Field Study (An Author In Search of Zombies)

At the beginning of the writing process for each book, I like to familiarize myself with the subject matter. I want to get to know the kind of people that I’m writing about, see firsthand how they live and talk and what interests them. For obvious reasons, I debated skipping this step when I started work on Zombie Blondes. I asked myself if I really wanted to get up close and personal to flesh eaters. What if I were tasty? Or worse, what if I wasn’t? What would that do to my self-esteem? After all, us writers are notoriously fragile when it comes to our sense of worth. But in the end, I knew what I had to do. So regardless of my own personal safety, I set out in search of zombies.

I know there are some naïve folks out there who’d deny the existence of zombies, but that’s simply because they’ve never ridden the NYC subways at rush hour during the summer season. Surly if they’ve ever gazed upon the blank faces of these flesh and blood automatons as they moved mindlessly through the searing heat of the transit system’s underground maze of tunnels they wouldn’t dare suggest that the walking dead aren’t among us. But the urban species was not the zombie I was interested in. From what I can tell, the urban zombie is controlled by cell phone applications and intense marketing schemes. It’s a form of the disease that, while difficult, can be overcome. I was in search of another kind of zombie…the incurable, calculated, ruthless kind intent on controlling their own destiny.

Every dabbler in the art of horror knows there is only one place to go when looking for that kind of evil…a small town in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, I happen to live in such a place, nestled in the heart of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. The area’s strange juju has been documented in books like Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle and movies like Wendigo, so I thought if there are curse-pedaling dwarves and blood thirsty spirits about, there’s a good chance zombies have made a homestead as well. Freaks like to stick together. So I decided to follow my hunch and proceeded with my own brand of gonzo reporting.

I must confess the evidence of a zombie infestation was flimsy, but present. First off, it’s one of the last populated areas in the country where there’s no cell phone service, which means there’s no lifeline to the outside world. There are also an inordinate number of houses with no residents. The official explanation for this is that these homes are weekend houses. Maybe so, but then I asked myself why most were empty during the weekend as well? And last but not least, the employees at the local gas station seem to instinctively know who’s local and who isn’t. Outsiders are treated far more rudely. Are outsiders being targeted in order to keep them from snooping around?

The deeper I dug, the less sure I was I even wanted to know the truth. But alas, I’m a professional. I watched and observed, took notes and examined the inhabitants very carefully. At first it was hard to discern zombie behavior from the normal middle-of-nowhere stir-crazy habits that people in these parts are prone to. But in the end I couldn’t ignore the facts, there was definitely something sinister going on behind closed doors.

In my more paranoid moments, I believed the conspiracy to be rooted into the very fabric of the town. Everyone was in on it. Not everyone was living dead of course. That would just be irrational, but even those who weren’t seemed aware of the festering rot woven into this sleepy little Main Street.

After several weeks, I had all the proof I needed. I was on to them. I knew how these beasts operated and I was going to document it. Now legally, and for my own safety, I declare my book Zombie Blondes to be a work of fiction, but all fiction has its basis in reality. Anyone who doesn’t believe me, I invite you to spend a week up the mountains during the dead of winter…that is, if you dare.

Brian James is the author of several notable books including Pure Sunshine and Dirty Liar. He lives in a small town in upstate New York that may or may not be overrun with zombies. His new book, Zombie Blondes, is now available from Square Fish.


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