David A. Simpson writes zombie fiction, but we can’t help but wonder how he can grab a piece of the pie in an industry already saturated with tales of our favorite undead. The secret is an interesting concoction of unrelenting hard work, iron-clad consistency, and an amazing wealth of life experiences.
“I’ve wandered the absolute isolation of the Mojave, waded through sands as white as snow, skied the black runs of the Alps, swam the great lakes, surfed the nighttime ocean, frolicked with dolphins and waterskied over a vast smack of jellyfish,” David describes in the “About Me” section of his author website.
But he admits that his military career has probably had the biggest impact on him and his incredible work ethic. “It changes you, makes you a better person even though it’s easy to look back with rose-colored glasses,” he concedes. “Sometimes I hated it, especially when I was cold, wet, tired and miserable (or hot, parched, sweaty and miserable) but hardship, camaraderie and serving a bigger purpose fundamentally altered who I was.”
The thing that first drew me to Simpson’s books several years ago was his unique combination of badass post-apocalyptic road stories and zombie survival horror, but what kept me coming back for more was the way he made it all so relatable.
“I wanted to write real people and real reactions,” David said, confirming that most of his characters are based on real people he knows. “Not super soldiers who don’t make mistakes or bumbling idiots who make one flub after another but still manage to survive. People learn from mistakes and shared adversity tends to bring people closer together.”
David just finished up the sixth book in his Zombie Road series with a seventh one in the works as we speak. The books take a look at the zombie apocalypse from the standpoint of regular people with regular blue-collar jobs and how they might interact with each other in such a horrifying situation.
I was able to catch up with David just as he was finishing up the first book in his brand new Feral Children series. We talked about his influences, future projects, and, of course, his own post-apocalyptic car that he drives out to local conventions near his home in Georgia.
“Josephine was dragged out of a field in Tennessee,” David says of his 1971 Mach 1 Mustang that he built himself to be the ultimate zombie car. “She’d been in a barn fire then left to rot. My original intention was to restore her into a daily driver but the rust was pretty bad. In the Zombie Road books, the guys drive hopped up muscle cars similar to something you would see in a Mad Max kind of movie. I decided to build the Mach 1 to match one of the cars from the book: Sammy’s Mustang. It’s great to take to conventions and shows (not to mention free advertising when I drive it around town).
“It’s [also] been in a music video that had a post-apoc theme and that was a fun shoot. The director was filming total guerrilla style (no permits) in this derelict section of town and the police showed up to run us off. It was tense for a moment; we had a bunch of airsoft guns for the video but the police didn’t know they were fake at first. Good times.”
As for influences, Simpson cites Edgar Allan Poe for his “turn of a phrase” and J.K. Rowling for her “subtle and fantastic foreshadowing.” But he also appreciates Stephen King for his fealessness to try different writing styles and George R.R. Martin for “being able to tell such an intricate and nuanced story.”
When it comes to media influences, David appreciates everything from the Fallout video game series to the Mad Max movies, but also happily credits the cheap and cheesy apocalypse movies of his youth to his love of the genre. Sure, George Romero’s lumbering undead were scary for their time, but David wants to kick it up a notch. “Faster is way scarier. Slow zombies, not so much. Big cities would be a disaster but I think there are ways to survive the shambling undead.”
Undoubtedly, The Walking Dead has played a major role in gaining mainstream fame for the zombie genre, so I asked David what he thought of that popularity. “It brought a tiny horror niche into the living rooms of millions. It created fans and consumers of all things zombie-related so anyone with some skill or even a good marketing plan can make a living catering to those millions of fans. Its popularity spawned loads of books, (mine included) TV shows, movies, and all kinds of merchandise.”
And Simspon is not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon. With six Zombie Road books under his belt in just two years (!!), David tells us that he has “at least a dozen books bouncing around” in his head so “another five years maybe before I slow down… and then, only a little.” Right now, David is working on a collaboration with “Touched by an Alien” author Gini Koch that is loosely based on his days as a repo man in California. “No zombies or aliens, just good old fashioned bad guys,” he teases.
With such a heavy focus on the “common man” as his main characters, I was curious about David’s reader demographics. “I get mail from all kinds of folks, most of it positive. Lots from truckers who can appreciate that I don’t portray them as serial killers or inbred rednecks who are too dumb to do anything else in life. I trucked for almost twenty years and it’s a great way of life if it suits you. I miss the highway and tend to go on road trips a few times a year. I don’t think anything of driving a few thousand miles.”
But what about in a real apocalypse? Fictional zombies and a potential gas crisis aside, how does David feel the world will truly end when it comes right down to it?
“With a whimper,” he says without a flinch. “Look at Venezuela. If the first world countries keep sliding into socialism, it will be the same for them in another twenty years. Unless there’s a violent civil war, then everyone loses.”
If you’d like to meet up with David, he’ll be making appearances at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta from August 30th to September 1st, and also at the popular Walking-Dead-themed Walker Stalker Con from October 18th through the 20th, also in Atlanta.