The following interview first appeared in The Winnipeg Review, Thursday, October 25, 2012.
Writing the Great Canadian Zombie Novel: An Interview with Corey Redekop
“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?