STRANGERS IN THE LAND retells one of our earliest biblical stories as an episode in humanity’s long struggle with hunger and with the hungry dead. These are the stories of our spiritual ancestors, who faced the dead without electricity or firearms or petroleum, often with little more than a prayer and a hatchet or a stick. It's the story of what they saw when they gazed into the unseeing eyes of the walking corpses, and what they did next.
Interview with Stant Litore
1) To start off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself? How did you become interested in writing novels?
I didn’t become interested; to quote Lady Gaga, I was born this way. One of my earliest memories is of telling stories in pictures, using up amounts of paper that horrified my babysitter. I was four or five, but I needed to share my story about how Yoda and Oscar the Grouch took off from Jerusalem in a rocket ship and went to the sun. And what happened next. And then what happened after that.
There was a forest behind my father’s mobile home, and when I was a few years older I spent many late afternoons exploring it or nesting in the hollow beneath an old cedar, making up stories about the giant birds that hunted people in that wood.
Telling stories of wonder and horror is what I do.
2) Can you tell us a little about your novel, Strangers in the Land?
It’s a zombie apocalypse – in 1160 BC Israel. This is how our ancestors faced the dead, before there was electricity or firearms. And this is how facing the dead changed them.
3) What inspired you to write Strangers in the Land? How much research was involved in the writing?
This was the first novel in the series to occur to me. I had been reading Judges 4, in which the prophetess Deborah or Devora rides against an enemy in the land. And the same night, I watched my favorite film, Night of the Living Dead. And it just clicked. I started asking all of these “What if” questions. What if it was the dead, not the living, that threatened Devora’s land? What if the codes of cleanliness and aversion to the bodies of the dead in the Law of Devora’s people had been a reaction to the walking dead? How would our ancestors try to defend their land? And most of all – what would they think when they gazed into the eyes of the dead, eyes that look back at you and see nothing, absolutely nothing, but food?
There was a lot of research, not just into the historical setting but into theories of ethics and what it means to stand “before the law.” But this story came together quickly; it needed to be told. It was eating its way out of me.
5) Who was the most fun to write about? Which character presented the biggest challenge?
Hurriya was both the most exciting and most difficult character to write. This woman has endured suffering I cannot even imagine. The difficult task was imagining enough of it to write her character. To enter into that moment of grief and vulnerability and sorrow with her. And to explore what was in her heart that might cause her to reach out again to another human being, however briefly.
What happens to Hurriya is an onslaught of cruelty, and it was impossible to write about it without hurting deeply for her and with her.
6) What are 3 things that are 'must haves' when you write? Do you have any writing rituals?
I don’t like having “must haves”; I like training myself to write anywhere at any time. But I definitely have a writing ritual, and that is to put on some large headphones and play instrumental music, usually a soundtrack from some film that suggests the mood I’m going for in the novel. With years of hard work, I have reached the point where the moment I hear the music, I lock into creative space. I was never happy with “waiting for the Muse” or “waiting for inspiration” or “waiting for the right mood.” Writing isn’t about mood. It’s about living with open eyes and an open heart and an open soul and being ready at any moment to write down what you see and imagine, and it’s about work. Lots of work. So I established this ritual to make sure that when I sit down, I can get to it.
The other ritual element for me is to book consistent time for writing, at the same time. As a parent of two and the breadwinner for my family, that isn’t easy to do. But it’s the only way to actually see momentum on any creative ideas. Just as I would have to book consistent, regular time for working out, I have to book regular, consistent time for my creative life.
7) Any special Hallowe'en stories you would like to share with your readers? Any pranks, for example, that you may have pulled on others? Favourite costumes?
I love costumes. My favorite for a past Hallowe’en was going as Rama. Covered in blue paint, with a bow and arrows. My wife made a very lovely Sita, and I had to rescue her from quite a few diverse Hallowe’en goons that evening, because most of the other guests dressed as your usual Hollywood monsters. Unfortunately, my blue paint did not stay on my skin as it was supposed to, and I’m afraid I left blue blotches and handprints all over our friend’s house. Somehow she forgave me for that. Although, now that I think of it, I haven’t been invited back to her house.
This year I hope to go simply as Stant Litore. He wears a wide-brim hat and a dark coat. A bit of stubble. A machete in his right hand and a rosary in his left. And wherever he is, he is always listening for the moan of the dead.
8) Can you share with us any projects that you are currently working on or plans for the future? What can fans expect next from you? Are there other genres in which you are interested but haven't yet explored?
Right now I’m deep in drafting the next Zombie Bible novel, tentatively titled Silence Over the Water. It is Galilee in the first century, and the people of Kfar Nahum on the shore dumped the hungry dead into the sea one morning. It was the only vengeance they could think of, after seeing their loved ones devoured. But now the fish have stopped coming. The town starves, and one by one, the dead are returning from the sea.
At that hour, a certain young rabbi walks into the town, facing Kfar Nahum’s starvation (both that of the body and that of the spirit) and Kfar Nahum’s dead. His name is Yeshua (Jesus), and the long struggle with the dead is about to change forever.
9) Favourite authors? Favourite horror novels? Favourite scary movies?
Favorite author: Gene Wolfe. This is a man who wrote of a time traveler who, after making love, lay awake with his lover in his arms and listened to the centuries “dashed against the hull.” And in On Blue’s Waters, Wolfe made vampires new again. New and terrifying as though I had never read or heard of them ever before. That man can write.
Favourite horror novel: Strangely, I don’t read a lot of horror. I read (and write) fantasy. It’s just that the fantasy I read and write tends to be very dark. I’m going to say Hodgson’s The Night Land. That’s a book from about ninety years ago and almost no one remembers it. And it is flawed; the author’s inability to write a female character is appalling beyond words. Yet the scenes of fantastical horror in that novel chill me. A world that is always night, populated by bizarre predators that devour either the flesh or the spirit. And a man alone in that night, seeking his beloved across the waste of the world. Without even stars above him.
My favourite horror short story is A Shadow over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft. That one gives me the willies.
Favourite scary movie: Night of the Living Dead is my favorite. That scene where the dead sit around the girl, sharing bits of her flesh … *shudder.* While that is my favourite film, I think the scariest movie I have ever seen is John Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing.”
About the Author
Born a farmer's son in the Pacific Northwest, Stant Litore took the college road and eventually earned his PhD in English, but remains passionate for things that grow. He spent several years in a dim corner of a library, repairing bruised and battered books, before heading overseas to backpack through Europe. Haunted by the hunger and poverty he witnessed at home and abroad, he began spinning stories about the hungers that devour us and the hopes that preserve us. Today he lives in Colorado with his wife and their two daughters, writing about the restless dead and the restless living. He avoids certain parts of the mountains during the dark of the moon. STRANGERS IN THE LAND is his first published novel.