“When you write about zombies, you really write about death,
and death deserves a certain amount of respect.”
-Joseph Love, author of Kill Town, USA
Joseph Love has been writing since well before bath salts were being erroneously blamed for causing crazed cannibalistic behavior. Love is the local author of Kill Town, USA, a new novella that fits in squarely with our country’s seemingly never-ending love affair with the undead. But KTUSA bucks the trends within the trend, proving to be a thoughtful, literary take on a topic that too often falls victim to cartoonish, gory one-upmanship and diminishing quality.
When contaminated fast food from Taco Toro and Venni Vetti Beefy changes their patrons appetites for burgers to a craving for human flesh, Jack Heart is taking a long-needed hike along the Appalachian Trail. Settled into the solitude of survival in the wilderness, Jack must soon learn how to endure not just the elements, but also the hoard of “Heathens,” and most difficult of all, other survivors.
After working as a Body Removal Technician, Love went back to the book he had written (and written off) with newfound inspiration, using his experiences as a springboard for what would become a more serious, more realistic treatment. With Kill Town, USA, fully formed, he then used kickstarter.com to get his novella out to the world.
The Pulse got a chance to talk with the Joseph Love about the long process of writing, the themes he explores and Kickstarter.
Murfreesboro Pulse: I thoroughly enjoyed Jack Heart’s story. I thought it combined the exposé quality of Sinclair’s The Jungle, the grimness of McCarthy’s The Road and the determined realism of Kirkman’s The Walking Dead (comics, not TV show). That said, what were your major influences, zombie or otherwise, when writing and then coming back to writing this story?
Joseph Love: I was amazed to read The Jungle in the year of its 100th anniversary (2006) and then to read The End of Food (by Paul Roberts) two years later. Overall, the food industry still looks and acts a lot like the meat industry of the early 20th century. You have a few businesses producing/processing the majority of the nation’s food from massive, contaminate-friendly facilities. It’s the perfect vehicle for a zombie virus.
The Road has been haunting/taunting me since it came out. I’d had this idea of two men wandering in the Arctic on an expedition, but there wasn’t any detail, just a bunch of snow. The story wouldn’t materialize. Then McCarthy came out with The Road, and I read it and thought, “Oh, yeah, use your imagination.” When I started KTUSA, I knew I wanted to echo the journey of The Road, and the cold, and the search for food.
MP: I can see certain parts of the book being “tongue-in-cheek” as the press review calls it, from the “fictional” fast-food establishments to Jack’s first encounter with a Heathen bear, but I found these elements less humorous than bleakly realistic. Can you account for these possible disparate reactions to your writing and storytelling?
JL: On the surface, all of KTUSA is tongue-in-cheek. If you read it just for entertainment, you get zombies, funny restaurant names, naked bear fighting, constant action and a hero who is almost too good at being the hero to be just a normal guy, kind of like Ash in Army of Darkness. But my background is wholly literary. When you seriously consider the story, the humor dissolves. It’s intended to be bleak and to mimic real life. Jack Heart isn’t a funny guy. He doesn’t have one-liners or catch-phrases, even when he holds his rifle and imagines he’s God on judgment day, it isn’t funny. He’s agonizingly serious and deadpan, and he might see no difference between himself and God. He straddles this line between sociopath and hero, and makes a lot of tough decisions in order to survive. When a reader sides with Jack, it means accepting something dark inherent in all of us. I’m pretty happy with disparate interpretations. The book can be enjoyed on both (and more) levels.
MP: As well as the gruesome descriptions of gore both post- and pre-mortem, how else did your work as a body removal technician influence your writing and story telling, specifically in reference to your cutting 150 pages from the original piece, and to your sparse, yet powerful character interactions between Jack and Audrey, between them and Claire and Matthew?
JL: What a good question about body removals and character interactions! What triggered the rewrite was decapitation. I picked up a man who committed suicide by jumping from his apartment balcony. During his fall, he hit another part of the building and was decapitated (rather cleanly). I didn’t think much about it until I looked at him inside the body bag. I imagined the people who found him. I imagined the fall. I wondered if there had been children around—there must have been. I knew looking at his body and head that I would never forget that image, and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a child to have witnessed. I wanted to write a story from that child’s perspective, but I just kept coming up with the voice of Jack Heart. I’d already written the novel, but Jack had a new voice. It was detached, sad, and he had a heavy past. I liked that voice better. That’s why I considered a rewrite. I got rid of the overly silly parts, the dense anti-meat agenda, and made Jack much more serious overall. When you write about zombies, you really write about death, and death deserves a certain amount of respect. I had to rewrite Jack with a level of composure that never falters.
(Spoiler Alert!) When it came time to write Jack’s father’s suicide, I borrowed something I heard during my time as a Removalist. A mortician told me about his first decapitation: a fireman backed his convertible up to a telephone pole and tied one end of a steel cable around his neck and the other end around the pole. He took off and got up to 50 or so before the cable caught and made a clean cut. The guy knew exactly what he was doing. I chose that method for Jack’s father because it’s so memorable and because it doesn’t leave any doubt in Jack’s mind about his father’s intentions. He wanted to die, and Jack is left wondering why.
When Jack and Audrey sit down with Matthew and Claire, there’s something strange going on. On one side you have Jack, whose genius accounting for Major Meat could have very well caused some oversight in production and, ultimately, the contamination of meat. On the other side you have Matthew, who saw that something needed to be done in his community and inadvertently created a murderous group of vigilantes. Each is perhaps responsible for the other’s situation. But they wind up in the same place and they have an unspoken understanding: they just want to mind their business and tend to their partners. It’s a gentleman’s agreement. It’s something that got tweaked after I started removing bodies. Every so often, I’d meet a husband who was only being held together by his silence. You could just tell. We’d make eye contact, and I’d do my job in silence, then step out of the room, then he’d step out, and I’d leave with his wife on a covered stretcher. We’d never say a word to each other. Jack Heart is that kind of man. He has to say a lot with few words.
MP: You used the website kickstarter.com to help fund some of the costs involved in seeing Kill Town, USA, come to fruition. Could you talk about what that was like?
JL: Kickstarter was a great tool to raise money for marketing. Kickstarter gives you 30 days (or 60) to raise a set amount of money for your project, but really you raise the money in 10 days–the first 5 and last 5 days are the most active for contributions. My goal was $2,000 and I wound up with $2,145. While that’s good, most of it came from friends and family. I had hoped to garner more attention from strangers, but I’m happy with how things ended up. If you use Kickstarter, your expectations have to be realistic. Artists—writers,
dancers, musicians, etc.—really have to sell how the money will be used. I had a marketing plan written out that explained how much money was to be spent on each facet—advertising, promotional materials, publicity, etc. I wasn’t raising money to write a novella—that part was already done. I was raising money to share it with people. I think that’s the difference between successful Kickstarters and flops. Your contributors know when you’re in it for the wrong reasons. In this case, I wanted as many people as possible to read this novella, and other people wanted to help make it happen. It also held me accountable for my own dream. That’s more significant than the amount of money I raised. I told these people I was going to do something, and they bet money on it.
Nothing keeps you motivated better than 60 investors who expect results.
Joseph Love is currently plotting a new novel and also looking to release Habits and Hijabs, which recently placed in the top 50 of 5000 for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. You can check out Kill Town, USA, for yourself in either eBook or paperback versions at amazon.com.