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Interview: Paolo Bacigalupi, Author of ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN

Ever think of what goes into making packaged meat products? Well, you may want to because they may turn you into a ZOMBIE. Well, maybe not. But that's what happens in Paolo Bacigalupi's latest book, ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN. In this atypical zombie thriller, three boys uncover some questionable practices at the local meatpacking plant and work toward preventing a zombie apocalypse.

In this interview, Paolo Bacigalupi shares his inspiration for this story, his attack strategy for hunting zombies and his favorite disgusting packaged meat product.

What was your inspiration to write this book?

It started with just wanting to give a student in my wife's classroom a fun read. He was someone who was pretty convinced books didn't have anything to offer him, so I took it as a challenge to create a story that would engage him as much as video games and movies did.  If we want kids to become readers, we have to deliver stories that are worthy of their attention.

What kind of research did you do to prepare for writing this book about a meat factory that begins producing zombies?

I've always been aware of industrial food problems. I think it started with reading Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation years and years ago, and then continued as I've watched various e. coli outbreaks, mad cow scares and the occasional horse meat scandal.  

If you had to attack a zombie, what would be your strategy?

I'd go for the knees, cripple it and keep moving. 

This book gets kind of gross...Running through cows that are packed tightly together, finding syringes in a feeding trough, smelling the odor from that massive pond of cow poo and of course, bashing a zombie to bits with a baseball bat! Why did you include these descriptions in the story?

If anything, my descriptions of industrial meat processing and feedlots are probably still too sanitized. Check out the story of someone who went undercover as a USDA meat inspector for a truly nauseating description of an entirely legal meat processing operation.  

Overall, though, I was interested in starting a conversation about where our food comes from. We get these nice, pretty packages of ground beef in our supermarkets with labels like "100% natural ground beef," but there's no history behind them. I wanted to fill in a little more of that history and ask the question of whether we're okay with how we go about processing our food. Maybe we're fine with it, maybe we're not, but you at least have to know some of the information so that you can start to have an informed opinion.  

Illegal immigration is a major concern within this book since a main character's family is deported, and he's left to fend for himself. Why did you add this issue in with the issue of food production?

Food production and immigrant workers are so tightly intertwined that it's almost impossible to separate them, actually. Meatpacking plants have a history of exploiting undocumented workers, so the immigration and identity issues that the book raises were almost built-in, right from the start. I was happy to have those ideas in the story, because I continue to be interested in how we define what an "American" is. Is it someone with the right documentation? Is it someone who has grown up all their lives in America? Is it the blond haired, blue-eyed sports jock? These questions have become more pressing to me as my son is half-Indian, and he's now encountering some of these same questions, growing up in rural Western Colorado, as Rabi does in the fictional Iowa that I created for the book. 

You recently ran a contest for fans to find the weirdest industrial meat product for a chance at winning a copy of ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN. What were some of the most memorable pictures that were sent your way?

My absolute favorite was a canned whole chicken. Someone sent me a short animation of the chicken being poured out of the can and onto a plate…. it's one of  the most nauseating things I've ever seen. 

What would you like readers to take away from ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN?

More than anything, I want them to have a good time reading the book. I want them to enjoy hunting zombies through corn fields and sneaking into meatpacking plants and to have the thrill of fighting through zombie hordes. If they happen to come away thinking more about where our food comes from, or thinking more deeply about how we define ourselves as Americans and what that means, well, that's just a bonus. 

And if you can tell us, what are you working on now? 

My next YA book is called THE DOUBT FACTORY. It's a sort of a thriller/con novel about public relations and how corporations defend their products from being regulated. The main character is a girl who is discovering that her father does ethically questionable work in order to provide for the family.