My guest today is author Joan Frances Turner whose debut urban fantasy novel, Dust, was just released on September 7, 2010. Dust is also part of my Debut Urban Fantasy Reading Challenge. You can read an excerpt here.
One lucky commenter will have a chance to win a copy of Dust. As always, details are listed at the end of the post.
by Joan Frances Turner
Zombies are a joke, and everyone knows it. They walk funny. They can’t think straight, or at all. They stink. They’re ugly as sin and getting uglier by the hour. They eat revolting food, and they’ve got a vocabulary of precisely one word: “Braaaaaaaaaains.” They’re contagious, deadly in fact, but as long as you’ve got a gun, a cricket bat and/or a good pair of tennis shoes you’ll be just fine. I mean, never mind that 28 Days Later nonsense, it’s not like they can outrun you, right?
Zombies are a joke–except that the joke’s all on us, the humans, the living. Because zombies are actual physical death reanimated, the inevitable endpoint of every human life; we might outrun them now, but they’re waiting right there at the finish line. We laugh because we’re afraid, and by “we” I mean me. Death doesn’t fascinate me, it just scares me silly. It always has. The whole idea of not existing, of being elsewhere–if there really is an elsewhere–of departing from loved ones’ lives, of everything that was me being forgotten by the world and washed away like a random sand grain on the beach, it’s frightening. The physical reality of what happens to dead bodies (including, as I found out researching this book, the embalmed ones) happening to my body, that part’s simply unimaginable. And yet, in the end, there’s no escape.
There’s only three choices, when facing a great and powerful fear: You can simply refuse to think about it at all, and our society still routinely treats death as an uncouth taboo. You can laugh at it, treat it as something camp, the way people do with zombies. (Right before they put every last once of energy into bludgeoning, shooting and burning them, because as it turns out laughing’s never sufficient ammunition.) Or, third choice, you can engage with it directly, try and get under its skin, treat it as a companion instead of an enemy and learn what it can teach you. Jessie, the heroine of Dust, is a zombie. She’s a monster. She’s a killer. She’s rotting flesh that one day–for zombies, as it happens, have an aging process and “life span” of their own–will turn skeletal and then crumble into, well, dust. She’s a young woman who died, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, the person she was before a drunk driver stole her life away, even though to any onlooker she’s not a person at all.
Zombies, the resurrected dead, are nothing like us and yet, they are us. Why does zombie lore not speak of the undead, first and foremost, as simply humans who died? Because that would involve acknowledging the monsters are our kin, our close relations. When death became personified, and when that person became a lonely, angry, aggressive, quick-thinking, confused, loving girl who walked into my head and started telling her unvarnished story, suddenly I wasn’t afraid anymore. Rot, decay, the ceaseless hunger for living flesh, it was all just part of what she was, the same way a more conventional hunger and thirst and aging are part of any human life. She was an interesting (un)person, this Jessie: She had friends, loved ones, mortal enemies, a whole surrogate family and complex society out in the woods where–in her world–no sane human ever dares to tread.
And then, her former family, the living human family she left behind, they found her again. And then came the epidemic, a strange plague seemingly from nowhere striking down the living and undead alike. And then everything really started getting complicated.
To face down a fear, learn what it can teach you. What did I learn, spending hours at a time walking “with” Jessie around the sprawling county park that became her fictional home? I learned you can lose everything you once had–your life, your bodily integrity, your loved ones–and still start anew, forge new bonds, learn new ways of surviving and loving and being. I learned that even vicious, lethal, stinking things we dismiss as monsters have minds of their own, and memories, and lingering ties to those who scream and run away when they hold out a hand and ask, don’t you know me? Can’t you see it’s still me underneath? I learned that deeper mysteries than anyone imagines lurk in seemingly innocent places, the woods, the beaches, the most rundown parts of half-abandoned towns–the very origins, in fact, of life and death as we know them, and as we never imagined them.
Most of all, I learned that the people who laugh are right. Death might be scary and disgusting, but there’s sides to the “afterlife” that are also absurd and damned funny: A little whistling in the graveyard, as it turns out, is a downright sensible response. Just don’t whistle too loudly, though. The undead, as it turns out, have far better hearing than you think.
Joan Frances Turner was born in Rhode Island and grew up in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana, where she still lives and practices law under an entirely different name. Her debut urban fantasy novel, Dust, is an RT Book Reviews “Top Pick” and received a starred review from Booklist, which called it “a massively entertaining and seriously revisionist zombie novel…smart, scary, and viscerally real.” She is on a first-name basis with the most influential movers and shakers of her thriving local undead population, though she’s not foolhardy enough to go and visit them after dark.
One lucky commenter will have a chance to win a copy of Dust.
To enter, leave a comment below answering the following question:
What is your deepest, strongest fear? And what did you learn about yourself, when you faced it down?
1. +1 entry for answering the question (required).
2. +2 entries for becoming a follower of this blog and Dark Faerie Tales on Twitter.
3. +3 entries for tweeting about this contest, blogging about it, linking via your sidebar etc…(please tell me where!).
4. Giveaway is open to everyone.
5. Please include your email address in your comment.
6. Giveaway ends Friday, October 1st at 11:59 PM EST.
7. The winner will be picked with the help of Random.org.
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