LIANE HANSEN, host:
As Halloween approaches, new generations of literary zombies are rising from the dead and shambling toward the bookshelves. Rick Kleffel of member station KUSP spoke with authors who are writing Zombie-themed novels for readers of all ages.
RICK KLEFFEL: If everybody doesn't yet love zombies, now at least the bookstores will have a zombie for everyone. Start young with David Lubar, whose novel "My Rotten Life" is aimed at readers still in elementary school. In this reading from the book, Nathan Abercrombie, who was accidentally turned into a zombie, begins to realize his predicament.
Mr. DAVID LUBAR (Author, "My Rotten Life"): (Reading) I'm dead. The words hung in the air, too large for me to really make sense of them. A wad of fear started to grow in my brain, but it was lonely fear. No trembles, twinges or jittery butterflies - just fear itself. It looked like I could be afraid in my mind, but couldn't feel fear in my body.
KLEFFEL: Author Lubar tells his story from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy who only wants a prescription to cure the pain of being unpopular at school.
Mr. DAVID LUBAR (Author, "My Rotten Life"): I started out knowing one thing: My main character was somehow going to become a zombie. So, that got me launched into the direction of the hurt-be-gone formula.
KLEFFEL: As Lubar's protagonist, Nathan Abercrombie, becomes a 10-year-old zombie, he's able to turn the weaknesses of death into strengths for life as an elementary school loser.
Mr. LUBAR: He can't breathe; he no longer has to carry an inhaler. He can't sleep; he can play video games. And it's a tough time, but sometimes those are the strongest kids.
KLEFFEL: Lubar uses the fantastic trope of the zombie to ride a bicycle around the torments and troubles of elementary school life.
But for young adult readers, E. Van Lowe wrote "Never Slow Dance With a Zombie." In this reading from the novel, narrator Margot Jean Johnson arrives expecting another boring day as the unpopular girl in high school, only to have her world turned upside down:
Mr. E. VAN LOWE (Author, "Never Slow Dance With a Zombie"): (Reading) I could hardly believe my eyes. The place was crawling with zombies. Zombies! It was a ridiculous thing to imagine, something out of a horror flick, and yet it seemed to be true. It was then I noticed the zombies moving sluggishly through the halls were still among their normal circle of friends. Popular zombies, goth zombies, nerd zombies, all roaming in their close-knit groups. They're still hanging in their cliques, I said.
For teen girls, body image is a very important thing; it's a very big thing. Margot talks about her body image a lot. You know, you're juxtaposing Margot's body image issues with these rotting corpses walking through the school. It's kind of cool.
KLEFFEL: Adults looking for a story of love, and finding one's purpose in the world, can pick up Scott Browne's "Breathers." It's the story of Andy Warner, a young man who dies in a car accident, then comes back to life in a world where the undead are a persecuted minority.
Mr. SCOTT BROWNE (Author, "Breathers"): (Reading) (As Andy Warner) It comes down again, catching me in the thigh. The next one misses me but the one after that pierces my palm, and I wonder if this is how Christ felt on the cross. While there's no pain, the sensation isn't pleasant. It's more invasive than uncomfortable, with a hint of humiliation. If you've never been in a dumpster coated with industrial waste while somebody stabs you with a piece of sharpened rebar, then you probably wouldn't understand.
KLEFFEL: Browne's zombie character seems more humane than the humans who torment him.
Mr. BROWNE: The challenge for me doing this was writing a book about a zombie where he was empathetic and sympathetic, and you would like him even if he started to do what zombies typically do in Hollywood movies - is consume human flesh. But instead of finding it appalling, I wanted to try to make it so that you liked him enough that you would root for him.
KLEFFEL: While Scott Browne wants you identify with his undead hero, Max Brooks takes a more traditional view of zombies. His novel, "World War Z," explores a world in which people and nations have battled relentless, flesh-eating zombies throughout history. But though he takes humanity to the brink of extinction, his work is oddly positive.
Mr. MAX BROOKS (Author, "World War Z"): Yeah, I do give it an uplifting message because the point is, you know, I think a lot of people like horror because deep down, they feel safe, and they want to scare themselves because they know that life is safe and the world is safe. And I don't feel that way. I think that the world is as safe as we make it. Every day is a fight. You've got to get up, and you've got to be optimistic. So yeah, the book is inspirational.
I think nowadays, the end of the world is on everybody's mind. You know, what if, what if something happens? And you can't look at that straight on. It's like a solar eclipse. You have to look at it through some sort of protective prism. I think that's where zombie books and movies come in. You know, you can read "World War Z" - and it's about the end of the world - but you can say, oh, well, thank God that's fake.
KLEFFEL: Max Brooks' "World War Z" and Scott Browne's "Breathers" are both currently being developed as feature films by studios hoping that moviegoers are as hungry for zombie movies as zombies are for human flesh.
For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.