Linda Watanabe McFerrin is an award-winning novelist, short fiction writer, travel journalist, writing teacher, and all around literary guru. Her first novel, Namako: Sea Cucumber, was published by Coffee House Press in 1998 and was awarded a Best Book for the Teenage from the New York City Libraries.
Linda’s newest novel, Dead Love, published by Stone Bridge Press, is being released this week. It is a novel about zombies centered in Japan. It begins when Clément, a lovesick ghoul, falls for the beautiful Erin. What follows is a breathless story that moves from Tokyo to Haiti to Amsterdam to Malaysia. Along the way you will encounter Yakuza (Japanese gangsters), Haitian witch doctors, ballet dancers and assorted horrible characters. There is even a little zombie sex mixed into this pot. Yuch!
You can buy Dead Love in paperback, e-book, or a special limited hardback edition that includes a manga treatment of one of the chapters.
Linda will be making a number of appearances around the Bay Area.
Andy: Linda, congratulations on the publication of Dead Love. I want to talk about zombies today. When we first began speaking about this book (full disclosure: I’m the literary agent who represents Linda), you made the striking comment that you believed zombies really exist. Well, excuuuse meeee!! But I don’t believe I have encountered many zombies at Cody’s over the years or even in your literary salon, Left Coast Writers. How can you defend this astonishing claim? Could you tell us a little bit about the science of zombies and how one can identify them.
Linda: Thanks, Andy. Right. Dead Love was actually inspired years ago when I read a book by noted ethno-botanist, Wade Davis, who also happens to be one of my literary and travel heroes. Davis’ book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, was about his search in Haiti for a kind of zombie formula—the substances that bokors, the Vodoun shamans or witchdoctors, have been using for generations to drug their victims into a death-like stupor. This is actually a crime in Haiti, and I have an old newspaper clipping about a man who was sentenced to prison for the crime of zombification. Zora Neale Hurston famously wrote about zombies in Tell My Horse. There are photographs of the unfortunate creature in her book. Because my novel is truly bizarre fiction grounded in fact, I include the truth about zombies in the first chapter of the book, and I footnote many of the ultra-weird things that are fact-based. They are essentially much stranger than fiction, and that is a big part of the point of Dead Love: that what’s real is often extremely surreal.
Andy: When I see the deals coming down for new titles, I notice that there are a lot of people writing in the zombie genre. Why do you think they have become so popular?
Linda: I actually think the zombie craze is part of a larger attraction that has taken literature and other art forms by storm, and that is a fascination with the supernatural. Perhaps this fascination has something to do with the absence of myth in our supposedly reality-based lives. Myth and magic are manifestations of the unconscious and its odd connection to the numinous in the everyday world. I think zombies are, in some ways, symbolic of a state of mind. We all feel a little like a zombie from time to time. We succumb. This is not an enviable position, which is probably why we want to kill zombies. They are that loathsome (and for some, very lovable) part of ourselves.
Andy: I know when I’m acting like a zombie, Leslie doesn’t find it particularly loveable. But let’s go on. What about zombie spin-offs of the great classics? Pride and Prejudice For Zombies was one of the best-selling books in many years. Can you think of some other classics that would be good grist for the zombie mill?
Linda: Oh, Wuthering Heights is just begging to be repurposed for zombie fans. I also feel Brave New World would be wonderful with zombies in it, though it kind of has them already, don’t you think? Actually a lot of Shakespeare’s plays, Titus Andronicus for example, would be super if the characters were zombies. And what if Romeo and Juliet had a happy undead ending in which the star-crossed lovers rise again as zombies? Come to think of it, dig up almost any of the great old works of literature and I believe you’d find them suitable for reanimation with a zombie twist.
Andy: Yes, Linda. I think it would be simply splendid to have Don Quixote tilting at zombies instead of windmills. There seem to be a lot of zombies and vampires in books for young adults. Why do you think teens are so attracted to these creepy characters? Are teen girls looking for different things than teen boys?
Linda: Kids have always loved fantasy. We all do. That’s why fairytales have endured. These are the new fairytales. And even in those old stories collected by the Brothers Grimm there were witches and evil trolls and devilishly deadly folk. And there was a lot of gore. At root, I don’t think the lust for gore is gender based, but I do think it goes well with a little romance and possibly some humor.
Andy: Dead Love isn’t really a teen book though is it? Do you think teens are going to read it though?
Linda: No, it isn’t a teen book. It’s full of sex, death, and dismemberment. But it’s an easy read (wasn’t it Ernest Hemingway or Nathaniel Hawthorne who said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing”?) and a darkly poetic one. It’s also quite cinematic, so I think teens are going to be drawn to it. They always ferret out what’s best in literature. If they’re lucky, they can pull marvelously inappropriate books from their parents’ bookshelves. I remember grabbing Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from my mother’s bookcase.
In Dead Love, the young Erin carts around her mother’s books on ghouls; so there you have it. In fact, a few teens have already gotten their hands on the novel. One of them said, “So usually when I read 300 page books it takes a little while. This one was different … every page seemed to just fly by (not like it was unmemorable) but because it was really good.”
Andy: Maybe I’m just a sicko, but I really enjoyed the zombie sex in this book. Can you give us a few tips and techniques to have better sex with zombies?
Linda: Andy, please remember that Erin is only part-zombie, which accounts for the amazing sex … kind of the best of both worlds. If you are talking about most zombies, well, let’s just say that there is generally quite a bit of slobbering involved, as well as considerable sucking and biting, which might not be so bad, depending on your proclivities. However, I should warn that eventually all of this leads to chewing and you need to be careful about your partner’s parts falling off. That’s never a good thing.
Andy: Linda, I’m getting really turned on by all this. So I better end this interview before things get out of hand.
Tags: andy ross, andy ross agency, ask the agent, bokor, book publishing, books, brave new world, clement, coffee house press, dead love, erin, fiction, ghoul, japan, left coast writers, linda watanabe mcferrin, literary agent, literature, namako, stone bridge press, voudoun, wade davis, witchdoctor, writing, wuthering heights, yakuza, zombie, zombie sex, zombification, zora neale hurston