News

Zombies in the Outfield

TFK speaks with author Paolo Bacigalupi about his latest spooky story

October 04, 2013
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SAMMY YUEN AND JT THOMAS PHOTOGRAPHY

Using special effects, Paolo Bacigalupi is transformed into a zombie for his author photograph.

Step up to the plate, zombie fans. Paolo Bacigalupi’s new book Zombie Baseball Beatdown tells the tale of three teammates who set out to save the world from bloodthirsty corpses. TFK caught up with Bacigalupi about his writing process, favorite Halloween costume and candy, and fear of horror movies.

TFK:

How does your previous work compare to Zombie Baseball Beatdown?

BACIGALUPI:

Most of my work has actually been for older kids, young adults and adults. It tends to be darker, and focused on ideas of environmental disaster and broken futures. People classify it as dystopian fiction normally, so Zombie Baseball Beatdown is a lot more fun than the things I normally write about. There is still a disaster in the middle of it, but there is a lot more fun and hilarity as things go along.

TFK:

What was your inspiration to write a book for a younger audience?

BACIGALUPI:

Honestly, the starting point was that my wife is a schoolteacher, and she had some kids who weren’t interested in reading. In a sort of fit of frustration she asked them what they would like to read about, and they said “zombies.” And I thought, well okay, I’ll write you a zombie book.

I was interested in writing something that would reach kids at their reading level, and give them something that was aimed at their interests. There are things in the book that are based off interests I have, things like food safety and questions about what it means to be an America, but at the heart of it, I wanted to write a story for kids who were convinced books had nothing to offer them. I wanted to entice kids into reading so they know there is something there for them in a story, so it’s not the last book they read, but the first.

TFK:

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

BACIGALUPI:

I actually didn’t start thinking I wanted to be a writer until I was much older. I had graduated from college and was working as a computer programmer, and I realized the standard 9-to-5 job wasn’t ideal for me. I needed something else, so I started writing on the weekends just to have some kind of creative escape from what I was doing during my day job. Over time, that habit slowly developed into a passion, then an obsession, and then a determination to actually write full-time.

TFK:

Without giving too much away, tell us about the plot.

BACIGALUPI:

The story is about three boys on a baseball team, Miguel, Rabi, and Joe, who have to fight back the zombie apocalypse with their baseball bats and their teamwork skills. In the beginning of the story, the boys are out practicing in a local park by a meatpacking plant, and there’s this horrible smell coming out of the plant. They suspect something is very, very wrong. They start to investigate the smell, and as they do, they run across zombies, and then they run across even more zombies, and that’s when things really get out of control.

It’s also about kids who are all very different. One of the boys, Rabi, is an Indian American kid. He’s growing up in this small town in Iowa trying to figure out how he fits into an American identity. Miguel’s family comes from Mexico and he’s also trying to figure out where he fits in. I started thinking about identity a lot when writing this story. It turns out, whether you came here legally or illegally, or whether your skin is white or brown or whatever, the important thing is that you can pick up a baseball bat and fight the zombies. We do better when we work together across our differences.

TFK:

Do you relate to any of these characters personally?

BACIGALUPI:

I relate to all of them in different ways. Rabi is modeled on my son—my son is half-Indian as well, and he’s also growing up in a small town in rural America. It’s very interesting to see him going through the process of asking questions about his identity. Watching him go through that, I wanted a character like him in a story so my son could see himself on a page.

Joe is the nutball that I was when I was a kid. He is a comic book freak, and sort of an outsider, and he’s the one who wants to do the crazy thing instead of the smart thing. All of these boys together comprise different parts of my world.

TFK:

In addition to themes of identity, what are some of the other major themes or lessons in the book?

BACIGALUPI:

A big one is food—where our food comes from, how it gets treated, and how safe we are with it. I’m really interested in the industrial food chain, and how we in America don’t really engage with the process of how we get our food. The plot, and the setting of a meatpacking plant, provides opportunities for kids to learn about these issues.

TFK:

There is such hype around zombies in entertainment today. Why do you think that is?

BACIGALUPI:

I’m not even sure why zombies have become so popular. I had never really considered writing about zombies until I heard about my wife’s students who wanted to read about zombies. When I began writing, I didn’t want to give them horror, but I wanted to give them a zombie they could fight, not a zombie that needs a hug. I saw it as an opportunity to explore thematic elements that were important for me.

TFK:

Do you have a favorite zombie movie or TV show?

BACIGALUPI:

I tend to watch the fun ones. To be honest, genuine horror scares the pants off of me. It gives me the shivers and I don’t like it. So, I tend to avoid those shows. When I was writing Zombie Baseball Beatdown, I wanted these zombies to be kind of fun and I wanted kids to really be able to beat them up. I can take the fun version of horror, but if it gets more intense I tend to cover my eyes and hide under a blanket.

TFK:

What was the best Halloween costume you ever had?

BACIGALUPI:

My best costume was when I dressed as a witch. Not as a black-hat witch with a black cat or anything like that, but as an old crone with a withered staff. I found this crazy mask of a withered old woman’s face, and I hobbled around dressed in rags. It was actually really good and I scared other kids. I think I was 13 or 14 when I did that one.

TFK:

Did you have a favorite candy growing up?

BACIGALUPI:

I don’t know what my favorite candy was back then. But now, my favorite candy is gummy bears. And I eat a lot of them. I eat sort of a horrifying number of gummy bears these days.

TFK:

If there were to be a zombie apocalypse, do you have a plan?

BACIGALUPI:

My plan is to get together with a whole bunch of my neighbors and cooperate. I think that when we work together, we survive.


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