Posted by Literary Titan
Tarbabies follows Josh as he lives through the invasion of Earth by the “tarbabies”, monsters made of a soft gooey substance. What was your inspiration for the tarbabies slow, but relentless movement and appearance?
I’ve been a devotee of zombie stories since I first saw Dawn of the Dead back in 1978, and have long toyed with the notion of writing my own contribution to the genre. But as I began to flesh out a plot, I came to realize that the story I wanted to tell wasn’t going to fit within the confines of the category. The core premise of Tarbabies is best summarized by the first line of the back cover blurb: “That Thing on the porch won’t go away.” Zombies work best in hordes. They’re terrifying when you’re surrounded by them, but a lone shambling corpse is easily dispatched or avoided, making it as much a thing to be pitied as feared. What I wanted was a threat that was just as dangerous on its own as in a mob, and that couldn’t be dismissed by something as simple as a bullet to the brain. The longer I thought about it, the more I realized I needed to make a monster of my own. One of my favorite conventions of zombie fiction is the fact that there are no second chances. The moment you’re bit, you’re done for. I decided to take that a step further. With the Tarbabies, a single touch is enough to seal your fate. For that, I can credit the Blob as a primary inspiration. Once I got the idea to merge the Blob with zombies, I was off and running. The Tarbabies, on the other hand, slowed down. Once the creatures took their final form as animated bags of muck, their plodding, sluggish nature followed inevitably.
Josh and his wife were my favorite characters. Was it difficult writing such an in depth relationship? Were you able to achieve everything you wanted with these characters?
What I wanted most from my protagonists was for them to be ordinary. Tarbabies is a story about what happens when the monsters come to your front door. I wanted my heroes to be people of modest ambitions and corresponding resources. They would not be battling their demons with an arsenal of weapons or years of Special Forces training. They would be limited to the same skills and means that a typical reader might possess. But there still had to be a reason why Josh and Libby can survive while their neighbors succumb to the monsters. I wanted this to be their ability to rely upon each other. There is nothing extraordinary about Josh and Libby’s relationship, but they are devoted to one another, and they know each other well. In a world where every mistake can be your last, this trust and familiarity allows our heroes to share the burden of survival, and gives each of them their opportunities to shine. Though this first book is a complete story, one of these two characters undergoes a significant, substantive change in the course of the novel. The full ramifications of this change are explored further in the third book in the series, and without giving much away, I can say that it represents the greatest test of Josh and Libby’s devotion to each other.
The tarbabies are slow moving, but the tension was expertly crafted in the novel. What was your approach to writing the interactions between people and the tarbabies?
I tried to strike a balance between the Tarbabies being equally repulsive and alluring. They may be shambling bags of ooze, but they are also Something New, and human beings have always been fascinated by novelty. This is why, when the very first monster arrives in Otterkill, Josh discovers one of the neighborhood children literally poking it with a stick. But it’s not just the novelty of the situation that captivates the residents of Otterkill. There is also the knowledge that these creatures used to be us. Every monster wandering Ichabod Lane used to be a neighbor, or a family member. This can only amplify the urge to understand what is happening to them, as it is ultimately what might happen to each of us. There is one final, more insidious reason for the Tarbabies’ appeal, and it’s one that actually occurred to me when I was watching the Twilight movies. In that series, vampires are immortal, super-powered, rich, beautiful, walk about freely in the daylight, and can survive without drinking human blood. In a world where there’s no downside to being a vampire, I thought, why wouldn’t everyone want to be one? It’s not an idea that translates naturally to oozing, amorphous abominations, but the more I played with it, the more I liked the idea of people lining up for their chance to become monsters.
This is book one of the Tarbabies series. Where does the story go through the next two book in the series and where do you see it going in the future?
The good news is, if you enjoy Book 1, you don’t have to wait for more. Books 2 and 3 in the series are available now. Tarbabies Book 2: The Siege at Friendly Haven follows the residents of the Friendly Haven Assisted Living Facility, whom we first met in Book 1. As the last remaining invalids and geriatrics struggle to keep a horde of monsters from oozing into their home, they come to realize that no one in the outside world will be riding to their rescue. Instead, their last hope of escape may come in the form of a 300 pound octogenarian and her beloved personal mobility scooter. In Book 3, we meet up with Josh and Libby once again. In Tarbabies Book 3: The Honey Pot of Defiance, the plague has spread over most of the North American continent. We follow our heroes as they push westward in an attempt to reach the safe haven that is rumored to lie beyond the Rocky Mountains. In the desolate oil fields of northwestern Ohio, they discover the origins of the tarbabies, and witness the next stage in their evolution. Beyond these two books, I have ideas for two more installments in the series. These will further the developments revealed in Book 3, and follow the spread of the tarbaby plague as it becomes a global threat.
That thing on the porch won’t go away. I called the police, but I don’t think they’re coming. They’ve got their hands full with the Manhattan quarantine, so they can’t waste their time on a nothing little town like Otterkill. That means it’s up to me and the neighbors, and there are fewer of us every day. Fewer of us, and more of them. Every person we lose is one more monster to deal with. The Spiller family, the folks from the Retirement Center, even the Mathises’ Rottweiler are now stalking the streets, waiting for someone to get too close. A single touch is all it takes. I don’t know which of my neighbors became the thing on the porch, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ve got to get out of here, but the Tarbabies are already showing up in Albany, and Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. There’s nowhere left to run, and there’s no point in hiding. Not when the shadows themselves are after you.
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