony Faville (TF): Well, I have always kind of dabbled with writing in the past. I wrote several little stories to my wife during our courting period, but I never proceeded past that point. It was the beginning of November 2009 that my wife came to me and told me about NaNoWriMo: the contest where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This was on November 3rd that she told me about it. I registered and started writing. November 30th I submitted my 50,200 words.

Why a zombie novel? I feel a writer should write what they know. Being a true fan of zombies, I wanted to write a zombie novel from a slightly different perspective than most people. To date, I still feel like I have.

ZW: What do you feel gives your novel that different perspective?

TF: As I stated in the early parts of the book, in most zombie novels or movies nobody has ever seen a zombie or made any preparations for zombies. You see people blasting away with their firearms into dead center mass of the zombies. Nobody ever goes for head shots right away; nobody ever has food or shelter ready. They are caught completely unaware by the situation.

It's not like a vampire movie where people are all ready to fight with stakes, holy water, or their own personal Buffy. In my book, we know about zombies and are prepared more than your average person for the pending apocalypse that may never come.

ZW: Not many authors make themselves the main characters in their stories. The character of Zombie Hunter Tony is clearly meant to stand in for you. Was it strange writing about yourself as a character? And in what ways does Zombie Hunter Tony the character differ from Tony Faville the man?
(TF): I struggled with whether I should use myself as the protagonist or not. I know many authors feel that it is a major taboo to do something of the sort. However, when I started my project, I never thought I would actually be selling it. I figured it would just be for family and friends. Apparently, I figured wrong.

There were moments during the writing that were actually very difficult for me to write. Some of the things I put in there are very deep, personal issues for me, and to commit them to paper just brought them back to the forefront.

As for how does Zombie Hunter Tony differ from me, the man? To be honest with you, anyone that has known me for any length of time knows that ZHT is who I am. Anything I had him do in the book is what I would do in real life.

There are a few things I would like people to understand about me. While I love the zombie genre with a passion, I am not one of those people that sits in a bunker with a rifle across my knees counting down the days until I get to start shooting something. I do not wish for the zombies to happen, but I will be ready for it if they ever do. With that being said, I do not believe that we will ever see the Romero type zombies. What we will experience eventually, since man is incapable of leaving well enough alone, is the 28 Days Later type of viral outbreak. Either that, or it will simply become civil unrest and apocalypse at the hands of our fellow man. And that my friends, is something that most people will not be able to deal with. While we can certainly raise a gun to a zombie target and shoot it in the head, consider the fortitude or insanity it takes to raise that same weapon to another human being simply because he wants to steal the pack of MRE's [Meal, Ready-to-Eat] you were about to share with your family of four.

ZW: In a review of diary fiction, Bernard Duyfhuizen wrote that "Whenever we come upon a diary -- actual or fictional, published or unpublished, private or public -- we tend to fashion a double response. First there is the feeling of the voyeur, peeping around pages as if they were curtains. . . . But then comes the troubling response: suppose this text is contrived, the writer lying to the reader, writing a life as one would like it rather than as it is"

How do you feel putting so much of yourself, life, and I have to assume private feelings and issuse into the novel? Does it feel weird that complete strangers may be able to read your book and have an insight into you that you don't have into them?

 TF: Ultimately, I am a very complex and private person. My lovely wife of 11 years is still to this day learning things about me and my past. So, I can assure you that if there is any insight in the book into who I am as a person, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. Fact is, I am still figuring myself out, so good luck to those who think they can peg me by reading my book. Yes, one friend of mine did write a review of the book on a forum and said that for anyone that doesn't know me they can trust when he says I would do everything I did in the book. That is true. Again though, it has merely scratched the surface of who I am. So, if it helps those who know me understand me just a little bit better, then it's all good. As for the strangers that may read it, maybe it will make them want to know more about me. And that is okay with me as well.

ZW: Through the Mail Order Zombie podcast, you contribute a segment called "Staying Fed in the Land of the Dead". Drawing on your survival knowledge and training as a chef, what do you feel is the most lethal challenge to staying fed in a zombie apocalypse?

TF: Acquisition of food will be the biggest issue. And hanging on to the food that you have acquired. In my book, I touch constantly on the human factor, and that is something that will make our day-to-day survival that much more difficult. Remove the restraints of normal society and jerks and bullies will become psychotic individuals willing to do whatever they need to do to survive.

Too many people have the mentality that they will go to a Walmart or Costco and stock up when the shit hits the fan. If you don’t have three months minimum food on hand right now, with the ability to purify your own drinking water, go to your room, lay down, and give up.

It is that simple. If you do not prepare now, there is nothing you can do when the time comes. In Zombieland the main character said it “was time to get a gun and learn to use it!”

Wrong: have a gun and already know how to use it! Have dried goods and know how to prepare them over an open fire or other improvised heat source. Learn how to garden, fish, hunt, trap.

One of my many mottoes is "Not Paranoid, Prepared"
ZW: I'm a guy who likes to eat. The idea of being forced to consist on grains and rice in a post-apocalyptic world makes me feel like I should just give myself up as zombie food at the very beginning of the apocalypse. If the zombies did rise, do you think a lot of people in North America would simply be unable to cope with a self-sufficient survival lifestyle?

TF: As a Chef, I can assure you that I like to eat as well. I believe very strongly that more people would die at the hands of uninfected people during the initial panic than would die from actual zombie attack. Somebody wants that case of bottled water you bought from Walmart six months ago? Let them have it. But don't let them see your rain collector and water purification system in the back yard.

People are far too used to going into the market and buying that beautiful ribeye or pork loin. Ask them to slaughter their own beef or pig and most of them would have no idea where to even begin let alone how to break down a side of beef to get to that ribeye. Truth is, I think if more people had to do that for themselves there would be a lot more vegetarians.

Vegetarians. Let's touch on them briefly and carefully as I do not want to offend the many vegetarians I call my friends. Most of them are going to be screwed when the apocalypse happens. Fresh fruits and vegetables will be gone within days. Nobody will be making tofu or Boca burgers any more. Unless they are already living in a completely self sustainable communal farm situation, they are going to be left with a very real and tough decision to make. They can either die or become omnivorous. When you are reduced to scavenging for food, you do not have the luxury of waiting for that organic flax seed muffin that you will likely never see. No, the can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew you found in the cab of the semi you just searched through will look quite appetizing.

Again, to my vegetarian friends, I do not mean to offend you I am simply looking at things through a realistic set of eyes.

ZW: Let's look at food from another perspective. The zombies in your novel hail from the Romero model: they’re usually slow and eat the flesh of humans. Why do you think the concept of flesh-hungry zombies is so frightening? We know that other monsters of fiction and myth eat human beings; is there something about the zombie that makes this threat of consumption more terrifying?

TF: I think the thing that makes zombies so popular is they are us. The monster in your face will not just be some hideous creature; it’s going to be your loved ones or the old lady next door. 

Simple fact of the matter is there are a LOT of people out there that talk big about zombies and what they would do if they ever saw them. When the truth is significantly different. As someone who spent time in the emergency medical field, I know urine, feces, blood, vomit and decomposition stink by themselves. Combine them all into something that looks hideous and is coming at you and wanting to consume your flesh?

Three things will likely happen from most self proclaimed zombie hunters: there will be vomiting, tons of screaming like a little schoolgirl, and running.

For me, zombies are secondary to any good zombie story. WE already are zombies. We work all day, sometimes MANY days in a row. We go home. We eat. And we repeat this every day of our lives. If we are lucky we get to take a few days off every year.

Like Robert Kirkman said, We ARE the living dead!

ZW: And the living dead are still selling in the book industry. Kings of the Dead is available in paperback as well as on the Kindle. Do you feel that distributing your book as an e-book helps get your story out there? 

TF:I am a very strong believer that you have to be popular before you can be famous. Don’t get me wrong, I NEVER expect to be famous for my writing. Not that I would complain if something flipped over in the universe and that happened.

Again, this is a project I never really expected to sell. People are buying it and enjoying it. Fact is, I have had total strangers tell me they got so emotionally into the book that they cried at certain points of the story.

To make a long story short, I read a blog article about e-books that I completely agree with. I would rather sell 100 e-books than 10 physical copies. The more people reading my book means more potential customers for the next project.

ZW: Can you give us a hint at what your next project will be?

TF: The protagonist for my next project is actually named in the epilogue of Kings of the Dead. His name is Ezra Blake, and he is, as I state in the first chapter, "One of those dogs this nation needs to occasionally unleash." He is a former US Navy SEAL that has spent several years working for the Agency doing those things nobody else is willing to do. He gets pulled into the zombie situation after it has already started and finds himself in a different role than he has been used to. While the story will be primarily about the zombies and eventually involve situations/people in Kings of the Dead, it will primarily be Ezra's story.