Be it in movies, games, or books, zombies are either fast or they’re slow, and never shall the twain meet. But in 2010’s Rise Again, writer Ben Tripp dared to suggest that one might actually evolve into the other (and we all know how some people feel about evolution). Now Tripp has released a sequel, Rise Again Below Zero (Gallery Books), in which he suggests that the living impaired may evolve even further.
For those who haven’t read it yet, what is your novel Rise Again Below Zero about, and how does it connect to your previous book, Rise Again?
In Rise Again, we witnessed the evolution of a new, deadly form of the undead. And by the end, we’ve got a pretty good idea things aren’t going to go well for the folks dealing with it. In Rise Again Below Zero, they have to deal with it.
How would you describe the zombies in your books, and why did you go with those kind as opposed to some other kind?
I’m a lifelong fan of zombie movies. Over the years I’ve seen them go from the slow and shambling type to the running-around-screaming type. I began to wonder: What if that was what happened in real life? What if the condition that animated them began to mutate? So in the first book I followed the progression from the “moaners,” who are slow and stupid, to the “hunters,” fast, wolf-like, and then looked beyond that to the next stage in their transformation: smart zombies, almost indistinguishable from the living. In the new book…well, you’ll have to read it.
What works of zombie fiction — comics, movies, games, or even other books — would say influenced your depiction of zombies?
I’m an insufferable George Romero fanboy. But zombies turn up in all kinds of weird places, they just didn’t have a name for them before. Charles Dickens includes a really chilling description of one in Oliver Twist, which I included in Below Zero. Lazarus, in The Bible, fits the description. Frankenstein’s monster is a zombie.
What about your writing style? What other works of fiction, zombie or otherwise, do you consider to be an influence on how you write?
That’s such a good question I can’t answer it. I’m influenced by everything. I read anything and everything. The whole idea of writing style is tricky, because I’d consider myself an Edwardian fantasist in the H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs mold…and I’d be completely wrong. Only one of my readers could come up with an accurate answer to this one.
When you started writing the first Rise Again, did you set out to write a zombie novel, or did you come up with the ideas behind it and then later realize that it would work best if the threat was zombies as opposed to rabid dogs or aliens?
One day I had literally seen every zombie movie available. There were none left. I’d even seen the Category III stuff out of China. I wondered what books there were in the genre. It became clear pretty quickly that once you got past Max Brooks and a couple of other writers, the field was wide open. So I thought, heck, I should write one. I already had a screenplay about zombies, so I expanded it into the novel.
Rise Again actually started out as a TV pilot script. But I was told by the networks that there was absolutely no market for zombies on the small screen, and I think the total failure of The Walking Dead has proven them correct.
Why do you think this story works best with zombies as the threat, as opposed to rabid dogs or aliens?
The only thing mankind has to fear is itself. Zombies are us. They are ourselves at our worst: greedy, utterly hunger-driven, uncaring. It had to be zombies.
Like the first book, Rise Again Below Zero is set in a small mountain town called Forest Peak. What is it about that kind of setting that made you think this would be an interesting place to set a zombie apocalypse?
I was probably hallucinating.
You also made the sheriff, who’s main character of the first book, a woman, while many writers would’ve made them a guy. Why did you decide to go that route with the character?
It’s her story. I’m still surprised she let a man write it down.
Sheriff Danielle Adelman’s other major defining characteristic is that she’s a troubled Iraq War vet. Obviously, being a military person is good in a zombie outbreak, and making her troubled clearly can lead to some interesting plot points, but was that why you went this way with her, or was there other reasons behind it?
Combat veterans get the shittiest deal imaginable. They come home after grueling service and the country is insane. All the people they were fighting for are killing each other at Walmart over $2 waffle irons. If anybody knows what zombies look like, it’s war vets.
Did you model her after anyone in particular?
Sometimes characters just show up and report for duty. She’s one of them.
I’m sure you’ve thought about it, so I’ll ask: If your books were made into a TV show, or even a movie, who would you want to play Danielle and who would you want to direct it?
Danny should be played by an unknown. Somebody we’ve never seen before, an ordinary American. The director? David Fincher [Fight Club, The Social Network], because I want to hang around with him and talk movies.
So not including yours, what are your personal favorite zombie movies, books, games, etc.?
To answer your question sideways: Clear your schedule one day and sit down and watch Island Of Lost Souls, then The Last Man On Earth, then Night Of The Living Dead. All in a row. You’ll feel weird for months afterwards. My favorite thing to do is make cocktails out of different things, combine stuff. Read Dracula [by Bram Stoker] and [Jim Thompson’s] The Killer Inside Me back-to-back. One thing juxtaposed with another will sometimes unleash some very weird associations and send you in strange directions. Go down every rabbit hole. You’ll find there are things much weirder than rabbits down there.
I notice that you didn’t mention any video games. Are you not a fan of zombie games, or the way zombies have been portrayed in games?
I don’t play them much. It’s not because I think they’re inferior, some of the stuff out there is astounding to look at. But I find the pervasive shoot-to-solve-problems narrative depressing.
And there’s another factor: The world-building in them reminds me a lot of theme parks, which I designed for twenty-five years. Advancing through the self-propelled narratives inherent in game design feels too much like work.
Also, you kids play that darned hippity hop music too loud. And get off my lawn.