A Talk With Zombie Author Jack Wallen

Imagination. It’s what makes writer’s tick. It keeps us up at night. Fab zombie author, Jack Wallen and I discuss imagination and suspension of disbelief. Pull up a chair and join us, and let me know your own thoughts on today’s subject.

JW: Geeks speak a common language. Add into the mix a little creepy and everything quickly devolves into a freak show like no other! You are a lover and truster of imagination. I believe we very much speak the same language.

While I was in graduate school, my mentor (Richard Rand – one of the finest movement/clown/commedia teachers in the midwest), was adamant we not only trust our instincts, but that we place our full faith in our imaginations. He was convinced that at some point during adulthood we were taught that imagination is for children and had no place in the adult world. I bought into that with all of my heart and soul. Since then I have tried to approach every day like a kid at Christmas. Because of that, I meet life with my eyes, my mind, and my heart open for inspiration.

I would bet a dozen of the finest donuts on the planet, you attack each day in the same way.

MM: I agree, Jack. Why is it that society tells us we should only believe in that which we can see and find in a text book? I’m glad that Einstein and Jobs didn’t follow such advice. And, for writers, I’m equally as glad that King, Twain, and even Lucas didn’t say, “It’s fantastical nonsense. It can’t exist.” Because, it does exist. Even if it’s just for a few hours, the proof of the matter is, people go to movies and read books to escape what they know to be real and temporarily believe in what isn’t. For those few hours, wizards, vampires, and Iron Man really exist.

I think that the ability to think beyond what’s real is the sign of a healthy mind. Which means we’re probably really, really healthy.

We share a similar past experience. I grew up always thinking, “What if?” As a kid, it was always, “What if I met a real ghost? Did dragons every really exist?”

In my twenties, I was told on countless occasions that I had a VERY vivid imagination when I said that one day, we’d really have communicators like those in StarTrek. Um, iPhone, anyone?

JW: You touch on something that is very relevant to every artist on the planet – the suspension of disbelief. This subject is very dear to me since I spent so many years as an actor. The audience, the reader, the viewer, the participant must be able to give in and remove their filters placed over their eyes and hearts by a jaded society. If they cannot let go, they cannot enjoy. But what is frustrating about this is what I call “selected release”. One of the most obvious examples of this is the ability for people to believe in Jesus, but not ghosts or spirits in general. That is not a slam or cut on religion (that’s not my place or my shtick), but a curiosity – why is A okay but not B?

 I had a reader once question a small section of I Zombie I – Jacob, Bethany, company’s ability to so quickly escape a building filled with zombies. The reader was willing to suspend the disbelief for the zombies, but not the ability of the group to escape.

 When I read William Gibson’s work (and I do love his work) I have to begin the book by saying “I will just let go and believe in it all – just take the ride!” If I don’t do that, I wind up spending the majority of the reading time going “What? How? No way!”

MM: And there’s the rub. How to make something otherworldly seem real? How to breathe a sense of familiarity into something unfamiliar? I agree, Jack. I’ve written one book on ghosts and some wonder if I believe in ghosts. Or better, why don’t ghosts fall through the floor? How can they sit in a chair? Yet, I’ve never had anyone ask me why ghosts aren’t naked. Think about it – do their clothes die, too? Answer: because in my fictional world, ghosts are spirits not bound to metaphysical constraints and if they can pass through a door, they can appear wearing Dior or Levis if that’s how they dressed in life. If they can wear clothes, they can sit in a chair.

So, to write a realistic scene with something born of the imagination, the imaginative process has to go a step further – we put ourselves in the character’s place. For me, I had to imagine what my character might do once she died. If I were her, would I stick around? Would I be in shock? Or would I be ready to jump some hot dead guy that I just met? Oddly, I’ve had more people wonder why my character didn’t do just that, days after her death. I’ve had others who want to know how the heck I came up with the creepy morgue scene in Don’t Fear the Reaper. It boils down to imagination. If I were having a hard time accepting my death, I might hang around my body – long before the funeral. Okay, my imagination will allow for instances where my main character dies, is perfectly cool with it, and the dead guy is Jensen Ackles or Ian Sommerhalder. Talk about imagination and suspension of disbelief!

Zombies. I’m with your character on this one. If what we wrote were real, most people would scream and run if they encountered a zombie, so yeah, not becoming steak tartare for lunch would be a major incentive to make it out of a building in record time.

JW: I know… right? From all points on the map, I get questions about zombies. It’s great! I truly love hearing from fans (of either my work or the genre in general). And I get questions ranging from the simple “Do you believe in zombies?” to the insanely complex (like various conspiracy theories on how the apocalypse will happen).  I answer them – every one – and try my best to keep within the mythos I have created. That is part of my job – keeping my myth alive, even when I step outside the boundaries of the world I have created. To me, that helps the readers to trust my work. I feel like I have to believe in the worlds I have created or else they become too transparent, too false.

 That doesn’t mean I believe one hundred percent. Like the book I am currently working on – Hell’s Muse. Do I believe there is an Engineer of Hell that will manifest itself as a little girl in a pinafore dress and mary janes? Probably not – but it makes for some damn interesting fodder for nightmares!

MM: Me too! I LOVE to hear from fans. And I agree, Jack. It’s part of our job to help the reader escape into other worlds – even for just a little while. And, if we can make them second guess turning out the lights, all the better.

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