Exclusive Interview with Daniel Kraus, Co-author of THE LIVING DEAD Novel with George A. Romero!

Interviewed by Michael Juvinall – Horror Patch

Hit the link to purchase The Living Dead HERE!

Daniel Kraus is a New York Times bestselling author. He has written ten novels to date. His subject matter ranges from everything including horror, fantasy, thriller, comics, and YA drama.

Kraus has worked with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on the novelization for The Shape Of Water and Trollhunters.

His biggest and most ambitious project to date is being the co-author along with the late George A. Romero with the final word in his zombie universe, THE LIVING DEAD.

Sadly, Romero passed away in 2017 and never got a chance to finish the novel. Kraus was brought on to co-author and finish the book. Flash forward to August 4th, 2020, and The Living Dead was officially released by Tor Books to great critical acclaim.

I had the pleasure to speak with Daniel Kraus about working on the book and some of his other projects. Take the time to read the interview down below!

Horror Patch: I wanted to thank you for taking some time out to speak with me today.

Daniel Kraus: Sure, my pleasure.

HP: Daniel, you are the co-author of the new THE LIVING DEAD novel alongside the legendary filmmaker George Romero. If I’m not mistaken, the book was released yesterday (August 4th) on Tor Books.

DK: Yes.

HP: Can you talk a little bit about the novel. Is it a prequel, or is it related to George’s other living dead movies in any way?

DK: It’s related in the same way that all of his zombie movies were related. Which is to say, not explicitly. There are no characters that carry over from one to the other. But they all existed in the zombie universe that he created. It reboots the idea back to the zombie uprising day one. Then it goes for 15 years into the future. So the movies, as far as they ever got out from the uprising, was five years. This goes a full decade further than the films. It certainly can be seen as part of a shared universe. If you want the full Romero zombie experience. You could read the first act of the book, stop. Watch all six of his movies, stop and then read acts two and three of the book.

HP: Oh, cool. I have to admit that I have not read the novel yet, but I have a review copy coming from your publisher. I’m very much looking forward to that. How is it that you ended up co-authoring the book?

DK: Well, for a few reasons. One, when George died in 2017, he left behind many, many unfinished works. Unmade, unproduced works. To the best of my knowledge, pretty much all of those are screenplays, parts of screenplays, films, treatments, and so forth. He wasn’t a novelist by trade, so I don’t expect there is much fiction in there. But, he had been working on this zombie novel for on and off for about a decade and so about a month after his death, his estate, which means his wife and his manager. They told me he had this novel, and it was important to him, and it was a major final chapter in his zombie saga. It made sense to me right away that he wanted to have an epic finale. If he wanted to have a huge finale, it had to be in a book because, especially in the latter part of his career, he was never given the budget to make that kind of movie. 

HP: Very true.

DK: In the book world, there is no budget, there are no producers, and he could really go wild. He could go as big as he wanted to go. He could go as small as he wanted to go. In the book, he does both. If you look at his movies, a major studio probably isn’t going to get really excited about something really small, like Martin. But, they also are not going to permit him to do something giant like his original Day Of The Dead script. This book allowed him to go big and small. To get back to your question, the reason they chose me is that they were aware that I had gone on record throughout my career as being a Romero fanatic and not just his zombie movies but everything that he made. I’m a real student of his and have been since I was a little kid. And also because I was coming off of a couple of other collaborations. I was somebody who was known to be able to collaborate successfully. So I think those two things put together made me a potential choice.

HP: Did you meet Romero previously?

DK: I had only met him once. Mostly just socially. We did not know each other. We kind of met and were able to chat for a while, but it certainly was not about anything business-related. For all intents and purposes, no. So I had a lot of work to do. I knew his work inside and out. To complete the book, I really had to get to know everything I could about him. That involved rewatching the movies, commentary tracks. I read every interview with him I could find and also just talking to people who knew him. That included his manager and especially his wife. I just pelted her with hundreds of questions about just his viewpoints on everything under the sun so I could get a better sense of when it came to a decision to be made in the book so I could at least have some idea of what choice he might make. I might disagree with it because, at the end of the day, it is a collaboration. But I wanted to have as close a sense as I could to his inclinations.

HP: That kind of led to another question of mine. How was it that you tried to get into George’s mindset to finish the novel and still make it read like a cohesive and not disjointed and obviously different between him and yourself?

DK: Well, you know – everything about this book was difficult. Probably the most difficult was getting the voice down. It still had its challenges. We are two different writers. With any collaboration, you’re going to deal with that. However, I grew up with his movies so close to me, and I watched them so many times that my voice already included a lot of George’s voice, I think. Ultimately, to get to the nuts and bolts of it, I worked with his material first. Some of his material was very polished, but some of it wasn’t, and it needed work, editing. So, I started with that. In editing his work and, in some instances, beefing it up where he hadn’t had time to. I was able to create a hybrid voice. It came very naturally, actually. 

HP: What do you think the percentage of the book was that Romero had basically finished? What percentage did you work on?

DK: Yeah, I’ll give you two different answers to that. I would say as far as writing goes. He wrote about a third of the book. But, he also had left a bunch of notes – where a lot of plot threads were going. Also, importantly, the third that he wrote wasn’t all at the beginning. It was some at the beginning, some at the end, some in the middle. Once you add in his notes, then he really wrote about half. As I said, it wasn’t all the first half, and it was everything. That allowed the opportunity for George to be present throughout the book. Part of my job was connecting the dots of all these pieces that he had written. 

HP: So, he did have notes to guide you that he wrote himself. 

DK: Yeah.

HP: In what you’re saying. It sounds to me like when he was writing the novel, he was kind of writing it as he would film a movie. Most people know that movies aren’t filmed from beginning to end. They’re filmed in different spots of the screenplay. So it kind of sounds like he was doing the same thing with his novel as he was writing it.

DK: Sort of. It was more like he wrote on it in different periods. Like, he would write on it and take, who knows how long-off. When he came back to it, he might pick up somewhere else with the hopes of finishing. I don’t know if he thought of it as you stated it, but in effect, that’s correct. 

HP: How did it take you to finish the novel?

DK: I would say, maybe two years. With the editing, it’s longer than that. Once the editor gets involved, it’s more back and forth. But I would say the main writing was two years.

HP: Ok. Do you think George himself would be happy with the finished product?

DK: That was what I took pains to ensure. That’s what made everything so difficult, is that I was so adamant about keeping to his spirit and his theme and his interests. Everything that he would want. That created all the difficulty and the pressure. If he had written the first half of the book and I had gone crazy in the second half, that would be one thing. Instead, I was very careful to honor his vision. The closest I have is really his wife, who was there while he was writing it and had a sense of his intentions for it. She loved the book, and I think that’s as close as I’m going to get to George reading it himself.

HP: Did George’s wife or his manager have any say in what you were writing, or did you have full autonomy to write what you wanted?

DK: Yeah, they had a say. The estate is representing George as a co-author. They were very trusting, and I gave them a reason to trust me. At the very beginning, I didn’t just say, hand me the keys, I’m going out for a spin. I made a fairly detailed proposal that said here’s what exists with the book, here’s how I propose to pull it all together. They had a good idea of what I was planning to do. After that, they pretty much just let me do it and didn’t get looped back in until I had a draft. It then went to them to review.

HP: OK. I have to ask this. Has the book been optioned for a film yet?

DK: Yes, everyone asks that. I can only say there is no official news to say right now. 

HP: Great. I would almost imagine that it was optioned before it was even fully written.

DK: Who knows.

HP: So, it had to be a huge thrill for you being an admitted disciple of Romero and his work. Kind of like a dream project if you will.

DK: Yeah. Oh absolutely. It was beyond anything I ever dreamt of. I try to keep my dreams somewhat attainable. This is something that truly came out of the left-field that I never saw coming. I always say that George’s movies inspired me like a lot of kids were inspired by Star Wars. They were my favorite imaginative playground. I’m sure that I played zombies growing up when I was an adolescent and had a little video camera. I made my own version of the living dead with friends. I was pretty obsessed with his work. Flash forward two decades and to be invited to take part in finishing his 50-year zombie saga. It was stunning at the beginning, and it’s still a little bewildering today. I still can’t believe it really. 

HP: I can understand how much pressure you must’ve been under to not only give your due diligence to Romero’s name and his past work but for yourself to make it right.

DK: Yeah, I mean, thankfully, the pressure never came from the Romero estate. They were very trusting. A lot of pressure came from me. I felt like I owed him my best effort. This is my tenth book, and I’ve written a lot of complicated, lengthy novels. I wasn’t going to skimp on this one. This was something I was going to give my all and make it as deep and layered as possible.

HP: That’s awesome! As you had mentioned before, you’re really no stranger to working with filmmakers. You also co-wrote the novelization of The Shape Of Water with Guillermo del Toro along with his Trollhunters

DK: In the case of George, it was much harder because I didn’t have somebody to bounce off of. I just had the material, so I just had to treat the material as a sort of a valuable commodity and try to maintain it because there was a finite amount. So I really had to treat it precisely and find ways to tie his ideas together in a way that felt fluent. But I enjoy a unique challenge. With every novel, I try to do something significantly different than before so I can push myself into new directions, and this certainly gave me that. It gave me a lot of that. This was a real puzzle. It was like building a very complicated three-dimensional puzzle. 

HP: Right. In your other works, do you consider yourself more of a fantasy novelist or horror novelist because you have written other horror related books besides The Living Dead or The Shape Of Water? You’ve written the Rotters book The Monster Variations, Scowler. How would you place your books if you had to specify a genre?

DK: Well, I mean, it’s hard when you’re dealing with the entirety of my books because they’re all different. Some of them are horror novels, and some of them aren’t. It’s a case by case basis. I definitely don’t think much about genre when I start. The Living Dead is a different case because it’s part of the world of horror films, so they are horror in as much as Romero’s movies were horror. Which is partly, you know. Most of his movies weren’t really out to scare you as their primary directive. He had other things on his mind. Most of my books, with a few exceptions, I don’t think about in terms of the genre when I’m writing them. I do enjoy writing about dark things. I definitely enjoy writing about the grotesque. But that’s different from horror, and I just write it to see where it goes and then a lot of times, just leave it up to my agent and editors to figure out where in the marketplace is best for it. 

HP: George’s films, in particular, were known for his social commentary, especially like Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and most of his other stuff. Is there any of that in the book, The Living Dead?

DK: Yeah, tons of it. It’s sort of the primary fuel. His interests were never so much in zombies. He sort of accidentally backed into the whole zombie thing, to begin with. Aside from when he was younger, he never really watched horror movies or read horror novels. He wasn’t in his heart, really a horror guy, but that was the career that he kind of ended up with and so he used his zombies in the smartest way he could to accomplish in a trojan horse sort of way. He used them to make the movies he wanted to make by hiding them within zombie films. The book is filled with that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a major component of his films, and it was always going to be a major component of the book.

HP: Did you add any social commentary of your own to it?

DK: Oh, I’m sure I did. I had to write a lot of the book so, yeah. My way of looking at the world and my way of writing was so influenced by George that kind of stuff also tends to sound like him. 

HP: I see. In our current condition, going on in the world right now with the Covid-19 pandemic. What do you think George would’ve thought about this?

DK: Well, he wouldn’t have been surprised. I’ve asked this question to his wife, and she said, yeah, he would be unsurprised but still disappointed. His career was shaped around the hypothesis that people, particularly Americans, wouldn’t be able to draw together in times of crisis. I believe that he thought the zombie uprising should have been controllable. We should have been able to figure it out within a few weeks and control it. But, we couldn’t, and I think with COVID, it proves his point that if you can’t get people to all wear masks, there’s no way you can expect them to pull together to fight off the zombie hordes.

HP: That’s a very interesting outlook on what he may have thought. It kind of makes you think a little bit. You’re a Chicago guy as am I. One of the best theatres in the Chicagoland area, The Music Box Theatre is having a screening of World Of The Living Dead: Three By Romero Zombie Film Festival. It has special introductions by yourself. What did you do for that? What can you say about that?

DK: That is pretty straight forward. They’re playing Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and Land of the Dead. So for each one of those films, there will be a video introduction from me. I think they’re each roughly eight minutes long. I just talk about a little history for each film and talk about how it interacted with the book. Because every one of his six zombie films influenced different parts of the book. For a couple of introductions, I read a very small excerpt just to illustrate that connection better.

HP: Very cool. What’s next for you after all the press for The Living Dead? What are you working on now?

DK: I have another book coming out in September. A book for kids called They Threw Us Away. It’s kind of a scary teddy bear story actually. So something quite different. Then at the end of September, I have my first comic book coming out from Vault Comics. That’s an eight-issue comic called The Autumnal, and that is horror. 

HP: Awesome, that’s great. I want to thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with me about your career and your new The Living Dead novel that is out now from Tor Books. I wish you the best of luck with that book and whatever you do in the future, and I definitely look forward to seeing more from you.

DK: Thank you so much. Let’s hope that Chicago continues to be smart and open up, and we can get back into this city.

HP: Yeah. Thank you so much, Daniel. I really appreciate speaking with you today.

DK: No problem, thank you. Goodbye.

Find out more on author Daniel Kraus by visiting his website: http://www.danielkraus.com/

About Michael Juvinall (6047 Articles)
I am a devoted husband and father. I have been a voracious horror fan since the early age of 5 and metal fan since I was 14. I watch all horror films but my great loves are classic horror films: Universal Monsters, Werewolves, Hammer Horror and an all-around affinity for things that go bump in the night! I'm also a huge fan of extreme metal music.

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