Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Part Two: Interview with Joan Frances Turner

"That's Somebody's Mother":
Joan Frances Turner Approaches Zombies
from a Personal Angle
Interview Conducted by Mark McLaughlin


MM: This is your debut novel; have you had any short stories or other works published?

JFT: This is my first. I've tried to write short stories but they don't seem to come to me naturally, and I was very worried my lack of a track record, as well as not having any personal connections in the publishing industry, would doom my chances right out of the gate. As it turns out, however, you really can get plucked at random from the slush pile at a fortuitous moment, so here we are.

MM: What's a typical day in your life like? Do you also hold down a job, and if so, how does your writing fit into your schedule?

JFT: I have a day job with a lot of immutable writing deadlines of its own (law), and so in order to work on fiction I get up much earlier than I'd like, sit in bed with the laptop and write or outline, no Internet or other distractions, until it's past time to shower, eat and run. The drive to and from the office is a good time to let my thoughts wander and the back brain work through ideas; I owe a lot of random bursts of inspiration to getting stuck in traffic slowdowns on U.S. 30.

MM: Let's hear about the book. Who are the main living characters? Who are the main dead characters? Where is the story set?

JFT: It's set in the Calumet region of Indiana, the industrialized northwest corner bordering Illinois and Lake Michigan (this geography is increasingly significant as the book progresses), in the here and now. Jessie, our protagonist, was killed in a car crash nearly a decade ago, rose up and is now a member of the Fly-By-Nights, a tiny, fractious undead gang whose territory is an abandoned county park. The Flies are her surrogate family, with an elderly paterfamilias (Florian, a centuries-old undead reduced to a walking skeleton), various "siblings" and "cousins" and a gang leader, Teresa, who's been vanishing for long periods amid rumors of a strange new disease that seems to target the undead. Humans barely figure at all in Jessie's life, other than as a meat-source everyone else seems to savor more than she does, until, one day, her living human family finds her again. And then everything really starts getting complicated.

MM: Zombie movies are pretty popular these days. Would you like to see DUST on the big screen?

JFT: Given I like to joke that Dust is my big shot at "directing" a virtual B-movie I'd love to see a film version, though also given that one character's a walking carpet of maggots and another a full-on skeleton and pretty much the entire "cast" goes through profound physical transformation of one sort or another, you'd really have to pile on the CGI. Could I get Rick Baker to do the makeup, since this is all blue-skying anyway? It'd be an honor to get Rick Baker.

MM: Here's something I've always wondered: Was Frankenstein's Monster a zombie?

JFT: I was going to say he's not one because he required 50,000 volts to come to life, instead of spontaneously reanimating, but then a lot of "proper" zombies are also only with us because of top-secret medical experiments gone horribly wrong so I can't use that as the criterion. However, since Frankenstein's monster is a man-made aggregate fashioned from multiple corpses -- not a singular corpse of a single dead person -- I'll say no, he's not a zombie, any more than a hamburger patty slapped together from multiple meat sources is the same thing as a steak. (Of course, you do realize that since half of what lawyers do is sit around having arcane, insane discussions of how it all depends on what your definition of "is" is, it was unwise ever to ask me this in the first place. I'll be arguing it back and forth in my head now for hours.)

MM: Also: Is a mummy just a wrapped-up zombie?

JFT: A mummy is a right fool to leave behind a whole mausoleum full of fabulous wealth and luxury to go on needless killing sprees, ancient curses or no ancient curses, but as it's a "whole" dead human being (minus the innards in jars) restored to life you could certainly argue it fits the definition. I was never frightened of mummies, growing up, both because all the "King Tut" kitsch took the mystery out of them and because dealing with them was fairly simple: Don't become a greedy international grave robber and ninety percent of your problems are solved.

MM: Do you have another book, or books, in progress?

JFT: I'm well into a sequel, with the working title of Frail, which looks at the aftermath of Dust's events from the neglected human perspective -- though as it turns out, defining "human" and "living" are much more complicated than it first appears. I'm also working on outlining several unrelated books, one of which I can already tell will be great fun because background research will require me to read both Satanic Panic and Helter Skelter. If I can somehow make the whole rhyming-research thing a theme then God knows what creative heights I could hit.

MM: Where on the Internet can folks find out more about your work, and where to get it?

JFT: My official website is at http://www.dustthenovel.com, with links to Amazon and Powell's and all the discriminating bookseller types. If you love reading writers saying interesting things like "I had soup today," or "Ow, my shinbone!" or "One-star book reviews are clear evidence of an international fascist conspiracy," you can also follow my Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/violetinbloom.

MM: Have I left out anything that you'd like to mention?

JFT: Just a plug for another book entirely: If you have any interest in the meat and drink, so to speak, of any thanatological issues at all -- clinical and cultural definitions of death, the forensics of decay, step-by-step embalming, funeral customs, death-related superstitions and folklore, all of it --find a copy of Kenneth Iserson's Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? I found a copy entirely by accident in my local library and it became my bible while I was researching Dust,as well as completely fascinating reading in its own right.

MM: Thank you for your time! :- )

JFT: Thank you for the chance to talk, and it's an honor to be featured on ChiZine!

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