You don’t get more prolific in the zombie genre than writer-director George A. Romero, in fact, when you hear the word zombie it’s his name that comes to mind. Sadly, we lost Romero when he passed away on July 16, 2017. But the genius left behind several projects including the half-written novel The Living Dead.
Romero’s widow wanted to see the novel complete and reached out to best-selling novelist Daniel Kraus, the same author that co-wrote The Shape of Water along with Guillermo del Toro. Now, after years of work the novel is complete and soon to be released. I sat down with Kraus to talk about The Living Dead and the process of bringing George A. Romero’s final body of work to his fans and to the world.
Kraus has a long record of delivering brilliant novels including Trollhunters which was adapted for the Netflix series, Scowler, Rotters, and so many more. He expressed to me how honored he was to co-write the novel and I think he very well may be Romero’s biggest fan.
Horror Fuel: “Let me tell you, The Shape of Water is incredible. It’s a beautiful film, to be set in a dingy, dirty setting. I found that surprising. How did that book and then the film come to be?”
Daniel Kraus: “Thank you. First of all, off your comment of it being beautiful and dingy, that’s something that I’ve always been interested in. A lot of my books have that in common. How the book and movie came to be is a long story, but the short version is, Guillermo del Toro and I were working together on Trollhunters – it was a book before it was adapted for the Netflix series – I told him about this idea I had for a Creature from the Black Lagoon type story. He was fascinated by it. The short version is, fast-forward two years and the movie and the book got made. It’s been a wild trip.”
Horror Fuel: “For the record, I’m a big fan of Trollhunters.”
Daniel Kraus: “The book is actually quite a bit different. It was written originally for a slightly older audience. It’s a little more serious, a little more intense.”
Horror Fuel: “I will definitely check it out.
Now, you are about to release your new book, The Living Dead, which was half-written by horror legend George A. Romero before his death. How did you become involved?”
Daniel Kraus: “He really wrote like a third of it. But in addition to that, he left notes on where he was going with some of it. With that, I’d say it’s closer to half. The short version of that is that his wife and manager – shortly after his death – were going through some of his unfinished projects and were trying to figure out what they were going to do with it. They knew of me and my books and that I’m a huge, huge student of Romero. They called me up, which was completely out of the blue, but Romero is my favorite artist really. It’s more than a dream come true. I didn’t even know that it was a possibility.”
Horror Fuel: “In your own words, a description of what the novel is about?”
Daniel Kraus: “It’s a giant book so it’s sort of hard to give a synopsis without talking about the characters. Essentially, it’s Romero’s final word on zombies from the man who created the modern concept of the zombie, fifty years after he made Night of the Living Dead. It follows several groups of people for fifteen years, starting the first day of the zombie apocalypse. It then covers the period that he made the movies. His movies cover about six years of zombified America. The Living Dead covers that time and picks up with the last of Romero’s movies.”
Horror Fuel: “Awesome! The book is so thick. I love the cover, the way it looks like it’s aging and the paint is chipping away.”
Daniel Kraus: “The hardcover is going to be really thick and on it, some of those chips are going to be textured.”
Horror Fuel: “I couldn’t even imagine. So, in The Living Dead, there are several groups that the book centers on. Why those characters?”
Daniel Kraus: “That’s a great question. Why chose these entry points, especially during a global catastrophe, it could be anyone? So first of all, they are all centered in America. It was clear enough written by Romero to know that it would be specifically about America, which he’s always been a critic of. All of the main characters were there in George’s manuscript. I can’t say for certain where those characters came from or why he chose them. I’m sure part of it was wanting a cross-section. We have leaders, those on the fringe of society, and everyone in between, all sorts. I don’t think he was interested in writing 200 characters, instead, he picked a handful on entry points for what he wanted to talk about.”
Horror Fuel: “It’s great that it is set up that way. It keeps the reader invested. ”
Danie Kraus: “That was the idea.”
Horror Fuel: “What is your favorite aspect of the novel?”
Daniel Kraus: “Let’s see… you know, I do like the way that it is divided into different groups. There’s kind of a fifth group with the autistic woman who works at part of the census bureau, she becomes the records keeper of the downfall of humanity. In comparison to the other groups, it’s the smallest by far, but because of the way she operates and the way she works and expresses herself. I find those sections to be very nice palate cleansers between the other sections. There’s so much action. There is so much going on. There’s a quietness in the Hoffmann parts. She’s completely alone for all those years. It’s an interesting contrast. It’s like with the coronavirus, watching someone distancing themselves year after year, after year, until they are completely dislocated from society.”
Horror Fuel: “You have a great point. Her sections are very different from the rest of the chapters. It is a perfect time to release this book with the pandemic happening around us.
Daniel Kraus: “It’s funny, the original publish date was set for June 9th and has now been pushed to August 4th. In a way, this novel got shoved out of the way by an actual virus. hopefully, by the time this book does come out the real world will resemble it less.”
Horror Fuel: “Hopefully. You know, the first time I saw people fighting over toilet paper during this thing a horde of zombies was exactly what I thought about.
Speaking of zombies, how long have you been a fan of Romero’s and of zombies?”
Daniel Kraus: “Well, I guess most of my life. I’m more of a George Romero fan than I am a zombie fan. I like zombies. He was mostly known for his zombie movies but he made a bunch of other movies too. I love those just as much. Night of the Living Dead is the first movie I remember seeing. I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. I was a 5-year-old zombie fan, I guess.”
Horror Fuel: “I understand. I started my love affair with horror when I was 9.
I can’t really put my finger on why, but I have a feeling The Living Dead will be adapted for a film. Especially with it being Romero’s last project. Am I right?”
Daniel Kraus: “That’s a fair question. I can tell you right now that I can’t tell you anything specific. Obviously there is some interest with it being Romero’s last word on zombies.”
Horror Fuel: “After I got a few chapters in, I knew it had to have one.”
Daniel Kraus: “Yeah, a movie has to start somewhere.”
Horror Fuel: “What’s the experience like, being a best seller?”
Daniel Kraus: “It’s not like it affects the day to day. You’re still just writing. For me, I sit at the same table every day it doesn’t matter how many copies I’m selling, it’s still the same story.”
Horror Fuel: “Can you tell us what is your process is when writing a novel?”
Daniel Krause: “It’s uniform. It’s like a full-time job. I get up, get going, and grab some food. I work basically an eight hour day, sometimes more. I work six days a week. It’s very normal. I think a lot of people do like taking their laptops to a coffee shop every day when they are writing, or whatever, it sort of energizes them. I prefer just a normal home routine.”
Horror Fuel: “I know a lot of writers have these little quirks, like putting posted notes with ideas everywhere or using a specific coffee cup. Do you any quirks like that?”
Daniel Kraus: “They’re not so odd. Especially with a big project like this, I make giant outlines. They can be really huge. They can be the size of small books. I spend weeks, weeks, doing that. I like to do some of the plotting work ahead of time. I do lots of preparations. I’ve got stacks of those.”
Horror Fuel: “Were there any challenges you faced while writing your and Romero’s novel?”
Daniel Kraus: “Well, there’s kind of two challenges, when you are finishing anyone’s work. Essentially, he throws a bunch of baseballs up in the air, and then you’re supposed to catch them. We had notes on some of the things he was doing and some of the things he was thinking, but there are a lot of things we didn’t have notes on. There are a lot of fascinating things he begins and has no end. For him specifically, The process of figuring out what I could and then trying to make the most intelligent choices I could about what I didn’t know. That required studying all his films, screenplays, interviews, interviewing people who knew him, long talks with his wife, then reading critical analysis of his work. Finally, I got from his wife a list of stuff that he liked, the movies he liked, the music that he liked, and I studied that so that I could be inspired by what inspired him.”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds very intense, but you talk about it like it was a labor of love. So many people have been inspired by him and I’m glad that you are one of them.”
Horror Fuel: “Just out of curiosity, if you were ever caught in a zombie outbreak, where would you go?”
Daniel Kraus: “Ideally, I think you would go to some kind of island at least for the short term. That’s something that is in Romero’s final movie, Survival of the Dead. There’s also an idea at the end of Day of the Dead that if we could just get to an island it would be okay. Of course, his last movie was set on an island. You want to get away from people. You don’t want to be cold though, so you can’t go to the artic. You just want to get away to a place that still has some natural resources and food.”
Horror Fuel: “That sounds like a pretty good plan.”
What an honor it must have been completing George A. Romero’s last word on zombies. To get your copy of The Living Dead, which will be released on August 4th, or one of Kraus’ award-winning novels please visit his website. You can pre-order your copy of The Living Dead now.