Fleshbags is a zombie novella by horror author Gerald Dean Rice. It’s not the first time that he’s written about the undead, but it was still a bit of surprise for me. It was also the grossest piece of fiction I have ever read. Seriously…Fleshbags is only 77 pages, but it took me as long as a 300-page book to read because I had to keep putting it down to avoid throwing up. We’re not just talking about graphic gore – Rice is so incredibly meticulous in his writing, I could actually smell the putrid pus spewed all over his characters.
“By the time the explosion happened he was dead.”
Fleshbags has a variety of characters, but less than a handful, so it was easy to keep track of the events unfolding. Rice did a great job of tying their storylines together at the end without forcing the pieces together, as a daycare center becomes the focal point of the plot.
The novella is divided up into hours. Hour One sets all the characters into motion, and alludes to the ongoing outbreak. Hour Two is when I nearly hurled all over my Kindle for the first time. By Hour Three, I was genuinely concerned for the people who didn’t know about the naked infected people running around the city, harboring transparent bags of flesh that appeared to contain black intestines. I was also questioning the common sense of the folks not bright enough to run away from people who had pus pouring from every orifice on their faces, even if those infected hadn’t shed their clothes and mutated yet.
After the tremendous suspense in Hour Four, flashbacks in Hour Five, and suspicious military activity in Hour Six, Hour X had me going out of mind. The attacking Fleshbags weren’t exactly easy to put down for good either. The ending was so unusual, I asked Rice about during our interview.
Q. I have never read anything like the infected in Fleshbags. Where did you get the idea for your infected?
I’ve written a few zombie shorts in the past, but I’ve read a lot. Typically, you have a shuffling, rotting corpse in various states of decomposition—I wanted to do something different than that. I can’t remember exactly where the idea for how they would look came from, but I remember getting excited that it was unlike anything I’d seen.
Q. Is Fleshbags your token zombie novel, or will you be writing more about the undead/infected?
The zombie novel is a genre I will be revisiting. If Fleshbags gets a little popularity to it I already have an idea for where it’ll go next. Obviously, there were some loose ends that need to be explored, but the last couple hours would be overlaid with the next however many. I have two other zombie ideas—one kind of ties into the short story after Fleshbags and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s going to need a significant amount of world-building as it will have a degree of alternative history. I’ll need to do a lot of research. I’d like to also revisit Death of the Dead, a sort of comical horror story about two guys who just go around disrupting survivor camps. They’re the bad guys, sure, but there’s a reason why they’re doing what they’re doing. Swear.
Q. Having read your previous work in other horror sub-genres, I see a definite pattern of being thoroughly disgusting in your descriptions – which is a compliment. Do you consider yourself a master of sensory imagery, or are you just very detailed-orientated in your writing?
I don’t know if I’m ADD or not, but in a lot of novels I read I have a hard time visualizing the descriptions. I’ll re-read sections and while the words make sense, they don’t make a picture in my head and I desperately want to see what the author is showing me. I think that sensitivity plays into how I describe things. I’ll have a picture of what’s going on and I’ll ‘massage the text’ until it reads like what’s going on in my head.
Q. Without giving away any spoilers, I felt like you left some loose ends (no pun intended) at the close of your story. Do you have plans for a sequel, or were you trying to elicit a specific response from your readers?
Both. There’s people that still need killin’. Plus I didn’t blow up enough stuff. Seriously, I didn’t intend it to be a story with a clear beginning and end. The beginning takes place well before the explosion (considering the first fleshbag showed up before then) and the end… well, there may not be one.
Q. As an author, how much of writing do you think can actually be learned, and how much is dependent upon creativity and gut instinct?
There’s a ton to be learned, but you do have to have a base in creativity. I had a lot of creativity in high school, but there was so much I just didn’t know. I only read for enjoyment back then, it didn’t strike me that I could be learning from the people I was reading. I got a BA in English, but that really only taught me half of the things I needed to know. It didn’t teach me style or how to cultivate an original idea. I guess you could say it gave me the bones, but not the meat.
Q. What is a typical writing session like for you? Do you have any “rituals” that you go through, or do you just write when you get an urge or idea?
My writing sessions are probably atypical, but that’s probably typical for a writer in my situation. I do it when I can. I’m probably more like a binge-writer. I do a little bit every day, but every now and then I’ll find a ton of time to sit and do nothing but write. I still have to work for a living and I have a wife and kid at home, so most of my time isn’t my own.
Q. So, what’s the rest of this year looking like for you? Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I put the follow-up to The Ghost Toucher on hold and I’m thinking of going back to it. Not that I was blocked or anything, but the lure of more attractive projects drew me away. I think that’ll prove to be good in the long run because I’ve had a lot more ideas come to me that I want to include; so many that I’m probably going to have to redraft the plot just to be certain they’re in the right place. It’s supposed to be at least a trilogy, but I may even have an idea for a fourth book. I’d like to have a working draft done by November so I can finally do NaNoWriMo where I’ll try my hand at a YA novel. Aside from that, I want to do a paranormal/romance/thriller/mystery. I have an idea that’s starting to gel, but so far all I really have is the killer and his M.O.
Oh yeah, I might do something on Twitter with Fleshbags. I’m thinking of posting the last tweets of some random guy who may or may not survive the events of the story.