Hey, zombie-lovers. Check out today’s Q&A with none other than J.J. Adams, editor of the goulishly great The Living Dead zombie anthology. Enjoy. And, once you’re done, stick around for the mailbag…
KellyK writes: “1. How did this collection come about? What made you decide on a zombie anthology?”
JJ: Night Shade Books actually pitched zombies to me. That’s not the way it usually works, but they were so happy with how my first anthology, Wastelands, turned out, that they wanted to do another book with me. And they also wanted to do a zombie anthology, so they called me up and said, “Hey, what do you think of zombies?”
I actually probably would have never thought to pitch a zombie anthology on my own—my background is in SF/fantasy, not horror per se—so it’s not something that I was likely to have pursued on my own. I’m glad it worked out this way—editing the book was a lot of fun, and I think it turned out pretty well.
“2. Since these stories were previously published, how did your duties as editor differ from any previous anthology?”
JJ: A reprint anthology is actually a lot more work, if you cast as wide a net as I’ve been doing with my reprint projects, because you’re searching for and reading hundreds and hundreds of stories, whereas with an original anthology you’re working with a much smaller number of stories. Of course, with an original anthology there’s some revising back and forth with the writers, as needed, because not every story comes in perfect.
Also, with a reprint anthology, a lot of the work is sort of administrative—you’ve got to hunt down the rights owners (usually the author) and sell them on the idea of being included in the book. In many cases, that’s easy. For others, it’s more of a challenge. It helps to have a lot of contacts in the industry, and after working in the field for about eight years now, I’ve made quite a few, so if I need to get in touch with someone, or someone’s agent, chances are I know them, or know someone who does, or someone who can find out.
“3. What criteria did you use to pick the stories for this anthology?”
JJ:With a reprint anthology, I think it’s important to balance well-known stories with harder-to-find gems. In The Living Dead, I’d say about half of the book is stuff most hardcore zombie lovers probably have already read, while the other half is stuff that may have escaped their notice until now.
And then, of course, there’s trying to find variety within the context of a restrictive theme—how do you fill a book with zombie stories and keep each one feeling fresh (so to speak)? That’s one of the challenges, to find the necessary diversity while staying true to the theme. I know some readers have felt I included too much diversity, but for others that’s what they loved about the book.
Other than that, I basically picked the stories I liked the best of all the stories I read, keeping the variety and well-known parameters in mind. Also, my focus was on the zombie story as seen through the lens of speculative fiction—my preference was for stories that examined some aspect of what the world would actually be like after a zombie uprising, as opposed to the splatterpunk-type of zombie story which is rather more prevalent, though there are a few in the book that would qualify as splatterpunk.
Galactick writes: “Great selection for the zombie literati. A few questions, if you please –
1) How did you end up in the editor’s chair? Admit it! Are you a closet writer biding your time?”
JJ: If you want the long version, I wrote about this as one of the first posts I made on my blog a couple years ago. You can find that here. But here’s the short version:
I grew up as a SF/fantasy reader/viewer. Played D&D and some other roleplaying games. Tried DMing, but it didn’t suit me, so because I still felt some desire to create, I turned to writing. First thing I wrote turned out to be a novel. Finished it and everything. Thankfully I never sent it out anywhere. It was pretty bad, though I later turned it into a screenplay, which was later optioned by a studio (nothing came of that, though). I was about 18 or 19 at the time, I guess. Never thought I’d go to college, was just working retail at a bookstore at the time. Once I got fed up with working retail, I decided to try out the community college; initially, I was going to get a 2-year degree in business, so that I could get a loan to open up my own SF/fantasy specialty shop with a friend of mine. So we both enrolled, but at some point he decided to switch to computer science (without telling me!), so I said screw it, and decided to focus on English and creative writing.
In college, I discovered workshopping, and it was there that I discovered that I was pretty good at editing other people’s writing. Writing was still my primary focus, though. I actually ended up in editing because I thought it would be an interesting career to have while I wrote on the side, and that I would learn a lot along the way. Turns out both of those things are true, but my writing has just kind of been put on hold. At first, I found it paralyzing to try to write while working as an editor—perhaps because my first drafts are rough, and I couldn’t help but see them as terrible, terrible slush pile stories, on par (or below) with the stuff I spent all day rejecting at work. (Besides being an anthology editor, I work at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction as an assistant editor.)
So, I wouldn’t say I’m a closet writer biding my time, but it’s not inconceivable that I’ll write fiction again someday.
“2) In putting together this anthology, were there any stories that you wished you could have included but didn’t?”
JJ: I don’t remember anything like that for this one. There were a few stories that I feared I wouldn’t be able to use because of contractual issues, but I think everything worked out in the end. It’s possible I’m forgetting something.
For Wastelands, there was one story I couldn’t get rights to. Which is odd, because you probably haven’t heard of the author. I couldn’t use it because his publisher owned rights to the story and they were rather unreasonable.
“3) What’s the fascination with zombies?”
JJ: I’m not sure, but they are fascinating, right? I think at least part of it must be that, more than pretty much any other monster, we see ourselves in them…because they are us, but dead, rotting, mindless versions of us that are trying to eat us. So that simultaneously instills us with the revulsion of seeing our friends and family and neighbors not only dying, but then rising and trying to kill us, and forces us to confront our own mortality, because there’s our inevitable fate, staring back at us right in the face.
Narelle from Aus writes: “When creating a collection such as this do you find yourself with too many options and have to make some tough choices as to which to take out or have a few in mind and go hunting for the rest?”
JJ: There are definitely too many options. I had a long, long list of stuff that I seriously considered when I was making my final selections. Actually, the choices were so tough that I convinced Night Shade to let me make the book bigger to include more stories. Originally it was going to be around 180,000 words; it ended up 230,000, so we expanded it significantly from our original plans.
I’m actually going to be editing a sequel—The Living Dead 2—so you’ll get to see some of those other stories that didn’t make it into the first one. But The Living Dead 2 will also have some all-new, original fiction. It’s still very early in the process, so I can’t say which authors just yet. We’re looking at a 2010 publication date for that, probably Fall.
TimC writes: “If you’re still taking questions for JJ, I’d like to ask him about his background (educational and recreational reading interest) and how he ended up as an editor at Nightshade.
JJ: I answered some of this above, but I’ll expand a bit.
My first job out of college was at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I started off reading slush, then slowly took on other editorial responsibilities as well. I’ve been there eight years now. (If you don’t know what “slush” is, check out my FAQ page; short answer: slush is what you call unsolicited story submissions.)
So, I’ve been at F&SF for eight years, and for most of that time I’ve also been doing some related freelance work in SF/fantasy. For instance, doing interviews with authors, or book reviews. I’ve reviewed for both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and currently my interviews with authors appear daily on SCI FI Wire.
All that kind of sets up my background. As for actually working with Night Shade, I should clarify that my relationship as an anthologist to Night Shade is like the relationship of any author to his publishing house—it’s freelance, so I’m not technically an editor “at” Night Shade. Typically, referring to someone that way would imply that she edits novels for the house, or otherwise acquires books for the house. I don’t do any of that; I edit anthologies for Night Shade on a case-by-case basis. We sign contracts, as you would for a novel, get an advance (which I use to pay the authors), get royalties, etc.
However, my relationship with Night Shade does go a bit further—once we started working together on these anthologies, they hired me to be their publicist. So I’m doing that now, in addition to everything else I do. But that’s kind of what a freelancer is all about—multiple revenue streams.
“I’d also like to know what he’s got in the works.”
JJ: I mentioned above that I’m working on The Living Dead 2. But the next thing to come out will be an SF anthology called Federations, from Prime Books, in May, which focuses on stories set in interstellar societies. It’s a mix of reprints and originals. Just finished putting that one together. It’s got stories by Orson Scott Card, George R. R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey, and about 20 others. You can see the full table of contents over on my blog.
After that, the next thing on the docket is By Blood We Live, a reprint anthology of vampire stories I’m working on. That’s due out in August. I’m also working on a reprint anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories—stories by contemporary writers, not the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories—which will mix straight mystery stories with the SF/fantasy ones. We don’t have a final title for that one yet, but it’s scheduled for September. Both of these are from Night Shade. By Blood We Live will be a big giant book like The Living Dead; the Sherlock Holmes volume might be too, but I’m not sure yet.
“And, lastly, I want to ask him “What scares YOU?”
JJ: I once saw Stephen King doing a live reading in New York (with J. K. Rowling and John Updike—it was a charity fundraiser for Doctors Without Borders, I think), and someone from the audience, during the Q&A period, asked him this same question. At the time, I groaned to myself, and thought: Wow, I bet no one’s ever asked him that before. And I believe his answer indicated that I was right.
I, however, have not been asked that before. But still, I find the question amusing.
To answer: I don’t know…death? When it comes down to it, I don’t find a lot of things scary. In fiction or film in particular, I very rarely find things frightening. Which is not to say I’m not startled by horror movies when crazy shit happens, but that’s not the same thing as being afraid. Really, it seems to me, it all comes down to death. That’s what almost everyone is really, truly afraid of, when they say they’re afraid of things. Like spiders—you’re afraid of them, because you have this irrational thought that they might kill you (or rational, depending on the kind of spider). I think that’s part of what’s cool about zombies, that death is made even more horrible.
To me, though, what I find scariest in fiction is the sort of thing that’s all-too-plausible. When you introduce SF/fantasy elements into a work, that makes it inherently less scary to me. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, unless being scared is your number one goal from entertainment.
Pilota writes: “Great compilation! So fun to read. I must admit that I see you as a Zombie expert now. I’d love to hear your thoughts on slow moving vs fast moving zombies. Which is scarier to you? Which is most likely to be true in the event that the dead did become reanimated? Lastly, were you a fan of Shaun of the Dead?”
JJ: Loved Shaun of the Dead. Definitely one of my favorite zombie films.
I think fast-moving zombies are scarier, but that’s just because they’re much more dangerous, as least on the surface. There’s something about the slow, relentlessness of the slow-moving zombie that’s almost equally horrifying, even if they’re pretty easy to outrun. I guess I prefer the traditional slow-moving zombie, both in entertainment and in the case of zombie apocalypse. Simon Pegg and I agree on that, I think.
If corpses were suddenly to reanimate and start walking around in a brain-dead shamble around town, I’d say that the slow-moving kind seems much more plausible to me, though ultimately, I think it would depend on just how dead the person was when he or she was reanimated. A fresh corpse would probably be able to move around a little better, I would think, than one that’s been rotting for a while. I’m not sure about the preservation techniques funeral homes use, though; that could throw off my calculations. Of course, in Night of the Living Dead, it’s specifically mentioned that it’s the unburied dead that are returning to life, so Romero danced around that topic. I guess it also depends on what force is reanimating the corpses. Vampires always seem to be able to move pretty fast, so it stands to reason that zombie could too (again, depending on the condition of the bodies).
duneknight writes: “i gotta disagree with you on that one, Bale had a right to express his anger and i think he expressed it professionally…how? well after he was done he didnt take a 2 hour break or anything, but he said lets go again right after, that tells me that hes in control of the situation even at a moment of outburst.”
Answer: Yes, and he didn’t punch, kick, or set the DP on fire, so I suppose we should give him credit for that too. I can’t imagine how much worse it could have gone if he had been unprofessional.
duneknight also writes: “Bale told the guy repeatadly what he shouldnt do, but clearly the DP total disregarded the actor’s feelings.”
Answer: Uh, no. The guy walked by his line of sight and distracted him. That was it.
Angel writes: “So the 4th of February is now officialy over, Have you guys started principal photography on Universe yet, Or will you be starting next week?”
Answer: Next week.
Angel also writes: “Is there anything cool we can expect to see on your blog once Universe starts shooting or are we going to have to wait till Summer 2009 for some behind the scenes pictures or anything like that?”
Answer: We’ll see as things progress. For the moment, they want to keep the set under wraps.
Sheryl writes: “I found the crew and most of the cast were very nice, wonderful people who would answer ALL of my THOUSANDS of questions as this was new to me! And let me tell you – they worked HARD !!!! Sometimes 12,14, and even 16 hr. days! The most important thing that I learned- HURRY UP AND WAIT!!!! But I did enjoy it and learned alot, I think I appricate (spelling?) T.V. and movies much more. Your thoughts, Joe? Sheryl”
Answer: Well, I think many of you already know my thoughts. The people who make up the crew are hardworking, talented, and incredibly committed – always the first ones in, and the last ones out. Check out this entry for a peek at the unsung heroes of Stargate: Atlantis (http://josephmallozzi.com/2008/05/03/may-3-2008/)
Jade writes: “which producers the type to kick a craft service guy in the nuts for serving them a lukewarm latte.”
Are you describing yourself?
Answer: Absolutely not! I’m more of an earlobe twister.
Michelle writes: “Joe, I noticed several of the actors cast for SGU have theater training (Brian Smith, David Blue). Was that a conscious choice and if so why is it something you’d look for?”
Answer: Nope. The final casting decisions came down to the same thing (as always): we cast the best actor for the role.
Ava writes: “Will we see Chuck the technician in the SGA film?”
Answer: Don’t see why not.
JK Carter writes: “What sparks an idea? And do you start in the middle, beginning, or end?”
Answer: My ideas come to me during those quiet moments when it’s just me and my thoughts – in bed, in the shower, while I’m driving. As for what sparks and idea – hard to say. Be it an idea, a plot twist, or a dialogue gem, it’ll pop into my head usually out of the blue. Which, quite frankly, is kind of scary since it’s very possible that’ll be the last idea, plot twist, or dialogue gem to magically appear.
Barbara durbin writes: “ im in kentucky and the ice storm has left us with out power and they are saying another 2 to 3 weeks with over 2,000 down poles. looks like a war zone… im at my collage using their computors…”
Answer: Take care of yourself. Wishing you and the entire state of Kentucky warm days ahead.
AV eddy writes: “ So…Joe, all-knowing and cool blogging guy, while I’m waiting for my ice cream, please enlighten us as to why nothing is private anymore?”
Answer: It’s the downside of the internet age. On the upside, information as at your fingertips 24/7. I was thinking about this tonight as I was driving home from work. I caught the tail-end of a news report about a company that was fined for some ethics violation. Thanks to the internet, getting the whole story is as simple as a google search.
Wm writes: “ I head from a friend that at the convention in the UK they were told the SG1 movie filming was pushed back to summer as well. Can you confirm that?”
Answer: Pushed back from when? There was never an official date for the start of production on either movie. That said, we were always aiming for a Summer shoot. The possibility of shooting earlier was never considered.
EH-T writes: “Did you ever try the haggis?”
Answer: Alas, I did not.
Major Davis writes: “ 1. Could you at least give Major davis a small role or at least a cameo in project twilight?
2. What is your favorite episode you wrote?
3. Do you eat out fancy every day?
4. Did the Military have a positive or negative response to the scripts you sent them?”
Answers: 1. Too early to tell but, at this point, we have no plans to include the character in the Atlantis movie.
2. The one I enjoy re-watching most? I’d say it’s a toss up between The Ties That Bind and Family Ties.
3. Nope. Tonight, I had a salad for dinner. And ice cream.
4. I don’t know if we’ve heard back from them yet but the military’s response has always been positive in the past.
Angel writes: “Just want to know if any new high-tech todays world gadgets will be used on the show.”
Answer: Oh, yeah. The kino for one.
DasNdanger writes: “In your mind (or if it was ever discussed amongst the writers), do Wraith need to drink water, or do they get all the fluids they require through the feeding process?”
Answer: In my mind, a human being would more than meet a wraith’s fluid requirements.