We had this interview over a year and a half ago.
Ultimate Zombie Data Base: When it comes to developing a type of zombie for any work your influences can greatly affect the creatures you ultimately create. What were your influences and what got you interested in the zombie genre?
Todd Tjersland: I saw Night of the Living Dead when I was 10-years-old and had nightmares about zombies for three months straight! That got me hooked on zombies. One of my other great loves is film noir. When it came time to write Deathbreed, it just made sense to mix genres. Although the action is the full-on, hideous gore readers expect and want from a zombie story, the story is filtered (and its perspective skewed) through the voice of the narrator, Jimmy, a deeply-flawed individual struggling to find his place in the world. Whether he becomes a hero, villain or zombie-food isn’t revealed until the final chapters. As to the undead I created, they are at once familiar yet unique. I updated them a bit to keep up with the times but didn’t want to stray too far from the Romero tradition.
UZDB: I’d like to say that I loved the comedy in Deathbreed; a lot of it is based on the story and comes off as a sort of running gag. How did you come to develop the comedy in your story?
TJ: Comedy, especially dark comedy, serves as a natural defense mechanism to tragedies. To make the comedy work without sabotaging the horror, I let the comedy flow naturally from the characters and how they react to the situations confronting them. I didn’t force it. The characters use humor to deal with the lemons life hands them; in this case, the zombie apocalypse!
UZDB: Jimmy and Ace are both profoundly different characters with separate sentimental values. Did you draw off of any real life experience when creating your characters?
TJ: Sure. An author can’t help but inject some of himself and the people he’s met, the experiences he’s had, into his books. That’s what makes it “real.” I’ve spent my share of time in convenience stores and let’s just say there are some interesting individuals on both sides of the counter.
UZDB: There is a lot of animosity in the book and it fits well. You get the feeling that it is the missing 90’s Romero piece that never existed. Was the overall uproar of the world in the early 90’s surrounding the Rodney King incident crucial to the overall setting of the book?
TJ: Setting the novel in a time and place well-known to me just made sense. I’m 38 now and setting it in the past allowed me to believably write characters the same age that I was at the time, plus I didn’t have to worry about the impact of cell phones and the internet. Really, it was a lot of the incidental details that I wanted to get right without having to do a ton of research into things like Hannah Montana, Puff Daddy or whatever junk passes for music that the kids are listening to these days. (laughs) The L.A. riots were the perfect smokescreen for me to sneak in a lot of my most biting social commentary. After all, “Can’t we all just get along?” is the central theme of most zombie movies. It is the failure of people to get along that precipitates their downfall. Unfortunately, the only way for everyone to “get along” is to forcibly eradicate free thought and homogenize everyone into one group: zombies! Beyond the fear of death, that’s what makes zombies so horrifying: the loss of self, the fear of conformity. It is taking the vampire myth one step further and stripping away any pretense of beauty and glamour.
UZDB: At the beginning of the book we got a good long look at the characters and their surroundings. We also got a glance at the sub-characters that appeared later in the book. Was it important that you keep a limited main cast to avoid an overall redundancy of gore and death?
TJ: I purposely kept the cast small so I could concentrate on character development. The characters always took precedence over any considerations for action or gore. Originally, there was supposed to be an extra character (a kickass he-man survivor-type) to be introduced in the second-half, around the time the gas station explodes. This idea was scrapped, however. Although he had an interesting character arc, including him didn’t seem necessary by the time I got to that point in the book. Maybe in the sequel…
UZDB: For the abundance of aspiring writers out there wondering how to go about doing what you’ve done with Deathbreed, do you have any Do’s and Don’ts or advice?
TJ: Write what you know and what you’re passionate about. Set aside as much time as you can each day for writing and stick to it—at least an hour a day, preferably more. The number one mistake most would-be authors make is to say, “I don’t have enough time.” You have the time; you’re just not managing it properly. There are 24 hours in a day so pick one and start writing! Even if you only average a page per day, in a year you’ll have the first-draft of a 365-page novel. You can do it! Like anything in life, you just have to want it badly enough.
UZDB: There is a preview for a second Deathbreed in your novel. What can readers expect in time when the novel is finally published and how long do you think we’ll have to wait?
TJ: You may be waiting a long time on that one. (laughs) My attention has been focused this past year on completing my new horror anthology movie, Midnight Movie Madness, which is like a crazy cross between Creepshow and Grindhouse. That’s the problem with having so many different ideas and passions; I’m constantly being pulled in different directions and by a desire to work in different media. Then there’s the money issue, but I try not to let that guide me too much as it taints the creative process. I hope to return to writing novels soon.
UZDB: One last question that I think is really important that no one ever thinks to ask. What would you do today if the zombies came?
TJ: Good question! Not to sound like a politician, but my response would depend on the nature of the threat (fast or slow zombies) and the time and place I was caught in it. You really have only two choices: keep moving or stay put. Ultimately, you can’t do one or the other exclusively and sometimes, your decision is made for you. Every hideout will be compromised, every vehicle will break down or run out of fuel. Ignorance and panic will get you killed in the blink of an eye. In the long run, running out of supplies and facing human opponents pose the greater threat to your survival no matter how many zombies you can kill or avoid.
UZDB: I’d like to thank you for your time discussing Deathbreed, I know you’re busy and I appreciate it. Deathbreed is a real jewel and has a high seat in the kingdom of the gore-caked abomination.
TJ: Thanks! Glad you liked it.
When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.