Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Author Interview: Jessica Robinson (Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies)

Jessica Robinson's Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies tackles the confluence of zombies and our fears of science. Examining zombies through the lens of popular culture, and mixed with interviews from experts in various scientific fields, Undead Obsessed attempts to crack the code of what makes our attraction and repulsion to zombies such a favorite past time. I am thrilled she took a few minutes to talk about her book and our fascination with these rotting reanimated corpses. 

You went on kind of this epic journey to research this book—visits to water treatment plants and university veterinary medicine labs to learn about pathogens. How did you decide what you wanted to include in the book?

The original inspiration for the book came from watching an episode of The Walking Dead when the living characters have to get a zombie out of a well.  It made me curious about how pathogens travel through water, hence the visits to the treatment plants.  Then, I decided I should probably know exactly how pathogens behave, so the visit to the vet lab.  The more I learned, the more questions I had, so the more places/people I had to visit.  It was a so much fun!

What zombie movie influenced you the most?

This is actually a really hard question to answer because every movie influenced me in a different way.  Although, without Night of the Living Dead, my obsession would have never started.

How did you connect our fear of zombies to fear of science? How are they connected?

Well, it took some thought and looking at a multitude of films.  I think the puzzle pieces really fell into place while watching World War Z and how science played a role in that, then going back and looking at the other films.

Science or scientists are in practically all zombie films in one form or another—and it’s usually not a very flattering role.  They are usually portrayed as mad scientists, and like zombies, they are focused on achieving their goals (whatever those might be) without regard for human lives or morals.

These weird pandemics are kind of in the zeitgeist, between the recent ebola scare to the enterovirus outbreak. Do you see similarities in the way the public reacted to these scares, and the way you envision a reaction to a zombie outbreak?

Absolutely.  The fear of an epidemic usually comes way before the facts.  We convince ourselves that the illness will be the downfall of society and instantly start pointing fingers at people to blame, and those people are generally scientists.  Instead of preparing for the worst, we just blame it on others.  Much like the zombie apocalypse in these films, it catches us unprepared and unaware, so most of us are killed or turned into the undead.  By working together, that’s when things can truly get accomplished.

I generally poo poo the idea of zombies becoming a real thing, but then spot a news story about some weird disease, either unexplained or caused by some chemical compound (bath salts!) that does something shockingly awful, and rethink my “rational” thought. Do you think zombie-ism is possible in our future? 

I think it depends on how you define “zombie.”  If you look at it from a traditional sense—a corpse that is reanimated—then no.  But if you look at it as someone who becomes mindless and is driven by impulse and base desires, then yes.  As you mentioned, we’ve already seen this type of behavior.

Over the past few years, the popularity of zombies has just exploded in pop culture. What do you think is the reason for this sudden fascination?

I’ve been trying to figure this out, and I’m not really sure.  Monsters go through cycles.  A few years ago, it was vampires.  Before that, werewolves.  At the moment, zombie are the monsters du jour.

Your zombies are usually found in your YA fiction. What made you decide to write a non-fiction piece? Was the process different for you? Would you do another non fiction piece?

I’ve always wanted to write nonfiction about zombies, but I never knew what I wanted to write.  When inspiration hit, I had to get it down on paper.  Undead Obsessed is actually my second nonfiction book dealing with horror films.  My first one was Life Lessons from Slasher Films.  I would absolutely do another nonfiction book.  I’m just waiting for inspiration to hit.

The process was much different because I was looking at it from a different perspective.  For my YA books, I look at ways in which people can survive the undead.  In this book, I look at ways in which the undead can be created and how science plays a role in that creation.

Now that Undead Obsessed is released, what’s next for you?

I have another YA book coming out in January.  It is the sequel to The Appeal of Evil, and it is called Dealing with Devils.  Currently, I’m working on the third book in this series.  No title yet.  I have a middle grade book coming out in April/May called The Ifs Return.  It is the sequel to The Ifs.  After that, I plan on doing another YA zombie book.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Not really.  I just squeeze it in when I can.

Where is your favorite place to write?

At home.

What inspires you to write? 

The voices in my head won’t shut up until I get their story down on paper.

What 5 books are on your bookshelf right now?

Crap!  I can only think of two!

What do you recommend people see/read/hear?

Whatever interests them and makes them happy.  


  1. Thank you for having me on your blog and for the interview. It was fun!

  2. Karen,

    I love your interviews!

    It's interesting to think about zombies in terms of real world pathogens, especially with the Ebola outbreak going on. I don't know why zombies became popular at this moment in time but I think we all have a deep fear of outbreaks. And what could be worse than being a zombie?

    Sara M. Drake

  3. Thanks, Sara! Glad you enjoy the interviews.

    I think the zombie craze has much to do with the economic times. It seemed to gain momentum at the downturn and then we saw a spike in those doomsday prepper shows. Terms like "zombie economics" were all over the place. It's like a displacement of fear.

    That said, I do wonder if we could create zombie-ism in a lab somewhere. If I think about it too much, bio-tech and bio-weapons will totally freak me out.