Suburban Zombie High Character Inspirations – Olivia

Artwork by Cordelia JonesSuburban Zombie High
Olivia

Olivia is the head of the cheerocracy and she rules without question. The only thing more annoying than her beauty is her obsession with telling people how beautiful she is. She currently is the cheerleader of one of the worst football teams in the state. She believes that she singlehandedly rules the school based on the assumption that all cheerleaders are born leaders. She lacks all book smarts and believes that her looks will land her a rich sugar daddy. What she lacks in book smarts she makes up for in scathing remarks, witty remarks, and condescension. One time, she made her Italian teacher cry by giving the stout woman such a tongue lashing about her wearing a brown belt with black shoes. The teacher relocated to another school. The only thing Olivia loves more than herself is her punching bags Min & Cadence.

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Olivia is based on several cheerleaders from my high school. The cheerleaders on our “A” team were all the pretty blond girls, but despite the misleading stereotype, they were class leaders, exceptional academics and benevolent to a fault. They didn’t wear their uniforms around school like a pervert’s fantasy nor did they ever practice beyond the confines of their after school practice schedules. They may have been ditzy, but it was a fun loving trait.

Now, onto some of the “B” team. Some of these girls held the bitterness of being second string a bit too close to their hearts. They were were like vipers, venomous and always ready to pounce. They believed they were the best thing to walk the halls of my school, and I never fully understood why. I applauded their confidence, but they looked down to the rest of the unworthy population like they were better than their junior varsity status. Now, I can’t deny their talent, they were good at what they did. But during their games, which were largely unattended, their cheers were so poorly written that I couldn’t help but laugh as they attempted to boost morale.

Overall, these B string cheerleaders became the inspiration for Olivia. Not in their current incarnation, but I had to ponder, what would happen if they were the best the school had to offer. My favorite scene in the entire book takes place at a football game in which cheerleaders are grinding and gyrating against one another. I always thought that this is what it would take to give them the attention they thought they deserved. This oddly erotic, ridiculous idea of a cheerleader is what eventually gave birth to our favorite-to-hate cheerleader, Olivia.

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Zombie High Character Inspirations – Cadence Winters

Artwork by Cordelia JonesSuburban Zombie High
Cadence Winters
Cadence is the brooding art student. Her focus in life is on getting into a prestigious unnamed art school. Her goth appearance makes her a bit of an outsider and an advocate for the disenfranchised. She obsesses about her portfolio and the missing piece that will help elevate her from mere-art-student to goddess of the art world. She is the only person who has heard of zombies prior to the apocalypse.

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Cadence draws her origins from more real-life people than any other character I’ve written. Her name, Cadence, is based on a girl I knew in college who would explain, “My parents were hippies, they named me Cadence because I changed the rhythm of their lives.” She was a hippy herself, but I always thought it’d be amusing if, despite her hippy upbringing she turned out to be hardcore goth.

Her obsession with art is partially self-inspired. However, this is where I decided to draw upon my students who are desperately seeking acceptance of art colleges. At some point, academics fade away and they become zombies themselves, producing uncanny amounts of work. They always seem to strive telling their inner struggle, which is pretty much identical for all seventeen-year-olds. They never seem to notice the irony that in their quest to be unique they fall into the traps of predictability. If you want to see art students explode, tell them there is a shortage of Cadmium Red acrylic paint. It’s not pretty.

In the first book, her passion is for her art. Later, she becomes a writer. This mirrors my own personal journey, wanting to be a writer, then an artist and a writer again. Unlike myself, she becomes an expert and has no problem throwing down the gauntlet, flaunting her expertise like no other. I have a tendency of putting my .02 out into the aether then seeing the baffled looks on people’s faces. Cadence takes my love of shock to a new level.

While I wish I could take 100% of the credit as the artist that inspire Cadence, I can not. If I am her father, then her mother was a peer from my high school. She was a modest artist who enjoyed her victories far more quietly. It wasn’t her defining characteristic, but it was one of the many things that made her an art superstar. She was the sensible one of my friends. As I would tell wild and outlandish stories, she would roll her eyes at the fibbing. While the rest of us might devise a horribly complicated method of building a bridge over a small brook, she would be the one to suggest just stepping over it. I have often wondered why she didn’t throw her hands in the arm and exclaim, “I’m surrounded by idiots.” This question gave birth to Cadence as we know her.

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Creative Collaborations

Olivia CasualI have always found that in the creative field, it is always worth your time to collaborate. This could be collaborating with others in your own medium, but I found there is something especially enchanting about exchanging ideas with somebody in a medium vastly different from your own.

I have my writing group, which I can not explain my appreciation enough to do them justice. Having an environment to sit down, delve into characters and share thoughts about writing techniques, or even swapping combat stories is invaluable. Not sure I’d say I’ve reached a new level because of them, but they’d support me if I wanted to make the jump.

Recently, I’ve been collaborating with an artist, a former student from my school. I thought, it’d be fun to talk about my characters, what inspired them and even more juicy, who inspired them. For me, it’s helpful just having a reference and at times, helps inspire me.

Cordelia Jones took my quick character write-ups and began literally giving my words shape. I have fifteen characters in my first book, far more than I had originally thought. Some survive the apocalypse, others find themselves falling just short. She took these brief descriptions and with just a rough concept of the book put her pencil to paper.

She’s mean and sends me teasers. But at the same time, each email I get a bit excited to see what might be happening on her end of the project. The sketches have been awesome, and the best part of them, they are absolutely nothing like what I thought they would be. She got the commission because she’s a talented artist with her own ability to think, analyze and interpret. I wiped my hands and said, “No directions, this is yours.” Her thought process is making me excited to get back into the writing and start reading with a fresh set of eyes. It’s provided much-needed motivation.

If given the chance, find other creatives to be around. Celebrate creativity in its many forms. You’ll find that it helps refuel your mind and when you find other people excited about expressing themselves, you go back to your work with a new charge. For me, I’m excited again and now I have work to accomplish…

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Upcoming

I have the luxury of teaching some of the most amazing students. They’re small bundles of talent that never cease to amaze and astound me. One of those bundles, Cordelia Jones, is currently working on artist renderings of the characters of Suburban Zombie High. She created these awe-inspiring murals for my classroom and I had to commission her to create something for my writing. Miss Jones decided it would be fun to send me teasers to let me see her interpretations of my characters.

She’s mean.

But of course this happens at the perfect time as the upcoming chapter to be released tomorrow is the first true introduction of zombies in my book. I’m excited because of course that’s what it’s all about. There will be humor, there will be loss, and there will be a lot of sass.

On another front, I sat down last night and reread many posts in I.Am.Maine. I am always shocked by the mental gear switching that happens between my writings. I’m impressed with myself for changing tone and heart in a book. I’m only a few days away from starting to remaster and even release the chapters of I.Am.Maine. They were always intended to be rough drafts of my personal views. I’m excited to polish them, and submit them all over again. So keep looking for that!

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My Advice to Writers

photoI often see the quote, “To be a better writer, read more.” It made me start wondering what advice I would give to an upcoming writer who needed some pearls of wisdom. It dawned on me last night. While I was avoiding cleaning my apartment I realized there had been one major thing that had influenced me over the past few years. About three years ago, I joined a writing group.

The group started as a continuation of National Novel Writing Month. When we met for our furious word frenzies, we talked about doing something that lasted longer and was a little less stressful. It was rough going at times. There were meetings that I was alone and just plugged away at doing what I was doing. There were other times when we had so many people that we struggled to find space in our coffee shop. It eventually grew to “the usual crowd” where we would have five or six at any meeting.

In the group we have a technical writer, an english teacher, a graphics teacher, a special ed teacher, a stay at home mom, and a woman making writing a full-time job. Between us we have a variety of writers who are at different places in the process. We have a veteran author who has been published multiple times, a couple newly published authors and some still going. We have traditionally published, online, self-published, ebooks and the diversity continues. None of us have taken the same path, and that has become the most valuable tool amongst the group.

I can not stress how useful this group has been. At last week’s meeting I had the ability to discuss platforms, social media, editing techniques and how to work with beta readers. I don’t want to emphasize the importance of any one role as everybody had input. I frequently ask the veteran logistic questions about the industry and how things could be done. I also turn to the novices (myself included) and we brainstorm ideas of how to reach target markets. We’re serious about what we’re doing and because of life all have varying degrees of investment in what we do when writing. However, the supportive atmosphere has made this one of the best writing tools I’ve experienced.

I’ve been part of writing groups before, but this one has been the best situation for me. We meet for two hours every other week, talk for a half hour or so (sometimes the whole time, sometimes not at all) and then we write. There will be pit stops to share a funny quip or ask a question, but the goal is the same, we’re here to get a step closer to finishing that novel. I’ve begun sharing my goals as an attempt to be held accountable and sometimes I fall far short of achieving them. Instead of feeling pressure, there’s support to keep going and sharing stories about why it happened or what went awry.

If there is one piece of advice I could give a fledgling writer or even an experienced writer, genius rarely happens in a vacuum. Join a local writing group (or start one as I did) and after some time, it has the potential to be the support network that a solitary crafter needs to help keep pushing them forward.

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