Author Daniel Kraus Discusses the Future of Horror & His Unique Collaboration with the Late, Great George A. Romero

LJ's horror columnist Becky Spratford chats with author Daniel Kraus about his work, his thoughts on the power of the genre and where it's headed, and how he completed George A. Romero's unfinished manuscript for The Living Dead.

Daniel Kraus’s horror novels span YA (Bent Heavens; “The Life and Death of Zebulon Finch” series) to adult fiction (with Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water; Blood Sugar). The author’s latest work, The Living Dead (Tor, Jun.), is a unique collaboration with the late filmmaker and modern zombie maestro George A. Romero. LJ caught up with Kraus to talk about his various projects, go-to horror recommendations, and the state of the genre.


Daniel Kraus headshot, photo by Suzanne PlunkettLJ: As an author of books for a variety of age groups, you wear so many different hats. How do you keep all the stories straight?
I know plenty of good writers who seem to suffer through their books, but that’s not me. I love, love, love to write. There’s almost nothing I’d rather be doing. For better or worse—and it’s definitely both—I am happiest when besieged by work. After I turn in a project to an editor, I’m not craving a few days off. What I want is there to be three or four other projects in various stages yipping at me like hungry puppies. If those projects are wildly different, that’s all the better, because they serve as palate cleansers.
When you get an idea for a new story, how do you know for which age level you are going to write? Which comes first, the idea or the audience?
It always starts with the idea. Most of my books gestate for many years before I write them and the age level is the last thing I consider—if I consider it at all. Often I won’t know the audience until I’ve written a portion of the book. And sometimes I don’t even know the audience when the book is finished. A lot of times I just turn it over to my agent and/or editors to figure out that step for me.
While you have authored many books, the past year in particular has seen a flurry of new releases. Can you tell us about them?
My book Blood Sugar (Hard Case Crime) is a lean, mean, nasty, funny take on the urban myth of someone putting razor blades and poison into Halloween candy. Bent Heavens (Holt: Macmillan) is my latest YA novel, a very sober look at aliens as a means to investigate the concept of justice. This September will see the release of They Threw Us Away (Holt: Macmillan), [cocreated with artist Rovina Cai], the first of the three-volume “Teddies Saga,” my first middle-grade work: imagine Toy Story meets Lord of the Flies. My first comic book series is coming in 2020 but hasn’t been [officially] announced yet. And, of course, there’s The Living Dead.
Speaking of The Living Dead, this title is a kind of collaboration. You were asked The Living Dead book coverby the George A. Romero estate to complete his unfinished manuscript. What did you think when they contacted you, did you wonder if it was a prank?
My heart was racing during that first phone call. George was my favorite artist of any medium. To be able to collaborate with him on his final zombie work is just beyond what I could have ever imagined when I was five or six, watching Night of the Living Dead for the first time with my mom.
What was it like writing The Living Dead using the papers Romero left behind after his death? How does this project compare with your collaborations with living legends, such as Guillermo del Toro?
It was far more akin to a standard collaboration than I would have guessed. To start with, I had the partial manuscript he’d written. To that, I added many months of research, analysis, interviews, and so forth to shape a better concept of the direction George might have been headed. But after I started writing, elements magically kept showing up!
At one point, we discovered 100 more pages. At another point, we found a nine-page letter in which George had sketched out where he was going with some of the plot threads. So it was like he was still out there, emailing me new stuff. It was disruptive but a constantly pleasurable puzzle.
Why do you love horror, and what are some of your favorite works in the genre?
You hear stories about near-death experiences giving people new leases on life. I think horror works like that in smaller ways.
Horror makes me feel alive and vibrant, happier and funnier, more courteous and sensitive—it does all that in contrast to the content. I really think it does this across age ranges. Some of my most often-recommended books are Janne Teller’s Nothing, Ramsey ­Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark, Kathe Koja’s Bad Brains, Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, and Gina Wohlsdorf’s Security. I recently made a list of my favorite horror movies of the 2010s, and my top five were Under the Skin, Hagazussa, Upstream Color, ­Climax, and Mandy.
Why do you think horror is so popular? Which direction do you see the genre headed in the future?
Horror often plugs into modern fears, and right now, I’d say it’s plugging into angers as well. There’s a passion behind horror right now I haven’t seen in my adult lifetime, writers pouring their hearts and guts into the genre, not just reflecting an increasingly toxic social climate, but slashing and stabbing against it.
My hunch is we’re going to start seeing fewer identifiable monsters—vampires, werewolves, and, yes, zombies—and begin seeing new creations and concepts better able to contain and express the horror bleeding into people’s everyday lives.

Becky Spratford is a Readers’ Advisory (RA) specialist in northern Illinois and the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (2d ed., ALA). She runs the popular blogs and Readers can connect with her on Twitter @RAforAll  

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