Interview with Paul Loh, author of “The Greater Number”
Paul Loh is an ex-Navy submariner. He is a horror author, and a musician in the band, Chief Loh. He has been an amateur paranormal investigator, comic strip artist, stand-up comedian, improv comedy troupe actor, children’s book writer and illustrator, poet, English tutor, pizza delivery driver, teacher’s aide, faux painter and movie extra.
“The Greater Number” is not his first zombie story. He is the author of ‘The Nocent part 2: Advent of the Scathing’.
Zombies are running rampant all over the world. They’ve been reduced to their basest instincts and can tell the living from the dead by the smell of fear. They behave like animals with a pack mentality.
A man who thinks he has been chosen by fate to lead them has no fear. He believes he is the Hand of Karma, sent to rid the world of humanity’s evil. Can anyone stop him?
Cover Art (c) Steve French.
Q. What is the significance of the title “The Greater Number,” what does it mean and how did you come up with the idea?
A. I have heard the dead referred to as the greater number because there are always more of them than there are of us. Well, in a zombie apocalypse, the ratio is much more skewed and the contrast, far greater. I wanted to come up with a zombie book title that didn’t contain the words zombie or dead in it. I had also done this with my first zombie book, ‘The Nocent part 2: Advent of the Scathing’. There’s a sense of poeticism, as well as a sense of despair in the title, ‘The Greater Number’. The dead have almost always outnumbered the living, but that isn’t a problem usually. It isn’t until the dead go about actively recruiting the living into their ranks that this becomes a problem.
Q. Your book is written in the first person from the perspective of your protagonist, Hewlett Fen-Chang. What can you tell us about him?
A. Well, with me being half-Chinese and half-Korean, I always tend to put Asians in lead rolls in my stories. ‘The Nocent part 2: Advent of the Scathing’ had Jeffrey Ahn, among others. I guess, as they say, you write what you know. Hewlett basically reacts to the events of the story in the way that I might if I was in his shoes. Perhaps it’s a lazy way of writing, but I do try to add different characteristics in the supporting cast. I mean they’re not all a bunch of ghetto redneck Zen geeks (which, by the way, is what Jeffrey Ahn describes himself as).
Q. Did writing from the first person perspective create any challenges for you when it came to introducing overarching concepts about what is going on in your story in terms of a zombie apocalypse?
A. Again, you’ve got some lazy writing here on my part. The whole book isn’t from the first person perspective. I only use that in the scenes in which Hewlett shows up. The rest of the chapters are from the third-person perspective. This all has to do with the way in which this story came about. One night I had a dream about being in a small town and meeting a crazy old Asian lady who kept saying, “Chee kon yeh mom weh.” The next morning, I wrote out the events of the dream. With the addition of names and some dialog, this dream transcript became the first chapter of my book. I am a big fan of David Wellington, who first put out his books chapter by chapter online. I decided to follow that format. I created a blog into which I briefly described what my objective was, and then put out the first chapter. Every week on Monday and Friday I wrote a new chapter and posted it online. It was a very stream-of-consciousness project. I typed it straight into the blog. I had no idea where the story was heading or where it would end up, but I just kept writing it and feeling intuitively where I thought it should lead. I believe it took me around four months to complete the book. Once it was all out, I collected all the chapters, proofread them, added a cover and put it out for Kindle on Amazon.com.
Q. Apocalyptic zombie stories are very popular these days. Why do you think that is, and how is your story different from the rest?
A. I think it’s both a blessing and a curse that zombie stories are so popular these days. I’ve been writing about zombies since the 80’s. It’s a blessing in that my writing might actually have a halfway decent chance of getting noticed by somebody in this climate. It’s also buried amongst an avalanche of other stories, many of which are indistinguishable from one another. Just like any other trend that comes and goes, there are a lot of Johnny-come-latelies whose hearts aren’t really in the stories. I remember about a decade ago when swing music suddenly had a huge upswing in popularity. All of a sudden, there were a dozen swing bands out there. Where did they come from and where did they go? Once the fad died out, only one or two remained. Unfortunately, there could end up being a zombie backlash in which the public becomes sick of zombies and those of us who loved them before they were popular will have that much more of an uphill battle to stay relevant.
Q. Where do the walking dead come from in your story?
A. A lot is involved in the origins of the undead in my story. I would actually be giving away about 60% of the story if I reveal it here. Suffice it to say, it involves history, anthropology, crypto zoology, science, the Bible, aliens and a bumbling Japanese millionaire.
Q. The villain of your piece is Hadji – or is he a villain? He feels he can work together with the dead to eliminate all evil. How is that supposed to work, and why don’t the dead just eat him?
A. The dead have been reduced to their basest instincts. They have an enhanced sense of smell and can tell the living from the dead by the smell of fear. They also travel in packs like wolves. Hadji, who does not fear the zombies, has become the leader of a pack of zombies. He leads them to fresh meat. To the zombies, he is a good leader because he knows where to find people to eat. To him, the zombies are loyal followers who do his bidding because in his mind, if you have any fear, it is because you have something to hide. If you have something to hide, it is because you know that it is wrong to do and you do it anyway and are therefore evil.
Q. Who or what are the “Hand of Karma” in your book?
A. Hadji thinks of himself as the Hand of Karma because of his belief about what he is accomplishing by bringing the zombies to kill people. Hand of Karma also refers to the disillusioned living people who follow Hadji as a visionary cult leader. They believe that the people that are being killed by the zombies are paying for their sins. Karma is rearing its ugly head, and they are the hands and feet of Karma, dealing retribution to the bullies of the world and so forth.
That’s one thing about me is, I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdogs of the world. I was a teacher’s aide who worked with special needs children of all sorts. There were those who had physical disabilities, mental disabilities and whose families had financial difficulties. I, myself have bipolar disorder among other things. Some of the most heart-warming stories out there are about the underdog finding inner strength. But there is also the darker side of that very story. There are those who turn to hatred and anger instead of inner strength to overcome adversity. In a zombie apocalypse, humanity itself becomes the underdog. It’s just a matter of which energies within yourself you use to fight with. Many of those in the Hand of Karma have been bullied and stepped on by the very people that are now being ripped to shreds by the zombies. They believe this to be their come-uppance. This is their day of glory, revenge and retribution.
I’ve always gravitated to stories of the underdog. There is a certain isolation that one feels when one’s body or mind do not have the natural ability to compete with those perceived as being fully able-bodied. It takes heart and spirit, which will always triumph over body and mind, to get back up and keep going. Stories that depict that isolation have always appealed to me. The movie, ‘Alien 3’ was probably the least appreciated of the series, but it was my favorite. These people had no one to count on, but themselves and they had to learn how to work together or face death. Star trek’s ‘Deep Space Nine’ also had a group of people isolated on a space station. The Bajorans were the underdog when it came to the Cardassians, but they were able to gain their freedom. ‘Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl’ was the story of how a family deals with forced isolation. The Jews were the ultimate underdogs when it came to the Nazis, but they too were able to gain their freedom. George Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’ is often thought of as the least of his ‘Night of the Living Dead’ sequels, but it is my favorite. Here again is a group of people isolated underground that must work together in order to survive.
Q. Is your book the first in a series?
A. I am currently working on ‘The Greater Number 2: Devoid of Souls’. The trilogy will end with ‘The Greater Number 3: Sleep of the Dead’. Following that will be a collection of short stories, ‘Tales From The Greater Number’, expounding on certain incidents hinted at in the books.
Q. Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know about that we haven’t covered already?
A. I would just like to leave our readers with this thought: zombies force us to face our own mortality. You can’t just add the word ‘apocalypse’ to any Hollywood monster and have it make any sense. Whoever heard of the ‘werewolf apocalypse’ or a ‘Freddy/Jason apocalypse’? The only reason most people in slasher flicks don’t survive is that they act in a tactically disadvantageous manner. A smart person can easily escape a man in a mask with a knife, but it is much more difficult to survive when the threat is all around you and will stop at nothing to kill you. Believe me, I love a good slasher flick as much as the next man, but nothing quite connects with me on such a deep level as a good zombie story. To all the real zombie story lovers out there, I’ll keep writing them and I’ll keep reading them if you keep writing them too.