Over my years as a book blogger, I have had the pleasure - and HONOR - of meeting some pretty amazing authors. Not only are they my HEROS, but I get to call them my friends. Jason White is on that list. He is an awesome guy, quite entertaining, and a talented man to boot. His latest - The Haunted Country - is on my Kindle waiting to be perused (starting, like, as soon as I'm done with this post), as well as autographed on my "Can't Get Better Than This" bookshelf. Read on to learn a little bit more about some of the characters I'm about to meet... and then rush off to get this book, if you have not already done so.
Surviving the Fittest: The Story of Charlie & Cindy
I was thirteen when I first saw Return of the Living Dead. It was love upon first viewing. There was something about the ravenous, mud-drenched zombies running around like maniacs, screaming for brains, that sent the neurons in my own brain to shoot electrodes of pleasure. I'm not sure what it was, and truth be told I still don't know what it is that attracts me to the living dead, but I was hooked. I soon consumed all Romero's classics, Fulci's Italian feasts of gore, and then John Skipp's and Craig Spector's Book of the Dead, Volumes 1 and 2 fell onto my lap.
I devoured those books. I then wanted to write my own zombie story.
I tried a few times with embarrassing results. I even wrote a movie script. During the mid-ought's I wrote about an alcoholic who had locked himself away in his own home, going outside only to kill the undead. He'd then chop off the arms, legs, and head, and feed them to his zombie wife and child chained to the wall in the basement. Aside from overly purple prose, that story wasn't too bad. What I was missing was a point. A message. What I needed were better characters. The best zombie stories are about the survivors, after all. Not the undead.
What I also needed was a good "what if" scenario.
And then it hit me.
What, or who, determines the type of people capable of surviving such a catastrophe? Does Darwin's law of Survival of the Fittest apply all the time? What if being fit to survive worked against you? Or better yet, how would the weak survive an all-out apocalypse?
I had an idea for an anthology published in 2011, or thereabouts, and I ran with it. Thankfully, the story, titled Surviving the Fittest, was accepted. It was about a fifteen-year-old teenager named Charlie and his twelve-year-old sister, Cindy. Cindy is severely mentally handicapped. Short of staring baby kittens in the story as protagonist, this was the weakest I could get. Brother and sister end up captured by a biker gang playing the role of the fittest, but their strength ends up becoming their weakness and they are overrun by the undead. Charlie and Cindy escape through sheer luck with one of the biker women and the story ends.
I had a great time writing the story. I thought it was done. Charlie and Cindy were left to wander the countryside and either die or survive.
Their story, however, was far from finished.
They kept talking to me. And they wouldn't stop until I decided to write a second story, this time a short novel that became The Haunted Country.
The novel picks up shortly after we left Cindy and Charlie with their biker girl who had decided to adopt them. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out very well for her. Enter Grant, a gun-wielding badass who knows how to survive and, better yet, how to kill both the living and undead alike.
With The Haunted Country I was able to explore the darker side of humanity along with what drives us to do good things for complete strangers. I took Charlie by the hand and lead him into very dark and disturbing places, continuously challenging him to see if he'd rise above the situation or crumble and die as perhaps most people his age would.
Charlie and Cindy taught me a lot along the way. They taught me how to tell a decent story as I see it. Better, they taught me how to tell the very tale I had wanted to create since those days reading the Books of the Dead anthologies and watching a fair share of what was available in zombie cinema at the time. Since those days, the zombie has exploded into popular culture, something no one could have ever imagined or predicted 25 years ago. With the popularity came both great and bad qualities, but that's for another much longer essay. I only hope that my own zombie story is up to the challenge of standing beside those classics. I know the characters do.
About the author:
Jason White lives in Central Ontario, Canada with his wife and son, their two cats, and one dog. he has over fifteen short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and is the host and producer of The Darkness Dwells Podcast. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, watching horror movies, and tasting beers and red wines.
About the books:
From the twisted mind of new horror writer, Jason White, comes 3 short stories.
In "Room 118", a young man just graduated from university finds himself working nights as a janitor at his hometown's gymnasium. He works with a cast of weird characters and a room everyone's obsessed about.
In "Chemical Burn", Alex accidentally creates a new drug by mixing chemicals at work. He shares it with his co-workers but when he discovers how dangerous the drug is, will he be strong enough to overcome its hallucinatory and addictive effects?
In "Divorce & the Black Cat", Nick's wife wants a divorce but he is still in love with her. he's also been unable to control his behavior lately. It's as though someone or something is taking control of his mind, leaving him a helpless passenger to a life that is going completely insane.
Enter these strange and eldritch worlds populated with people you will care about and the creatures that will make your skin crawl. Maybe you will find something of yourself breathing within...
From the twisted mind of Jason White are nine previously uncollected stories of isolation, desperation, horror absolute, and despair. Within these pages you will meet a man who becomes obsessed with a room that whoever enters does not come back out; a woman learns from a demon how to protect herself from the man who's hunting her; a man who has lost his family to a house fire finds that there are creatures living inside the ruins of what was once his home. Within you will also find a young couple who see a poster advertising a heavy metal concert and decide to go, but find that the musicians and fans are from the deepest pits of Hell; a woman suffering the loss of her husband in the Afghanistan war finds that her family cottage is haunted with a darkness that looks all too familiar to her own soul; a young janitor creates a new drug by accidentally mixing cleaning chemicals, and when he goes to destroy it, his fellow users are not so enthusiastic to get clean.
Enter these strange and eldritch worlds populated with people you will care about and creatures that will make your skin crawl. Maybe you will find something of yourself breathing within the pages.
Charlie Paulson is a fifteen-year-old young man. He and his handicapped sister have somehow survived the zombie apocalypse, but can they survive the men and women who said they'd protect them? Charlie doesn't think so. The world is a cold, dead place full of death, after all. What place does someone like Charlie have in it?
Charlie and his sister, Cindy, are going to die.
Charlie knows this deep inside his bones.
The World has become a dark and cold place where the dead have risen and taken over the world. But they're not the worst threat. With a small number of the living stumbling around to survive, humanity's biggest problem is itself. Since the end of civilisation, people have tried to kill or enslave the brother and sister. Everyone who's tried to take care of them since the dead started rising has died. They've died horribly.
It only makes sense that Charlie's and Cindy's number will soon be up, as well. If the dead don't get them, the living surely will.
They should already be dead.
Charlie is only fifteen. His sister, who's severely mentally handicapped, is twelve. Together they can barely survive other survivors. Enter Grant, a gun wielding badass who accidentally saves their lives and then wants nothing to do with them. A reluctant hero, he eventually decides to take the brother and sister under his wing. Is he enough to take them where they can live free or the ever hungry dead and other, psychotic survivors? Or will he join the others who've tried to help only to end up food for the dead.