Many zombie fans sit around and talk about what they would do if a zombie outbreak were to happen in their town. For D.A. Roberts, one such discussion was the genesis of his novel “Ragnarok Rising.”
Roberts works as a corrections officer for his hometown sheriff’s department and said it was during a coffee break that he and other officers were talking about horror movies.
“We made fun of several zombie movies where they acted poorly and made some bad decisions, ultimately getting the entire group killed. Then someone asked the question, ‘What would happen if it happened here? How would we react?’” he said. “That took the conversation in an entirely unexpected way as we speculated on how our department would react and how we’d deploy to try to stop the dead. We knew it would end up being a losing battle, but the idea was fun. It made me look at my hometown in an entirely different way.”
Roberts said he started making notes that night for what would grow into the novel. Unlike many zombie stories that come from the point of view of survivors just trying to live through the night, Ragnarok Rising is from the point of view of those on the front line of the outbreak. Drawing on his law enforcement background, Roberts created characters who were first responders and soldiers.
“It’s not about super skilled zombie killers and weird zombie mutations. These are just your average people dealing with a plague of the dead,” he said. “It really shows the struggle that they go through trying to weigh their sense of duty to the people they swore to protect against their duty to their families and each other.”
While stories that deal specifically with the battles of men versus the undead can be enjoyable, Roberts works to add depth to his story, playing on themes of humanity.
“It’s hope and struggle and all the things that make zombies stories fun. There’s danger from the zombies, of course,” he said. “There’s gunfights and action. There’s humanity at the core of things. How they relate to each other and try to cope.”
As fans of zombie fiction like “The Walking Dead” can tell you, it’s the conflicts between survivors that can make for some of the most interesting stories.
“It’s human nature that tragedy brings out either the best or the worst in us. Some of the survivors aren’t interested in working together or saving others,” Roberts said. “Some are only out for themselves. Therein lays the heart of the conflict. Man vs. Man vs. Zombies.”
Roberts said the action of Ragnarok Rising stays entirely in the small town of its setting and focuses on a small group of characters. He noted that the characters are written as real people rather than superheroes.
“No one is a housewife who never picked up a gun that turns into a super-ninja sniper with any gun she picks up. The characters aren’t invincible and all powerful,” Roberts said. “They’re normal, everyday people who try to pick up the pieces after the fall of society.”
Like you would expect, given the story’s origin, Roberts said if he were to wake up in a zombie apocalypse, he could see himself behaving like the characters in his novel.
“I like to think I’d react a lot like the main character in my book, Wylie Grant. I’d get my family to safety, first and foremost,” he said. “Then I’d put on my uniform and return to duty. I’d do my duty and try to save as many people as I could and keep myself alive in the process.”
Although the direct inspiration for the novel came from a recent conversation, Roberts said his experiences with zombies go back much further. Like many zombie fans, his first exposure to the undead was thanks to George Romero and his classic “Night of the Living Dead.”
“I was a kid and it scared me half to death. I was hooked immediately,” he said. “Up until then, my only experience had been the old monster films…Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula, Curse of the Mummy. Those always seemed so far away…so distant. But the dead were everywhere – in every cemetery and little town.”
In addition to haunting his childhood nightmares, Roberts said zombies continue to serve as a cause of fear because of their universal nature.
“You don’t have to wait until a full moon, like with a werewolf. They aren’t affected by sunlight, like vampires,” he said. “They can get you anytime, anywhere. The only way to kill them is to destroy the brain. Otherwise, they’ll never stop coming.”
Roberts said people are attracted to zombie fiction because it plays in the common human fear of death. But zombies take it to a higher level.
“Not only are you going to die, but also the dead are going to eat you and make you one of them,” he said. “You think about it, on some level, every time you pass a cemetery or a funeral home.”
Roberts said despite what we might rationally tell ourselves, that fear of death and the undead pops up in your mind at certain times.
“When you’re walking down a lonely stretch of road and you see someone stumbling along walking in your direction,” he said. “Is it a drunk? Is there something wrong with that person? Is it a zombie? You never know. It just might be.”
Roberts said the novel will be the first of a five-part series, with more titles possible if the fan response dictates. You can find it at www.amazon.com, www.smashwords.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.