Peter Clines' Cult Novels Pit Superheroes Against Zombies
Photo by Colleen Cooper
Peter Clines writes about scary, terrifying Ex-es.
Not the kind of exes who can't accept that the romance is over but the kind of Exes who can't accept that their mortal lives are over.
Clines also writes about superheroes.
Not the kind who wear capes and have few problems other than keeping their real identities secret but the kind who are tormented by their personal demons even while trying to save mankind from hordes of flesh-eating zombies.
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And Clines writes about Hollywood studios, specifically Paramount. But not the Paramount lot where gatekeepers work to keep out wannabes. At this Paramount lot, called the Mount, a small band of superheroes and the few thousand humans remaining in L.A. after a wave of living death have erected walls (crushed cars, barbed wire and lookout towers) to keep out the hordes of teeth-chattering Ex-es menacing them.
This dystopian world was born four years ago, when its 40-something author set out to write a novel with a modest goal.
"I just wanted to tell a good story and get a book published," he tells the Weekly.
But with the release last month of his riveting third novel, Ex-Communication, Clines has achieved something much more substantial: a multipart zombies-versus-superheroes franchise that seems destined for the big screen. After all, seemingly every other youth-oriented film this year has featured either zombies or superheroes. Mash them up with a compelling story and sharply drawn characters, and it's only a question of time before they're duking it out in multiplexes.
Ex-Communication builds on the post-apocalyptic world Clines constructed in his first two cult novels, Ex-Patriots and Ex-Heroes. It's his most ambitious work yet, with the promise of even better things to come with the release of the fourth installment, Ex-Purgatory, next January.
In this world, Ex-humans -- or Ex-es -- are what we would call zombies. "I have fun with it because it gives me the chance to come up with double-entendre titles for the novels," he admits.
In this third installment, the superheroes and their allies face a fight for both their bodies and souls. Inside the Mount the people are safe for the moment, but it's clear that's only temporary.
These are comic book stories, comic book characters and comic book conflicts, but Clines has infused them with a literary sensibility. Particularly effective is his decision to alternate "now" and "then" chapters as the story slowly reveals itself. The chapters switch back and forth from the present to the past, with each flashback done in first person, told from the point of view of one of the superheroes.
Clines, who lives in the Valley but declines to specify exactly where, grew up in Stephen King country: Port Neddick, Maine. He credits King as a major influence.
"I think King is the modern Charles Dickens," Clines says. "I read one of his short stories, 'Boogeyman,' when I was 12, and to this day I can't sleep with the closet door open."
After attending UMass-Amherst, Clines came to L.A. in 1992, scratching out a living for years as a prop master on such classics as Beastmaster and Veronica Mars. He supplemented that by writing reviews and doing interviews for Creative Screenwriting.
"Four years ago I was living on the edge of poverty, with all my credit cards maxed out,"
Then a small publishing imprint said yes to Ex-Patriots, which quickly became a surprise cult hit with the geek crowd. Clines' life started getting better and better: Not only is Hollywood sniffing around for the rights to his novels but he also was contacted by an agent who convinced Random House to buy the rights to his first two books and publish Ex-Communication.
"The crazy part is that at first I said no to the agent," he admits. "But he made a bunch of phone calls, and when I heard the numbers I changed my mind."
Clines is thrilled with all the attention his work is receiving, but he rejects attempts to fit him into genre boxes such as the newly popular mash-up genre.
"To me, a mash-up involves a twist on a classic tale," he says. "My work is closer to the horror-action genre than a mash-up."
He especially resents the notion that he is jumping on the zombie bandwagon that's so trendy in pop culture.
"I was writing about zombies four years ago," he says. "So I look at it as everyone else is jumping on the zombie bandwagon."
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