Why did you decide to write about zombies? – Carol
Late one night as a child, the then Scifi network aired, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in black and white. This movie would define a genre for me and to this day I think back to the amazing storyline and the complexity in which Romero weaved his conflict. In every story, there is a conflict the characters must overcome. In his movie, the zombies were a threat, but the conflict wasn’t with the undead, it was with the living’s primal urge to survive. The zombies weren’t the conflict, they were the catalyst. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire is the antagonist. For Romero, zombies are more of a backdrop and the insecurities, fears, and lack of trust in this band of survivors is the real conflict.
I was a monster fan, watching movies far beyond what a child can understand, but I was captivated. However, I always came back to this idea of the villain and their relationship with the protagonist. Dracula is in an intimate battle with Harker, threatening to steal his one true love. As Dracula is defeated Harker wins. There is no winner with zombies. A character is faced with an immediate threat, and while they may win, their victory is only a reminder that they will continue this fight until they die. The story remains, the character’s battle is with their reaction to a world they can not survive within. Because of that, I’ve been fascinated with the psyche of the characters that force me to ask, “If my life’s work was trying to survive, would I survive myself?”
On your new book, what has been the hardest aspect of writing a zombie novel? – Jason
I wish I could say it was finding interesting ways to kill zombies in a suburban mall, but I’ve thought about it so much, I’ve got a mental list. In Suburban Zombie High the most difficult challenge was taking a group of stereotypes; the cheerleader, the jock, the minority, the goth, the crazy, and having them grow while maintaining a connection to an archetype the reader easily identifies with.
In this novel, Cadence takes the helm for a good portion of the story. In the first book, we see her as a goth, angsty, borderline whiny artist. With the joke being played out, I had to develop her a bit further. In the SZH: The Reunion, she’s set aside her paintbrush, channeling her angst and the zombie apocalypse into becoming a zombie writing, best-selling author. Even Olivia, who we are introduced as a vicious, snarky, vapid cheerleader had to grow. Her refusal to grow beyond a cheerleader and join the New England Patriots cheerleader allowed her character to refute growing up.
Unfortunately, I feel if a zombie novel is about the zombie apocalypse, the book is going to be one of the dozen books I’ve already read. I emphasize it being about the character’s reaction to this backdrop. In SZH: The Reunion, we have new characters experiencing zombies for the first time, we have a group of students who have ‘been here and done that’ and then we have veterans who have done this so often they’ve become desensitized. The difficulty is trying to pull out those strands and weaving a story about characters that are relatable without retelling the same story.
How do you come up with your ideas? – Susan
I was discussing an idea that is percolating in my head for a short story, and this question came up. My initial response was, “They’re just there.” For some reason, it has never occurred to me other people may not have this detective agency in their head, on a quest to unravel new stories. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t have at least a dozen moments of, “Oh, that could make an interesting story?”
I would say nearly all my stories come from my childhood fascinations. There was something about growing up an only child that really emphasized this idea of “playing pretend.” From having to explain how my Transformers were transported into a world with giant Turtles capable of Ninjitsu, to being certain if I worked hard enough, I could develop super powers. These stories were adaptations of things seen on television, novels or comic books. I’m certain the majority bordered on plagiarism, but story-telling had to start somewhere.
Later, I’m looking back at these stories and finding ways to pull out the unique strands into a larger story with an adult perspective. However, Suburban Zombie High is unique in the fact the story itself came to me in my adult life. I held a job requiring me to oversee extremely dysfunctional suburban teens and one day I had the thought, “If the zombie apocalypse happened, you’d all go down.” But I thought about it, I had a student in my class who I was convinced could survive, partially due to the sharp sting of her insults. The story emerged as I realized even in my imagination, the pain in the butt students would emerge victorious.