New York-based writer Alden Bell (pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord) is now highly current in Sweden when his novel THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS is published in Swedish translation. I DÖDSSKUGGANS LAND are coming from Mix förlag. Therefore, we now take a chat with the author!
Welcome to Sweden Alden Bell, so to speak. Your novel has now been published in Swedish translation. We think it is a good choice of your Swedish publishing house to translate THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS!
Thanks! It’s really exciting to be published in Sweden. It’s one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit. Hopefully I’ll get to make a trip there one of these days!
Tell us a little about yourself for your Swedish readers!
When I’m not writing books, I’m a teacher of literature in high school. It was always a dream of mine to be a teacher and a writer, so I feel very lucky. When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m usually eating sandwiches or playing computer games or watching TV or trying to keep my cat from pissing on my bed. So it’s a good thing I write books—because if my imagination didn’t invent zombie apocalypses, I would be leading a very boring life indeed.
Why is it that you chose to write THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS under a pseudonym?
This was a marketing decision made by my publisher. My first book (Hummingbirds) was published under my real name, and it was about a girls’ prep school in modern-day Manhattan. It was very quaint and traditional, and there was not a zombie to be seen anywhere. When I showed my second book to my agent and editor, they agreed that to publish it under my own name would be to risk alienating my reader of the first book. The idea was that since I like to write two very different kinds of books (“literary” and “genre”), I should have two different names to reflect those styles. But both those styles are part of me, and I’m hoping that some readers will have sufficiently broad horizons that they may be interested in both those aspects as well.
How did you create Temple? Where did she come from?
Temple was born from a combination of influences. There is a character named Evavangeline in Tom Franklin’s book SMONK and another character named Ree in Daniel Woodrell’s book WINTER’S BONE. Temple owes much of her character to those other two strong young women. But also mixed in there is a little bit of Huck Finn and a whole lot of Faulkner. Apart from the literary influences, I think Temple is someone I personally admire. I’d love to have her confidence, her unwavering appreciation of the beauty of the world, her fundamental belief in the rightness of things. I wish I could be more like her.
Why did you choose to write about an apocalyptic / dystopic future?
I’ve always been a fan of zombie movies—especially the George Romero ones. I remember seeing DAWN OF THE DEAD when I was a kid, and I was completely engrossed. And, actually, I was less interested in the zombies than I was in the idea of rebuilding the world after civilization had been wiped out by some catastrophe. I loved the idea of being a lone wanderer among the abandoned ruins of a shopping mall, for example. I don’t find it dystopic at all. I’ve always found such postapocalyptic settings rather peaceful and lovely. Temple does too.
How do you find your writer's tone of voice?
My narrative voice is usually inspired by (or even outright stolen from) other writers. My first book, HUMMINGBIRDS, is what I consider my Muriel Spark book, because the narrative voice was borrowed directly from THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (with some John Updike mixed in). The voice in REAPERS is my Cormac McCarthy book. BLOOD MERIDIAN is one of the greatest novels of the second half of the 20th century. And the voice in that book is breathtakingly epic. It’s hard to read that book and not want to mimic the voice. Of course, I don’t come close to what McCarthy can do—but REAPERS is definitely an homage to him.
You have got a lot of praise for your prose and you seem to have a good grasp on how to convey this desolate landscape that Temple wanders. Was that your purpose initially? To make your harsh story beautiful?
In part, yes, my goal was a protagonist who sees the beauty in a landscape that most would consider nightmarish. The zombie genre is filled with dystopian visions of dread and loathing. But what I wanted to convey was the sense of freedom and opportunity that must also come with the majority of the population of the world being wiped out. Mustn’t it be like coming to a new frontier, an empty wilderness, and having the chance to determine the shape of your future without regard to existing conventions? I always thought that was an element missing from the genre.
Just as Cormac McCarthy you seem to dismiss the quotes. Was that a conscious decision for THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS, or do you always write like that?
I used quotation marks in my first book. I abandoned them for REAPERS because it was a very conscious acknowledgement of the Southern Gothic literary genre. In many Southern Gothic books (Cormac McCarthy’s included), quotations marks are not used. I see REAPERS as definitely falling into the category of the Southern Gothic—maybe even more than the category of the horror novel. Also, as a reader, I always like it when a writer avoids using quotation marks. It means something. It’s not just a gimmick: it suggests a narrowing of the border between exposition and dialogue. It implies that the character dialogue is just as artful as the exposition. It reminds the reader that dialogue is just as much a craft of the author as the rest of the book.
What is Maury's role in this book?
I see him as symbolic more than anything else. Temple’s greatest sin (according to her own standard) is that she failed to care for the boy Malcolm. Because of that failure, she avoids any other situations where she might be responsible for taking care of others. She doesn’t want to fail in that regard again. Maury comes along, and she very reluctantly finds herself in the caretaking role again. It’s her second chance, I suppose. But whether she succeeds or fails with Maury is really up to the reader to determine. Also, Maury is another echo of William Faulkner. He’s essentially a rip off of Benjy from THE SOUND AND THE FURY.
THE REAPERS is primarily not a book about zombies - zombie books seldom are - but about a girl and her struggle to survive both physically and mentally. What do the zombies add to the story? Why did you include the meatskins?
That’s a good question. Even though it’s a zombie book, I think the zombies could be excised without changing things very much. They’re really just the background, the setting. Mostly they’re there because I always had a desire to write a zombie book. But, in a larger sense, they are completely arbitrary. You might as well ask why one book is set in America while another is set in Russia while another is set in Sweden. Or you might as well ask why one book is a thriller while another is a romance while another is science fiction. All literature is about grand human themes. The specific plots, settings, locations and characters are simply the canvas on which those themes are played out—and they tend to be more the idiosyncracies of writers than anything else.
Are you a fan of the zombie genre or did you choose our favorite monsters from other causes?
Zombie have always been my favorite monster. They always struck me as unique in that they are completely unglamorous, usually slow (I prefer the slow ones to the fast ones), frequently not much of a threat (unless they come at you in large groups) and even sometimes pathetic. I also like that in their most traditional form they really aren’t malevolent. They aren’t evil. They aren’t satanic. They are not driven by a desire to cause suffering. They’re just hungry. They’re animalistic. You can’t really blame them. It seems to me that this has always been one of the key aspects of zombie literature and film. If you watch George Romero’s movies, there’s almost always a true sympathy for the creatures—and understanding that zombies are just a slight variation on humanity itself.
Tell us a little about what inspires you? Other authors? Directors? Musicians?
William Faulkner is part of everything I write. I think he taught me how to write. But I’m also deeply inspired by film—directors like Terence Malick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Michelangelo Antonioni, Wes Anderson. I also adored LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (the original Swedish version, of course!). That movie was so perfect in so many ways. As for music, I do listen to a lot—but my favorite is pretentious art rock. I grew up listening to progressive rock like Genesis and Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes—so I really appreciate a song if it has multiple movements, builds to outrageous crescendos and is over twenty minutes long.
You have also written other books, can you tell a little about them?
My first book is called HUMMINGBIRDS, and it’s about a girls’ prep school in a very wealthy neighborhood of New York. It’s a very different kind of book, focusing on the relationships between two male teachers at the school and the mass of girls and woman who surround them. Even though the two books are very different, they both have teenage girls at the center of them—so I’m beginning to wonder about my preoccupations. It’s possible that I’m a teenage girl trapped in the body of a 40-year-old man. I hope that’s not as sinister as it sounds.
What are your writing plans for the future?
The sequel for REAPERS is being published in the UK in November—so hopefully it will have a Swedish translation at some point, too! The sequel is much more about Moses Todd and his awful brother Abraham. Temple is not in it, so if you really want more of Temple you’ll probably be disappointed.
Thank you for taking the time for Swedish Zombie - we hope many Swedes will like your book!
Thanks so much for the opportunity. It has been a pleasure!
PS: For more info check out joshuagaylord.com