The moment I signed with Cedar Fort to publish my YA fantasy, I felt it was time to step out of the box and try my hand at something a bit different before starting the sequel to Woven. Shaking things up makes writing interesting to me, either that or I'm in ADDenial Land, whichever one comes ... hey look, a dollar!
So I thought up an idea that's been on my mind for some time. I never thought anything would come of it. Then, I did a short piece for the Platform-Building Campaign last year, and it garnered a surprising reaction - over 100 comments! "Whoa," I said. "I wasn't even trying with that one." Watching The Walking Dead added fuel to the fire, and so I went into serious mode in December. Since then, now that I have another story coming out, I've been asked this question from friends and fans: "So what are you writing next?" My answer: "I'm writing a novel about zombies!"
What's the most common response I receive?
How do I respond to this response?
With age, and a beard, I could totally pull this off!
There's no science behind this post (well, maybe a little ...), so this is a brief history of zombies and my opinion on why zombies are more popular today than ever. Hold on to your brains!
Where did the idea of "Zombies" comes from?
The idea of the dead rising from the grave has been around for a long time, including Norse creatures known as Draugrs, but the word Zombie gets its roots from the late 19th century in Africa and Haiti through a practice in the Vodou arts that's suppose to raise the dead and make them slaves. Studies show that this practice is more a matter of hypnosis and the subjects aren't dead ... just mostly.
Then, in 1929, William Seabrook introduced the name to the USA through his novel, The Magic Island, and later, a 1932 Victor Halperin film, White Zombie, but not in the "I'm going to eat you" catagory.
This trend started with Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in 1954, which inspired George Romero's 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. These are the roots of the flesh-eating ghoul that we all know and run from today, and multiple variations have come since.
There are two basic categories of the modern zombie today: The Romero Zombie (flesh-eating ghouls that can turn you into one if they bite or scratch you) and The "Puppetmaster" Zombie (getting possessed, put under a spell, or sent into a hypnotic state). Both have the same idea behind it - spread it through an epidemic.
What about the "braaains?" How did that start?
Dan O'Bannon gets credit for that one, with his release of The Return of the Living Dead in 1985. These zombies went after brains for a different reason than you'd think - being undead is painful and brains are like pain-killers. Unorthodox, but original, so we'll take it!
Is the sub-genre shifting from Horror to Science Fiction?
Stephen King once wrote, "nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear." What's that mean? Horror ceases to be horror if you try to explain it. How is it possible for people to rise from the dead? The more successful stories didn't even try to answer this question. Others have some interesting, and laughable, explanations: radiation from a passing comet, the dead will walk the earth when "there's no room left in Hell," chemical/toxic waste spills ... the list goes on.
None of these really planted the idea that zombies could happen in real life, so we left it at horror and called it good ... until 1996 ...
The first Resident Evil launched the idea of an outbreak in a biological weapons laboratory, with the virus causing "zombie" side effects. This successful idea has spawned many profitable novels and movies since, such as 28 Days Later and World War Z. This game also put players into the heart of a zombie outbreak situation, calling for their survival instincts to jump in - hence, the Survival Horror sub-genre was born. This game went beyond its bounds with ever-evolving viruses that turn people into unstoppable monsters. Game on, my friends.
The moment you provide an explanation (and a viable one at that), zombies cease to be horror figures. They become something else, something that is being explored in ways never before conceived. Now, satire, and even romance, is creeping its way into the land of zombiedom success, thanks to Zombieland and Warm Bodies.
And we you have The Walking Dead, one of the most acclaimed and viewed television shows in cable history. It's headed into its 4th Season without any signs of slowing down. What sets this concept apart from the other is (SPOILER!) everyone is already infected. It doesn't matter if the zombies bit or scratch you. When you die, you come back as one of them. This sets the tone for great drama within the small group of survivors - especially if they are old or wounded.
Also, this sub-genre is becoming more about the characters and less about the zombies, which means gore isn't as important. This allows the market to broaden with PG-13 and TV-14 ratings. Finally! I don't have to sneak onto the Sci Fi channel late at night anymore! Wait ...
What zombies have in store for the future is up to the imagination.
Okay, so you got the history down, but why Zombies?
I'll sum it up with three points:
1) Emotional Breadth - no matter what, every zombie story has the potential to open the doors to every emotion there is on every level, and because of the situation, it's easy to empathize and care about the characters from the get go. In fact, when new characters arrive, who aren't zombies, we get excited, and immediately want to know who they are and if their intentions are good or ... not so good.
2) Justifiable Violence - I'm not a big fan of gore, but there is an audience for it, and while no sane person would think about running out into the street and bashing someone in the head with a crowbar, we wouldn't think twice about doing this to a rotting person who will stop at nothing to eat you. Once infected, they cease to be human, and if you encounter them, it's fight or flight. This ties into point 3:
3) Endless Possibilities - take any location, any point in history, any character, age, gender, whatever, and you have a story. The concept is the same: survival. Fans of the genre expect this, but they come back for more. Why? The limit hasn't been reached, and it likely never will. It also plays with hypotheticals like no other. What if you run out of food? Weapons? What about kids? Pregnancies? Disabilities? All it takes is one small variation to take this overused concept and make it fresh - as fresh as zombies can get. The possibilities are endless!
And I might just have a winner ...
The Next Big Thing was passed on to me by Tara Tyler, which means I get to answer questions about my current work in progress, and I couldn't be more excited to tell you more. It's nearing the last third and I'm surprised my critic partners, who hate zombies, can't wait for the next chapter. This is mighty cool, and it's certainly a great motivator to finish this book, too.
Anyway, here's a few questions I've been asked to answer:
What is the working title? - The Undead Road
Where did the idea come from? - the culmination of everything "zombie" I've ever seen as a kid and, as a kid, asking during a road trip, "what would happen if zombies existed?" This book is semi- autobiographical since the main character is a caricature of me at 14 in a zombie-infested world ... with a little sister that I never had.
What genre is it? - Science Fiction / Survival Horror
What actors would you pick for a movie rendition? - haven't thought that far ahead yet, but I have described one character as looking like a teenaged Zooey Deschanel.
What's a one sentence synopsis? - When their parents fail to return from finding a cure to the zombie outbreak, Jeremy and Jewel must rely on an infected girl who may turn on them at any moment.
How long did it take to write the first draft? - still writing it, but I'm into the 3rd act now. I officially started this thing in December.
Will it be self-published or represented? - I have a referral. No promises, but we'll see what happens there.
What other books would you compare it to in your genre? - I try not to write like other books, and there aren't many zombie books with characters this young, so that's a tough one to answer. Think Warm Bodies and Zombieland for a slightly younger audience.
Now I get to tag this meme on to a few others. Sweetness just courted with Awesomeness, yo! Lets run with the following:
Here's the thing: I'm a BIG fan of zombies. Always have been. If you knew my background, you'd know I'd be in trouble if my parents found out, but the thing is, I didn't like most of them. Many of them follow the horror ending - vague and unsatisfying to me. So then I thought, what if I write a zombie novel that I would be okay letting my teenage son read it ... when he becomes a teen. Essentially, I'm writing the zombie novel that I never got to read, but wanted to.
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This post is epic beyond proportions, so I'll leave it at that. Oh yeah! If you're reading this, right now, on Friday the 30th, I'm somewhere in the middle of Wyoming. I'll tell you why later, and it has nothing to do with zombies - no really, I mean it - severed pinkie promise!
Have a great, infection-free weekend, everyone! See you Monday.
I'm David, and did you notice my site URL changed? Cool, huh?