Ang: When were you first bitten by the zombie affliction? Can you take us back to how the infection began? What’s the most difficult part about sharing this ghoulish love as an indie?
Robert: I love the wording of this question:) I've been a zombie fan as far back as I can remember, but the first time I remember taking zombies seriously was when I read Stephen King's short story "Home Delivery" at age 13. That story blew my mind then and it still does. It has all the markings of literature and all the fun of zombies. That story taught me that zombies could not only be serious, but a writer could work within that genre to tell a compelling tale revealing a universal truth as surely as if he were writing any other genre.
Honestly, I don't think being an indie today is that different than being an author with a mainstream publisher. An acquaintance of mine is promoting his book published by one of the big five publishers (only a matter of time before it’s the big four and so on) and his marketing budget is essentially the same as mine: whatever money and time we can throw at it while working our day jobs. Except he doesn't control the price or availability of his book and I do. I think readers are less likely to take a chance on a new author at $9.95 than at $2.99 (both Kindle prices).
Ang: If you had to dumb down the plot of your book so a zombie could understand, how would you explain it?
Robert: It's the zombie apocalypse set in a small
town. My protagonist, 15-year-old
Ricky Genero, has reason to believe there's a cure for the zombie virus being
manufactured at the local soda plant. When his 6-year-old brother Chuck is
bitten, Ricky risks everything to get him to the cure. Along the way there's
some romance, plenty of zombie attacks, and crazy religious folks more terrifying
than the shambling corpses. Indiana
All Together Now is grim, extremely violent, and offensive. I like that in a zombie story.
Ang: Describe the lucky survivors who engage with the festering horde of the dead.
Robert: Ricky Genero is an everyman. He's an average teenager who's dealing with his parent's messy divorce and the difficulty of high school life when the zombies attack. He's also good with a baseball bat, which comes in handy.
His stepsister, Michelle Kirkman, is a spoiled rich girl whose mother has recently died from cancer, giving her an inner strength Ricky lacks. She's also 15 and a bit of a badass. She doesn't believe a cure exists, but she wants to get back to her father, who owns the soda plant.
Levi Davis is 17 and I can never decide whether he or Michelle is my favorite character. Levi's parents are extremely religious and restrictive and Levi's got a big chip on his shoulder.
Chuck Genero is 6 and a real sweetheart. Unfortunately, he spends most of the novel as a snarling zombie being lead around at the end of a catchpole.
Ang: What was the most important aspect when writing your non-zombie characters? Realism (losers, assholes, and cowards) or fantasy (Rambo or the guy/gal who has a Rambo hiding inside them)?
Robert: It was most important to me that my characters be realistic and relatable. Michelle's got a bit of Rambo in her, but I wanted to take zombies seriously and that starts with character.
If the zombie apocalypse breaks out tomorrow, most of us aren't suddenly going to become crack shots or fearless warriors. That's all good and well for video games, but in books I think you can have extraordinary characters in ordinary situations, or ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, but it's difficult to pull off extraordinary characters in extraordinary situations in a way that's consistently interesting and suspenseful. The zombie apocalypse is an extraordinary situation, so I did my best to create characters I feel could be living next door when it hits the fan.
Ang: Does your book begin just as the zombies start building their paradise or have zombies already gotten things rocking and rotting?
Robert: Both:) All Together Now is told as a series of journal entries written by Ricky, allowing me to play with time and structure. When the story begins, the zombie outbreak has already occurred and Chuck has already been zombified. I hate stories that make me wait for the zombies, which is what I paid to see, so All Together Now opens with some intense zombie action. But because Ricky is telling the story in his present reality of running for his life, he can flashback and fill in the essential details of the start of the outbreak.
Ang: Zombies are people too. They come in all shapes, sizes, speeds, and smarts. What types of the walking dead inhabit your novel (or series)?
Robert: All Together Now is at its heart a tale of a fear of conformity, so it was very important to me that my zombies all be the same. In Ricky's universe, there is only one zombie with many faces, though Ricky encounters adult zombies, child zombies, and my personal favorite, baby zombies. As I write this, I'm within two weeks of becoming a first time father, and nothing is more terrifying to me than an infant corpse crawling up my leg (writing a book is cheaper than hiring a psychologist).
I love fast zombies, but the zombies in All Together Now are slow, rotting, and stupid. Their only thought is killing the living. Otherwise, they're completely vacant--though I love Hugh Howey's take on the internal struggle of walking corpses in I, Zombie.
Ang: Will your infection spread to more books and series? How many blood and guts offerings do you predict in your future? How soon can our zombie and human readers expect to see your next festering contribution?
Robert: All Together Now is planned as a standalone tale, though all my stories have sequels I just never get around to writing. I didn't hold anything back. I put everything I have to say about zombies in this book and for now, the well is dry.
My next book will actually be a children's tale coming out sometime next year--more on that one soon. I run the blog Middle Grade Ninja and most of my writing is targeted at a younger audience.
But underneath my nice guy routine, something dark and antisocial festers until I can't suppress it any longer. When it grabs hold and overtakes me, I have to write something as bleak and nasty as All Together Now, which features a slaughter at a daycare center. I have no doubt my dark side will surface again after enough time has passed, and when that happens, all bets are off.
Ang: What is your favorite way to kill a zombie? Shoot ‘em, hack ‘em, poke ‘em, burn ‘em, or something even more fiendish? ***Zombie readers please turn away to avoid having your putrefied feelings eviscerated.
Robert: Definitely hacking. I can think of nothing more satisfying than the thwack of a machete in a walking corpse.
Ang: Do you have a favorite cinematic zombie? Example: My co-blogger Zombie Earl is quite fond of Zombie Roger from the original Dawn of the Dead.
Robert: Not to tread on the next question, but at the moment, my favorite zombie is Sophia from season two of The Walking Dead. I don't think I've ever been more moved or devastated than when she came shuffling out of Hershel's barn.
A close runner-up is the underwater zombie in the 1979 classic Zombi. He fought a freaking shark! You gotta love a zombie with heart. I rooted for him to eat the human because he just wanted it more:)
Ang: Who is your favorite character from The Walking Dead (comics or TV show)?
Robert: It's no secret that I'm a mega fan of The Walking Dead. My main character's name is Ricky and he's traveling with a girl whose last name is Kirkman:) I love the comics slightly more than the TV show, but they're both the best there is (so is the video game).
It's hard to pick a favorite character among so many greats, but Michonne is the best. Mrs. Kent and I allow for fantasy loves. She lusts for the president in Scandal and I'd brave the zombie apocalypse for a date with Michonne:)
Ang: Finally, how prepared are you for the zombie apocalypse that we all know is just around the corner?
Robert: Not at all. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I think the folks who die first are the lucky ones. If I see zombies breaking out, I'll be happy with the life I've lived and accept its end. I'd hole up in a library to reread my favorite books until someone chomps my brain.
Chow down on your copy of All Together Now at Amazon.
Robert Kent is the author of the young adult novel All Together Now: A Zombie Story. He runs the popular blog for writers, MIDDLE GRADE NINJA, and lives with his family in
, where he's hard at work
on his next book. Indianapolis,