Nihil sub sol novo est …? Yeah, well, guess again. Stant Litore’s The Zombie Bible just may be that new thing under the sun that you’re waiting for, and that would be ironic given that it is a story steeped in the deepest darkness humanity can imagine. I approached it skeptically—based on the title. The Zombie Bible? Really? Salvation for the undead? I really did not know what to think. I am happy to report that the skepticism fell away very quickly with this one. The book’s subtitle is Death Has Come Up into Our Windows. I shrugged and conceded that that was a chilling thought: point for Mr. Litore. The preface is actually a Historian’s Note. It read, startlingly, like many such prefaces I have read in a number of archaeological and archival research reports—clues to the methodology and translation, troubles and trials of the individual interpreting the data. More than slightly unnerving, so, another point for Mr. Litore. I turned the page and read: “Based Loosely on the Events of Jeremiah 38, 595 BC.” I blinked. Seriously? (for those who eschewed Sunday School, that’s the bit where the prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern because he has discomfited the King’s officials).
I turned the page….
“By the time they lowered Yirmiyahu into the old well behind the king’s house, the
city around them was already dying.”
Major points for Mr. Litore.
What he has done is taken the events of Jeremiah and formed an alternative history
with them. Using the words and consequences of the breaking of the Covenant between God (and God is “she” in Mr. Litore’s reckoning) and the People, Mr. Litore weaves this alternative history with such depth and skill that even an astute reader might slip slightly and believe that the undead walked the Earth in Biblical times and feasted on the living. The author points to Israel’s complacency at the worship of other deities—terrifying deities to whom they sacrificed children; and when Yirmiyahu discovers that his fellow priests not only allow it, but encourage the practice to sate the undead and save the remnant of the city (already besieged by the Babylonians), the story begins to twist horribly.
And I should mention that twisting horribly is a good thing.
It’s compelling and heart-pounding without being overly graphic or exploitative. It’s a page-turner that I could not put down. There are scenes that break your heart, that make you angry, that make you want to (I’m sorry) slap the author upside the head
because you don’t want THAT to happen.
But it does.
I’m a stickler for alternative histories that involve steampunk-esque realities (a
la Mark Hodder’s series) or the writings of famous authors beset, horrifically,
by the vicious muses that are the nephilim (a la Tim Powers’ The Stress of Her
Regard—a book with the most unfortunate cover. Ever. But, if you’ve not read
it, you’re missing it). This story is in the Tim Powers’ vein. It’s believable—in that the author does not have to struggle to stretch anything; just like Powers’ use of Byron’s and Shelley’s words, the words to convey this story are already there. The meaning is there. It is not a huge leap for us to realize that all those passages in Jeremiah are references to the undead—that the ideas for “clean” and “unclean” when it refers to the dead are to protect the living from zombies. After all, consider the story of the Valley of Dry Bones (that’s Ezekiel 37 for those playing along at home).
(I purchased The Zombie Bible on Smashwords in ePub Format for my Nook (No Nookie Like My Nookie!). 5 stars for WOW! What an original premise, for depth of
feeling and character that made my heart ache for the main character, and for a chilling read that makes me now, at close to midnight, a little disturbed that I have to go and let the dog in for the night.)
And now: An Interview with Author Stant Litore (you’re seriously going to want to get into this guy’s mind…)
JM: Where are you from, and what were you like as a child?
Stant: I was raised in the Pacific Northwest, and as a child I was a daydreamer. I spent
a lot of time in the woods with a wooden stick, fighting off invisible giants and enormous, predatory birds with remarkably bad tempers. My father had a herd of goats, and each February I’d leave my bedroom window open a crack and listen for the does giving birth. Then I’d run out into the pasture, with the permafrost cracking and crunching beneath my boots (we were up in the foothills of the Cascades, and it was colder then). That’s what I was like as a child: in a hurry to see anything that was beautiful, and to help if I could.
JM: How has your environment or upbringing colored your writing?
Stant: I was in love with things being born, and with things growing. Some of my favorite hours as a child were spent in my mother’s garden with warm earth in my hands
even though I have no green thumb at all. Maybe this is what attracted me to horror – a sense of the inconceivable preciousness of life. My other genre is fantasy, which is about the encounter with the marvelous and the fear and wonder it engenders.
My fiction tends to pivot on themes of social justice, the priority of human
compassion over ideology or blind faith in the rituals of your ancestors, and
the need to look very intentionally at the history of your culture and of your
own life. I grew up poor; I saw things some people haven’t. Right now that’s
all I have to say about that. The rest you’ll find in my books.
JM: Do you like researching real events, legends, and myths to round out your
Stant: Absolutely. I am a researcher and a reader and an explorer at heart. History is my addiction and my minefield. What’s particularly fascinating to me is the ways in which we *tell* history. How do we choose to remember our dead? How do we share those memories? What do we choose to forget? Our culture right now is participating in a number of willful decisions to forget. I think the same thing is happening in the first volume of *The Zombie Bible.*
In *Death Has Come Up into Our Windows*, Yirmiyahu is afflicted with historical
consciousness. As a prophet who can see the past, present, and future, and a man who can hear God weeping behind her veil in the Temple, Yirmiyahu gets the historical moment he’s in. He understands that his people are facing what might be the failing of their tradition and of their long history. The city around him is being eaten, but it’s being eaten because several castes of his People have not risen to the challenge of that day. They’ve become complacent, and more concerned with gathering and securing power than with feeding and educating and equipping the people. They’ve started to forget the moments in their history that are truly important; they’ve started to forget what their
grandfathers and grandmothers learned at great cost. Yirmiyahu’s tragedy, like Cassandra’s in the Greek myth, is that he’s the only one who sees this.
JM: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use a set formula? Do you work from an outline, or do you just see where the story takes you?
Stant: In a very basic sense, the outlines for my current stories are suggested by the
biblical tales I’m retelling, but that’s too simple an answer. I usually start with a scene that is very dramatic to me – though in fact it might be a very quiet scene — say, a loving moment between a couple. But, for me, it’s a scene full of drama and human life. That’s usually where I discover my characters.
Then I start writing a character arc – a few scenes where my characters make
significant choices. That becomes my outline; it grows organically. By then I’ve an idea of what’s happening with this plot and at least a little idea of who’s in the story and what their lives and their choices are about, and then I just start to tell the story. And about two thirds the way through it, I learn eight things about my characters I didn’t know before, and I learn what thematic questions this story is demanding of its readers, and then I just keep rewriting it until I have it right.
But the key is to learn early on what choices these characters have to make, and
why those choices are important to them and to the world they live in. That’s an exciting process of discovery and a tremendous wrecker of outlines, if I were so foolish as to start with an outline. But once you know what five scenes are the defining choices for one of your main characters, you know what your outline looks like. Everything else that’s going to happen in your story is made necessary by those moments of choice.
Though I don’t use a formula, I have noticed that most of my stories have exactly three primary characters. I don’t know why that is, but it’s interesting to me that it keeps happening.
Now, it’s past COFFIN HOP 2011 (HAPPY ALL SAINT’S), but Mr. Litore has graciously offered a FREE COPY to the first two people who comment on this review and interview!
You can pick up a copy of The Zombie Bible at the following links:
The Amazon link is http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005SNK13K.
On Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/94033
COFFIN HOP 2011 may be over, but we’re trying to convince Axel to consider the 366 Days of Halloween starting .. um .. now (you know, since next year’s a Leap Year).
Do YOU have a book you’d like reviewed and would YOU like the be featured as an interview here? Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get you scheduled!