Growing up, I became a fan of the horror genre pretty early on. But for the most part, my explorations tended in the direction of slasher films and monster flicks.
It wasn’t until my senior year of college until I was introduced to the work of George Romero, by a college roommate. He also was the one who introduced me to the Evil Dead trilogy as well as Tom Waits, so at some point, I really should track that guy down and offer up my thanks.
I was always sensitive to horror movies as a kid. I couldn’t even bring myself to go through the local haunted house with my friends during Halloween, it was so stressful. So I don’t really have an answer as to why I forcibly exposed myself to this nightmare-inducing content. I suppose I could wax poetic about my unconscious need to face my fears and that horror films and books helped me do that. Saying stuff like that seems a bit too much like retrospective praise that maybe I don’t deserve so let’s just say I felt an illogical pull towards that which scared the crap out of me. Perhaps in a real world in which I had to inhabit the experiences of social anxieties as well as a neurological disorder (Tourette Syndrome), maybe part of me was drawn to the notion of horrors that I could witness and then leave behind.
What drew me to Romero’s work was the intense realism. He managed to pack so much emotion into what, on the surface might be seen as simplistic and childish. Also, unlike so many other films, I never felt like I was seeing special effects. The impact of the grainy, gritty quality of those films only served to drive home the sense of fear you felt watching them. I love the dread I get with Night Of The Living Dead. Using thunderstorms as a means of increasing tension is by no means new, I’ve certainly been guilty of doing it. But those strikes of thunder in that film, early on as Barbara is fleeing the cemetery is intense and evocative. The sense of claustrophobia and impending doom throughout Dawn Of The Dead is a physical weight and the sense of manic terror in Day Of The Dead can’t be denied. It was something I looked at and all I wanted to do was create like that, myself. I wanted to tell stories that had that much grit and impact to it. And ultimately, I believe that the experience of Romero’s films would make for a huge bulwark unto which I would build my own sensibilities as a writer, years on down the road.
So when the opportunity arose to contribute to Stories Of The Dead, a tribute to George, I jumped on the chance to give back and say thanks. It’s difficult to express how much one person can mean to a genre. It’s easy to make statements like, had it not been for George Romero, there wouldn’t be a Walking Dead right now. But more important to that was the way he functioned as a guiding light and inspiration for us all. In the postscript to his entry in Stories Of The Dead, Kenneth Olson talks about being at a convention when news of George’s passing hit the crowd. He talks about how, even in that massive space, it was like the air had been sucked out of the room as everyone seemed speechless at the announcement.
But following the revelation of that great loss, everyone soon began sharing their memories of the man and of his work. And I think it is in this spirit that Stories Of The Dead really succeeds as a book.
As I have work published in this, I can’t ethically post an official review of the book on Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere. But I felt it was important to express how much I was impressed with this book and how much of an honor it was to be a part, alongside such unquestionably talented authors.
Some of the stories in this stand on their own and some are more heavily steeped in the specifics of George’s films. Want to learn more about the Coopers, the family that was occupying the basement of the farmhouse in Night Of The Living Dead? Want to find out what happened to Francine and Peter following their dramatic helicopter escape in Dawn Of The Dead? Or maybe see a little more of the enigmatic Private Steele from Day Of The Dead? They’re all in here.
My story starts off in the closing moments of Day Of The Dead during what I consider to be one of the most epic movie death scenes of all time. From there it goes off on its own. It was a lot of fun to write, as well as stressful as all hell, mostly because if there had ever been an instance in my career as a writer, this was one I really wanted to get right.
Identifying favorite stories from this collection is kind of along the lines of saying which slice of pizza was your favorite. I want to make sure it’s clear that I loved all the work in this book. But identifying some standouts that I really liked, Bachman’s Diner by Jeff Stevenson was a fun exploration of events prior to the start of Night Of The Living Dead. WGN TV : Off Air and Fuel, by Duncan Bradshaw and Jason Whittle respectively were great looks at characters involved with Dawn Of The Dead. And as Day of The Dead is my favorite of the bunch, I immediately loved David Owain Hughes story, Safe Zone Of The Dead. With After Us, Emma Dehany brilliantly uses a hurricane in New Orleans as a way of setting up her story. And Rich Hawkins’ story, Who They Were was touching as well as tragic and bleak.
George Romero redefined the landscape of an entire industry and I don’t think there are enough words in my arsenal to really express my appreciation for everything he did over the course of his life. There’s nothing new under the sun. Ultimately, there are only so many stories and so many iterations of the basic themes and concepts. Still, I think our ability to continue to generate fresh and interesting ideas comes largely from the incredible example set for us by pioneers like the one and only.
Thank you, George.
I hope you will consider giving this book a chance. Stories Of The Dead was a labor of love for all of us, one we were thrilled to undertake. And most important of all, the proceeds for this book will go to the American Cancer Society. Click here to check out the book at your Amazon storefront of choice.