Working Stiffs: An Interview With Zombie Writer Lucy Leitner

Lucy Leitner Author of "Working Stiffs"

Lucy Leitner Author of "Working Stiffs"

When we heard about Lucy Leitner and her upcoming Burgh-centric novel about zombies, a press-release wasn’t enough. A Pittsburgh based author, Southside setting, yinzer zombies? This sounds likes it’s gonna be awesome! The book will be officially launched this June, so Boring Pittsburgh immediately got in touch with the local writer to get the scoop and all the juicy details about Working Stiffs

What is your Pittsburgh background?

Though I grew up in the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Va., I’ve lived in Pittsburgh since 2001, when I was a freshman at Pitt, and I have adopted the city as my hometown. Even when I thought Oakland was the entire city, I decided that Pittsburgh was the perfect place for me. I briefly returned to the D.C. area after college, only to find that I’d become so spoiled by cheap beer, broken parking meters, and the small-town ability to know everyone that I had no choice but to return.

What exactly is Working Stiffs about?

Marshall Owens, an ex-meth dealer turned CEO of Pro-Well Pharmaceuticals, has been trying to cut costs by abducting homeless and injecting them with a serum that turns them into zombies that he uses to staff his factory. But when the dead workers unionize, sort of, and storm the corporate headquarters in the South Side, the working stiffs in the office become literal working stiffs. There’s cubicle trench warfare, along with staplers used with deadly force and a wonderfully unsexy sex scene in a janitor’s closet.

Ok, so how did you come up with the story?

I was sitting in a mandatory office safety meeting at a deadly boring customer service job I had five years ago when the agenda moved to what to do during an outbreak of workplace violence. Basically, we were told to barricade ourselves in a conference room. And I thought, what do I need this for? I’ve seen Night of the Living Dead. And thus, Working Stiffs was born. Zombies in the office, though extremely obvious, had inexplicably not been done before. I wrote my protagonist for a screenplay in college and thought he’d be a fantastic leader in a zombie apocalypse, so I crafted the story around him. Other characters are composites of people that I’ve met while working at a variety of office jobs. Then my father briefly served as the president of the ill-fated American branch of a Ukrainian pharmaceutical company, which prompted the setting.

Does the story take place in Pittsburgh?

Yes, all the action occurs in the South Side, with most of it in that industrial office park on the Greenfield side of the Hot Metal Bridge. Though all the locations (except street and neighborhood names) are completely fictional, they are highly influenced by real places in the area.

What makes the story unique?

The characters have heard of zombies before. This is a Pittsburgh book—I will not erase the contributions of the great George Romero for convenience. It’s also funny. As the title and cover suggest, Working Stiffs is not the bleak, fatalistic zombie world of The Walking Dead. There are no worldwide apocalyptic implications. Zombies are basically macabre slapstick. This is light summer reading for people who enjoy severed heads.

How was the book Pittsburgh influenced?

Though you can put zombies anywhere these days, it seems wrong to pull them from their native land (I am overlooking Haiti because it is not Pittsburgh). I also tie in a lot of sports references. You just cannot escape that aspect of Pittsburgh. And you’re always told in writing classes to write what you know, and, for better or for worse, I know the South Side. And if there was ever a place where a zombie would go unnoticed, it’s Carson Street in the morning.

Why do you think  the zombie scene so popular in Pittsburgh?

Zombies as we know them today are as much a Pittsburgh innovation as curing polio and putting fries on salads. We are extremely proud of our own. Bret Michaels still sells out shows here. We host rallies for dancing contests when the Steelers are involved. Zombies are our thing, and we’ll fight to keep them here with the same vigor that we’d use to keep real ones out. In general, I think it’s also a backlash against all the pretty vampires that spark such rage among many horror fans. Zombies are not sexy. They will never be sexy. They are rotting corpses. But they can be hilarious. And you can’t have a werewolf walk or a ghost walk. Other monsters just aren’t suited for large groups. Just like the disparate groups forced to work together when the horde of the hungry dead comes for them, zombies bring people together.

What else have you done?

I run a blog called Hollyburgh in which I cover the Pittsburgh film scene. My years of work on Working Stiffs got me really into zombie satire, so I recently started The Daily Ghoul, which delivers the news as it would be had the zombie apocalypse happened.

Where and when can we buy the book?

Release is set for early June. The book will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major outlets. I’m making a push to get it into local stores.

Where in the Burgh can we find you hanging out?

I spend most of my time writing on my laptop in my home office or backyard these days. When I do venture out, I can usually be found at my reserved table in the back of Excuses in the South Side or at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, where I am slowly working toward VIP privileges.

Do you think Pittsburgh is boring?

Pittsburgh is far from boring. Wherever you look, there’s always something interesting going on. If it’s not a high-stakes sporting event or a themed show at a dive bar, it’s a bomb threat. No matter what, there’s excitement. And fireworks. From mainstream to the underground, we have an absurd amount of talent in everything but baseball.

From the book jacket:

Working Stiffs is a hilarious, action-packed tale of survival in the fast-paced world of pharmaceuticals.

Something has gone horribly wrong in the Pro-Well Pharmaceuticals factory, and ex-meth dealer Marshall Owens, the company’s owner and drug genius, must keep the surrounding Pittsburgh area from finding out. Unfortunately, the undead assembly line workers have other plans.

The infection spreads and chaos reigns supreme as the surviving Pro-Well employees battle their way through offices with whatever weapons they can scrounge from the supply closet. They must get outside. But they don’t know that The General is out there amassing a shambling, rotting army of Pittsburgh’s finest.

Will the employees make it? Will two repulsive workers find love in a janitor’s closet? How many office workers can one man take down with the blade of a paper cutter and some staplers? Will Marshall Owens go back to selling meth? And most important of all, will Pro-Well’s stock value plummet?

Find out all the answers in this brilliant new horror/comedy novel reminiscent of the style of Christopher Moore.