lördag 14 maj 2011

Intervju med Kim Paffenroth

Kim Paffenroth, skräckmästare och filosofie doktor
Swedish Zombie: Initially, I would like to welcome you to Sweden and your Swedish readers via my blog, Mr. Paffenroth! When I first contacted you with my interview request, you revealed that you certainly already know important things about Sweden such as gravad lax, IKEA and Volvo! Is it something else an American comes to mind when Sweden is mentioned? Often Americans seem to mix up Sweden with Switzerland! Not you though!

Kim Paffenroth: No, I’m sure I’d be more likely to confuse Sweden with Norway or Finland. And given how hard it is to put together furniture from IKEA, you all may not want to embrace them too much. I did later think of Saab, when my son pointed out one on the road and asked me where that car was made. But I’d say most Americans – unless their own ancestors came from there – know very little about Sweden.

Swedish Zombie: In the U.S., you are since long an established writer and most readers know your background. I refer, for example, that you are a PhD in religious studies with wide interests ranging from Augustine through Dante to George A. Romero. In addition to these three giants, can you name any others who influenced you in your dual career as a scholar and horror writer?

Kim Paffenroth: Those are maybe the biggest influences, but I’d point to three more modern writers: Herman Melville, Flannery O’Connor, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. They were very influential on me, for I think they do a great job of balancing psychological insights with theological ones – i.e. their characters are both mad and evil, but you’re never quite sure which is the right label for them, or how you’re supposed to be looking at them. At least, I’m never sure, and it makes their characters and stories much more ambiguous and engaging to me.

Swedish Zombie: I think most people who love horror literature can remember the tingling and terrifying feeling they got as youngsters when they first read a spooky story. Do you remember any particular book that evoked that feeling in you as a kid? And is there any writers who manage to bring out that with you today, even though you are now an full adult and full-fledged horror master yourself?

Kim Paffenroth: I had this big anthology called something like Alfred Hitchcock Presents ____. I know it had The Birds in it. But I remember reading those over and over. And more than writing, at that point, I remember watching the old Twilight Zone television series. There was something gentle or touching in most of those tales -   something horrible would happen, but it wouldn’t be random or meaningless. That’s what I remember most about them, and what I come back to. And the same for writers now. I’d say Gary Braunbeck does that the most effectively now, among the writers I know.

Swedish Zombie: When reading your novels, one can hardly avoid noticing your interest in Dante. It's obvious that you devoted his work time and studies and does not embrace the prevailing image of him these days only as a portrayer of grotesque tortures and punishment of sin. What would you say is the most important thing from his mind that you implemented with your vision and used in the Dying to Live books?

Kim Paffenroth: That sin is living and acting without reason. I can’t say that I fully agree, but it does help me focus my thoughts on it, decide what I think about a given character and his/her motives. Also, his idea that sins can be categorized and measured, as to how evil they are: that I agree with more, and it’s definitely shaped how I present my zombies and live people in my stories.

Swedish Zombie: One of many things I personally appreciate about your novels is how
you without not only describe slaughter and mayhem, succeeds in creating a scary atmosphere. You and Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist have in common that you both have created very unpleasant scenes that take place in a hospital, without actually drowning the reader in fresh blood. Ajvide Lindqvist uses no violence at all, and in your scene the reader enters long after the onslaught. What do you think about the violence of zombie novels in general? There's no peaceful genre we are talking about.

Kim Paffenroth: I think the horror should take place with a minimum of blood, but the blood being shed should affect us more. It’s why I much prefer to write torture scenes – there may be no blood or killing, but if we care about the person being hurt, then the scene is much worse, than if a bunch of random people are devoured or otherwise killed. I think that’s the key – to have the readers care about the characters. Otherwise, it’s just spectacle.

Swedish Zombie: Is there anything that is unimaginable for you to portray in a horror novel? In the first part of Dying to Live, there is a rather macabre description of how the girl Zoey is born, so we readers know that you are not avoiding unpleasant things.

Kim Paffenroth: I’m pretty squeamish about the abuse of children. In the second novel, a young woman is threatened with rape, and beaten badly, and in the first similar things happen but are left to the reader’s imagination. I don’t think I could have really described that level of abuse to a child.

Swedish Zombie: Your interpretation of the archetypal zombie is interesting. You let them evolve, and also the living humans attitude to the undead changes along the story of Dying to Live. Tell us your thoughts on that?

Kim Paffenroth: I think if zombies stay stupid and slow, there’s only so much you can do with them. They’re just targets, or a huge, ever-present threat. But they’ll never be characters, and the plots you can use them in become limited. So you have to either change what you have your zombies doing (i.e. make them faster and/or smarter), or you have to explore how the living people react – show their remorse or guilt, or show how badly they treat other living people. That drastically expands what you can do with the story. I think The Walking Dead showed a lot of that, in how it examined the living people and their psychological difficulties in this monstrous new world.

Swedish Zombie:
One thing that annoys me personally very much and who are commonplace in horror literature is the "cozy catastrophe". The direst things can happen, but well trapped behind a locked door do the main characters easily switch from pure panic to socialize in a relaxed and enjoyable way. Even in the Dying to Live is a tendency to this. Why do you author this?

Kim Paffenroth: Well, I think the characters have to have moments in the story when they’re removed from immediate threat. So I don’t quite see your complaint there. Now, if you’re complaining that when they’re away from the threat, they act completely “normal” and relaxed – then that’s a very legitimate thing to criticize. I tried to have my characters feel more traumatized by what they’d been through, and to relive it, even in their domestic or “safe” moments, but now I’ll be more careful to make sure that comes through.

Swedish Zombie: You have written a very good short story named Thin Them Out together with the authors RJ Sevin and Julia Sevin. I thought that writing was a very lonely profession, how did it happen when you wrote it?

Kim Paffenroth: We were going to a convention, and RJ asked me a few weeks before if we could produce something together, to sell there as kind of a unique “souvenir” for the con. It came together quickly, that if we had three points-of-view in one story, it would be possible for each of us to write our separate parts and then combine them (as long as we knew where it would end up). So as long as my smart zombie ended up on a bridge, it would work, and the idea that he’d have something more valuable for the living humans evolved as we went: I just said to them, “Hey – RJ – I’m going to have my zombie pick up X and leave it on the bridge. Make sure your humans need X.” So that made it come together I think in an interesting and satisfying way.

Swedish Zombie: In Sweden we have our own giant John Ajvide Lindqvist and maybe a handful of other published horror writers. A Swedish zombie genre is not to speak of. Situation in the U.S. seems to be very different. There is published a lot of books in the zombie genre and there are also publishers like Permuted Press, which specializes in the genre. The issue seems to have exploded during the twenty-first century's first decade. How do you see progress? Is there a chance for the success to be continued or will it soon end? Can you look into the crystal ball for us wretches here in Ultima Thule?

Kim Paffenroth: I think there are some dynamics which may appeal especially to Americans, but even there it’s conflicted, and I see where it could be adapted to other cultures. For example, I see zombie stories as about the downfall of America, of how we’re overextended and vulnerable and arrogant and we’ve lost sight of what’s really valuable in our lives. But on the other hand, a lot of Americans seem to like zombie stories because they’re about Americans shooting their neighbors in the face, and the readers or viewers think that sounds like a lot of fun. But I think enough of the zombie story is about the failure of modernity in general (and not just the failure of America) that I think we could see more zombies all over. Certainly the British recently, and the Italians back in the 70s, have their own takes on the zombies.

Swedish Zombie: You have edited two anthologies, which are both good examples of
how broad the zombie genre can be. Can we hope for more?

Kim Paffenroth: It’s all a matter of business. Anthologies don’t sell as well (in general) as novels, so you may have to wait a while for another.

Swedish Zombie: When a publisher takes to his senses and translate at least some
of your works, what book would you choose except perhaps the obvious choice of Dying to Live trilogy?

Kim Paffenroth: The first two Dying to Live books are now available in German. My historical zombie novel, Valley of the Dead: The Truth Behind Dante’s Inferno, will be available in Russian later this year. And really, for me and what I liked doing with my zombies, Valley of the Dead is my favorite book I’ve written, and I’d so love to see it in Italian, Dante’s language. I want to hear what more people think of it, if they’ve actually read Dante (which most Americans haven’t).

Swedish Zombie: What would you like to write in the future? Do you have material
for ten more novels about our dear zombies do you think? Or perhaps it may suddenly be a space opera or werewolf novel with your name on it?

Kim Paffenroth: I have a few more zombie stories in me! I don’t know if it will be ten, but at least two or three more, for sure. I did write a ghost story, and I always wonder if I could do more with them, since they’re the opposite of zombies, in a way – they’re spirits, without bodies, while zombies are bodies without minds.

Swedish Zombie: Thank you for taking the time with me and your other Swedish readers Mr. Paffenroth, and I hope being able to meet you at a book signing here in Sweden very soon!

Kim Paffenroth: Wouldn’t that be fun? You never know what might happen. I’ve been invited to many more places since I started writing about zombies. 

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