Q&A: 'Zombie' novelist Aleksandar Hemon

BY JASMINE PUTNEY | MAY 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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Today, Aleksandar Hemon, National Book Award finalist and author of The Lazarus Project, will read from his newest novel, The Making of Zombie Wars, at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.  The novel follows Josh Levin, an English as a Second Language teacher in Chicago who is striving to become a screenwriter but is unable to stick to an idea. Though he lives with girlfriend Kimmy, Josh becomes involved with a student, and an entangled web of disaster soon follows.

The Daily Iowan recently caught up with Hemon, a native of Bosnia, to discuss the book and his career as a novelist.

The Daily Iowan: Where did you get the inspiration for The Making of Zombie Wars?

Hemon: It wasn’t one source, it never is really. It came from the many ways in which I engage in the world and with the use of ideas and jokes, all of that came together. I watched a lot of film, films that have zombies in them, classic films as well. I also like to read philosophy, so I read Spinoza, and he provided some ideas and jokes.

I was also once hit on by one of my main students when I was teaching English as a second language. I declined the offer, but I kept wondering what it would’ve been like if I had taken up the offer. So with many things like that; writing allows me to put it all in one place, all these different choices and ideas. 

DI: Why do you choose to weave comedy into your writing about such a serious topic?

Hemon: Comedy is serious. It is wrong to think there is a strict segregation between comedy and tragedy. That’s not how life works. So in my previous books, I like to think there are a lot of funny moments.

I just wanted to … take risks while entertaining the readers, because in comedy, there are no second chances. If people don’t laugh at the joke now, they will never laugh again.

With more serious structures and drama, people can think a week or 10 days or six months from now about what they have read and feel the effect of that and change their minds about their initial impression. But with the funny stuff, if they don’t laugh now, they won’t laugh six months from now.

DI: Do you feel the remarks about violence in your book have real-world applications? Are you in some way making a comment on violence in our society now?

Hemon: Yeah, I am. I think in American society, violence is the main means of agency. In this country, when in doubt, we invade another country. People who believe in gun rights, they have effected the belief that if they don’t have access to violence, they are being deprived. Which is why they’re so intent on keeping their guns.

So in American culture and society, perhaps from the beginning, violence is essential. There were other ways to do it, obviously. The nonviolent movement, of course, showed a different way. But the dominant mode of engagement throughout history is to be violent, which I find deplorable.

DI: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Hemon: Read a lot, all kinds of stuff. Not just contemporary fiction, everything you can get your hands. What you call inspiration and I call engaging with the world. It comes from reading.

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