Technology with attitude

Author Interview: Sean Beaudoin Talks Zombies, Fast Food and 'The Infects'

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Those of you who are familiar with Sean Beaudoin‘s novels (and his blogs, articles, essays, and other random online thoughts) will know that he’s never been one to stay on the clean side of the politically correct line. He writes with a unique voice: one filled with humor, pop culture references, smut, bile, and more than a few darts aimed at the self-satisfied complacency of middle America. With his latest novel, The Infects, he’s turned to zombie culture for his inspiration, and for once it isn’t a case of asking why he chose the genre – it’s more like what took him so long.

The Infects is ostensibly another young adult novel, but you may want to think twice before unleashing this festering, flesh-eating mob on your sweet little kiddies. Combining the timeless allegory of Louis Sachar’s Holes with the gore-drenched bloodlust of the Evil Dead movies, this is a peculiarly Beaudoinian view of the undead apocalypse. But hey, your kids have probably seen worse on their best friend’s Playstation – in fact, they’ve probably done worse. And with a timely anti-fast food message lingering like a cloud of flies over the novel, it offers more valuable life lessons than Dead Island.

We caught up with Sean Beaudoin in the apocalyptic build-up to The Infects, to ask him a few questions about classic zombie movies, and the insidious evils of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Dan Coxon: What do you think is making the shambling undead so popular right now?

Sean Beaudoin: I think we’re in the midst of a mass subconscious reaction to certain environmental truths. Like the fact that there’s way too many of us, our food production methods are unsustainable, and most of the country now turns into an Easy Bake Oven seven months of the year. It’s not just zombies, it’s dystopia in all its forms. Even if we suffered something as relatively benign as a month-long electrical blackout, it’s easy to imagine the resultant social breakdown taking on a zombie-survival flavor. So it’s no coincidence there’s now a glut of zombie product. Those books and movies function as a giant national Xanax. The Hunger Games sold a trillion copies because teenage girls immediately recognized that they might soon be called upon to be ruthless in a new way. And they found the notion not entirely unpleasant. Teenage girls always know everything first. Or at least intuit it.

DC: There are clearly plenty of zombie movie references in the novel. Did you have to research these, or are you a zombie flick fanatic?

SB: I worked in a video store in high school, and by the time I quit I’d seen every movie in the horror section at least once. From Herschel Gordon Lewis to David Cronenberg to knock-off Italian Romero. I lost the taste for cinematic gore not long after, but I was definitely intellectually formed by those movies. So, no, I did no research at all. Or I guess you could say I did extensive research, just a few decades prior.

DC: The Infects also has a message about mass-produced fast food buried in the blood and gore. Did you intentionally pick this as a satirical target, or did it just grow out of the plot?

SB: Fast food freaks me out. I literally haven’t eaten McDonalds since 1986. My abstention is not so much political in nature–although I’m sympathetic to that line of thinking–as it is that factory scale meat processing strikes me as hallucinatory and demented. To be able to sit down and eat a Quarter Pounder with bacon and cheese you simply can’t allow yourself to ponder the steps required for it to arrive boxed and steaming in front of you. I wanted readers to think about that just a little bit, without being preachy. Personally, I’d always rather hear a good chicken-anus joke than listen to a lecture. And the bottom line is that people are going to eat what tastes good to them, regardless. But so are zombies. And, as we all know, zombies mostly prefer sweaty, alienated teenagers.

Sean Beaudoin, with a brain-flavored cupcake.

DC: In addition to your young adult novels, you also write regularly online, most of it in a more adult vein. Why did you choose to write novels for young adults? Do you feel that you have to keep these two writing personas separate?

SB: Well, I’m one of the founders of the literary website TheWeeklings.com, which involves a daily analysis of politics and culture. I don’t think there’s much there that would frighten any given seventeen year old who just polished off The Infects. It’s impossible for me to explain why I write YA in our allotted space. Fortunately, I recently wrote an essay that answers that exact question. At the beginning I did try to keep my YA and “adult” personas separate, I guess mostly because I was worried a group of angry parents would burn my books in front of a mall in Alabama. But I quickly realized that was foolish. Any ten year old can jump online and find more offensive things with one mouse click than I could possibly cram into twenty essays about Dick Cheney. And maybe I’m deluded, but I’d like to think my teen self would enjoy reading me now, regardless of the slant. Especially since the internet didn’t exist then and I had to get all my salacious stuff from naughty parts of Flowers in the Attic and The Thornbirds.

DC: There’s plenty of violence, gore, and even nudity in The Infects. Were you wary of pushing these limits too far? How did you decide where to draw the line?

SB: I decided right from the beginning that I wasn’t going to write a “clean” zombie book. There’s just no point. Zombies are messy and dystopia is violent. And as the world comes to an end I have to assume most people will view having sex as being equally important as hoarding canned beans. I usually find myself disappointed in books where the social order breaks down and the fantastical emerges, but the characters keep acting like their parents would want them to. When the first zombie shambles out from the grassy margin beneath the interstate, people will no doubt immediately loot Costco and load shotguns. But then they’re going to find a quiet spot and hook up. It’s not in me to pretend otherwise.

DC: What can we expect to see from you next? Is there another novel in the pipeline?

SB: It’s actually in production as I type this, and advance copies should be available early next year. It’s a punk band diary called Wise Young Fool, and is about as far away from zombies as a van full of groupies and Fugazi albums could be.

DC: And finally… A vampire, a werewolf and a zombie are locked in a room. Who emerges intact?

SB: That’s easy. The werewolf immediately bores the vampire to death, then curls up in front of the fireplace, licking its sundry parts. The zombie, not entirely intact to begin with, at least emerges—although mostly because it smells a group of plump Romney canvassers spreading through the neighborhood, quickly winnowing them to a more manageable number.

The Infects is available now from all good bookstores, and the Random House website, priced $16.99. You can also catch Sean Beaudoin at the Elliott Bay Book Company on October 4th at 7:00pm, reading and signing copies of The Infects… Zombie makeup is encouraged!