Skin Trade: A Historical Horror (written by Tonia Brown, edited by Stephanie Gianopoulos, and cover art by Phillip R Rogers) takes the zombie genre into an entirely new direction, and with the hordes of undead tales available, such a feat is nearly impossible these days. Not only does the novel take readers back into an alternate historical timeline, but zombies are hunted for their pelts! Sounds gross & unbelievable, even for fiction, but Tonia Brown makes it work.
While the author is best known for her twisted sense of humor in such titles as Lucky Stiff (I hated it) and Badass Zombie Road Trip (I loved it), she surprised me with a serious novel about the influence of a zombie apocalypse on politics, economics, racism and sexism.
Tonia Brown begins with a strategically placed author’s note explaining the time period, putting details into perspective for the readers, lest they be tempted to judge the author based on the actions & attitudes of the characters.
The key points: zombies are hunted for their “pelts,” a girl named Sam disguises herself as a boy to escape her life as an indentured prostitute, and Sam finds a mentor to teach her the trade of trapping & skinning zombies, also known as “revenants.”
After proving that she could master both humor and drama in the zombie genre, I thought it was time to bring Tonia Brown to The Zombiephiles…
Skin Trade is so much darker than your zombie humor in previous stories. Where in the hell did you get the idea to skin zombies?
I have a friend, Drew Mellon, who traps and skins as part sport and part as a means of supporting his family. We were talking one night about the art of skinning, and the conversation—as it often does—rolled around to the techniques of skinning a full-grown man. Zombies are always at the forefront of these kinds of discussions, so it was only a matter of time before we put them together. I wanted to do a western zombie story anyways, and this just fit perfectly.
I was also interested in writing a serious zombie book because I often feel like folks don’t consider me part of the zombie genre because I favor humorous stuff. Which is a shame because I love to laugh.
Was it more difficult or easier to write a story set in a historical time period instead of a more modern setting?
Writing a period piece is rough work. You have to take into account not only the large things, technological differences and the likes, but also simple stuff. Can you put zippers in a pair of pants? (not before 1920) Can the character use strike on the box matches? (not before the 1900’s) It gets irritating when you want to base a whole story line around the importance of blood typing but then find out halfway into the novel that blood typing didn’t start until fifty years outside of your chosen timeline. And yes, that happened to me.
I usually get annoyed with author notes at the beginning of a book, but I found yours quite appropriate. What made you decide to write the note?
When I sent the work to my editor, Stephanie Gianopoulos, I mentioned how difficult it was for me to deal with the racial tension in the novel. I worried I didn’t put enough emphasis on it, but considering the social changes an apocalypse like that would bring I hoped I shaped a reasonable reaction. The editor said the racial parts were fine, but the sexual situations involving a minor were going to make some folks heads explode! I figured she knew best, because Stephanie always does, and decided perhaps a little note prepping folks for the brunt of it was a good idea.
I liked the subtle connection that was made between Theo and Sam, regarding their pasts. Was that an attempt at deliberate social commentary, or did you just want a way for those two characters to connect on another level?
I’m glad you picked up on it, and I hope it wasn’t too intrusive. The novel was originally from a trapper’s point of view and only about the act of the skin trade. But the first chapter in I stopped and thought why should I write another zombie novel about a guy? That’s when I decided to make it about a young girl, and Theo evolved as Sam evolved. Their characters grew together in my mind, as did their similar histories. The title itself is a play on the concept of selling skin, be it in the sex trade, the slave trade or the trapping trade. Let’s call it social commentary with a side of grinning and winking and lots of ‘see what I did there?’
I was surprised at how brief Dillon’s appearance was in the story, considering his history with Theo. Did you have a particular reason for this?
I didn’t want to overwhelm the novel with a ‘main villain’ right away. And … well … what is there to say we won’t see him again? *wink*
How long are we going to have to wait for a sequel? Please tell me there will definitely be a sequel…
I have some ideas for companion novels and a few sequels, maybe even a collection of shorts based on the world. So yes, there will be more but I don’t know how long.
What other zombie projects do you have going on?
I just finished up a non-zombie book, but do have two more zombie ideas ready to roll. One is another humorous novel called “The World Needs Anthony Bourdain.” (Yeah, the chef.) The other is top secret but should be tons of fun.
One more question…who would you want on your survival team in a zombie apocalypse? Or would you be one of the undead?
There is a word for people like me when the z-poc hits, and that word is LUNCH.