Tag Archives: Z-apocalypse

Bottom’s Up: A Conversation with Bill Braddock

Bill Braddock is a man of many talents, one of them writing. Brew is his debut novel and let me tell you, it’s an ass kicker. Full of enough grue and gore and ridiculous violence to sate the biggest horror hound appetite, and yet peopled with strong and real characters you can relate to…and others you wish you couldn’t.

Bill was kind enough to run out to Shock Totem Manor for a chat. (I say run as he is in shape enough to do that and still kick all of our asses without getting winded.)

John Boden: Brew is set in a “college town,” and growing up a stone’s throw from State College, PA (Penn State), it held an awful lot of obnoxious truth. The mentality of those football-headed folks, the fact that ALL can and will be sacrificed for the sake of that game…I could go on, but I fear it would be fairly negative. I know you hail from the same state as I, so I have to ask: how much “real life experience” found its way into this book?

Bill Braddock: Well, first of all, you nailed it…College Heights is my take on State College/Penn State, where I went to school and worked as a bartender. Virtually every place in Brew is based on a real spot, and some of the names are fairly obvious parallels—“Short Ridge” vs. “Shortlidge,” for example. I had great fun, traveling back in time and walking around my memories of these places, then prettying them up with plenty of chaos.

I considered simply setting the story in Penn State, but the town has gone through so many changes since I lived there twenty years ago, I either would have had to become the Michener of horror, doing extensive research and killing the fun, or I would have received an avalanche of e-mails pointing out my errors. While streets and stores change, however, I was confident that mass drunkenness and football mania still ruled. No need to change those.

The insanity that grew out of those football Saturday nights—that crackling weirdness, everybody hyped-the-eff up, looking for fun, looking to get laid or get in a fight or maybe overturn a car—all that, paired so incongruously with the ubiquitous laughter and hooting and celebration, weirded me out, resonating until it finally triggered this book.

All this being said, I love that town, insanity and everything. It ruined me on college ball forever, but I had a blast there, an absolute blast.

JB: I adored the fact that the heroes were all sort of “unlikely” in that they were the misfits and shadow people that are never on the scope of popularity. Was this a conscious choice or just how it turned out?

BB: Brew was a situation-first-characters-second story. I knew the central event, knew I wanted to tell a story like Richard Laymon’s One Rainy Night or Jack Ketchum’s Ladies Night, but I didn’t know the characters until I started writing. Herbert arrived first, then Steve, then Cat, then Demetrius, I think…and it wasn’t until I’d gotten well into Demetrius’s side of things that I realized all my heroes were outsiders.

Later on, I discovered that this is a recurring thematic concern of mine, the idea of people whose native strengths, due to societal circumstances, end up becoming paradoxical liabilities… until something big comes along, turns polite society on its head, and yesterday’s outcasts become today’s heroes.

JB: As gloriously over the top as this novel is, it is not entirely unfeasible. I mean, instead of the shambling undead, you give us mobs of ourselves, stripped of all objective reason and hyped up on animal aggression. I found this much more terrifying. Also the fact that in an isolated college town in central Pennsylvania, some shit like this could go down and linger for days before anyone really caught on and showed up to do anything about it, which amplifies the horror.

BB: Brew is far-fetched, but yeah, it’s not entirely impossible. Even the synchronized insanity, which is probably the least feasible aspect, isn’t completely out of the question. I had fun researching the book, and after gathering what I could on my own, talked to a chemist, a paramedic, and a pharmacologist. The more I learned about less-than-lethal technologies, brain science, and pharmacology, the more frightening (and frighteningly plausible) this all seemed.

I love traditional zombies. The inexorable slow shamble of their mindless mass attack seems to me the perfect metaphor for tireless pressure of the mundane world. Busy work, pointless job duties, paying bills, applications and permits, stuff that only rolls around once or twice a year, like remembering to shut off and drain the hose bib before winter hits, things that kill us not because they’re difficult in isolation but because they just keep coming, keep coming, keep coming…

And what do they want? Your brains.

Z-apocalypse stuff is fun because it takes all those mundane tasks that worry at our brains, solidifies them symbolically as a monster—a physical threat—and allows the strong individual to shrug off the maddening trivialities of day-to-day existence and get down to some this-shit-actually-matters-and-therefore-my-performance-actually-matters activity. Refreshing.

Despite my love of the walking dead, however, I wanted something different, something more in step with both the real-world madness I’d witnessed at Penn State and the cultural fears of the moment. In the 21st century, random violence, whether you’re talking about terrorism, school shooters, or the “knockout game,” rules headlines. Personally, I am frightened by violence outside logical cause-and-effect, from a beer keg I once saw tossed from one of the upper floor balconies of a high rise apartment at Penn State to the cancer that took my mother to bullets fired from shooters unseen.

You also mention isolation. When I was a kid, one of the coolest things about Penn State was its isolation. Forty-thousand people roughly twenty years old, most of them scuffing around without a full-time job. I decided to employ the other side of that particularly shiny coin by telling an apocalyptic tale versus a post-apocalyptic one. That’s why the whole story takes place in a matter of hours rather than days or months or years. I didn’t want the cavalry to get there in time to solve the problem. I wanted to leave that up to my outcasts-turned-heroes.

JB: It was a very cinematic read, in that I could totally see it playing out in film form. I would imagine there may be some interest in that. Is this something you would be on board with?

BB: Thanks. I’d really dig seeing Brew on the big screen, and I think it would make a fun movie. My excellent publishers have been talking to some absolute rainmakers on the West Coast, but I’m not holding my breath. It hasn’t even been optioned yet, and these things are a long shot. Still, even long shots do work out from time to time, and that would be really cool, so one of these midnights, I might have to sacrifice a goat or something.

JB: Have you always liked horror? What was it, if any one thing, that lured you to the dark side?

BB: I’ve always loved horror. As in always. I blame my brother, who was six years old and tended a tall stack of horror comics. My brother wouldn’t share, and my mother didn’t allow me to read them, since I’d been having night terrors all the way back to the crib, so I made it my daily mission to sneak in there and read those things. My brother, who went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering, went so far as to rig up a homemade alarm built out of a screaming toy motorcycle. All too often, he would catch me in there, and he was merciless, as protective of those comics as a mother wolf with its pups. Other horror writers can pontificate all they want about the genre, but I’ve taken countless ass whippings in the name of horror. I’ve bled for horror. And I’m cool with that.

JB: What is on the horizon for Bill Braddock?

BB: I’m always writing, man. Right now, I’m mainly pounding away at a mainstream thriller, but I also have a couple of short stories I’m dying to write, a horror novel I’ve planned and can’t stop thinking about, and about 1,000 pages of work piled up on my long-time pet project, Perils of the Road. Given the positive response to Brew, however, I’m thinking of writing a collection of stories set on that same apocalyptic night. I’d call it Microbrews.

JB: That would be brilliant, the Microbrews thing. You aren’t messing with me, are you? Anyway, I don’t care. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me a bit. You’re the bee’s knees!

BB: Thanks so much, man. I’ve had a blast talking with you, and it’s awesome to find myself in the Shock Totem camp. You guys really know how to throw a party! As to Microbrews, not messing with you at all—and your enthusiasm just pushed me one step closer to writing the thing. Thanks!

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