While writing Nightmare of the Dead, there were several moments where I actually had to step away from the keyboard and consider whether or not I'd gone too far.
In fact, I did go too far while writing Dr. Saul's back story, which is the section of the novel I feel is the most horrific. Dr. Saul is a rather tragic figure, and I truly believe the environment can dramatically affect the psychosis of a young mind. Saul might be considered a "villainous" man, but the other characters involved in the melodrama are just as profoundly disturbed as he is. Hence the nightmare that readers delve into.
There is a lot of potential in the zombie genre; I thought I could explore the depths of human depravity and the dark subconscious savagery the zombies themselves represent. When we consider zombies as the antagonists in any medium, we're hardly interested in why they might crave human flesh, or how they could possibly digest their meals, considering that they're "undead." If these monsters operate on some primal level—as a lot of zombie fiction suggests—then what does that say about the living?
The Civil War has been called one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. With the advent of mechanized warfare, battlefield medicine was still too far behind to deal with the horrific wounds that were inflicted upon the young men who fought for either the Union or the Confederacy. War itself often provides ample opportunity for the disintegration of ethics and the demoralization of the human spirit, thus it serves as the perfect backdrop for the most depraved characters I could imagine. Of course, the war provides another thematic parallel for character conflict, but I won't spoil it for you…
The protagonist, Neasa Bannan, is hardly an angelic figure, yet her own experience is rather horrific without zombies or war; imagine finding yourself on a train and your identity has been completely wiped away. You don't know who you are, but everybody else seems to have some idea who you might be. This certainly provides an opportunity for thematic development in the story, as we venture to discover what she is just as much as who she is. This is just as important when we realize that she was already questioning her identity before it was taken from her. Love will do that to a person.
After finishing Nightmare of the Dead, I almost wondered if the book would fall into the splatterpunk category. I've always believed there is a lot of room for horror to be both thematic and entertaining. As an avid reader of classic literature, I've read books that are far scarier than most of the books that are considered "horror" classics. I truly think that an exploration of horror can unlock the secrets of the human soul, as it seems to do for the characters in my novel.
Readers looking for historical fiction will be disappointed, because I don't venture into the Civil War as often as someone might like, and I really don't discuss the philosophies or rationale behind the conflict. The second book will include a historic battle, as will the third, and of course we’ll have plenty of zombies. I only write what I see, and I don't have a whole lot of control over the characters. I'm telling the story that follows me into the realm of nightmare and shadow…