Author Robert J. Duperre Talks about Zombies and Writing
by Jason Harris
Zombies are still lumbering around in pop culture after since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead arrived on the silver screen in 1968. Romero is considered to be the father of all zombie movies. They can even be seen on the small screen thanks to the AMC series, The Walking Dead. The Resident Evil zombies are still finding success on the big screen and the next incarnation, Resident Evil: Retribution, arrives in theaters this year.
Zombies are so popular that a London-based game developer, Six to Start, has created an app that has merged fitness and zombies, “Zombies, Run!”
Author and New England Horror Writer member Robert J. Duperre is continuing to give zombie fans their fix with his four-book series The Rift, which opens with a zombie apocalypse triggered by an evil buried deep in a Mayan ruin in the first volume, The Fall, the three books that follow are Dead of Winter, Death Springs Eternal, and The Summer Son, which is due out in July.
In his series, the origin of the apocalypse is the Mayan Ruins, which he chose because of the fact “the Mayans were so advanced, not only for their time, but for all time.” Even with their advancement, Duperre considers the Mayans as “somewhat primitive.”
“In that way their culture sort of mirrors our own—complex and sophisticated, yet clinging to some rather archaic ideals. So what if the same mysterious events that brought down their culture brought down our own? Poetic justice, right? Yeah, a bit of a stretch I know, but trust me, it works in my head.”
The author wasn’t planning on The Rift being a series. He thought it would be a simple zombie tale.
“It was supposed to be a humorous novella.”
Once it was over 400,000 words, he decided to split it into four books and completely rewrote it.
“The story had already been sectioned off into seasons, so I figured that was as good an idea as any to act as natural segues between volumes. The only problem is the first three books all end in cliffhangers because of this, which I’m sure can be a little irritating to readers.”
Duperre thinks there are “a couple of layers” to the zombie-apocalyptic trend.
“For me, [zombies are] the perfect tool for storytelling—they represent humanity in its most primal form, in many ways reflecting conventional and homogametic nature of our culture,” Duperre said. “Literature in the zombie genre forces a return to the basics by the survivors, in effect exploring that which made them human in the first place.”
He assumes the zombie-apocalyptic trend is popular because people are “obsessed with being scared, and nothing is as frightening as the prospect of the end-of-times.”
“A zombie apocalypse is, strangely enough, the most convenient and readily available outlet for that kind of fantastic exploration.”
He has never seen this “particular scenario play out before,” which he figured was a good point in his favor. This allowed him “to move away from traditional zombie lore and present some different scenarios and outcomes.”
Duperre considers his endeavor with The Rift series risky and knows he has annoyed more than one reader by straying from the typical zombie formula.
“I’m happier doing things my own way than sticking to a script someone else wrote.”
There are some prevalent motifs running through Duperre’s series such as isolation, personal tragedy, and social injustice, which he considers “the single greatest theme” that runs through all four volumes. The social injustices that he tackles are the treatment of women and the complexities of race relations.
“At heart, I’ve always considered myself a progressive and a bit of a social activist, and this series allows me to explore these themes in a no-holds-barred manner, sometimes disturbing manner.”
Duperre’s work has been influenced by a number of writers throughout his career including Clive Barker, John Skipp, Stephen King, and George Romero, whose original Dead trilogy is “the single biggest influence” in his life.
“It was the first time I realized that monsters could be used as metaphors, and I ran with it,” Duperre said. “Clive Barker has also been a huge influence, in particular his fascination with the concept of worlds within worlds. Though you certainly can’t write a good book without talent, the style any writer develops is always dependent on the authors they’ve read and loved over the span of their lifetimes. I’m no different, and to all the writers who’ve spurred me on over the years, I say a great big thank you.”
The Rift series is a collaboration between Duperre and fellow NEHW member, artist Jesse David Young, who has done all the series’ covers.
They had discussed as far back as 2006 about Young doing illustrations for him, but nothing came of it. Three years later in the summer of 2009, Young called about working on a comic book they could pitch to DC comics. Duperre was working on final rewrites on the first book in the series and asked Young if he wanted to do what they talked about so long ago, he said.
“We’ve been working together ever since, and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s nice to have a partner to share in the stress, after all. I wouldn’t have been able to get as much work done as I have without him by my side.”
His series is self-published, which allows Duperre to take risks, but not something he couldn’t have done through a traditional publishing company, he said. He doesn’t hold any “real love for self-publishing” since “it’s difficult and time-consuming.”
Duperre considers self-publishing “a means to an end” and doesn’t think he would be where he is today without it. He thinks the changing publishing world is “exciting and dangerous at the same time.”
“For the release of a book to be as simple as a click of a mouse, the possibilities are endless for success and failure. I experienced a bit of both.”
Duperre rushed The Fall to publication which resulted in the release of a poorly edited book, he said. It was full of plot holes, which he had to go back and fix post-publication. The same mistakes happened with Dead of Winter, but to “a lesser extent.”
“Thankfully for me, my sales didn’t really start to take off until after they were fixed which is a very good thing. It could have ruined my reputation something fierce had the lesser-quality work taken center stage.”
He considers this a huge problem since there are a lot of books on the market that are not good. These books are lacking “plot and characterization, are poorly executed, or simply put out there by someone who doesn’t have a clue about how to write.”
These problems have created a stigma for being a self-published author “that is rightly deserved.” This stigma has even put more pressure on authors like Duperre, he said.
“I need to work extra hard to make sure the work we put out is of professional quality, is edited, and cohesive. It’s a good thing I enjoy doing this, otherwise I might have walked away by now.”
Along with writing his zombie series, Duperre has published two anthologies, The Gate: 13 Dark and Odd Tales and The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair. The first one was released in November 2010 and contains stories by him and a few writer friends. Each story contains an illustration by Young.
“After [the first anthology was released], I thought it would be a novel idea if the anthology became a yearly/bi-yearly event.”
The Gate’s sequel was released this past February. It contains stories from K. Allen Wood, David Dalglish, Steven Pirie and Mercedes Yardley.
He wants to publish a third volume next February entitled The Gate 3: 13 Creature Features.
“The goal is to have it be an actual paying anthology this time around, featuring some of my old-time and new favorites in horror and dark fantasy. I’m not entirely certain if I’ll be able to pull it off given the state of finances at the moment, but I’m dedicated to it, and I’ve found over the years that if I’m dedicated to something, I somehow find a way to pull it off.”
Duperre has been writing since childhood, he has been “obsessed” with it from “the process, the imagination involved, [and] the outcome.”
“My high school term papers were behemoths, and I decided that my life’s goal would be to teach English and write novels for a living.”
Life did get in his way back in his early to mid twenties until Jessica, his wife, told him to pick up his pen again. There would be “a gigantic hole” in his soul if he wasn’t writing, he said.
He began a website, Journal of Always, back in 2009 with the idea he would blog about what he thought was important, what bothered him, and maybe even discuss his own experiences during the writing process. It didn’t happen that way though, he said.
“I ignored it for far too long and eventually it was all but forgotten. Then, halfway through 2010, I decided I would start reading my fellow self-published authors and use the JOA as an outlet for reviews.”
The website has progressed nicely for the past two years until the past few months of this year when he had deadlines looming on other projects.
“I haven’t posted a review since February, even though I have a backlog of more than fifteen to write.”
He plans on adding more reviews soon.
Duperre’s advice to up and coming writers is the same as what other writers like King has told people. It is too read and write. He also goes farther and adds a person has to edit and rewrite too. A writer also has to “be open to criticism.”
“The only way any artist improves is by trial and error. There is no first draft of any book that is fit for publishing. Make sure you realize that and learn everything you can before putting yourself out there.”
Here is Duperre’s bibliography:
April 2010 – The Fall: The Rift Book I (novel)
July 2010 – Feeding the Passion (short story), Darker Magazine #2
November 2010 – The Gate: 13 Dark and Odd Tales (collection)
November 2010 – The One That Matters (short story), A Land of Ash (edited by David Dalglish)
December 2010 – Dead of Winter: The Rift Book II (novel)
June 2011 – Silas (novel)
September 2011 – Chorus (short story), Dark Tomorrows, Second Edition (edited by J.L. Bryan)
October 2011 – 39 Days (short story), Unnatural Disasters (edited by Daniel Pyle)
December 2011 – One Good Turn (short story), Shock Totem Holiday Issue
January 2012 – Death Springs Eternal: The Rift Book III (novel)
February 2012 – The Gate: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair (collection)
Duperre will be at the NEHW booth at the South Windsor Strawberry Fest on June 16 in Nevers Road Park , South Windsor, CT. from 9 a.m to 5:30 p.m.