Categorized | Authors, Features, Interviews

Talking About the Dead (and Undead) with James Lowder

Posted on July 18, 2011 by Billzilla

James Lowder has been active as a writer and editor sine the 1980s, most famous perhaps for authoring the novel Knight of the Black Rose for TSR, and for editing the All Flesh Must Be Eaten fiction anthologies Book of All Flesh, Book of More Flesh and Book of Final Flesh. More recently, he edited the essay collection Family Games: The 100 Best, and fiction anthologies Curse of the Full Moon and The Best of All Flesh.

I chatted recently with Jim via email about some of his most recently completed projects: Triumph of The Walking Dead – a collection of essays on the longrunning comics series and AMC network’s successful TV series – and Silent Knife and Strangeness in the Proportion, two novels from White Wolf publishing currently being serialized on the White Wolf web site and awaiting print publication.

How did you get involved with the anthology Triumph of The Walking Dead?

    I contributed essays to two earlier books in BenBella’s Smart Pop line, King Kong is Back! and The Unauthorized X-Men, and we’ve discussed several projects over the past few during. Smart Pop editor-in-chief Leah Wilson and I trade emails from time to time, and during the course of one of these email chats I suggested The Walking Dead as a potential subject for an essay collection.

    This was right around the time the AMC series launched. I was thinking I’d be a contributor to the book if it went forward, but BenBella decided that my work with zombie-related fiction, film, and comics made me a good candidate to edit it. The approach and tone of the Smart Pop line—commentary with some intellectual heft to it, but written in a lively, accessible style—is ideal for this topic. I never tire of the subject of zombies and my experiences working with BenBella have been uniformly positive, so taking on the project was an easy decision.

    Are there any authors you wanted to have involved in ToTWD that just couldn’t work it into their schedule?

      It would have been great if I could have wrangled a piece from Robert Kirkman himself, or from Charlie Adlard or Tony Moore—the people behind the comics. I tried to line those up, but they never came together. That’s not a surprise. They’re all quite busy after the incredible success of The Walking Dead in its various incarnations.

      Otherwise, my initial list of potential authors was longer than the final table of contents could be. Not everyone I contacted was able to participate, but I am very pleased with the final line-up. The essayists are all critics and creators who have written about zombies in one form or another. In addition, most are writers I’d not edited before. That was another reason I jumped at the chance to shepherd the book; I knew I was going to get the opportunity to work for the first time with a lot of people whose work I admire.

      Given your extensive resume with previous zombie anthologies, what makes this one different?

        Zombies do indeed shamble through a lot of the things I’ve published. Many of my experiences with zombie-related projects have been with fiction, though, whether editing The Book of All Flesh or writing the living dead into my own novels and stories. Because Triumph of The Walking Dead is non-fiction, with a relatively tight thematic focus, it presented a different set of editorial challenges from the ones I faced editing the Books of Flesh anthologies. The essayists reach very different conclusions about the morality of Rick Grimes’ actions as leader, for example. If this were a collection of short stories, I could let each tale stand as a distinct, unconnected vision.

        But the essays in this book are all talking about the same source material, so as editor I needed to make certain the different perspectives work together as parts of a larger dialogue, rather than as isolated, conflicting fragments. I also wanted to give readers a lot of different angles on The Walking Dead, from pieces discussing the material in the context of comic book history or the history of violence on television, to detailed explorations of specific characters and themes. This required more targeted editorial direction. For the reader, I hope this effort results in an anthology that will be surprising and thought-provoking.

        Zombies were all the rage for a while, but seemed to be falling out of vogue recently; has the AMC television series The Walking Dead revitalized the zombie genre in pop culture?

          The media magnates who chase fads jumped on the living dead bandwagon for a while. Now they’re off breathlessly pursuing some other hot pop-culture trend. I don’t know that the AMC television series will revitalize the zombie craze, and in a way I hope it doesn’t. So much material was pumped out during the “Zombie Renaissance” that kicked off in 2003 or so that it has sometimes been difficult for inventive, passion-driven work to find an audience. After the shelves get crowded enough, it’s too easy to dismiss it all as just more market-driven product with brain-munching dead things in it.

          The Walking Dead has continued to thrive even after the zombie fad cooled because it is top-notch storytelling, both the comic and the AMC series. The fact that so many serious creators and critics had thoughtful things to say about it in Triumph of The Walking Dead is a testament to its weight. I like to think that this sort of quality work will continue to draw readers and viewers. For me, I was publishing books and stories featuring the living dead before the Zombie Renaissance and I’ll continue to do so, fad or no fad.

          Silent Knife and Strangeness in the Proportion have been in the works for a while, and are currently serialized on the White Wolf website. When will those be available as print editions?

            It has been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been working on the two books as editor since 2007. Both were the result of a contest White Wolf ran for World of Darkness novels. After they selected the winning entries, Stewart Wieck and Rich Thomas brought me on board to help the two first-time novelists whip their books into shape. Initially, the plan was to publish the books in traditional print form in 2008, but changes in the book market led us to look at different approaches and the release dates shifted and then shifted again. Ultimately we settled on serializing the novels weekly on the White Wolf website. All of Strangeness in the Proportion has been posted and we’re partway through Silent Knife. Both will eventually be collected as ebooks and should also be released in print, though we’re still finalizing plans.

            The changes in the publication plans for the novels have actually turned out to be an incredible boon. Joshua Doestch, the author of Strangeness in the Proportion, and David Nurenberg, the author of Silent Knife, have had the opportunity to rework the manuscripts and really make them shine. Rich Thomas and Eddy Webb at White Wolf deserve a lot of credit for turning what should have been a disappointment—no author likes to hear that his or her first book is going to be delayed in its release for a couple years—into an opportunity for the authors to hone their craft.

            How did you like working in the World of Darkness?

              The World of Darkness is terrific. The creative people who first imagined the world and all the talented designers and writers and artists who have added to the setting over the years have produced what has to be described as the premiere shared horror setting. What makes the World of Darkness a great place for writers and editors, though, is the way in which the White Wolf staff supports and respects their creativity.

              I’ve had the pleasure of both editing World of Darkness material, with Strangeness in the Proportion and Silent Knife, and writing in the setting, with game material in Kindred of the Ebony Kingdom and short stories in the anthologies Truth Until Paradox, City of Darkness: Unseen, and The Splendour Falls. All those projects have been studies in the way shared-world publishing should work.

              Having done a great deal of both, do you have a preference for being a writer or an editor?

                I find editing easier. It’s not the painful process writing seems to be for me most of the time. But I enjoy writing more; it’s more fulfilling creatively. I hope to fit some new writing projects into my schedule in the next few months. I’m currently wrapping up two short stories and two comic book scripts, all of which should see print by the end of the year. It’s actually been a while since I published any fiction, so I’m looking forward to getting those stories in front of readers.

                Interview by Bill Bodden

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