1) When did you know that you were interested in writing, and was there anyone that stands out in your memory who encouraged you to pursue it?
I was a late bloomer, always a decent writer but never passionate about it until college which is probably when I first realized how therapeutic writing was for me. My great teacher Ron Forsythe changed everything though during the college years. He was brilliant and taught me technique with a lot of passion mixed in.
2) You recently published your first book, Undead: Revived, Resuscitate, Reborn. What was the genesis of the idea behind the book?
I wasn’t even thinking about writing a book. Then one night I was debating whether or not I should read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith or another book about Jesus by Max Lucado. Then it occurred to me that dead people did come back to life in the Bible. I was surprised to learn that there were six such individuals. I was off and running from there.
3) Who would you count as your creative influences? Who do you like to read?
I wish I could say that I read C.S. Lewis as a young man and then moved onto some of the classics. Instead I started with Garfield and moved onto Dave Barry. I listen to a LOT of audio books. I’m a fan of memoirs, biographies, and more. Stephen King’s often been in front of me and recently I’ve enjoyed Matt Mikalatos, especially Imaginary Jesus.
3) You’re a teacher at several colleges in the Pittsburgh area, maintain a successful blog, and now have a book out–how do you balance it all? How did you maintain the pace? How did the daily obligations impact your “creative time?” Is sleep overrated?
Man, as I answer this I don’t feel like I’m handling it well! I left my old blog to shrivel while finishing the book. The pace wasn’t sustainable but it didn’t have to be. I made it to the finish line then rebooted this summer. Although now that I’m in the post-release reality I’m wondering why I didn’t write a second book in recent months.
I need sleep though, that’s for sure. I’m the worst at mornings ever. I’ve never been a writer who has my best creativity early in the day. That’s my stupid time. I’m lucky if I can handle emailing and driving, although not at the same time. My brain ignites at night, and much of my best stuff comes after normal people go to bed.
4) In reading your blog, I see that you’re very into pop culture and history. What, in your mind, is the intersection of the two? What is it about pop culture that you love? Who are some of your favorite historical influences? Pop culture influences?
The culture of one era becomes historical record. Shakespeare was Hollywood a few centuries ago. Now he’s studied by academics. Current pop culture is a window to who we are in part and will, believe it or not, become part of our historical record. God help us when archaeologists sift through our ashes and make determinations about us based on Jersey Shore. But they will.
I’m a product of Gen X and always loved TV shows, movies, and video games over books while growing up. I can’t do a math problem to save my life but I can quote fictional characters of the screen from the past three decades. Go figure. When I need to give or take advice, movie plots and song lyrics resonate with me. I’m just wired that way.
As for historical influences, I like guys like Alexander Hamilton and Abe Lincoln. Too many to count really. And I love the world that the Bible was set in. Too many churches miss the rich settings and characters in exchange for dull discussions on theological systems and word studies.
5) In Undead, you reference the current pop culture craze with zombies and tie it into the search for a meaningful life. What is it about such stories that speak to the deeper places in us?
Whether we admit it or not we are preoccupied with death, at least inasmuch as that’s the doorway to eternity. Solomon said that eternity has been set in our hearts by God. We’re obsessed with what happens beyond the grave. Humans have always been that way. So when we see the living dead we can actually relate to them in a strange way. Sure their flesh is decaying and they want to eat brains all the time, but they do that while still wearing Dockers and curlers. It reminds us how close we are to the other side you know? And since we’re compelled by beings that can’t be stopped by death, what then do we make of Jesus of Nazareth and the claims made by his followers?
6) You are a Christian. What can Christians specifically learn from scary stories? Would you generally agree with the following statement: most horror stories are morality tales, crucibles that expose to us what’s in our hearts, i.e. “what if” scenarios that ask us, through identifying the characters, what we would do in similar situations? A sort of “What Would You Do?” with not John Quinones, but Stephen King?
Christian Director Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister) opened my eyes in this regard when he said that the horror genre is perfect for Christianity. With such an emphasis on the supernatural why don’t we appreciate that realm in pop culture? Sure, horror movies might have gratuitous sex or violence but they don’t always have to. And as Derrickson pointed out, Christians admire someone like C. S. Lewis who wrote The Screwtape Letters which is a conversation between demons!
Think of all the people who grew up without any church affiliation or religious encounters. Where have they been exposed to ideas of the supernatural? In cinemas and on TV and through novels is where. We can complain about how evil all that stuff is or we can get in there to offer some thoughtful perspectives. I’ve had a number of meaningful conversations about God with people because of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Many of those folks I chat with aren’t interested in American churches, so culture creates opportunities to connect with people where they are.
7) Are there any questions you’re surprised that you think folks would ask, but don’t?
I never know what interviewers will bring up first. I’ve gone into most of those with no expectations on what might be the favored topic, so I haven’t been too surprised yet. Although I am still waiting for someone to ask me how they should go about supplying their nationwide network of college students with copies of Undead. Kidding. Sort of.
8) What’s in store for Clay Morgan in the future? Will you turn your hand to fiction? Are you working on another book now? If so, can you share anything about it?
Interesting you ask that. I’ve got two projects underway, one only in development. And yup, one of them is fiction which is more terrifying than a zombie squirrel. We’ll see if I can pull it off. But no, unfortunately it’s all top secret at this point.