Zombies: Why original ideas sometimes work and sometimes don’t
When I first started writing professionally, sending short stories off and getting paid for them, I told myself I wouldn’t start writing a novel until I had sold six shorts.
Then that day came and I was left sitting there wondering what the hell I was going to write about. I’d always wanted to write about zombies, but there just didn’t seem to be anything original going on with the genre. It seemed, and no pun untended, dead to me.
Then one fine night I was watching television and an ad came on for Transformers 2. This sparked a train of thought that led me to my love of the mecha genre. Even though I had never really explored the genre in depth, I had always been fascinated by the idea of pilots in mechs kicking some serious ass.
Then my head went, “What if a pilot died in his mech and became a zombie?”
Dead Mech was born.
Zombies. Mechs. Zombies in mechs! It was the novel equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter coming together.
I started writing (and podcasting the novel) and by the time I was done with both I had built a solid fan base that was a mix of zombie fiction lovers, military fiction lovers, and mecha fans. Not a bad job for a first time writer.
But then what? Where to go from there?
I continued to write the Apex Trilogy (Dead Mech, The Americans, Metal & Ash), and was having a lot of fun doing that, but I felt I wasn’t done with the zombie genre. I had more story to tell.
Then, as luck would have it, I was at a con promoting Dead Mech with a bunch of other zombies authors and we were sitting on a panel. So was a a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Maberry. You may have heard of him (you better have if you are into zombies). He mentioned that agents were looking for YA zombie novels.
YA zombie novels? As in writing for young adults? Interesting.
On the long drive back from Pittsburgh (great city, that), my brain went into overdrive. I had eight hours to kill, so why not try to come up with an idea for a YA zombie novel.
I cycled through a billion ideas and tossed them aside. They’d been done. I was about to pull out what little hair I had on my head (I have even less now) when inspiration struck.
What was my main theme in Dead Mech? Family.
So, what if I made my YA novel about twin brothers, one alive and one undead? Perfect!
Not so perfect. One problem. The undead brother would try to kill and eat the living one which would make for a very short novel unless I wanted them to be enemies, which I did not.
Again, luck strikes, as I drive past a car with a baby seat in the back. I catch a glimpse of the sleeping infant and that’s when I realize that I can have one of the twins be an undead baby. And the only way to keep the parents from killing it was if the twins were conjoined!
Welcome to Little Dead Man!
Original idea, great theme of family and brotherhood, plenty of action and horror, the novel ended up having it all.
But, it also had a very weird concept. While I thought of the idea of conjoined twins, one alive and one undead, to be very original, most publishers and editors found it to be too out there to be marketable. My agent tried and tried, but we never found a home for the novel.
I received lots of “favorable rejections” from editors saying they loved the writing, but just didn’t know what to do with the concept. I’d actually created something too original.
Eventually I self-published the novel then went on to sell it to Permuted Press. It became one of the first of their offset printed trade paperbacks in their Permuted Platinum line.
It’s done almost nothing in sales.
This has a lot to do with factors outside my control, but also has to do with the one factor that was in my control: a completely weird, original idea.
I am very proud of the novel, and it has gotten great reviews and readers love it, but damn if I didn’t original myself into a corner.
So, when it comes to picking out original ideas for the zombie genre, always remember your audience. With Dead Mech I was able to cross over to the military scifi folks and the mecha folks. That broadened my readership instantly. But, for Little Dead Man, it was a straight up zombie novel with zero cross over. And no matter how original the idea was, not having that cross over made it way too easy for folks to set the book back on the shelf and move on to something slightly more familiar.
People love originality until they don’t and I learned that the hard way.
But, hey, at least I’m 50/50 on the original idea scoreboard. I’ll take that win and move on. It’s what a writer does.
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The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 30+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!
#SummerofZombie is the hashtag for Twitter, too!