Writing the Great Canadian Zombie Novel

The fol­low­ing inter­view first appeared in The Win­nipeg Review, Thurs­day, Octo­ber 25, 2012.

Writ­ing the Great Cana­di­an Zom­bie Nov­el: An Inter­view with Corey Redekop

By Susie Moloney

The cold ate through the coat, freez­ing the water in my skin, but there was no pain, only dis­com­fort most mea­ger. I shushed through the ris­ing white, my only wit­ness­es the occa­sion­al pass­ing car, waft­ing plumes of snow over me … my joints began to seize, tight­en, refuse. I stiff-walked the final two blocks.” – Shel­don Funk, Cana­di­an Zom­bie, in Husk

Husk is the sto­ry of Shel­don Funk, a nice Cana­di­an boy just try­ing to make a life for him­self in a cold, cru­el world. Shel­don is an actor and he’s gay. His agent hard­ly knows he’s alive. He doesn’t love his boyfriend. He’s not out to his mom. Except for his cat, who he loves, Shel­don feels his life is hard­ly worth liv­ing. Until he’s dead, then it’s great.

Corey Redekop’s first crit­i­cal suc­cess came in 2005 with Shelf Mon­key, a satir­i­cal nov­el that mocked the plum­met­ing stan­dards of mass read­er­ship. Since the pub­li­ca­tion of Shelf Mon­key, Redekop has become a bit of a cult hero. Or as he puts it, “a cult author in a 50 Shades of Grey world.” Unwill­ing and unable to crank out a book a year, he’s con­tent to do what he does best, which in this case is talk­ing about intestines, cat-love, and what makes Husk the Great Cana­di­an Zom­bie Nov­el.

Zom­bies” are often metaphors, whether it’s the wage slaves we’ve become, or the mind­less con­sumers we’ve become, or just the brain­less twits we’ve become. Is Shel­don Funk a metaphor?

I think every­thing could all be a metaphor for some­thing. I don’t know if I added any­thing metaphor­ic inten­tion­al­ly. But there could be metaphors in all of it. Shel­don is Men­non­ite, he’s an actor, he’s gay. Because of his moth­er being the way she is, the way she feels about him, he’s nev­er been allowed to be who he real­ly is. As an actor, it’s his job to be some­one else, he’s not out as gay to his moth­er. It’s only when he’s dead that he can be com­plete­ly him­self.

The only thing that was sort of metaphor­i­cal is his name. Fun­ny, at first he was going to be Shel­don Thiessen, but it didn’t sound right. Even­tu­al­ly I came up with Shel­don Funk. Funk was bet­ter. Not only is it a great Men­non­ite name, it also real­ly works for the char­ac­ter. Funk as in smell, funky, funk as in blue or depressed. That’s Shel­don.

Do you think that the char­ac­ter is Men­non­ite makes him more Cana­di­an?

I’m Cana­di­an. And I’m a Men­non­ite. Both those things make it Cana­di­an. It’s real­ly the Com­pli­cat­ed Kind­ness of zom­bie nov­els. Actu­al­ly, it’s also been called the Great Cana­di­an Gay Men­non­ite Zom­bie Nov­el. But real­ly when I was first writ­ing, I didn’t even know Shel­don was gay. In the scene after the morgue, when he goes home, sud­den­ly his boyfriend came into the room, and then Shel­don ate him, and I was like, “Oh my god, he’s gay!” I did not see that com­ing.

Sheldon’s also a real­ly nice guy. That’s pret­ty Cana­di­an. There’s a grue­some scene in the very begin­ning when Sheldon’s innards become out­wards, includ­ing his heart.

Yeah, I didn’t care that much about most of the body parts, ha ha. But I felt like there was some­thing sym­bol­ic about the heart.

So when Shel­don finds him­self falling apart, the only thing he cares about is his heart and he tries to keep it inside. It’s as if his heart is his soul, he would nev­er be com­plete with­out it. The heart and the cat, are the two things that make him human.

Oh yes, the cat. Great cat.

Yes, Sofa. He need­ed some­thing to remind him of his human side. It couldn’t be a dog—he’d have to walk a dog, he would be so much more exposed—so it was a cat. I need­ed some­thing for him to love that was low main­te­nance, I like cats.

And every­one liked cats. No one ate Sofa.

That was my hap­py end­ing. No one ate the cat.

She ends up being a pret­ty great char­ac­ter. I love how she just makes her­self at home no mat­ter where she ends up with Shel­don. And she’s his last con­nec­tion to who he was, once his moth­er is gone. I don’t think it was unre­al­is­tic that he nev­er ate her, though. Even if he ate dogs. He had his stan­dards.

Your knowl­edge of extreme­ly gross anato­my is very impres­sive. Any plans to take up surgery now that you know so much?

You know, my dad’s a doc­tor. He didn’t read the book when I was work­ing on it, I don’t let any­one read my stuff when I’m writ­ing, and I nev­er talked to him about any of those scenes. When he read the book, the first scene in the morgue, he said that it was over the top, but that I was real­ly hit­ting the mark with all of it. From a phys­i­cal point of view.

There’s a scene I won’t spoil that involves a wheel­chair and some intestines. That was real­ly not nice, Corey.

You can con­sid­er that my homage to Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead (some­times known as “Dead Alive,” see video here). That’s a great movie. After awhile though it seemed like I was writ­ing about the same five things, over and over again.

The most Cana­di­an thing about the whole book is that it starts with a bliz­zard. Is the weath­er just such a total pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with us that it’s bound to creep into our sto­ries, or was that some kind of state­ment you were mak­ing? 

It was a prac­ti­cal choice, actu­al­ly. I need­ed to be able to hide him from cars that would pass him on the road, from any­one who might see him. I couldn’t have him spot­ted, some­one call the cops. So it was a plot device! A Cana­di­an deus ex machi­na!

Sheldon’s sto­ry even­tu­al­ly ends up mov­ing south, for a vari­ety of rea­sons, not the least of which is his amaz­ing suc­cess as an actor and celebri­ty, total­ly legit. But the ulti­mate vil­lain is Amer­i­can, too. What are you say­ing about Amer­i­ca, Corey?

Well, first of all, it’s like this: most of the jobs in film and tele­vi­sion are in Amer­i­ca any­way, so yes, that was legit.

As for the bad guy—you can’t find a mani­a­cal tril­lion­aire in Cana­da. But in I turn on the tele­vi­sion and I see them every day in Amer­i­ca. When I was writ­ing Shelf Mon­key and I cre­at­ed the evil talk show host, I thought it was com­plete­ly over the top. But then there’s Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck. You can’t make those guys up. Only in Amer­i­ca.

This is a com­plete­ly non-tra­di­tion­al zom­bie story—something new in a genre that could get tired soon. You’ve real­ly revived it. Is that what you set out to do? 

The whole begin­ning of Husk, was actu­al­ly from anoth­er nov­el I was writ­ing. I was about 60,000 words into it and I thought, what the hell am I talk­ing about? I couldn’t tell was I was doing. The whole zom­bie thing was an off-shoot from anoth­er nov­el entire­ly.

Orig­i­nal­ly, I want­ed to do a zom­bie-pri­vate-detec­tive, a noir, 50s Ray­mond Chan­dler kind of thing. But every­thing I write comes off as kind of snarky and I couldn’t get the voice right. Then I met Kevin J. Ander­son, who writes about a zom­bie PI.  (Death Warmed Over, a Dan Sham­ble, Zom­bie P.I. Ander­son is also one of the authors in the Dune fran­chise) Now I’m glad I didn’t write that sto­ry.

He’s also real­ly pro­lif­ic, he’s writ­ten about a dozen books. I don’t think I could do this as a liv­ing. I don’t know if I could write like that, every day, writ­ing, as if it was a job. I’m nev­er going to have a large audi­ence, like the J.K. Rowl­ings. Like every oth­er writer on the plan­et. I was called a ‘cult’ author when Shelf Mon­key came out and I’m hap­py with that. You don’t want to get too big. Every­one loved Star­bucks until they became suc­cess­ful, right?