Guest Post: Brain Munchers, How We Love Thee by Ty Schwamberger

It gives me great pleasure to provide readers of Alt Hist with a guest post from  Ty Schwamberger. Ty is an expert on zombies and their emergence on plantations in the American South during the nineteenth century. Over to Ty to tell us more about his novella The Fields, and the history of zombies.

Ah, there’s nothing like a nice radioactive chemical spill, a once-in-a-lifetime lunar movement or another strange phenomenon to reanimate the decaying dead, making them dig out of their own graves and come looking for the living. Hell, who doesn’t like to tote around a double-barrel shotgun, while scrambling away from the oncoming hordes? Right. No? Oh, come on, you’re sitting there and reading this article about the undead on your computer and you don’t like our brain-munching brethrens? Blasphemy! Zombies are cool, man! Well, at least when safely housed inside the TV or printed as words in a book. Not so sure I’d use the word “cool” if they were knocking on my front door, asking if they could borrow my brains for a nice, midnight snack. Nope. Not one bite, err, bit.

Since we’ve established we enjoy watching or reading about zombies, just not actually having to deal with them in “real life”, let’s talk a little about where zombies came from. Came from, you ask? Yes. The origins. The beginning. Way back in the day.

When people think of zombie movies in particular, who’s the first person you think about? Danny DeVito? Mel Gibson? Marlon Brando? Uh, no. We think of George A. Romero, of course. But, there are a couple notable zombie films prior to 1968. Films such as White Zombie (1932) and Revenge of the Zombies (1943). These two films centered around the idea of digging up bodies are removing them their graves right after burial. Voodoo was then used to turn the dead into living, mindless slaves, obeying the biddings of their human master. A few years later came a small budget, black and white film titled Night of the Living Dead, written and directed by George A. Romero. NLD hit theaters and drive-ins in 1968. The effects of Romero’s ground-breaking treatment of the theme are of course still seen today. The 1970s and 1980s brought films such as: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), Garden of the Dead (1972), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Dead and Buried (1981),The Evil Dead (1982), Zombie Island Massacre (1984), Day of the Dead (1985), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), Night of the Creeps (1986), Evil Dead II (1987), The Dead Next Door (1988). Ah, the good ol’ days. Then the 1990s came and, well, the movies sucked. Then the 2000s – zombie subgenre has really taken off, with such films as: I Am Legend (2007), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Shaun of the Dead (2004), 28 Days Later (2007), Zombieland (2009) and who could forget Zombie Strippers! (2008)!

What about the history of zombie books, you ask? Well, fine. I guess I can spare a few more minutes and tell you about that too. Tales of undead fun more or less started back in 1921 with Herbert West: Re-animator by H.P. Lovecraft. There were some zombie books between Lovecraft in 1921 and the 2000s, but the subgenre really took off in 2003 with The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks and The Rising by Brian Keene. Other notable authors that have ventured into the graveyard after midnight, include: Stephen King, David Dunwoody, J.L. Bourne, Kim Paffenroth, Gary Braunbeck, Joe McKinney, Jonathan Maberry, along with several other great folks.

Now it’s time for me to enter into the fray… I’m pleased to announce that The Zombie Feed Press, an imprint of Apex Publications is releasing my zombie novella, The Fields. Below is a brief synopsis about the book.

Billy Fletcher learned to farm the family’s tobacco fields – and beat slaves – by the hands of his father. Now, his father is dead, the slaves have long since been freed, and the once-lush fields are dying. Salvation by the name of Abraham knocks on the farmhouse door, bringing wild ideas. He can help Billy save the plantation and return the fields to their former glory…by raising his father’s slaves from the dead.

Can the resurrected slaves breathe life back into the Fletcher farm? Having brought the slaves back from graves that his father sent them to, can Billy be the kind master his father wasn’t? Is keeping the farm worth denying the men the freedom they earned with death?

Billy’s conscience holds the key to those mysteries, but not the biggest one: what does Abraham really want from the former slave owner’s son?

Welcome to The Fields.

New York Times bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry, wrote the introduction for the book. “[The Fields]…ispart horror story in the classic sense – misdeeds from the past coming back to haunt the present. It’s part zombie story. It’s part adventure. And it’s part social satire in its darkest sense.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed the little history lesson given today. I’m also going to ask that you take a chance on The Fields. This is a very unique twist on the subgenre that we all love watching and reading. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with my entrance into “the field”. If so, you can give me a shout, and I’ll come running to assist the next time a crazed zombie comes knocking at your door, while looking to feast upon your nice, fresh hot brains.


Ty Schwamberger is growing force within the horror genre. He is the author of a novel, multiple novellas, collections and editor on several anthologies. In addition, he’s had many short stories published online and in print. Two stories, ‘Cake Batter’ (released in 2010) and ‘House Call’ (currently in pre-production in 2011), have been optioned for film adaptation.  You can learn more at:

You can pick up a copy of Ty’s new zombie novella The Fields from Amazon.

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Recent Historical Fiction and Alternate History News

Here’s a selection of news and features that I’ve come across recently in the world of Historical Fiction and Alternate History. Enjoy!

Polite Englishman

From Salon: The myth of the polite Englishman. I thought this book sounded like a great resource for anyone writing historical fiction set in the Eighteenth century. Interestingly enough I don’t see many stories coming into Alt Hist set in that era – not even American War of Independence stuff very often, which is disappointing. Such a rude century should definitely be better represented!

From the Guardian: Kate Williams joins queens of historical fiction.  I didn’t agree with what she had to say at the end of the article about female documentary presenters being chosen for their looks – the BBC does the same with its male presenters too!

Guardian again: Alternate history lessons for children’s fiction – new wave of alternate histories searching questions about technology. Interesting that alternate history is being more accepted in schools, but how do we make sure kids know the real version as well?

From Steven Spielberg – Steven Spielberg’s European History. Europeans are much more interested in history says Steven. Quite a debatable statement I think – certainly most of Alt Hist’s story submissions come from the US.e make sure kids know the real version as well?

From The Daily Beast: The Graphic Novel Renaissance – and historical graphic novels are leading the way! Hurrah!

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Interview with Brooks Rexroat, author of ‘To the Stars’

With Brooks Rexroat we wrap up the interviews of authors from Alt Hist Issue 3. Brooks’ ‘To the Stars’ is set during the Cold War space race and is a very human story of the effect on one family in particular.

Would it have been possible to write ‘To the Stars’ before 1989?

A cheeky answer first: I doubt it. I was doing most of my composition in crayon at that time.

In all seriousness, though, I think someone could have written this story at that point. There are no great tactical secrets here, very little that would’ve been unknown to Westerners and most Russians – and even James Bond – prior to 1989. While the setting is a bit exotic to most of us, the main themes could be placed in lots of locales of time frames and still function nicely – the question of whether the grass really is greener elsewhere, the convoluted battle of individualism versus selflessness, the dream of giving children a gift of opportunity, and so forth.

Cosmonaut or astronaut?

For me? Neither. I’m terrified of heights. How about launch room controller?

‘To the Stars’ is written in the present tense. What were the challenges and benefits of writing in this tense?

I’ll start with the benefits. This story was my first stab at historical fiction, and so one of my chief concerns was to bring something very distant chronologically into a closer proximity for the reader, and even for myself as a writer. There is an immediacy to the present tense, which I hope helps to connect readers to some very contemporary themes, even when the vehicle is a slice of our past. The first draft was, in fact, written in past tense, and it felt very cold and inaccessible. There were some nice things about that aesthetic, but it didn’t strike me as a story many folks would connect with. As I changed it to present tense, it felt much closer, far more energetic, and, more importantly, more real. My biggest challenge in switching it over to present tense was simply to maintain consistency.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve always been a writer of some sort – I remember making up stories and speaking them into a tape recorder before I had mastered the physical act of writing, and I very much wish I still had those cassettes. I had my angsty-teen-hidden-notebook-of-bad-poems phase. I suppose that, in terms of professional writing, a pair of professors opened that door by simple telling me that writing was viable as a career. High school counselors like to send students into sensible paths. Professors seem to like opening the doors a bit, and I’m glad I encountered two such individuals. I spent some rewarding time as a journalist, and now creative work serves as a good companion to life as a teacher.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m generally lecturing, deigning courses, or grading student essays–that takes up most of my existence. I’m a musician as well, so I play an occasional gig and like to catch live performances whenever I can. I run on occasion, and play a dangerously absurd amount of digital Scrabble.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I’ve got a file of 37 stories in some stage of completion, half a dozen of which are solid in structure and close to being finished. They’re eclectic in topic, but many of my current pieces involve the “Rust Belt” section of the American Midwest – stories of the folks who have long been dealing with the economic struggles that have now reached coastal population centers. This landlocked region is my home, and there are plenty of stories to tell – hence the extensive ‘in progress’ story file on my laptop.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

At this stage of life, I think of myself as a teacher who writes. I’m fortunate to teach writing and talk about the craft with bright university students every day, and so I go home from the office eager to fill some pages, to tell some stories. My ambition is this: to keep writing as long as something’s rattling around in my head – to keep revising and shaping those thoughts until they represent a truth that might be meaningful to others. Alt Hist, incidentally, represents the beginning of my published ambitions – it was the first magazine to accept my work. I’ve had eight additional stories published since receiving that tremendous news that ‘To the Stars’ would be printed. Links to those pieces can be found at

Don’t forget to check out Brooks’ story ‘To the Stars’ in issue 3 of Alt Hist.

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Interview with Matthew Warner, author of ‘Bummers’

Matthew Warner is the author of ‘Bummers’ the second story in Alt Hist Issue 3 set during the American Civil War. We caught up with Matthew to ask him more about this story and his other writing.

Matthew Warner picture

How did you find out about female soldiers in the American Civil War? And can you tell us a bit more about the historical reality?

It started from a desire to write a story featuring a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered person. I have a lot of LGBT friends, and I feel strongly about supporting them whenever possible. So, in the course of researching possible characters, I stumbled across the topic of women who cross-dressed as men in order to fight in the Civil War. I’d never heard of this and was fascinated – doubly so because the Civil War is one of my favorite historical periods. (My collection, Death Sentences, includes a reprint of a short story I wrote about a plantation mistress.) What if the cross-dressing soldier were also a lesbian? I wondered. The story took off from there.

Here and here are links to photos of a real-life Frances who dressed as a man to fight in the war. According to the National Archives, at least 250 women dressed as men to fight for the Confederacy, and perhaps just as many fought for the Union, although the exact numbers are unknown. Like the Frances in my story, their motivations included money and the comparatively greater freedom that men enjoyed.

The American Civil War is a popular topic for US-based historical fiction writers. What do you think the main attraction of the period is?

Because it marked the end of slavery, the Civil War is still tied up in our minds with the issues of civil rights and racism, which remain enduring social issues. People still get upset when high schools use Civil War imagery for mascots or when state governments occasionally display the Confederate flag. Although it happened almost 150 years ago, the “War Between the States” (or the “War of Northern Aggression,” depending on your point of view) is still very much alive.

Also, the Civil War still holds the record for our bloodiest conflict. Even worse, it was “brother against brother,” as Hollywood says. Its artifacts permeate the old battle ground states. Here in Virginia, I can reach a Civil War monument in about five minutes. At my local cemetery, in fact, a couple thousand Confederate soldiers lie in a mass grave. Places like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, run a thriving tourist trade of Civil War attractions. The ghosts still walk.

How did you get into writing?

I was fortunate to attend a public school system that encouraged creative writing from an early age. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to write fiction professionally, but I took a sideways step into journalism for a while. Eventually, I wound up working in law, and now I’m a website designer. (How’s that for a crazy career path?) But I’ve never stopped writing. My first novel, The Organ Donor, came out in 2002, and my fifth book just came out this year.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Mainly take care of my sons, Owen (age 2) and Thomas (4 months). My wife Deena and I run Deena Warner Design, which services writers and publishers. I’m also a pianist and hope to get back into martial arts one day.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

The ink is drying the contract for a novel that’s coming out in 2013 from a Canadian publisher (official announcement coming soon!). In February 2012, a local community theater is premiering a two-act comedy stage play I wrote called Pirate Appreciation Day. And yes, I’m always grinding away at the rough draft of something or other.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

My biggest ambition right now is to seek an ever wider readership. That’s actually more important to me than making a bunch of money as a writer. If money were my goal, I would’ve committed suicide by now.

Union or Confederacy?

Union in political views, Confederacy in family heritage and location. With all due respect to the great grandfather who was wounded at Gettysburg, I’m glad I’m not living in the Confederate States of America today.

You can find out more about Matthew Warner at his website:

Don’t forget to check out Matthew’s story ‘Bummers’ in issue 3 of Alt Hist.

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