Shells Chats with Kim Paffenroth

When did your start writing and what was your first story you wrote?

I used to write constantly in middle school and my first story was called "Waterworks" about tiny people (like really tiny, quarter of an inch tall) who live in the sewers. They had submarines and cities down there and, at the time the story's set, were fighting a big civil war (the causes of which I never did specify). My stories got more realistic in high school (they were set in the "real" world with regular-sized people) but they got more and more violent as I went. Then I stopped writing completely in college and for years after. I just wanted to read and absorb other people's ideas, and maybe I realized then that my own writing was pretty juvenile and there just wasn't anything pressing that I had to say.

How does that story compare to the writing you do now?

That's a funny thing to think of. I guess my stories are always about a very average person. I never write about people in the Special Forces, or who have a black belt, or movie or rock stars, or presidents or generals. My characters are all pretty ordinary. That's the only point of connection I can think of, but maybe it's a more important dynamic than I realized. I want to see people go through very typical problems and crises, even if they're set against a backdrop of something extraordinary (tiny people or zombies or whatever).

How important do you feel it is for someone to write what they love compared to just writing to get published?

I can only say it's been very important for me, but I don't know about other people. I wrote nonfiction when that was the way I was thinking of things, and then I went back to writing fiction after the long hiatus, because that's how the ideas were presenting themselves to me. But if someone could just sit down and say to him or herself, "I'm going to write X and sell it to this publisher" and it works for him/her - well, then that's a different model. It's just not one I could replicate.

How has being a professor of Religious Studies helped with your writing?

It's mostly in the reading I do, and the discussions that come from that. I read things that give me ideas that work their way into subtexts of my writing. If someone finds that subtext interesting, or at least if they don't mind it, then I've added a dimension to my writing that potentially makes it stand out. The stye of writing academic prose is of course so different from writing fiction that you almost have to unlearn it, but at least you're prepared for the practical aspects of having to sit and think for long periods of time, and the mechanics of editing and proofreading.

How has the Horror genre influenced your writing?

I don't read that much in the genre, but everything I'm drawn to is "dark" in some way - whether it's the Book of Job or a Flannery O'Connor short story. A lot of classic literature has sunk into my subconscious and shaped how I present the dark and frightening things I like to look at.

How do you feel zombies or the undead have impacted Horror writing and do you feel that has helped or hindered the Horror genre today?

I think when zombies started appearing in prose, and then even started appearing in more than one kind of literature (e.g. humor, parody, and "literary" fiction, as well as "horror") that expanded what people would think of as the legitimate topics for the written word. In other words, zombies are such a visual phenomenon (films, video games, and comic books), I don't think most people would've thought there could even be such a thing as a zombie short story or novel. But as it expanded, it showed both the possibilities that zombies have to be something other than "something cool to look at as it gets shot in the face, or as it rips open a screaming lady's abdomen," and it challenged writers to work on their craft more, to think how to move beyond spectacle in their writing.

Can you tell us a bit about your book Dying to Live and where the idea came about?

On the one hand, it's a very straightforward zombie tale of a survivor group fighting zombies and other living people. What I tried to add was the people's concern about how to build a community, how they'd resolve disputes, what they'd teach their children, what values they'd pass on, and which ones they'd find pointless in a zombified world.

Where can we find Dying to Live?

Amazon or online, and any major bookstore. Independent bookstores can order it, of course. I make about 2-3 appearances a year at horror and SF conventions and you can buy a signed copy at one of those.

Any advice for a new writer based on your experience?

Read a lot, and outside whatever genre it is you're thinking of working in.

Where can people find out more about you?

I'm on Facebook, and maintain my blog at ("GOTLD" stands for "Gospel of the Living Dead," which was the title of my nonfiction book about the Romero fil

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