I am a vegan and writing about zombies who eat flesh.
With the release of Grey Matters, author Daniel Donnelly launches the first book in the Mike Manly and the Post-apocalyptic Detective Agency series. We caught up with him recently as he’s feverishly writing his next book…
Can you tell me about your obsession with zombies and zombie fiction?
My obsession with zombie fiction started probably about three years ago. I teach at a community college and a student gave me a copy of World War Z, which I had never even heard of until he handed me a copy of it. I went home and started reading it and I became obsessed with zombies at that point. It was an amazing book, and right after I read that one I started reading more. Right around the time I’d read about a hundred zombie books, I decided that there was a lack of zombie books that dealt with detectives. So I came up with this idea for a detective who was solving zombie crimes. There was also a lack of zombies that were intelligent and I hadn’t seen anything like that in all of the books I’d read, so I came up with an idea to not only have your typical dead, walking zombies that are brainless, but intelligent zombies at the same time. My dead are still moving using nano technology, which I hadn’t seen anyone using yet either, that’s where I came up with the concept.
What does Grey Matters add to the zombie legacy? Where do your zombies live and what’s the universe like in comparison to The Walking Dead? It doesn’t feel like they’re living in the same world, it’s not quite as bleak.
The world my zombie’s live in isn’t as bleak as The Walking Dead or other zombie novels. Mine’s set ten years after the apocalypse and the reason it’s not as bad as the rest of it is that I have these two different kind of Zombies. I have the typical walking dead, but then I have the Grey Matter zombies who are intelligent and although they’re dead they still have their mental faculties and they’re able to get society back to a kind of working order again. They help humans get to the point that they can have electricity and running water and satellite connections. You can’t have a typical post-apocalyptic world, it’s just not possible. Because my zombies are dead and they’re intelligent, they never sleep, they don’t have to use the restrooms ever, so they’re just using their abilities that they had before they died, or they learn new abilities to make things better for the humans or themselves.
Mike Manly is a detective, what kind of case could he possibly be on in a world where there are zombies? Hasn’t everything gone to such Hell? Who would hire anybody to do anything?
In my book the world is post-apocalyptic, but it’s a different kind of post-apocalyptic. We have these city-states where the grey matter zombies and the humans are living together, they’re trying to come together and work together even though the humans hate the zombies, whether they’re Greys or the brainless walking dead. We have a political structure that is still happening with the humans, and the Greys want to be part of this structure. The Greys believe that they have rights, even though a lot of the humans don’t believe that anything that’s dead should have rights. Similar to how we’ve had this same struggle going throughout history when races and different people haven’t had the rights that they should have. The Grey Matter zombies want to have their rights so that they’re not abused; they’re not killed. One specific Grey Matter zombie, Carson Hankins, was a billionaire before he died and went Grey. This Grey decides that he should get to run for the New Congress, and because he’s running for the New Congress, a lot of humans become even more angry and resentful.
This is where Mike Manly comes in. The city-states have a huge police force now. It’s a military-state in the city-states where humans live, and Mike Manly comes into the picture because this billionaire is murdered while he is trying to run for the New Congress. Of course, you can’t really kill something that’s already dead, so I use the word “termed” in the book; so this billionaire Hankins was terminated. What has to happen in the book is Mike Manly has to solve the murder of Hankins in order to keep the rest of the Grey Matter zombies from starting another civil war. In the last ten years there have already been a few civil wars between the Greys and the humans, and if this happens again there’s going to be a lot more humans dying.
Can you walk us through a few of the main characters?
There are five main characters in the book. The first is Mike Manly, the main detective who was not a detective before the die-off happens. He had been ex-military, and what happened is when they created the city-states they created this militarized police force that manages everything and tries to keep existing humans in control, so that humans can have some form of control over Greys. Mike Manly was working in this police state and he decided he didn’t want to any longer, so he decided he was going to break off and be more of a freelancer. When he left, he decided to bring a partner with him named Ancil Morgan. Morgan is this huge black guy who was also in the military. He was also a football player, so he’s got this huge size to him. The two detectives work to help solve crimes, but the crimes aren’t just murders. There are a lot of other things happening in this post-apocalyptic world where they have to keep humans and Greys in control. Because the billionaire Hankins is running for the New Congress, it’s creating a lot of problems in the city-states, and a lot more Greys are starting to be termed and disappear.
Summer McClain is Mike Manly’s love interest in the story. Summer is a scientist, and one of the last living human geneticists. She’s working for a lab in Northern California that is owned by Carson Hankins, the billionaire who was terminated. Summer has a daughter Allison (Alli), who is fourteen years old and looks a lot like Summer. Alli is fourteen and Summer is in her thirties. Then we have Steve McClain who is a Grey Matter Zombie. Steve McClain is Summer’s brother. Steve isn’t around a lot in the beginning because he is traveling the United States, or what used to be the United States, just kind of enjoying himself. He never has to sleep and he can travel as long as he wants to.
He seems to be your favorite character. Do you think people will fall in love with him?
I think a lot of people like Steve because he has a good sense of humor and because he does have a lot of background of traveling around a post-apocalyptic world. I think people are connecting with him. They’re connecting with him and with Alli quite a bit.
So tell me about Alli.
Alli is actually based on one of my students in a way. The student was a young woman a little older than I made Alli, but she had this great sense of humor and she was alternative; she cut and colored her hair in different shapes and color, had tattoos, and she was creative. I based Alli kind of around this person, but in the beginning she was just going to be her daughter. I had no idea that she would actually play a major part in the books, and once I brought her in I realized that se was going to be a major part, mainly because she had to take care of her mother and she has a strength that Summer doesn’t have. Because Alli’s younger, she grew up in the post-apocalyptic world and she doesn’t know about what movies were or malls were or even the technology or the television we used to have. Because she has grown up in this society she accepts having zombies around. She just accepts that they’re dead, and she accepts her Grey Matter uncle without having to think twice about it. That gives her a strength that other characters in the book don’t have because she doesn’t have to reference back and lament the loss of everything humans had.
What do you think is the attraction of zombies? It certainly went from vampires to zombies.
What is it about zombies that society has obsessed over and why a lot of people are reading about them, watching movies about them, trying to get as much zombie information as they possibly can? There must be easily five hundred or more zombie books out there and more being written every single day. I downloaded two new zombie books just last night. One is by an author I’d never heard of before, and the other by an author who I’ve read all his works. What is it about zombies? I’ve had to think about this a lot myself, why do I obsess with them? I love reading zombie fiction. I’ll read a book that has nothing to do with zombies, and then I’ll come right back to reading more zombie fiction. For myself, I think it’s the excitement about trying to survive and keep away from them.
For about twenty years now I’ve had these recurring dreams where I have to escape from something, it’s either I’m escaping from killers or I’m escaping from gangs, groups of people. The thrill for me is finding a way to escape them and survive. In my dreams, if I don’t survive, which happens quite a bit, I actually back up in the dream and replay it until I can actually get out of a situation. So, for me, what I like about the zombies is that it’s about a group of people who have to figure out how to survive and keep away from these masses of beings that are trying to trap them. I really can’t say why the rest of society is obsessed with them; it’s a very strange thing. I myself don’t like vampire books or mummies or werewolves, I can’t read about that genre, it doesn’t do anything for me, whereas, the zombie genre just really catches me.
You’re a vegan writing about zombies. Aren’t carnivores the zombies?
I am a vegan and writing about zombies who eat flesh. When I first started writing about zombies I thought, I’m going to try and work the vegan lifestyle into this somehow so that people stop eating meat because of the zombies. But the concept didn’t quite work into it as much as I wanted it to. In the book the zombies kill off pretty much all of the wildlife and the cows. Unless you are really wealthy you’re not going to be eating meat. In the story, a lot of people do stop eating meat, because there’s no way that they can actually continue raising chickens, or animals for food, that sort of thing. But, for myself, it never really bothered me that these zombies were eating meat because they were eating humans. If they were killing animals maybe I’d have to write that into the book somehow.
Tell me a little bit about who you are.
I teach full-time at a community college in Northern California where I also live. I teach graphic design and multimedia. I’ve written nine books on web-design and multimedia over the past twelve years, and those books are probably what got me to the point where I could actually believe I could write a novel, even though there’s a complete difference between writing technical and writing creative fiction. I do digital photography and I’m an artist at the same time. I create really freaky art; it’s not zombie art, though I think I’ll start doing that type of art in the future. I currently live in Northern California, and because I live in Northern California and I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I decided I wanted to have my story set in both areas. I thought it would be a great plot element to have the characters travel from one area of the state to the other. I’ve also spent some time in New York, so I have New York worked into the second novel.
Where I live is not that remote other than the fact that we live three miles outside of town, which makes it feel as if we’re twenty miles outside of town and living in the middle of nowhere, which is very nice. We have thirteen cats, which are all meat eaters. We are fattening them up so that in case there is a zombie apocalypse we have something to eat. I’ve been married for a couple years now, but my partner and I, my wife I guess now, we were together for twenty-two years before we got married. A couple years ago we decided to finally get married. We got married by an ex-communicated Mormon. We thought that getting married this way would be better than having a traditional marriage, so he married us in the car on the way back from Oroville to Chico, two places featured in the novel. We also made sure that we got married on leap year so that we would only have to celebrate our marriage every four years.