In 2003, Max Brooks published The Zombie Survival Guide ($10, Amazon) in an original run of just 17,000 copies. No one really expected he could sell that many, let alone did they ever dream it would become a best seller – not a book about how to survive a zombie attack. Oh, how glad we are they were all wrong.
Brooks recently reached one-million copies sold of his Survival Guide, and we got to sit down with the author for a marathon zombie chat on fear, social metaphors and why even George Romero thinks he’s taking this zombie thing way too seriously.
Allie Townsend: Congratulations on selling one million copies of the book.
Max Brooks: In this country, yes.
AT: How did this all get started?
MB: It started with Y2K. It started at a time which most of my readers don’t remember. Most of the 20-somethings, they can’t conceive a time when oil was cheap, America was at peace and the biggest star in the country was Freddie Prince Jr. I feel like we’re in the 30s trying to explain the 20s, saying, “Yeah, there was a time when liquor was banned and everything was booming.”
During Y2K, there were all these survival guides coming out. And I thought, what about a survival guide for zombies? I went looking for it as a reader, not a writer. And I couldn’t find it. And I thought, I’m into zombies, I’m OCD and I have a lot of free time…
AT: A lot of people have said that book is really funny. Intentional?
MB: If there’s a joke, it’s on me. I was not intending to be funny. The joke is that I had the free time to write it. That’s the only thing I find funny.
I remember when the book came out they put in the humor section. The Onion loved it. Publisher’s Weekly loved it. They called it an outrageous parody, but I kept telling them, “Guys, I’m not as cool as you think I am. I’m really not.” I’m not that hip. I’m not that witty. I’m just a zombie nerd.
AT: So where does the fascination with zombies come from?
MB: I think the fascination with zombies is that they don’t obey the rules of monsters. The first rule of monsters is that you have to go find them. You have to make a conscious choice to go to the swamp or the desert or the abandoned summer camp.
MB: Yeah, and if you go to Transylvania, I have to sympathy for you. As a kid watching horror films, that was my ego defense mechanism. Well, there’s a giant shark in the water? I wouldn’t go in the water. It’s that simple. But zombies come to you.
AT: Growing up, where you a Romero fan?
MB: The first zombie film I saw was not a Romero film. It was an Italian zombie film. I can’t remember the title – they kept changing it every time they released it – but it was mixed with actual cannibal footage from Guinea. And as a 12-year-old who snuck into his parents’ bedroom to watch HBO just to see a shot of breasts, that came as quite a shock. Then I saw Night Of The Living Dead and thought, “Oh, there’s hope.” Then I started thinking, well, what would I do? Because in Night Of The Living Dead, they’re arguing. Do we go in the basement or stay up here?
AT: I feel like that’s all of his films. They’re not really zombie movies.
MB: They’re about us.
AT: And their plans never work.
MB: The irony is, in Night Of The Living Dead, they’re both wrong. Go up the friggin’ stairs. Come on, people.