Title: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume I
Author: Daniel Kraus
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 27, 2015
May 7, 1896. Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected.
His second life will be nothing like his first.
Zebulon’s new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there, he will be poked and prodded by a scientist obsessed with mastering the secrets of death. He will fight in the trenches of World War I. He will run from his nightmares—and from poverty—in Depression-era New York City. And he will become the companion of the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.
Love, hate, hope, and horror—Zebulon finds them. But will he ever find redemption?
Ambitious and heartbreaking, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One: At the Edge of Empire is the epic saga of what it means to be human in a world so often lacking in humanity.
Q&A with Daniel Kraus
Breakdown of the Book Cover
The Hardcover Lover: Daniel, how did you feel when you first saw the book cover? What are your favorite things about it? How does the cover art pertain to the story?
Daniel Kraus: I love this question because I’m relatively sure this is one of the best book covers of the past few years. I deserve no credit. In fact, I advocated the complete opposite approach—something very simple, like title text on an all-black book. That was minimalist; this is maximalist. I knew Ken Taylor was doing the art, so I wasn’t blindsided; the cover is very much in line with his band posters. What I like about it most is that it does what the book tries to do: it tries to make the ugly beautiful. It’s undeniably a beautiful cover, but the elements it pulls from the story are not: trench rats, WWI gas masks, surgery needles, and more.
History in the Book
THL: Why did you choose to include certain historical events in Zebulon (besides the obvious reasons)? Were there any particular moments in history that fascinated you, ultimately leading you to fictionalize them?
DK: One of the biggest challenges was reconciling the arcs of character and plot with the arc of history. I mean, that’s just what historical fiction is; there was just more of it. So obviously there are big moments that you cannot ignore (World War I), but even within that you have to shave it down to, well, what sort of armed force, which battle, what weapons, etc, etc. There were definitely thematically rich events that simply didn’t fit into the logistics of the plot—I’ve forced myself to forget all of those. On the other hand, there were some amazing accidental syncs where I needed something plotwise and history just served it up to me.
Time Traveling Back in Time
THL: If you could go back in time to any of the events in The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire, what would you choose and why? Do you have any personal connections to the event or are you just extremely well read? (We hear you read over 200 books for research!)
DK: The easy answer here in the 1920s; it seems like a pretty fun time to be in New York, as long as I can time-travel out of there before the Great Depression. I suppose, though, I’d choose pre-WWII Hollywood. It’s not entirely pleasant—that much is pretty clear from the book—but it certainly was some kind of wild dreamland. Second question: no, I don’t think I have any personal connections to any of the events. It’s pretty far-flung from my era. Ask me again about Volume 2!
Daniel Kraus is the acclaimed author of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One: At the Edge of Empire;The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume Two: Empire Decayed; The Monster Variations; Rotter; and Scowler. With filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, he wrote Trollhunters. A writer, an editor, and a filmmaker, Daniel lives with his wife in Chicago. Visit him at DanielKraus.com.