I just finished “Down the Road” by Bowie Ibarra. Let me tell you, it is not for the weak of stomach. If a zombie novel can be considered “realistic,” then Bowie Ibarra has gotten himself on that short list of realistic zombie novels. It is absolutely gross, and I mean that as a compliment!
I recently e-mailed Mr. Ibarra and here’s what he had to say about zombies, his work, his influences and more.
KJB: Down The Road doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to gore. You stay and watch the zombie slaughter long after other writers would have moved on or cut away.
BI: Yeah, that’s true. The way I see it, Romero always provided a ‘feast’ scene, as I like to call it. It’s a scene in his movies where the zombies just munch out on people. You got it after the truck blew up in “Night of the Living Dead”. You got it when the bandits left in “Dawn of the Dead.” In “Day of the Dead” when Miguel unleashed the Zeds into the underground base. And you definitely will get that gory treat in my ‘Down theRoad’ series.
KJB: How much thought have you given to what it must be like to get eaten alive?
BI: A lot. Back in the day when I first saw “Day…”, that final Savini mauling of Rhodes’ stooges by the zombies always gave me chills, because just like you say, they’re getting torn to pieces alive. In fact, the terror the one dude that got his head ripped off really brought that feeling to the fore. He kind of flips out, blasting zombies, sensing the doom, and starts to laugh. But as they start tearing him apart, he starts to scream in terror. I think that transition vocally really spells out the kind of intense pain it might feel like to be ripped apart.
KJB: I liked how you called your comments at the end the director’s commentary because it really felt like I was watching a gritty, handheld indie movie in my head.
BI: Yeah. I think it was a cool addition suggested by the editor, Travis Adkins. Readers should really check out Travis Adkins two novels from Permuted Press, “Twilight of the Dead”, and “Twilight of the Dead: Walking with the Dead”.
KJB: Considering your background in theater as well, do you treat your writing as a production, as something more than words on a page?
BI: Just like in theatre, not only are you trying to create atmosphere, emotion, and truth, but for me, you’re trying to also create pictures. Writing is one of the most beautiful and abstract artforms in regards to creating pictures, because the picture the writer sees in their mind is and always will be different in the minds of the readers. Like an abstract painting or a song, it will affect everyone differently. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sculpt the picture, paint it, and let the abstract of clothes, environment, faces, and all that form in the head of the reader.
KJB: Are there any plays that have zombies? Maybe you should write one. Undeath of a Salesman, anyone?
BI: In fact, there are. Nothing solid, but a short term goal is to write a ‘zombie apocalypse’ play. That’s somewhere down the road (pun intended).
"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark...oh wait, it's me."
KJB: The main character, George, shares a similar background with his creator, and you mention “writing what you know” in your commentary. So how much of the Down the Road story was wish fulfillment?
BI: Hell, a lot of it. It really is a fine example of a first outing of a young writer.
KJB: Like, ‘man I wish I could run over some cops!’
BI: That, I do. The ‘bad cops’, though, mind you. ;p
KJB: Have you ever run over a cop? I won’t tell if you have.
BI: No. Well, not in the US, that is. Also, I’m totally joking about running over a foreign cop thing.
Mounties don't count
KJB: You paint a pretty bleak picture of the swift fall of society and George often laments how everything has gone to hell. Yet George himself also embraces the lawlessness just as much as everyone else when he needs to. What is it about apocalypses (or regular disasters even) that bring out the worst in people?
BI: Survival. Plain and simple. In “The Fall of Austin”, the third book of the ‘Down the Road’ zombie horror series, a recurrent theme is the ‘rule change’. It’s the concept that when the world ends or catastrophe strikes, people are going to do what they got to do to provide for themselves and their families. So it’s not the ‘bad’ coming out, necessarily when it comes to survival. It’s ‘bad’ when people in those circumstances, especially people in power or who have power, take advantage of others.
In fact, that’s what upsets people sometimes when they read the books. The portrayal of law enforcement, military, and other institutions in my stories is very cynical. I see or hear about it every day, from local police to the highest offices in the land. I personally don’t understand how people truly believe that people in power are all good. When your vote or your money or your life is bought and sold daily, and you live high on the hog off the backs of the people who are just working to survive (outside of the zpoc), there will be good people who will do what they need for themselves and their families. And there will also be bad people who will just look to do worse things. Look at the “Occupy” movement or the right-wing co-opted “Tea Party” movement. Both the right and the left see the corruption at the top and are taking stands against it.
All George is trying to do is survive. It’s kill or be killed when the zpoc hits.
KJB: Is George’s hypocrisy something you were conscious of as the story progressed?
BI: Absolutely. He’s human. He’s not perfect. People brought up how George prays like a Catholic, but then does such vicious or harsh things. They think that because a person prays it means the person is a saint. That’s completely wrong right there. People pray because they have some kind of religious faith and need help for their human imperfections. And George is not perfect in the least. So he uses the religious tools he was taught to provide personal spiritual support for himself in his quest.
So, you could say ‘hypocrisy’, but it’s really imperfection. It’s the same imperfection that lies in the heart of every human being, bar none. Every one.
KJB: If you were at the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead, would you stay upstairs or hide in the basement?
BI: That’s a tough one. If I were by myself, I like being able to run and not being cornered. But if I were with a group of people, I would definitely try to work together to find the solution that works best for everyone involved.
KJB: George’s story seems pretty cut and dry. Are the other Down the Road novels companion pieces? Does the overall story continue into a broader conclusion of the apocalyptic scenario?
BI: I would consider them companion pieces. They are all individual stories and stand alone. There is no order to read them in. However, they all do have a common thread among them that connects the stories to all the other books. Many readers were able to find those connections, and truly enjoyed that aspect of the series.
KJB: Looks like you’re pretty big into pro wrestling. Where do you stand on unionizing or having an offseason? That industry chews people up and spits them out. And not in the cool zombie way either.
BI: Yeah. A union won’t happen. I love the sport, but man those guys abuse themselves. It’s an artform the way I see it. But the structure of the current industry will never see a unionization or off-season.
And I love all those guys who wrestle. They truly sacrifice themselves for the industry, and it’s sad sometimes to see that ‘chewing up and spitting out’ occur.
Biting and chewing is the ECW Zombie's finishing move
KJB: We’re building a Bowie Ibarra billboard. What are we promoting on it?
BI: Easy. My official homepage. A black background with ZombieBloodFights.com in white. Or black on white. It’s the website where fans can network with me, featuring a link to my Facebook page, YouTube page with all my book trailers, Twitter, blog, and other networking sites. I encourage people to check it out and connect with me. I’m a pretty cool guy to follow.
KJB: Last one. Are you named after David Bowie?
BI: LOL. No. Not quite. But its great to share a name with one of music’s greatest artists.