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Anthony Breznican
February 14, 2018 AT 01:00 PM EST

George A. Romero may be gone… but you didn’t think that was going to last, did you?

The late director of Night of the Living Dead has one final story of the undead to share, and author Daniel Kraus has signed on to finish the incomplete novel that the zombie master was working on before his passing.

The Living Dead is the title of the book, and it will be released by Tor in Fall 2019, EW can reveal exclusively.

Kraus is the writer of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch series as well as the grave-robbing tale Rotters, and he’s co-author of the novel version of The Shape of Water with Guillermo Del Toro, his collaborator on Trollhunters.

He says Romero, who died from lung cancer last July at age 77, was one of the first people who activated his own storytelling instincts.

“I could talk all day about George. He’s the reason I’m a writer. He might be the reason I’m interested in art, period,” Kraus tells EW. “When I think back on all the artists who might have inspired me, I feel so lucky and so thankful that it was George — for his sense of humanity, his unacceptance of social injustice, his adamant refusal to let the human race off the hook.”

The original Night of the Living Dead became an instant masterpiece of modern horror when it debuted in 1968, burying social commentary on the political upheaval of the era within a tale of things that wouldn’t stay buried.

Romero went on to collaborate with Stephen King on Creepshow and the author’s killer-pseudonym story The Dark Half (among other projects), but he kept returning to zombies throughout his career. By the end, he was experimenting with new ways to tell the stories.

“Beginning with [2007’s] Diary of the Dead, George had moved into a new phase of thinking about zombies, with an intent to cycle them through genres,” Kraus says. “Diary was found-footage; [2009’s] Survival was a western. His next one was supposed to be a film noir, complete with black-and-white photography and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.”

Kraus said Romero knew he’d never have big budgets for these stories, but “could work small and not be under the hand of a studio system.”

“What’s exciting about the novel, though, is how it goes the opposite direction,” Kraus adds. “It’s huge. It’s a massively scaled story, a real epic, the kind no one ever gave him the budget for in film. In a book, of course, there is no budget, and in his pages you can feel his joy of being able, at last, to do every single thing he wanted.”

Except, of course, finish it.

Romero had toyed with the book off and on for more than a decade, but after his death, his manager, Chris Roe, and wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, began searching for someone who could finish what he started. The Living Dead will be edited by Brendan Deneen, who oversaw The Walking Dead novels by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga.

Completing the work Romero began involves some heavy lifting. “The state [of the manuscript] varied,” Kraus says. “Some of it was in tremendous, publish-ready state. Other parts, near of the end of what he wrote, were sketchier, clearly intended to be fleshed out later.”

Kraus is engrossing himself in Romero’s world to write as much of the book as possible from the filmmaker’s mindset.

“Only half the job I’m doing is finishing this book,” Kraus tells EW. “The other half is putting George back together, in a sense — not just from reading his every obscure interview and analyzing his every obscure work, but also immersing myself in the art that he loved. I’m studying his favorite movies, watching his favorite operas, listening to his favorite music, all in an attempt to find in them the inspirations he might have found. I’m taking thematic and structural cues from these works and working them into the book. It’s not like having George next to me, but it’s what I have, and I’m treasuring every moment of it.”

Here’s the synopsis for The Living Dead, Romero’s final contribution to the zombie apocalypse:

“On October 24th, John Doe rises from the dead. Assistant Medical Examiner Luis Acocella and his assistant Charlene Rutkowksi are vivisecting him when it happens, and so begins a global nightmare beyond comprehension.

“Greer Morgan is a teenager living in a trailer park, and when the dead begin their assault, the true natures of her neighbors are revealed. Chuck Chaplin is a pretty-boy cable-news anchor, and the plague brings sudden purpose to his empty life.

“Karl Nishimura is the helmsman of the U.S.S. Vindicator, a nuclear submarine, and he battles against a complete zombie takeover of his city upon the sea. And meanwhile, a mysterious woman named Etta Hoffmann records the progress of the epidemic from a bunker in D.C., as well as the broken dreams and stubborn hopes of a nation not ready to give up.

“Spread across three separate time periods and combining Romero’s biting social commentary with Kraus’s gift for the beautiful and grotesque, the book rockets forward as the zombie plague explodes, endures, and finally, in a shocking final act, begins to radically change.”

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