In a lot of ways I consider The Ghoul Archipelago a feminist book, or, at a minimum, an anti-patriarchal book.
Stephen Kozeniewski – 9 March 2014
The Back Flap
After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain.
A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown.
To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of… The Ghoul Archipelago.
About the book
What is the book about?
The Ghoul Archipelago is the ballad of a scrappy band of smugglers who must tamp down their more selfish impulses and try to save what’s left of humanity after the zombie apocalypse. What they don’t know is that a robber baron, a cult leader, and a deranged warlord have joined forces to maintain a stranglehold on the status quo. What breaks out is a swashbuckling power struggle on the high seas of the South Pacific, with our heroes pitted against pirates, cannibals, zombies, and three dreadful villains.
I think of this novel as a trifecta. First, it’s a gritty, almost eighteenth century-style nautical adventure and tribute to the work of Joseph Conrad. Second, it’s a dark and barbed wire-sharp political satire. Finally (and perhaps most importantly) it’s one of the bloodiest, most over-the top gorefests ever written.
When did you start writing the book?
How long did it take you to write it?
All things considered, about two and a half years.
Where did you get the idea from?
Around 2003 or so I read Keene’s The Rising and I said to myself, “Well, that’s it. Perfection has been achieved in zombie literature.” So I cast my eye on other forms of media and it occurred to me that no one had ever written a TV show about zombies before. (If only one could copyright ideas…sigh…)
So I began work on “Flesh,” a sort of Battlestar Galactica-meets-Dawn of the Dead hybrid and I outlined four seasons. Season one would take place on the American mainland and chronicle the struggles of a band of survivors trying to reach the California coast. Season two would then switch the action to the South Pacific and tell the story of the shipwrecked boat crew that had agreed to meet the mainlanders. For a long time I think I had only one note for season two: “cargo cult of zombie worshippers.”
Or course, now I know how impossible it is to sell a television pilot on spec, not to mention how utterly unreceptive the American public is to the idea of a show about zombies. (Laughable!) Of course, it turns out season two of “Flesh” did make a pretty good book, and season 1 might be finding its way to my friends at Severed sometime this year as well…
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
It might seem trite, but I had some trouble getting into the mindset of my female characters. Three of the viewpoint characters are women from very different walks of life and I wanted their characterizations to be realistic. In a lot of ways I consider The Ghoul Archipelago a feminist book, or, at a minimum, an anti-patriarchal book. I think I did a good job bringing Butch, Eve, and West to life in three dimensions, but I guess I’ll leave it up to the reader to let me know if I succeeded.
What came easily?
The gory bits. When I allowed myself to enter the fugue state from which the delicate ballet of blood and effluvia flows I achieved sometimes transcendent prose. There’s a dream sequence towards the end which I’m particularly proud of, and a puppet joke towards the middle which I’m unabashedly fond of. However, early reader reports seem to point to a particular ceremonial use of zombie goo as the standout grossout sequence. Again, I will leave it to the reader to decide which particularly heinous act was the most transgressive.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Let me think. I don’t think anyone is based directly on a person I know. Rand is definitely an analogue of Mark Zuckerberg, though significantly more amoral. Jim is somewhat similar to me in that his deference to authority is exaggerated, though, of course, as you’ll find out at the end of the book, he also has his rebellious streak, also like me. Papi and Fall could both be considered amalgams, or maybe Platonic ideals, of any number of Soldiers I’ve worked with over the years. In the case of Papi, the buck private who thinks he’s the smartest man in the room, and in the case of Fall, the dreadful human being who displays a surprising level of competence as an officer.
Do you have a target reader for this book?
Before finding a home with my amazing publisher, Severed Press, I submitted The Ghoul Archipelago for a contest. I submitted it under the horror/fantasy/science fiction category, of course. I made it through a few rounds, and one of the reviewers gave me this feedback on the first chapter: “You’re going to have a LOT of work to do if you want to make this appeal to the YA crowd.” I’m guessing that judge volunteered for the horror category based on the strength of Twilight…
Anyway, the point of that story is MATURE ADULTS ONLY, PLEASE! This is a hardcore, grand guignol horror novel. If you let your kids have a copy YOU ARE A BAD PARENT. (Or possibly an awesome parent…I guess that’s kind of a judgment call.) But, yes, horror fans will love it, gorehounds will devour it, but everyone else: make sure you have a strong stomach.
How was writing this book different from what you’d experienced writing previous books?
This book took me longer to write than almost anything else I’ve ever worked on. I started over almost but not quite from scratch after putting in about a year’s work. I decided that the scope had to be much wider, and that there was a lot more room for social commentary than I had previously been allowing myself. It’s also the first time I worked extensively with a beta reader, the inimitable Michael A. Lerman. (I got his name wrong in the dedication, so I wanted to correct that error here.) Really, he was more than a beta reader, almost a co-writer, and his name should probably be on the cover of the book, too. (But the money’s still mine.)
What new things did you learn about writing, publishing, and/or yourself while writing and preparing this book for publication?
About myself? Well, I learned from publishing it that I am apparently one twisted puppy. I have had several friends (thankfully not yet former friends) advise me of that fact. I actually received almost daily updates from one reviewer, each along the lines of, “What did I ever do to you, Steve, to deserve this book?” And, really, that’s the best kind of feedback a horror writer can receive. 🙂
Thanks for having me! It’s been most enjoyable.
End of Interview: