Fiendauthor Peter Stenson andEx-Heroeswriter Peter Clines take turns interviewing each other about their
series, in my humble opinion, is one of the best “mash-ups” in contemporary
fiction. Do you consider it as such? Do you consider the series more of an
apocalypse story or a hero narrative?
PC: I think the term mash-up gets thrown around a lot as a label, but I don't
think it really means anything. Are romantic comedies mash-ups? Or
action thrillers? I never thought of it as a mash-up, just an apocalypse
story. I think that they came together well is more of a flavor thing than
anything special I did. It's two things we all like separately, so we
like them even better when they're together. Zombies and superheroes,
peanut butter and chocolate, cheese and garlic, Olivia Wilde and Jason
PS: Following that line of questioning, I’d like to ask you about the inherent
“goodness” of several of your characters in the series.
PC: I was a
huge comic book fan for most of my life, and the whole ongoing trend of making
every hero grim and dark and gritty has really bothered me. Every
character is written like a Frank Miller interpretation of Batman. I
don't think a character should be flawless, but I also don't think someone
needs to be a messed up, manic-depressive alcoholic with a handful of neuroses
to be interesting. I think you can have good characters and put them in a
situation that challenges their moral code (like, say, the zombie apocalypse)
and the interesting part of the story--to me, anyway--is how they manage to
stick to their beliefs in such a situation, not how they justify abandoning
is such great humor in your series, much of it predicated upon pop culture
references. What role do you think pop culture has in your writing?
PC: I think, for better or for worse, we've become a very media-heavy
society. Movies, television, videogames...the average person can probably
tell you more about the last five rulers to sit on the Iron Throne than they
can about the last five presidents. Popular culture is part of our lives--a
huge part for some people. So it becomes a character element. I've
always thought it rings false when a writer tries to invent a popular band or
show for characters to talk about, and my
stories are usually straining the suspension of disbelief as it is, so pop
culture becomes something to ground the story much more in
"reality." If I can use it to poke fun at something worth poking
or to give the reader a chuckle, all the better.
we’re playing a game of Risk. We get to divvy up troops on the seven
continents, only the troops are various monsters (kaiju, vampires, werewolves,
demons, zombies…), but California is lined with your superheroes from the Ex-Heroes
series. Can they withstand the onslaught? How and why?
PC: Hah. Probably not. When I started writing Ex-Heroes, I knew I couldn't have big, cosmic-level heroes
because they'd immediately nullify any threat from the undead. So all the
heroes in the series are very low-powered, in comic book terms. The most
powerful, Zzzap, is actually too powerful--when he cuts loose he can
burn holes in the atmosphere. St. George, the big "alpha" hero, isn't
even as strong as Spider-Man (according to the old Handbook to the Marvel
Universe, anyway...). I think that
makes them all a bit more believable, even if it does mean the kaiju will
probably crush Los Angeles.
PC: What inspired you to write an apocalypse story--and on
such a complete one? The survival rate in Fiend is... well,
minimal at best for humanity as a whole.
PS: I’m drawn to things coming to an end (relationships,
careers, seasons, lives, etc.), and find myself writing about such things no
matter what I set out to write. So what better end than the apocalypse? I don’t
think I’m alone with wondering how I would fare when everything I’ve come to
know and take for granted is stripped away and it’s just humans—in the case of Fiend, addicts—left to sort things out.
And yes, the survival rate in this novel is pretty much directly proportionate
to the amount of horrible things my characters do, which is to say I might not
have the highest view of humanity as a whole.
zombies? Why do you think zombies have appealed to guys like
you and me, fans, survivalists, the CDC, and so many others like no other
PS: First off,
for me personally, I find groups of people to be about the most terrifying
thing ever. Those videos of mobs at South American soccer games getting mauled
and trampled against fences make me nearly suffocate. So an enemy that travels
in massive hordes, with the potential numbers of every living human being is just
my kind of horror. Also, with zombie fiction, at least mid-Romero’s career
forward, we see a complete disintegration of societal structure. This speaks to
the survivalist aspect. It allows a reader to imagine himself in that
situation, to see the mistakes of characters as being amateur, something he
sure wouldn’t do… Lastly, like many people have said and many films/books have
portrayed, I believe the growing popularity of zombies has to do with the
notion of the agent of change being a byproduct of our society. Maybe people
feel complicit in the creation of zombies, thus making it more of a reality.
PC: "The cause"
is usually a big element in zombie books and movies. An experiment, an
accident, a freak burst of radiation, rage monkeys. This never comes up
at all in Fiend--not even questioned or hinted at. What made you
go that way with it?
PS: I went back and forth on this question for a while. The
weird thing is, in zombie movies, I always love the beginnings, the origin
story, the initial outbreak, so my decision not to include this aspect in Fiend surprised myself. But when I
really got down to it, I was most interested in my few characters, their
decisions, their emotions, their mistakes, so I leaned that way, having them awaken
into the nightmare. Plus, I’m probably not smart enough to figure out any
scientific reason for the outbreak!
PC: You've made no secret of your own history of addiction,
and addiction is a major element in Fiend. Was this case of
"write what you know,” or did you come up with the general idea and then
come to realize your experiences would lend themselves to the various characters?
PS: Honestly, it was a case of the former. In grad school,
I’d written two “addiction” narratives, both of which were beyond horrible. It
wasn’t until I became committed to trying my hand at a post-apocalypse story
that I realized the “cure” could be drugs. Once these two ideas fell into
place, the book gained a heck of a lot of steam and came pouring out. I think
in many ways, I had to distance myself from my own experiences with addiction,
and the addition of zombies gave me enough space to do so.