Interview with: Reg Lee
First off, why zombies?
This is not a very good answer, but I like zombies. And you can do a lot more with zombies than say vampires or ghosts or mummies. With zombies, you can do the George Romero version, or the voodoo version, or you can make your own version. A character in a story dies. They come back to life. They return home and boss their children around. That could be a zombie story. Zombies give you more freedom than vampires. Vampires suck blood. They never age. It’s hard to think outside the box when it comes to vampires. It’s hard to find really good vampire stories. But a lot of good writers like Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, and George Saunders, have done a zombie story or two. And they’re high quality, literary stories. I love that. A literary zombie story. I think it would be hard to pull off with any other horror subject. It would be hard to come up with something surprising and new for the reader.
And sometimes zombies, like any other horror genre, really scare people. I know a girl who is deathly afraid of zombies. She has two escape routes for every building she enters, just in case zombies attack. Her greatest fear is zombies having sex. That kind of phobia is something that could drive a story. And it wouldn’t necessarily be a story about zombies, but it could be about her and her fears, and it would be a zombie story.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
I wanted to write a good zombie story. But I didn’t know how to start. One night in bed, it came to me. The best way to start a zombie story was to lie to the reader and tell them that it wasn’t a zombie story. So I came up with the title in bed: This is Not a Story About Zombies. The humor of the piece followed after that. It was kind of weird in that the title came first, before Patrick, Cadillac, and Tricia—before I even knew they existed. Mark Twain used to talk about writers having a well of inspiration. I think that was the case with the story. The title opened the dam. Everything else came roaring out. It was the fastest story I had ever written. Honestly, in five days, I had a version pretty close to the final draft. I’m not usually that quick. Hardly anybody is. But I think it was Mark Twain’s well. It was overflowing.
“This is Not a Story About Zombies” is quite a unique piece. Is it characteristic of your work in general?
I think it is now. But this was my first attempt at a zombie story. It was also my first attempt at a piece largely driven by dark humor. I joked recently that I only write broken hearted stories and zombie stories. The broken hearted stories weren’t very good. So I think I’ve found my niche, at least for awhile: funny, weirdo type stories.
Khotembo, the African child Cadillac sponsors, is an interesting aspect of this story. Why include him?
I wanted a strong antagonist. So I wanted Cadillac to have some depth, not be too one dimensional, for him to have at least one redeeming quality, something which readers could identify with. And the sponsorship of a needy child in Africa seemed like the right thing for Cadillac. It was something that he could misconstrue, twist into his belief system. It kind of evolved into him training Khotembo into a little “Cadillac.” Khotembo helped define Cadillac’s character.
In the Mack family, you focus mainly on Patrick and Cadillac, but there is a third brother – Pete. He has a very different relationship with Patrick than Cadillac does. How would you describe the role of brotherhood in this story?
I don’t know if brotherhood is the right word for it. Maybe anti-brotherhood is a better word. There’s not a whole lot of loseness between the brothers. But that’s putting it mildly when it comes to Patrick and Cadillac. I’ve known people who dislike their siblings, but Cadillac—his hatred for Patrick is on a different level, an almost unbelievable level, but I’m sure there is some hatred like that out in the world. You think of brotherhood as something solid and safe that you can rely on. I guess in this case, it failed.
As for Pete, he was the middle child. You hear a lot about the middle child being the forgotten child. That fits Pete exactly. You had the oldest child, Cadillac, and the youngest, Patrick. Cadillac and Patrick were central to the story. Pete was more in the background, almost a ghost passing through. That’s the curse of the middle child. He’s the background child.
As a student, how do you balance your course load and writing for your own purposes?
I’m supposed to balance it? I’m kidding. Of course there’s some amount of balance, but it’s not fifty-fifty. More like sixty-forty, with my own writing getting the sixty. I usually run a B average. I’m okay with that. I’ve got my priorities straight. My own writing time, then school work time. It’s not a good way to be if you’re a student. So I’m not advocating it. It’s just the way I am.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on another zombie story. This one is completely different. It’s a zombie love story with a lot of metafiction moments. For example, the author comes into the story and talks to one of the characters. I’m trying to make this new story do a lot of things. Hopefully it will come together. The last zombie story took me about five days. This one has been four months and counting. It’s a longer piece, so I understand why it’s taking so long. But I hope Mark Twain’s well overflows again. At least before the creative doldrums hit.