One of the first horror films I ever saw was Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn, directed by a then-unknown Sam Raimi and starring Bruce Campbell. It was campy as hell, gory beyond imagination (well, a five-year-old’s imagination), and dealt with something that continues to terrify and intrigue me to this day: zombies.
(For the purists, I know Evil Dead 2 doesn’t have traditional zombies, but stay with me for a moment, will ya?)
In recent years, zombies have become a staple of pop culture, infecting (see what I did there?) most forms of mass media, from film to video games to literature. Out of all these outlets, zombie fiction is my least favorite. Then again, maybe I haven’t read enough of the genre—but that’s a post for a later time. In any case, I can count only two zombie novels in recent memory that I’ve actually enjoyed.
One is World War Z by Max Brooks. The other is Soundtrack to the End of the World by Anthony J. Rapino.
This novel took me back to being a kid, watching Evil Dead 2 and laughing at the horrific, somewhat slapstick antics of Bruce Campbell on screen. In other words, I had a blast reading this book. I had fun with it. I can’t say that about the other zombie fiction I’ve read. Most of it is usually plodding, depressing, or is trying too hard to have a message along the same lines as Romero’s original Dead trilogy. (But again, I haven’t read a lot of zombie fiction, either, so I could be completely off base). This book doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are lighthearted moments juxtaposing scenes of abject horror, and the author handles them with ease.
A suicidal nudist strolls into traffic. An eccentric Buddhist claims he can occupy other people’s bodies. All the while, whispers of a new form of entertainment blow through town. Prompted by these strange occurrences, Marty Raft, a not-so-gentle giant, investigates and discovers underground clubs peddling music that induces an out-of-body experience. Marty and a wannabe comedian, Corey, set out to prove these special frequencies are nothing more than a hoax, or at worst, a mass-drugging. Instead, they uncover a secret with world-ending possibilities. If you can hear the music, it’s already too late.
Earlier this year I watched a film titled Pontypool which explores the concept of “infected” language. Rapino travels a similar road with his novel, but rather than follow the same path, he takes a left turn into uncharted territory by using music as the operative virus of this particular apocalypse. The result is a story that defies the established “rules” of zombie fiction, backed by a likable cast of characters and balanced between scenes of horror and comedy.
Like I said above, I had a great time with this novel. It’s a fun ride—and the soundtrack’s not bad, either.
As part of this stop on Anthony Rapino’s blog tour in support of his novel, I thought I’d pick his brain with a few questions:
TK: Let’s get this out of the way. Would you tell readers a bit about yourself?
AJR: Oh, not much to say really. I’m a horror fan from way back and started writing horror because that’s what happened to come out when I wrote. Otherwise, I teach college level English and futz around with a few different hobbies: homebrewing beer, vegetable gardening, hiking, and so on.
TK: I loved the dynamic between Marty and his best friend, Corey. The witty banter certainly broke up the mounting tension during the early sections of the book. How much of this dynamic is based in truth? Do you have a best friend who happens to be a comedian?
AJR: Nope, no comedian friends, though I suppose some of them fancy themselves comedians. The witty banter can possibly be traced back to conversations I’ve had with my brother, but to be honest, I’m not entirely sure where the stuff comes from when I write.
TK: New age beliefs and philosophy play a central role in this story, what with Naomi’s ability to read auras. There’s also reference to Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, making it the first horror novel I’ve ever read that ties so closely to that particular school of thought. Did you do a lot of research into this area before putting pen to paper? Did you always intend for the novel to connect to this ideology?
AJR: Yes, I did a lot of research. I contacted some aura readers to speak with, did a lot of reading, and generally spent an enormous amount of time online and in the library. The philosophical and spiritual elements of the story were incredibly important to the plot as well as the underlying themes, so I wanted to be sure to get it right.
TK: How long did it take you complete the novel? How many drafts? Tell us the story of your story!
AJR: Let’s see…it took about 1 year to finish the first draft. The second draft took another year, which was followed by probably six months of agent queries. Once the novel was accepted for publication, there was a long stretch (maybe another year or more) while I just had to wait for the publishing house to be ready for publication, after which there were a couple quick edits that took no more than a couple weeks total. It has been a long trip, that’s for sure.
TK: The concept of zombies that spread their “infection” by way of sound is great. What inspired this unique method of transmittal?
AJR: I’m not entirely sure anymore. I don’t plot my novels, so most of my ideas come to me while I’m writing. That’s my method. I start with a vague scenario and just write. I’m not even sure this was originally a zombie novel when I first started it.
TK: I listen to a lot of music when I write, and I was pleased to see so many references to several TOOL songs. I imagine the music informed a lot of the mystical connections made later in the novel. Do you always listen to music when you write? Which album did you listen to most while working on this novel?
AJR: I don’t always listen to music while I write, but I do a lot of the time. As you mentioned, Tool was the major player in my daily playlist. Many times I end up listening to random instrumental albums that fade into the background, so it doesn’t disturb my thought process.
TK: What are you working on now? What does the future hold for Anthony J. Rapino?
AJR: I have my second novel in the works, about halfway done. There are a couple short stories making their way through the submission process. Otherwise, promotion for Soundtrack has been my daily routine.
TK: Okay, it’s time to make your pitch: Why should readers check out Soundtrack to the End of the World?
AJR: This is more than horror, it’s more than a zombie novel. Even if you’re not a horror fan, there’s something in this story for you. Wow…that was an awful pitch, wasn’t it?
Bonus: Return of the Living Dead or Return of the Living Dead 2? (We’ll pretend Return of the Living Dead 3 never happened.)
AJR: Return of the Living Dead, because I almost always like the first of a series the best. Plus how can you beat Trash dancing naked in a cemetery?
TK: You’ve got a point there, Mr. Rapino.