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Wednesday, 23 June 2010 14:51

Horror in Haywood

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Eric S. Brown’s neighbors have probably noticed him — planted in his car day and night, writing furiously in spiral notebooks, smoking cigarettes and downing one energy drink after another.

To spare his wife, son and Canton home from a constant onslaught of cigarette smoke, Brown elects to work on his writing from his driveway. Even after deciding to quit smoking, Brown maintains his car as an official place of work.

It’s where he’s produced an astonishingly prolific portfolio in eight years: 20 published novels by next July, articles in hundreds of publications and even his own comic book series.

His fans joke that the real Eric S. Brown died a while ago, and the Flash has since taken over his body.

Living and breathing horror for as long as he can remember, Brown can pen an entire novel in as little as one week. Since most of the last 8 years have been devoted to zombie tales, Brown is widely regarded by horror enthusiasts as an expert on the walking dead.

But after years of publishing in the indie world, Brown is now hitting the mass market.

Major publisher Simon & Schuster recently picked up his War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, a “mash-up” of the classic H.G. Wells tale of a Martian invasion.

The novel has already been published on a smaller-scale under Comcast, and it will be re-released by Simon & Schuster in mid-December.

Brown is not authorized to say how many copies will hit the shelves. According to Brown, books distributed by indie publishers sell an average of 200 copies. His worst-selling books sell several times that.

Brown’s take on War of the Worlds meshes the original work with horrifying new additions. On top of the attacking aliens, Londoners must also stave off the walking dead.

The book follows in the footsteps of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has given rise to a slew of tongue-in-cheek twists on classic literature: Jane Slayre, Little Women and Werewolves, and Android Karenina, to name a few.

While some of these works are clear parodies, Brown considers his contribution to the genre of monster classics a “hardcore, serious zombie book.” He reread the 1898 novel numerous times to make sure his words seamed invisibly with those of Wells, often called the Father of Science Fiction.

With the Simon & Schuster deal coming on the heels of Borders distributing another of his novels, Season of Rot, Brown says he’s finally accomplished his long-standing goal of reaching the masses — but that doesn’t mean he’s putting down his pen.

“I hope my career goes far past this book,” said Brown. “I hope they would buy something more than the rewrite of somebody else’s work.”

An overlooked genre

Brown isn’t blind to the criticism leveled at horror writing, admitting that it’s a genre that’s often looked down upon. But he maintains there is “deeper” work out there for those looking for it.

Brown’s own fascination with zombies comes from a philosophical place. He says zombies serve as a great metaphor for the human condition.

“They’re us, just soulless,” said Brown. “Our greatest fear in our culture may be loss of self and loss of identity — that’s what zombies represent.

Zombies are flexible enough to be thrown in the Old West or outer space, which is exactly what allows Brown to delve into science fiction and Western novels. He’s pushed the envelope with tales of farmers trapped in their house by zombie chickens before animal zombies became a craze. He’s even had superheroes battling zombies.

Obviously Brown has fun with his work, and that’s exactly what he hopes to pass on to his readers.

“My work, while it does have deeper elements, it’s really about the fun, the escapism,” said Brown. “If I don’t give you a fun read, then I failed as a writer. To me, it being entertaining is more important than it being true literature.”

Brown attended Smoky Mountain High School, which offered a class on supernatural horror and literature — it ended the year before Brown could take it.

“I remain bitter about that,” said Brown, who wishes there were more classes on speculative fiction, which encompasses science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction and more.

Brown has had no training in professional writing. He attended Southwestern Community College then transferred to Western Carolina University, but soon dropped out, “fed up with the academia of literature.”

Nevertheless, Brown has found a niche to thrive in.

His pride and joy is his novel, Bigfoot War, which pits an army of 60 Sasquatches against a town of 800 in rural North Carolina, based on Sylva —where Brown was born — and certain towns in Haywood County. At the end, readers see the Macon County Sheriff’s Department materialize as heroes.

Brown is pleased to have revived Bigfoot as a terrifying threat after it slipped from its status as a horror movie icon to a cultural joke. Brown’s book brings the horror back to Bigfoot.

Another of Brown’s accomplishments is World War of the Dead, a Christian horror story about the salvation of one man’s soul in a zombie-infested Nazi Germany. Fans were taken aback by the unusual message.

“They said, where’s the hopelessness? There’s not supposed to be hope,” said Brown.

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