In his young adult novel Little Dead Man, writer Jake Bible introduces us to Garrett and Garth, two brothers just trying to get by in a zombie infested world. The kicker being that Garth is a himself a zombie, and Garrett’s conjoined twin. But before you assume that hilarity ensues, please read the following interview, in which Bible discusses the book’s origins and what influenced his depictions of the “living impaired.”
Let’s start with the basics: What is Little Dead Man about, and where did you get the idea for it?
Little Dead Man is a sudden coming of age story about Garret Weir, a seventeen year old boy who believes his family are the only humans left alive years after the zombie apocalypse. He has to deal with the zombies — or necs as he calls them — on a daily basis while also dealing with his less than stable mother, often absent father, and his brother Garth, who happens to be an undead conjoined twin attached to Garret’s spine. Garret has a pretty set routine until his world is ripped apart and he finds out that not only are they not the last people alive, but the others out there may not be so friendly.
What are some of the things that inspired the book? Because it kind of reminds me of a zombie version of that movie Basket Case.
I never even thought about the similarity to Basket Case, but it comes close. Although, Garth isn’t really dangerous at all. He’s sorta along for the ride as Garret tries to keep them from getting killed in the post-apocalyptic world they’ve been thrust into.
The true inspiration for the novel is family. It’s a family story of love and loss, trust and betrayal, and about how we never really know who our loved ones are, even if you spend every second with one of them is attached to your spine.
Zombies have been depicted in many different ways. What are some of the movies, comics, games, and other things that informed how you would depict them, and I mean in both a positive and negative way?
Zombies are always a great metaphor for society. I love Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead. Those movies are both outstanding commentaries on our society and who we are as a people. I like writing post-apocalyptic fiction because it gives me a chance to make my own commentary. I can tear certain aspects of society down while building up others. I can highlight strengths, weaknesses, good, evil, whatever. I wanted Little Dead Man to be set in a zombie infested world because I thought conjoined twins — one alive, one undead — would be cool. Plus, in my opinion, zombies are neutral. They aren’t good or evil, they just are. It’s the people you have to watch out for.
Little Dead Man isn’t the first zombie book you’ve written. Do all of your zombie books have the same kinds of zombies, or do you mix it up?
I totally mix up the types of zombies depending on what the story needs. In Dead Mech, they are all fast zombies. They had to be or there’d be no reason for society to create the mechs to fight them. In Z-Burbia, they are classic shambling zombies. I was going for the old school Romero feel in that novel. But Little Dead Man is different. It actually has all different kinds of zombies: There are Shamblers that just amble from place to place; Lurkers tend to hide and jump out at their victims, but they aren’t smart and don’t hide very well; Runners are the fast ones and uber scary; and the sad ones are the Broken, the zombies whose bodies haven’t held up to the ravages of time. Having the various types allowed me to play with the action and story a lot, putting Garret and Garth in different situations as needed.
Did you also do a lot of research into how conjoined twins work?
I’ll be honest and say I did zero research into conjoined twins. If they were both alive I probably would have had to, but since Garth is undead I knew I could just make it all up as I went along. There’s no scientific precedent for the type of conjoined twins in Little Dead Man. I had to think of anatomy, of course, but not the actual science behind how conjoined twins live together. I’m not a hard science writer, even in my science fiction novels. I let the story come first always and hope the facts sort themselves out.
In thinking about where Garret’s zombie conjoined twin Garth would be connected to Garret, you obviously had to figure out a place that would prevent Garth from being able to bite Garret. How tough was it to figure out a place on Garret’s body where this would work, but would also work for the story you’re trying to tell?
I wanted it to be practical. Knowing that zombies don’t grow, I figured having the brothers conjoined at the top of the spine would work best because that way they would always be at head level together as Garret grew and Garth stayed the same size. Also Garret would be able to cover Garth in a backpack, if needed. Plus, having them conjoined at the spine made the idea of surgically separating them difficult, since spinal surgery is so dangerous in normal times, let alone in a post-apocalyptic world.
Was there ever any thought to having Garth not be a conjoined twin, but just Garret’s brother, though still a zombie?
I knew immediately that if I had twin brothers, one alive and one undead, then they’d have to be conjoined with no chance of separation. If they were regular, separate twins then Garth would have been killed right after birth and the story would be over.
Yeah, that’s a good point.
Having the two conjoined was the only way to keep the brothers together. It also gives an intimacy and sympathy not found in very many zombie novels.
What about having either Garret or Garth be a girl instead of a boy? Or having both of them be girls?
Having them be brothers was my first and only thought. The reality of conjoined twins is they are almost always identical twins as well. Not all the time, but the majority of the time. This meant that they had to be the same gender. I have a lot of female protagonists in my novels, and am known for writing strong women characters, but Little Dead Man was always a story about brothers from the second I came up with the idea.
I have one last theoretical question, I swear. Little Dead Man is set in Oregon, which is where you’re from. I assume that’s why you set the book there, yes?
I currently live in Asheville, North Carolina, but grew up in Eugene, Oregon, which is western Oregon. I wanted to set the story somewhere remote and there are few places left in this country that can be considered remote. Southern Oregon is one of them. I also knew one of my plot devices was going to be a forest fire, and southern Oregon is known for them.
I also think part of the reason I went with Oregon is so I could get my head back to a point when I was seventeen. I’ve only lived in North Carolina as an adult, so my perspective here is much different than my perspective growing up in Oregon. Setting it there let me drift back in time a bit and pull from my own feelings and experiences.
One day I do plan on setting a novel in Tahiti or Cancun, possibly New Zealand, so I can utilize that handy, dandy tax write off option.
As you’re well aware, there are a lot of people writing zombie novels these days. But I’m wondering what non-zombie novelists, and in fact non-horror novelists, do you consider to be an influence in the way you write?
The late, great sci-fi/fantasy writer, Roger Zelazny, is one of my biggest influences. His Amber series is outstanding and his novel, Lord Of Light, is incredible. As for other non-horror novelists as influences I’d say, in no particular order: Cormac McCarthy, Tom Robbins, Henry Miller, and a lot of the Beat Generation writers.
By the way, how often do people think, because your last name is Bible, that you write religious books, only to get a big surprise when they start reading them and realize, no, that guy coming back from the dead isn’t Jesus?
I get asked all the time if Jake Bible is my real name or did I pick it to be sensational. It’s my real name, and being a man that absolutely loves irony, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I haven’t had anyone tell me they picked up a novel expecting a religious or Christian take on the horror genre, but then I think most people that make that mistake probably wouldn’t admit it. I know if I was in their shoes I’d just set the book down and walk away slowly.
Finally, if someone liked Little Dead Man and wanted to read something else you’ve written, what would you suggest they read next?
Ah, that is a very good question. Little Dead Man is young adult novel, which means it’s geared for ages around twelve or thirteen and up. It is violent, but not profane or sexy. That is a major distinction that needs to be made. And I have some more titles coming from Permuted Press which will be geared for teens and even middle grade (8-12), but they won’t be out until later, and the rest of my novels are certainly aimed at adults. I have become known for my profanity in my novels, so that is something parents need to know before they let their kids start reading my other stories. I also don’t pull punches when it comes to gore and violence. When picking up one of my other novels, Parental Guidance is suggested.
That said, if I made a suggestion for adults, I’d say Z-Burbia first. Start with that series. It’s funny, scary, gory, and violent. Or, if a reader likes sci-fi, then my Apex Trilogy would be perfect. The first book, Dead Mech, actually puts mech pilots against hordes of zombies. It also has mechs piloted by zombies! It’s my first novel and crazy fun.