I write zombie stories. WAIT! From some of you, I can already hear the collective groans. Zombies? Hasn’t that been done to death? (Pardon the pun.) Actually, I agree with you in a way. It seems you can’t drop in to a writer’s group without seeing a dozen zombie books being pedaled. So what could I possibly have to say that might interest you? Well, if you like a good bit of controversy, stick around, because I am going to tell you what is wrong with the zombie-writing masses, and why MY books stand out from them. Along the way, I will give you some others who have been getting it right, but I am really serious when I say I will step on some toes. Hopefully, when you finish reading this, you might give a zombie book a try. If it is mine, great, and if it is one of the few I mention, that is good too.
I’ve been in love with the zombie genre for decades. I saw the original Dawn of the Dead in the theater…and that was it for me. Ever since then, they have been my guilty pleasure. However, it wasn’t anything I ever set out to write. Actually, Dakota (by Todd Brown) is the first novel I wrote. The first whack I took at zombies came after reading Monster Island by DavidWellington. It was then that I was enrolled in a college Creative Writing class. I figured it would be fun, and so I penned my first piece as an assignment. The instructor pulled me up after the next class and raved. She told me it was obvious that I loved the subject and that I should write something longer.
I am one of those people who has to study things and do lots of research. So…I started reading all the zombie fiction I could. However, there wasn’t much. This was just before the indie/self-published highway exploded into the massive beast it is today. I found a few good titles: (The afore-mentioned) Monster Island, The Rising, Dying to Live, Day by Day Armageddon, and of course…World War Z. Unfortunately, I also found some really awful stuff out there. Names aren’t important, that isn’t what this is about. However, I will give you a few things to look for when shopping the market that are dead giveaways in just a bit.
When I set down to write my series, DEAD (The Ugly Beginning, Revelations, Fortunes &Failures, and the recently released Winter), I wanted to make it about the characters…NOT the zombies. Sure, there is death and destruction…all the stuff zombie fans like. However, I decided to go the way of one of my all-time favorite novels, The Stand, and bring in a large cast of characters. Then, using a format inspired loosely by George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, I rotated the chapters through various perspectives. I created heroes and villains of all shapes, sizes, ages, and sexes.
As the story unfolded, I refused to write an outline in order to prevent becoming linear. I soon found pages going by with little or no mention of the undead. Over time, I created people that fans of the series have built bonds with, learned to love, and in some cases…hate.
I didn’t reinvent the wheel...or the zombie. But having sold a few thousand copies, I feel I have created something that resonates with not only the zombie fans, but with those outside the genre as well. So what is the big secret? I read what is out there. After a while, a lot of it began to squish together in a mass of pulp not worthy of recycling. It was the same story over and over with cardboard cutouts of generic characters who I cared little or nothing for. It was violence and gore for violence and gore’s sake. I could predict who would live or die within a page or two. Most were simply regurgitating the Romero premise: band of “good” guys hole up and create bastion, gang of “bad” guys come and spoil it and (most) everybody dies in a big (anti) climactic battle in the end.
So here is my first tip: Read the negative reviews first. Do they all mention the same things? Bad grammar, poor editing…etc? There is a disturbing trend in the indie scene of core groups basically spamming Amazon with Five-star reviews for each other. So look around and note the names writing the glowing reviews that completely contradict the one- and two-star reviews. This may seem odd, but even my own negative reviews are helpful if you are considering one of my titles. One person said I spent too much time on description, too many characters, too much detail…not enough gore. I am okay with that. That coincides with the positive ones that enjoyed my character-rich stories, my descriptive voice, and my detail. Not all negative reviews are BAD reviews.
That brings me to my second tip: If the writer receives a bad review and has to roam the social media for people to rub their bruised ego and talk about how “ignorant and hateful” the negative reviewer is…run! Negative reviews happen. They hurt me no less than any other writer, but I NEVER respond to a negative review with a defense, nor do I ask others to refute the bad review in order to make me feel better about myself as a writer.
I want to take few minutes to talk about what makes my stuff stand out from the rest. (Not just mine, but also books like The Walking Dead, Breathers, The Loving Dead, and The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten.) Characters. It is really that simple. While each of these tales features zombies, they are much more than simply “zombie” books. They are STORIES. There is a difference. I could do an entire column about the poor editing, bad formatting, and all the rest. However, a good story can still overcome that if it has characters you care about. The best example I have of that is Eden. Some reviews blasted the lack of editing (I have been told it has been redone, but can’t say for sure) but they missed the wonderful work the writer did creating characters that had depth.
When I write, I try to get into the mind of the character I am writing to the point where it has been known to affect my actual mood. I have music for specific moods that I play while writing certain things and could do a column on that too, but I don’t really think it would be all that exciting. Mostly because what works for me likely won’t work for others…some, but that would narrow the audience.
So here is my challenge to those of you who might’ve turned your nose up at my opening line…if you like a good story, it doesn’t matter if it is zombies or zeppelins; broaden your horizon. At least say you tried it and THEN hated it. Heck, email me and I will tell you the next time when Dead: The Ugly Beginning or Zomblog will be free. I am banking on you becoming invested in the CHARACTERS that you will want to read the rest of the series. But if not…that is okay, too. However, I decided to