Bewitching Book Tours: Mama Lona’s Man by Brett O’Neal Davis

MamaLonasManWe had the pleasure of catching up with Brett Davis on his web-wide tour of Mama Lona’s Man a zombie/voodoo thriller, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions we felt our Zombie Survival Crew brigadiers would be interested in.

Mama Lona’s Man
The Straw Man Series, Book One
by Brett O’Neal Davis

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Number of pages: 219
Word Count: 74,000
Cover Artist: Cate Meyers

Book Description:

Mama Lona’s Man combines a Caribbean love story with a zombie thriller. It’s a bit James Bond, a bit “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and a dash of “Night of the Living Dead.

The leading man is an ex-Navy SEAL controlled by a witch doctor. When he meets an American girl caught up in island intrigue, they fall in love even though he’s been dead longer than she’s been alive.

  1. When did you first begin writing, and what inspired you to write your first book?

    • I have been writing my whole life, although I didn’t start trying seriously to write a novel until I was 21 years old. I have always enjoyed reading, mainly novels, so at some point it seemed natural to try to create one of my own. I have nothing against short stories—they are very hard to do well—I just have always tended to think in terms of longer stories, so novel writing was more natural to me. And, this is going to sound bad, but when I was younger I read “Less than Zero” and thought, I could do that. So I tried.

  2. What books and authors have most influenced your life?

    • I have always been most impressed, I think, by authors whose work I find very difficult at first. I am a huge fan of the poet Dylan Thomas, whose imagery can be very dense and hard to tease apart. I am amazed at the career of William T. Vollmann, whose “You Bright and Risen Angels” blew me away, although I still don’t think I quite understand it. I also admire J.R.R. Tolkein. I got through “The Hobbit” easily enough as a kid, but it took me a lot longer to be able to tackle “Lord of the Rings.” I am envious of the ability to create a world that people can inhabit as if it’s real, and someday maybe I’ll achieve something like that. And, although he’s largely forgotten as a writer per se, I’ll add Ian Fleming to this list. My zombie character was greatly inspired by the James Bond series. Not the movies, but the books.

  3. Tell us a little about your main characters. How easy/difficult was it for you to write a 20-year-old college girl and at the same time climb into the head of a dead ex-Navy Seal?

    • Abigail Callisto is a troubled but brilliant young college student whose father works for the government in a very hush-hush intelligence role. Her mother died when she was young and she doesn’t remember much about her. She’s very self-reliant and couples an artistic temperament with a real genius for electronics. Randy Straw, short for Ravinell, is a young SEAL who was killed in the invasion of Grenada in 1983. For reasons that are detailed in the book, he’s brought back to life as the slave of a witch doctor. He’s a young man removed from the effects of time, kind of like a more muscular Peter Pan.

      Each character presented a unique challenge. I have been privileged to know a lot of smart, strong women in my life and I drew upon all of them in creating the character of Abigail. The toughest part was writing about her computer hacking ability. She’s much, much smarter than I am. As for Randy, I did a fair amount of research on Navy SEALS but the hardest part was trying to cast my mind back to the world of 1983, which is the last time he was really connected to the world of the living. He has no idea what a cell phone is and the hottest computer of his day was probably a Commodore 64.

  4. Faced with a world infested with flesh-eating biters, what would be your go-to method of defense and why?

    • I admire Daryl Dixon’s work with the crossbow, so I’m going to have to go with that. It’s quick and quiet and doesn’t attract more biters. Maybe if I really wanted a good workout I would switch to a regular bow, and if I were being truly he-man I would make my own bow from a tree that I chopped down, with maybe zombie gut for string.

  5. In this ever-changing world, it behooves us to be prepared for disaster to happen at any moment. The Zombie Survival Crew members have a “go-bag” filled with items essential for their survival should disaster strike and they must flee to survive. What are the most essential items for your go-bag and why?

    • A bunch of contact lenses and fluid so I could see (I really need to get Lasik done before the apocalypse arrives). A digital camera and a laptop. Once the plague passes, people are going to want a record of what happened and I intend to corner that market. A solar charger, so the laptop and camera won’t die. Some clean underwear. Coffee beans, and some kind of coffee-making device, maybe one of those little French-press things. Because without caffeine, I just wouldn’t care.

  6. How did you come up with the premise for Mama Lona’s Man? And what do you feel makes your book stand out in the zombie and voodoo lit world?

    • I got the general idea for “Mama Lona’s Man” quite a long time ago, when my uncle gave me a cool set of original edition James Bond books that were published in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The books have a different vibe from the movies … they’re almost as much travelogue as adventure, because Bond goes to fun places and Fleming liked to describe them at some length. And, of course, Bond never gets killed. So I started thinking about having a secret agent type who cannot be killed, which led me to make him a zombie, and I wanted the setting to be a Bond-like romp in the Caribbean, and the rest started to fall into place. It took a long time, though. It wasn’t until I focused the book around my lead female character, Abigail Callisto, instead of my zombie hero, Randy Straw, that it fell into place and really became something that could sustain a short series.

      As for what makes it stand out, I think it’s the sort-of return to the classic Haitian zombie model of old. I say “sort of” because I play pretty fast and loose with actual historical Voodoo practice, and I just flat out made up some things to suit my story, which calls for the zombie man to be truly dead but not in an icky way. There are some other sexy zombies out there, but they are in the minority, and I think the way I created mine is unique.

  7. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing for a horror audience?

    • Being scary is the hardest thing for me. Even though there are some pretty horrific scenes in the book, in the main it’s not particularly scary. In general I find movies to be more effective in actually scaring people than books, because if you’re reading a book and get creeped out you can always look at your cat or something to reassure yourself, but you can’t really do that if you’re in a dark theater.

  8. Tell us a little bit about your work with robotics. Are there things we could use come the dawn of the zombie apocalypse?

    • I edit a magazine, published by a trade association, that covers unmanned systems and robotics. I couldn’t put a robot together if you gave me a Lego kit and built half of it in advance, but I like to talk to people who can. And, yes, there are many systems that would come in handy when the end times begin. Any kind of far-seeing sensor that would tell you where the shambling hordes are at any given time would be handy, and there are a lot of those out there. The forward-looking infrared sensors that can detect body heat would probably not be of much use against zombies, but a ground robot with a machine gun on top would be just the thing.

  9. What are you working on now? Can you tell us your latest news?

    • I am plotting out more adventures for Abigail Callisto and Randy Straw, the heroes of “Mama Lona’s Man.” I’m picturing a five-story arc. I already know how it’s going to end, just am not positive yet how I’m going to get there. Also, I spent a big chunk of last summer shooting a (very) low-budget vampire movie with some great actors from the DC area. I’m just beginning the editing on that, which will take a while, but should be a lot of fun. I hope it will show up on a screen near you at some point in 2013. It may be an iPad screen, but that’s still a screen.

  10. Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?

    • Yes … please give me feedback on my zombie man and his brainy gal as their adventures progress. I want their adventures to span the globe, so please contact me via my blog and let me know where you’d like them to go. Don’t just read the adventures, help direct them. And, pay attention to the advice you get from the Zombie Survival Crew. You just might need it!

BrettDavisAbout the Author:

Brett O’Neal Davis is a native of Florence, Ala., and attended the same high school as Sam Phillips, who discovered Elvis Presley. He studied journalism at the University of North Alabama and the University of Missouri, writing about music whenever possible. He also briefly “fronted” the one-man punk band Screwhead. Despite clearing $1.50 in profit on consignment sales of the band’s lone album at Salt of the Earth Records in Columbia, Mo., he turned to the slightly more stable world of aerospace and defense journalism, working today in the field of unmanned systems and robotics in Washington, D.C.

He is the author of four science fiction and fantasy novels, all published by Baen Books. The first, The Faery Convention, was listed among the best fantasy novels for 1995 by Science Fiction Chronicle, and Two Tiny Claws was named to the 2000 Books for the Teen Age List by the New York Public Library. An occasional panelist at area science fiction conventions, he also has discussed fiction writing at National Press Club events and at literary festivals, including the annual T.S. Stribling celebration at the University of North Alabama. Mama Lona’s Man is his first foray into paranormal romance, but it won’t be the last.

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Zombies & Religion: Necromancy

When one hears the word Necromancer you tend to envision a guy in his mid 40’s sporting a cape and tux combo that would make Dracula drool in his coffin. We’re talking someone like Doctor Orpheus from The Venture Brothers, here. The stereotype of a necromancer is outlandish, so ridiculous that we have a hard time believing anyone would call themselves one at any point in history. Which is probably a good idea. Playing with the dead isn’t the smartest thing to do. Something always goes wrong.

Necromancy is a form of magic. Dark magic steeped in rituals used to call upon the dead. These rituals are long, exhausting, and involve sacrifices of blood. The amount of blood varies on the magic being conducted. Early necromancers believed that more was better. Accounts tell of practitioners standing before blood-drenched altars to work their magic. Some necromancers use the spirits of the dead to predict the future. Others recover the corpse and “push” their magic into it, creating an animated corpse to control and communicate with.

During the early Middle Ages, necromancy was both fodder of myths and reality. The Norse told tales of heroes contacting spirits of dead relatives and asking the dead to cast spells against their enemies. Another Norse saga depicted Skuld, a princess so skilled in magic and communicating with the dead that in the midst of battle she could force dead warriors to rise and continue their attacks. Skuld wielded and army of the undead, the likes of which we consider a big sign that the Zombiepocalypse is upon us. This undead army made her nearly invincible on the battlefield. A feat most men would be envious of and all feared.

Medieval necromancers believed that in order to raise the dead the Christian god had to be invoked during rituals. Because of this the vast majority of medieval necromancers were highly educated clergy members. There were few seminaries at the time and made knowledge of Holy Scripture rare unless one was taught under an apprenticeship. The common man would not have access to the Bible. Nor would he be able to read the Latin it was written in. This was long before the printing press and the idea that every household should have a copy of the Bible in order to be closer to God.

At this time necromancers began to believe that they were not calling forth the souls of the dead to reanimate bodies, but demons instead. The Roman Catholic Church forbade members from practicing the dark magic for this reason. However enforcing the ruling was near impossible given the amount of time it took to deliver missives to other countries.

Despite the Church’s declaration, necromancy was still widely practiced. Through time, necromancers used the stigma towards magic by Christian faithful to fuel their rituals. Necromancers were hunted as witches, driven further underground to conduct their rituals and raise their dead. They twisted Holy Scripture, uttered names of demons never meant to be spoken by good, God-fearing people.

Modern necromancy has returned to the idea that they are communicating with the souls of the dead. While some of the demonic still exists, it is more as a warning. Great care is taken to “protect” the area of ritual, usually with a circle of some sort, to keep “evil spirits” (demonic forces) at bay. Necromancers nowadays typically aren’t attempting to raise an army of undead from their graves. But you should never disregard the idea.

Armies of undead under the control of a necromancer will move together. Unlike a typical hoard of zombies, these won’t fight with each other while reaching for their goal. Think of them as decaying marionettes. The necromancer will use their power over the dead to manipulate zombies to do their will. It could be anything from petty theft to a string of murders. Because necromancy is a type of magic, there are repercussions to using the power. Sustaining the undead will drain them, leave them vulnerable to attack. If you can break the tie between zombie and necromancer, the zombie will return to the grave or attack the person that disturbed their rest. We suggest trying salt or salt water. If that fails, use fire. Zombie flambé, anyone?

Zombies & Religion: Voodoo

You’re walking down the street on your way to work, same as you do every day. A stranger steps out of a shop and walks towards you. Even though you try to move out of the way, they crash into you. After a few muttered apologies, they leave. Only then do you notice that your forearm is bleeding from a small cut and going numb. Within minutes that entire side of your body loses sensation. A little while later you are unable to control any of your movements.

You’ve been made into a zombie.

How can it be that easy, you ask? If you lived in Haiti, where Voodoo reigns supreme, there would be no question about the existence of zombies. However, unlike other “breeds” of zombie we have explored here at ZSC, zombies created by Voodoo are living, breathing humans.

Victims are dosed with a neurotoxin. There has been extensive debate about which neurotoxin is actually used during the zombie making process. In The Serpent and the Rainbow, victims were given a dose of tetrodotoxin powder. Tetrodotoxin is found in puffer fish and its history of being extremely lethal puts the legitimacy of these claims into question. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll use it here.

The tetrodotoxin works into the nervous system and shuts it down. The victim’s breathing will become shallow. Their body is unresponsive to stimulation. While they cannot feel, move, or breathe properly, most victims remain fully aware of what is happening to them in this state of living death.

Treatment of tetrodotoxin involves maintaining the body until it processes the chemical. Most villages don’t have the means to put someone on life support, let alone the manpower and supplies to do so when that person may pass away anyway. Tetrodotoxin has no known antidote. Once the physician sees no visible signs of life, they declare the patient deceased. The victim then ends up buried alive.

In the cover of darkness the Bokor, or sorcerer, will venture to the graveyard to dig up the victim. At this time the newly made zombie is given a powerful hallucinogenic. Most believe the substance to be derived from the datura plant. Datura causes violent hallucinations and photophobia (extreme sensitivity to light). One dose will affect the victim for approximately 48 hours.

The heavy influence of the Voodoo religion in the region is the key element to the zombie creation process. If the victim survives exposure to the various chemical compounds at play, they should recover themselves and become normal within days. Believers that go through the process convince themselves, with influence from the Bokor, that they are actually a zombie. These zombies will continue to work under the bokor for years. It is only when family members see them that legitimacy of their “undead” condition comes into question.

Bokors are believed to be able to manipulate the zombi astral, the spirit of a person. What we call the soul. Those that practice dark arts (making zombies, curses, etc…) are said to capture souls inside jars. Some will sell the jars as charms. Others gather them. The more captured souls in their control, the more powerful the bokor. To go against a powerful bokor is begging to be “cursed”. That is why so many of these living zombies strive to believe their conditions and remain in service to the bokor.

If the family recovers their loved one, they won’t find much of that person left. Years of believing yourself dead and exposure to powerful hallucinogenic drugs warps the brain. Zombies without a bokor riding herd on them often end up in asylums. Those who aren’t discovered tend to haunt graveyards, as they feel closer to the dead than the living.

We here at the Zombie Survival Crew consider these zombies to be victims. That is unless they attempt to harm a crewmember. Unfortunately it is difficult to tell them apart from the other breeds. Keep in mind that newly claimed zombies of this type would appear sweaty. Their eye movements will be erratic, and though it will be difficult to tell, they are breathing. If you think they are the victim of a Voodoo spell, report the zombie but do not dispatch them.