ICONS Interview With Prolific Zombie Author Scott Kenemore

Scott Kenemore is the author of a series of humor books about the undead, and five horror novels.  You may know him best known for a humor book called The Zen of Zombie and the popular novel titled Zombie, Ohio.  In addition to his books, he’s also published short stories and essays everywhere from The Kenyon Review to Slate to PopMatters to the Chicago Tribune.  A member of the Horror Writers Association and the Zombie Research Society, Scott Kenemore recently premiered the third in his state specific zombie trilogy with Zombie, Indiana.  Now with the upcoming release of his book of short horror stories The Grand Hotel, Icons of Fright was fortunate enough to chat with Kenemore and learn a little more about what goes on in the mind of a horror author.

ICONS: Your “Zombie, States” Trilogy cover a hypothetical outbreak in Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.  Despite being in the same region, these states (and your stories about them) are entirely different.  Why did you choose this chunk of middle America?
SCOTT KENEMORE: Those are the three states I cover in my “Zombie” series because they are the places I know best.  I grew up in Indiana, went to college in Ohio, and have lived for the past ten years in Illinois.  I wanted to compare and contrast how they might react in a zombie outbreak scenario because of the subtle but concrete differences in temperament between them.  I think a lot of people who live on the coasts see Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio as essentially identical.  If you’ve lived for any length of time in these places, you know that isn’t the case.
ICONS: As someone born and raised in Illinois and now a Buckeye, I completely agree with you.  I’m curious about one thing though, Zombie, Indiana is an extremely political book, while Illinois is arguably the more politically corrupt state.
SK: Correct.  Illinois, as a state, is far better known for its political corruption.  However, lately Indiana has become very interesting in its own way.  Over the past eight years, Governor Mitch Daniels (who apparently enjoyed the book) made Indiana more business-friendly by passing right-to-work legislation, lowering taxes, and keeping Indiana’s environmental regulations among the most lax in the nation.  He also instituted a campaign of actively “poaching” wealthy businesses and residents from other states.  For example, there was a huge ad campaign in Chicago with billboards that said “Illinoyed by high taxes?” [With the implication that this problem could be solved with a move to Indiana!]  Anyhow, Mitch’s plan has “worked.”  Indiana now has more economic growth, less job security for workers, fewer social programs, and the second-most polluted rivers in the country (only West Virginia discharges more toxins into its own water). Depending on your political leanings, this may feel like a good result or a bad result.  There are certainly pluses and minuses in both columns.  However, I was interested in how this would set the state up to respond to a disaster like a zombie outbreak.  The state government is now “streamlined” or “small and weak” (depending on your politics), there are almost no environmental controls, and people feel insecure in their job safety.  What does that kind of state do when the zombies come a knocking?  To whom do the residents look in a time of crisis?
Zombie, Indiana is part of a long tradition of works of fiction showing zombies as a consequence of environmental degradation.  (“We’ll just hide the toxic waste in the cemetery.  No one’ll ever look there!”)
ICONS: I saw those “Illannoyed” signs the last time I went home for a visit. They’re pretty clever.  Of the three books, which one is your favorite?
SK: Darn you, BJC!  That’s a really hard question!  🙂
Of the three books in the “Zombie” series, I definitely get the most fan mail about Zombie, Ohio.  It also probably has the most evangelists who I see mentioning it on zombie websites and etc.  So that makes me feel good.
Zombie, Illinois made a smaller footprint in terms of Nielsen BookScan numbers, but those who read it were, I think, more deeply impacted.
And Zombie, Indiana is close to my heart because it’s about the place where I grew up, and how that place has changed since I grew up there.  It is also my first book to be nominated for a literary award.
ICONS: You’re one of the few people that remembers when I only went by my initials! My teen years were cool, right?  I first met you in Chicago when you had a table at a Horror Society film festival and you were pimping your zombie satire books (which I love).  Will you ever return to your Zen of Zombie/ZEO style zombie books?
SK: Never say never.  Satire is a great tradition going back to before Jonathan Swift, and an art form at which American writers, particularly, seem to excel.
ICONS: I own all of your books, but I’ve not gotten my hands on your newest.  What can you tell me about The Grand Hotel.
SK: The Grand Hotel is a series of connected horror stories about a haunted hotel.  In the frame story, a group of nervous tourists are welcomed into the lobby of a crumbling, ancient hotel by a mysterious desk clerk.  The clerk takes them on a tour of the building, and on this tour they are introduced to the hotel’s strange residents.  Each resident tells them a different horror story, and each horror story is also a mystery or riddle that the group must solve in order to “move on” and advance deeper into the building– toward the ultimate mystery that lies at its core.
So far, it has gotten some kickass early reviews, and I’m very lucky to be able to say that some of my favorite living horror writers have had kind things to say about it.
ICONS: Speaking of, who are your favorite horror authors working today?
SK: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Kelly Link, Poppy Z. Brite, Caitlin Kiernan, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, Simon Strantzas, John Hornor Jacobs, and Joanna Parypinski.
There are also some great contemporary writers who don’t get put in the “Horror” section, but who still feel very “horror-ish” to me (and who inspire me deeply).  People in this category would include Tim Powers and Charles Palliser.
Finally, there are some dabblers who have dabbled exceptionally.  That is, writers in other genres who do a one-off horror story, but end up producing something really exceptional.  For example, Graham Lord is known mostly as a biographer, but his story “A Child is Born at the Inn” (from The After Midnight Ghost Book) is one of my favorite horror tales of all time.
ICONS: You’re pretty prolific as a writer yourself, and I’d love to know what your writing process is like? Are you a “hide away for months in a secluded cabin” or are you the guy at Starbucks with his macbook?
SK: Ha!  I certainly used to think it was important (or at least helpful) to be inspired by my surroundings.  In grad school [Columbia University], I used to take a legal pad and a fancy fountain pen to Riverside Park at sunset and write in view of Grant’s Tomb and the Hudson River.  Looking back, this seems totally asinine (and a wonder I was not mugged). These days, I write inside my apartment, usually standing up, with my computer on a laptop stand.  An H.P Lovecraft postcard hangs in a frame next to me, and a Sherlock Holmes figurine scowls down at me from the shelf– the spirits of HPL and Conan Doyle reminding me not to let myself get away with any easy tricks.ICONS: Thank you so much for chatting with me.

SK: Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed!

You can purchase all of Scott Kenemore’s books on Amazon.

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