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eSpec Books interviews James Chambers,  author of Eyes of the Dead, book four in the Corpse Fauna series.

eSB: Eyes of the Dead is a zombie serial, the last in a four-book series, without spoilers, can you tell us a bit about your Corpse Fauna and how you came up with the idea?

JC: The “corpse fauna” series name came from the term for insects and other critters that gather and thrive on decaying bodies. The idea came to me that in a world overrun by the dead, the living are like carrion beetles scrambling over a corpse, and their days are numbered. The genesis of the series goes back to my misspent youth of watching every movie about the walking dead I could get my hands on, reading horror comics, such as Deadworld, and the very few and far between books and anthologies that featured the modern zombie, such as Skipp and Spector’s The Book of the Dead. It might be hard to fathom in 2022, when people are growing tired of even the most popular zombie fiction, but in the mid-nineties when I conceived the first story in what became the Corpse Fauna cycle, if you wanted new zombie stories, you literally had to make your own. George Romero, godfather of the modern zombie, release Day of the Dead as an unrated film in 1985, and despite it’s success, no producer would take a chance on such a beyond-R-rated gory film, no matter how smart or well-written for many years after that. So, yeah, I came up with the idea by wishing for more stories about the living dead and wondering what they might be until I struck on the idea of an inmate coming out of solitary to find the world in the grip of reanimated corpses. That was originally supposed to be an eight- to twelve-page comic book story for a one-shot comic, entitled Zombie Hell, that my friend and fellow fan of the dead, Christopher Mills, planned, but never produced. Twenty-five years, four novellas, and assorted short stories later, here I am.

eSB: The series is more a linked series of stories, like a magazine serial, rather than novels… or in this case, novellas. Why did you chose that structure and what challenges did that pose?

JC: I’m partial to short fiction when it comes to horror. It allows me to ramp up the intensity, keep the plot tight, and bring the reader to some pretty dark places they might not like to visit for hundreds of pages. The first Corpse Fauna story, “The Dead Bear Witness,” was a short story published in chapbook and then in an anthology, The Dead Walk. The editor, Vince Sneed, planned a follow-up anthology, The Dead Walk Again, and asked me for a follow-up piece. But he wanted something longer and more expansive to explore the world. Thus I wrote “The Dead in Their Masses.” The first novella-length piece in the cycle. In the interim I’d written a short version of “Tears of Blood,” but after completing “Masses,” the novella format seemed ideal for the stories I wanted to tell. I decided to flesh out the world and some of the characters in additional short stories. The linked approach appealed to me because I wanted to focus on different characters, themes, and situations at different times, look at different experiences in the Corpse Fauna world. I’ve still got an inkling to do that. So, while “The Eyes of the Dead” completes the Corpse Fauna cycle, there’s always a chance I might return to that world to visit other places and new characters. One never knows.

eSB: What inspired your take on zombies and is there anything in the book that is a subtle but intentional nod to something else?

JC: All modern zombie, walking dead, living dead, zombie apocalypse fiction owes a debt in some degree to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (in which the monsters are vampires, but the themes inform the modern zombie) and Night of the Living Dead by George Romero, as well as Romero’s sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The most popular zombie series ever, perhaps, The Walking Dead is essentially the answer to what would happen if a George Romero movie never ended. In that sense, the Corpse Fauna stories are a nod to the zombie stories I loved growing up, which would also include Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. But a nod or a homage only goes so far. I crafted my own take on the walking dead, how they function, why they’re reanimated, and answered questions about that kind of world that I’d never seen asked in other works, such as “What happens if living people eat the walking dead?”; and “What happens to saints, whose bodies don’t decay, when they’re resurrected?”; and “Could a world overrun by the walking dead actually improve life for some survivors?”

eSB: Though this story arc is over, do you foresee writing more stories with these characters or in this world? Whichever your answer, why?

JC: Never say never. I’m done for now, but there is plenty of room to revisit the Corpse Fauna world. I can’t say more without risking spoilers, but in a worldwide phenomenon, such as the dead returning to life to eat the living, the few characters we follow in any given story are only one experience.

eSB: Okay, first off the top of your head, regardless of media type or format, what is your favorite take on zombies, and why?

JC: George Romero’s essential Dead series, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead, are my favorite. They fully established the modern zombie as a classic monster, bringing them from the horrific to the sympathetic, and they take the audience to some very dark places physically and psychologically. They’re challenging movies that are about much more than just walking corpses who feast on the living. Romero’s storytelling mastery makes them compelling and impossible to forget, and yet they hold up to repeated viewing. Coming it right alongside is Return of the Living Dead, which branches off from Night of the Living Dead in a very different gonzo sort of direction.  Close on after those, the early issues of the original Deadworld comic book series.

eSB: What would you put in your zombie apocalypse survival kit, and why?

JC: Antibiotics, other medicines, and first aid supplies, for obvious reasons. Whisky or another booze because money would be meaningless, but survivors would really need a drink. Body armor of any kind from professional Kevlar vests to high school athlete shoulder pads and a bicycle helmet to protect against bites. A flamethrower because dead things tend to burn well. Chocolate, for the same reason as booze. Some highly concentrated food items. Water filtration gear for drinking water. A baseball bat. Hand-cranked flashlight. An axe or machete. Running shoes because zombies are slow. Dry socks because if you’re feet are comfortable the rest will follow. Sunscreen. A book of jokes because the people of a zombie apocalypse will need humor.

eSB: There are echoes of religious overtones in the Corpse Fauna series, what inspired that aspect of the book? Did you draw on personal knowledge, or did you depend on research to draw the allusions you incorporated?

JC: Any religious overtones (or undertones) grew from the character of St. Bianco, a fictional, American saint (introduced in “Tears of Blood”), whose body never corrupted after death. When he rose he returned with his spirit and mind intact but very much one of the living dead. There are very few such cases of incorruptible corpses, but they exist. I started unraveling the thread of what that might mean in a world of the walking dead, how that phenomenon might manifest itself in different belief systems—or in the case of the Red Man, an overwhelming, psychotic narcissism. It started with the characters, who then necessitated confronting the religious implications of their existence. And it expanded into the fabric of the whole series in terms of the answer to why the dead rise. At the same time, it’s an extension of the overall social themes of the series. There are constant, biting criticisms of modern life throughout the stories, explorations of the conflict between society and individuality, of freedom and conformity, faith and trust, and the basis of personal moral codes. Most of that came from my own experience and meditations. I did some basic research on the corpses of saints that remain incorrupt, but the overall cosmology of the series is my own invention.

eSB: What haunts you as an author?

JC: Deadlines. And my eSpec Books editors. 😊

eSB: What is your least favorite aspect of being an author, and why?

JC: I pretty much love it all, but it does get frustrating how slow the wheels of publishing can turn at times.

eSB: What advice would you give aspiring horror writers?

JC: Read anything and everything you can get your hands on, and read outside the horror genre. You have to read horror too so you’re familiar with the genre conventions and trends and can avoid repeating ideas already done to death. But horror works best when you put the reader in a realistic setting with characters they care about and then introduce horrifying elements. It helps to understand the real world and how it works, how people perceive it, and how non-horror stories work to do that. Much horror fiction today blends horror with other genres. It’s a popular approach because it creates contrast. A classic vampire against a science fiction background. A romance in which one of the partners turns out to be a demon.

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

JC: I’m presently working on a new story collection to be announced later in 2022 as well as a comic script for the Kolchak the Night Stalker 50th Anniversary Graphic Novel Anthology plus some new Kolchak prose projects. I’m working on a new anthology project and an original horror graphic novel, and a handful of short stories. And, of course, putting the finishing touches on Even in the Grave, a new anthology of ghost stories I edited with Carol Gyzander.

James Chambers is an award-winning author of horror, crime, fantasy, science fiction, and other genres. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for his story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills.” Booklist described his collection On the Night Border as “…a haunting exploration of the space where the real world and nightmares collide,” and, in a starred review, said of his collection On the Hierophant Road: “For fans of the new breed of dark-speculative-fiction writers who actively play with genre confines to create reads that are inventive, thought-provoking, and creepily fun.” Publisher’s Weekly gave his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas, The Engines of Sacrifice, a starred review and described it as “…chillingly evocative….”

He is also the author of the short story collection Resurrection House, the Corpse Fauna novellas, including The Dead Bear Witness, Tears of Blood, and The Dead in Their Masses, as well as the dark urban fantasy, Three Chords of Chaos, and Kolchak and the Night Stalkers: The Faceless God. His short stories have been published in numerous anthologies, including After Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, Chiral Mad 2, Chiral Mad 4, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Qualia Nous, Shadows Over Main Street (1 and 2), The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails, and the magazines Bare BoneCthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman.

He edited the anthology Under Twin Suns: Alternate Histories of the Yellow Sign and co-edited A New York State of Fright: Horror Stories from the Empire State, a Bram Stoker Award nominee.

He has also written and edited numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House, and The Midnight Hour with Jason Whitley.

He lives in New York.

Learn more about James Chambers:

Website  *  GoodReads  *  Amazon  *  BookBub  *  YouTube

Follow James Chambers on social media:

Twitter  *  Facebook  *  Instagram  *  MeWe 

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