Max Brooks and Quint discuss his ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE follow-up novel, WORLD WAR Z!!!
Published at: Sept. 13, 2006, 6:09 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a little chat I had not more than 2 days ago (on 9/11, actually) with author Max Brooks. Brooks made a bit of a splash with his first book, THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE, a book that is written completely straight, giving advice for when the zombie plague hits. This advice is actually backed up by scientific data and real world research. It's a great book and one that proved to be extremely popular with the readers of this site when I included it in last year's Holiday Shopping Guide.
Max, son of Mel, has followed up that survival guide with an oral history of the Zombie War, a bit of fiction written as fact, following a single interviewer as he travels the world collecting stories from those directly involved during the outbreak and the war against the undead that followed. The audio book is what I was sent and has a rather impressive cast, but I won't go into that up here. We talk quite a bit about the audio book and the actors who took part in the interview. So, let's get to it, shall we?
QUINT: How's it going, man?
MAX BROOKS: Hey, are we still on for right now?
QUINT: I'm good to go if you are.
MAX BROOKS: Great.
QUINT: You know, I write a Holiday Shopping Guide every year and last year I included your ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE....
MAX BROOKS: That's right! I remember that!
QUINT: And more than any other single book, DVD, replica, toy, whathaveyou, I got more response about your book than anything else I included.
MAX BROOKS: (laughs) Very cool! Who'da thought?
QUINT: You've got the geeks in your pocket, man. They dig what you do...
MAX BROOKS: I'm blown away by it. You know, I do a self defense lecture about the ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE.
QUINT: (laughs) Really?!
MAX BROOKS: Yeah, actually. I go to colleges and I bring in swords and slides and an educational video... The last one I did, I packed in a thousand people.
QUINT: That sounds like a bunch of fun!
MAX BROOKS: I was like, "You guys know why you're here, right?" Like, "I'm not opening for anybody?"
QUINT: I'm kinda curious as to what your first exposure to the concept of the zombie? I mean, you obviously seem to go after the more Romero type of zombie and not the literary VooDoo zombie...
MAX BROOKS: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. When I was a little kid, when I was, like, 10 or 11... something like that... I can't remember. I saw, I believe the movie was NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES or REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES... It was an Italian movie and it was in New Guinea. These Italian commandos in New Guinea and it was the first time I ever encountered a zombie movie. And, you know, Italians... they make some freaky movies! They actually intercut it with real footage of cannibalism in New Guinea, so I was basically scarred for life.
Then, a few years later, I was up too late and I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Then I was like, "A Ha! You can fight them! You're not just some screaming, hysterical victim!" I've been into zombies for almost my whole life.
QUINT: To this day have you explored more Italian zombie flicks, like those of Lucio Fulci?
MAX BROOKS: Oh, yeah! The one where the zombie fights the shark! That's genius! (QUINT NOTE: That movie is called ZOMBIE and it is, in fact genius)
QUINT: That's a great scene.
MAX BROOKS: That's a real shark!!!
QUINT: Yes, it is! (laughs)
MAX BROOKS: I don't know how they did that! That must be a nurse shark or they pulled the teeth out or... But that... I'm watching it and am like, "That's not mechanical." It was amazing. And when I heard a zombie fights a shark, I'm like, "Okay. It's going to be cheesy," or whatever and when I saw it I'm like, "Oh, my God!"
I love that stuff. And I love the Japanese zombie movies. Have you seen WILD ZERO?
QUINT: I don't think so...
MAX BROOKS: WILD ZERO is about aliens attacking the world by turning people into zombies. So, it's up to our young Japanese hipster friend and his transvestite girlfriend/boyfriend to enlist the help of a Japanese rockabilly band to save us from the zombies.
QUINT: Well, of course they do!
MAX BROOKS: I was like, "Oh my God, did you guys lose World War 2 or what?"
QUINT: (laughs) Well, maybe they wouldn't have if they had thought to get to the tranvestites and rockabilly into the fight.
MAX BROOKS: Yeah. See, if they had had those guys... we might all be driving Japanese cars.
QUINT: Your books seemed to have hit at just the right moment. It seems that starting with the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, zombies are back in the mainstream again.
MAX BROOKS: You know what? I literally won the lottery when it came to that because I wrote ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE years before. I wrote it not in response to 9/11, but in response to Y2K.
QUINT: Oh, really?
MAX BROOKS: Yeah! It was when Y2K was happening and all these survival guides were hitting the shelves. I was buying them and they just got crazier and crazier and I was like, "Okay, that's enough. I'm just going to write about what I'm afraid of."
QUINT: Do you think it's possible that zombies will ever take over?
MAX BROOKS: I don't know what's scarier, the fact that zombies could rise or the fact there are actually people out there that can't wait for it to happen. So they can just start loading up with guns and get on their motorcycles...
QUINT: (laughs) Well, as a kid I think everybody has that fantasy of being able to go into any store you want and take whatever you want. That kind of feeds into the whole zombie plague scenario...
MAX BROOKS: Oh, yeah! That's the kid fantasy. I don't know how old you are, but I'm 34, so I'm the RED DAWN generation. As a kid, I was on my block waiting for the Commies to parachute into the neighborhood.
QUINT: I love RED DAWN, but I'm 25 so during the big Red Scare of the '80s I was just a child...
MAX BROOKS: See, for you that's a bit of a joke, but in my generation... we were ready! And we didn't know... 'cause there's a scene where Powers Boothe is like, "Yeah, the whole Cuban and Nicaraguan armies attack!" And we're like, "OH, MY GOD! THE WHOLE NICARAGUAN ARMY!" We didn't know, we were 12 years old! There's 3 million people in Nicaragua!
So, THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE just sat on the shelf for, like, 2 years, until a book agent found out about it and was like, "I'm going to publish this thing." Who woulda thought?
QUINT: When I read the book... I had been told by many people that I had to read it, but when you hear Mel Brooks' son wrote a zombie book about survival after the plague hits... the first thing you think is that it'll be really funn. But when I read it, I was totally taken aback by just how scientific it is and how straight faced it is. You really thought this thing out!
MAX BROOKS: Oh yeah. A lot of people in the beginning were like, "Dude! Where's the jokes?" I'm like, "Well, I think if there is a joke it's that I had the free time to write it."
QUINT: The biggest joke is that you take the entire thing 100% seriously.
MAX BROOKS: You have to take it completely seriously or it doesn't work.
QUINT: I'm really happy to see that transfer over to the new book...
MAX BROOKS: Oh yeah. World War Z. There's nothing funny in there. I mean, there is, but it's certainly not a comedy.
QUINT: I haven't read it, but I was sent the audio book version before talking to you.
MAX BROOKS: Ah, cool!
QUINT: I love the cast you have for the audio book. In particular, I loved Mark Hamill in it.
MAX BROOKS: I was stunned we could get Mark Hamill because he is such a voice-over God right now. He did the voice of The Joker on BATMAN and hundreds of cartoons and video games and I was like, "We're not gonna get Mark Hamill!" When he read the material he was like, "Yeah, I'll do it." I was blown away.
QUINT: Was it always your idea to follow-up ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE with another zombie book?
MAX BROOKS: I did want to write another zombie book and I was playing around with other ideas and this one just clicked. I've always been a fan of the book THE GOOD WAR by Studs Terkel and that's an oral history of World War 2. I've always loved that book. I'm one of those people... I always get inspired by great ideas and then I wait for a few weeks. If it's still percolating, I'm like, "Okay. I'm going to do it." As soon as I hit on that idea, the stories just started happening.
QUINT: Was there any particular character or story in the book that you found difficult to write or did everything just kind of all flow smoothly?
MAX BROOKS: The good part is it all flowed. Nothing was difficult. The bad part was it didn't flow chronologically. I had to go with whichever story was the loudest in my brain, so it made the first draft really fun. Now, the second draft, where I had to actually go back and edit it and put it in some kind of order... that was not so fun.
QUINT: Is there a particular character that you look back on now that you've finished and say, "This is where I was at my best..."
MAX BROOKS: It's interesting. I tried to give everybody their own voice. Even the people who I personally don't like, I tried to make them as human as possible, like that Shithead in Antarctica. That's taken from real conversations I've had with real businessmen. They're very macho and dick-wagging, but the truth is they don't break the law. They are scumsuckers, but they've actually done nothing legally wrong, just like this guy (in WORLD WAR Z). He's like, "I didn't do anything wrong. They said it was rabies, I marketed a cure for rabies. What'd I do?"
I definitely wanted to make it not as black and white in that way.
QUINT: Did you pull for an audio book version of your novel or was that the publisher's idea?
MAX BROOKS: I was blown away. Not only was it their idea, they actually said to me, "We want to do a full cast and is there anybody you can think of?" I'm so lucky that my first career was in voiceover. I used to do cartoon voices, so I had contacts in that arena, so I just sort of called them and said, "Hey, would so and so be good for this?" Or, "Do you think so and so's available?" It was hard because it was summer and everybody was off on vacation. I'm stunned that we got as many people as we did.
QUINT: You got a lot of great character actors as well. I mean, I love that you have Ajay Naidu and John Turturro and the Reiners and Alan Alda! Especially somebody like Alda, who has such a great voice. How did you go about getting those people for the audio book?
MAX BROOKS: It's weird. Some people... I really had to reach out to every different contact I had. The Reiners are family friends and I'm very grateful to them because Carl was just about to shoot OCEAN'S 13, so he literally went into the studio and did it the day before. Rob Reiner had just gotten back from Europe. He was just going back out again, so we really had to get him into the studio for, like, an hour. Alan is a family friend, too, and he had a book tour.
So, those 3 were my friends, but I got Mark Hamill, I got... Oh, Jurgen Prochnow, Jeez! He's amazing. Those were through my old contacts at ICM Voiceover, who I used to work for. I've been a huge DAS BOOT fan all my life, so I'm sittin' there in the studio and there's Jurgen Prochnow! Oh my God!
QUINT: Did you consider pulling the fire alarm just see the emergency lighting kick in and water sprinkle all over the place?
MAX BROOKS: Yeah! I didn't have the heart... I wanted to say to him, "Oh, my God! When I was a kid I watched that movie and I used to turn on the shower and pretend my room had been hit with a depth charge!"
Eamonn Walker, the guy that plays our South African and our Englishman, I got him through... He's done stuff through Random House. I've been a huge fan of his. I was such a big fan of OZ. They said, "Yeah, he'll do it," I'm like, "Get out!"
Ironically, Henry Rollins I reached out to through a different project that I'm working on. I'm co-producing a show called THE WATCHLIST for Comedy Central Motherload about American comedians of Middle Eastern decent and one of the agents involved works for the same talent agency that represents Rollins. So, I called them up and said, "Do you think you can just give him a phone call?" And he said he'd do it.
I'm stunned by how many people agreed.
QUINT: I noticed the 6 hour audio book has some small print saying that it is an "Author's approved abridgment." What's in the book that's not in the audio book?
MAX BROOKS: Well, half if not 2/3rds of the book has been left out.
MAX BROOKS: Basically, they give you the bare bones of the story. It's sort of beginning, middle and end and there's your story. In the book, there's so many other chapters that give it so much other flavor. I mean, we've got battles under water, we've got fights in the sewers of Paris, we've got the Russians fighting with old, obsolete WW2 weapons. It just goes on and on.
QUINT: Some of my favorite parts of the story was the inventive zombie carnage and gore. Did you have a lot of fun coming up with that stuff?
MAX BROOKS: Oh yeah. There's some gore in it. There's gore in the book that's not in the audio book. I was actually worried that there wasn't enough zombie gore. When I finished it... you know, I didn't think about anybody but me. I wrote this completely for me. That's the lesson my father always taught me, which is: "If they hate it, at least its got one fan."
So, I wrote it completely for me. I loved it, I loved doing it, but then when it got out there I was like, "Oh... crap! Did I not put enough gore in there?" Because every other zombie book is just heads being blown off right and left.
QUINT: I didn't feel it lacking, at least in what I heard. You had that great sequence... Mark Hamill's first story about being on the front lines in Jersey as all the millions of zombies come over from New York...
MAX BROOKS: I hope there's enough to satisfy the hardcore fans. I hope they don't rebel too much against my exploration of politics and economics and social implications. We'll see. It's up to them. Pretty much everything in it, other than the zombies, is either real or based in someway on something real.
The premise, the sort of lighthouse... the North Star that kept me on my course writing this was... If this were real... forget trying to make it cool, forget trying to impress an audience, forget trying to compare or contrast with other zombie works... Forget everything. If there was a real zombie plague how might it play it out? So, that's where I went.
QUINT: The rights to the book were bought by Brad Pitt's production company. How involved will you be in the film?
MAX BROOKS: Strangely enough, I figured, because I'm the writer of the book and it's my idea and my heart and my soul, I figured I'd be the last to know anything! Ironically, they're calling me and letting me know which writers they're reaching out to and what their take is and do I have ideas? I keep trying to remind them, "Guys... You're a big Hollywood machine and I'm just the bookwriter. You're not supposed to call me."
QUINT: It's a good sign that they are. At least it shows that they want to appear respectful to the material.
MAX BROOKS: Yeah. Their hearts are definitely in the right place and they're so excited about it, which is nice. It's definitely nice to see how much excitement they have. I'm curious to see who they get as a writer and as a director because I actually don't have any emotional hangups about who they hire. I understand that it comes down to economics. This has to be a big movie. In order to do it right, it's gotta be big and in order to make a big movie, you've gotta hire people that have proven that they can handle big budgets. I'm cool with whatever they decide to do.
QUINT: If it was up to you, would you keep the structure of the book: one complete mini-story at a time telling us a little bit more about what happened during the outbreak and war with each tale?
MAX BROOKS: You know, I don't know. I've sort of shot my emotional wad with the book. I'm satisfied. I'm totally satisfied, artistically, with the book, so I'll be very curious to see how they adapt it.
QUINT: You mentioned you were producing a show for Comedy Central...
MAX BROOKS: Yeah, it's a show called THE WATCHLIST. It's basically a show of American comedians of Arabic and Middle Eastern decent who basically were American until 9/11. They were born here, they grew up here, they were just dudes and then, suddenly, they're Arabs. I said to them all, the night we did our show, "Look guys. You thought you were as much a citizen as everyone else and suddenly you were singled out. Well, now you know what it's like to be a Jew!" They got it.
It's funny. These guys are so freakin' funny. One of them, Maz Jobrani, the guy who played the Iranian pilot (in the audio book)... he's one of the comedians.
QUINT: Do you have anything else in the works? A new book?
MAX BROOKS: Right now, I have to really focus the next couple months on selling this book because most publishing, as I've learned the hard way, is self-publishing. So, I've got to devote all my attention to ringing the bell and getting out on the road, doing as many signings and doing as many of those lectures as I can do. It's nice to see how much they pack people in and everybody really has a good time.
QUINT: You should consider coming to Austin and doing something with the Alamo Drafthouse...
MAX BROOKS: You know, I am doing one in Texas. I can't remember where I'm doing it, but I'm definitely doing one in Texas... I'm going back to Utah... God, they love me in Utah. That's where all the survivalists hang out, so I think 50% of the audience are, like, really waiting for it. So, Utah, Texas... maybe Colorado again. I've gone there before. Why the Red States love me, I don't know.
Although, the gun lobbyists hate me.
QUINT: Why do they hate you?
MAX BROOKS: Because I chose the AK-47 over the M-16 for an assault rifle (in ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE). Check out Amazon. I think the last guy to review my book was pissed! Gun forums! Nothing to do with zombies or horror, gun forums discuss my book and they rip me a new one. I will still defend it. I'm sorry. I know you can trick out an M-16 with your laser sights or whatever, but AKs don't jam. One guy called me unAmerican. I chose a Commie assault weapon. I said, "Look guys... John Milius... the guy who directed RED DAWN, he says unless you run an AK over with a tank, that thing is gonna keep shootin'."
QUINT: And John Milius knows a helluva lot about guns.
MAX BROOKS: Oh, I wouldn't want to see his house. I wouldn't want to break into John Milius' house. You know what? In a zombie plague... you gotta post on your website: Go to John Milius' house. Milius could train a whole army and he'd have a fortified compound... I think Milius would be ready!
There it is. Hope you folks enjoyed the chat. The book is out on shelves now! I'm personally looking forward to picking up the book now that I know I've only, at best, heard half of it! Tons more transcribing for me to do... TEMERAIRE author Naomi Novik, Ronny Yu, Michel Gondry, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost and the creative team behind BALLS OF FURY and RENO 911 all await. Plus I have 3 more posts to make for my Peter Jackson interview. Yikes, I'm so behind...