Zombies: Sometimes the tried and true is what people want
I’ve talked before about how it took me having a completely original idea to get into writing zombies novels (Dead Mech. Read it.). But what about writing straight up, Romeroesque zombie fiction? Is that overdone? Is the genre glutted with these types of novels?
No. Not if they are done right.
I had the good fortune of having my Apex Trilogy (Dead Mech, The Americans, Metal & Ash) published by Severed Press. If you don’t know Severed Press, they are a great small press out of Australia that had specialized in post-apocalyptic and horror novels. They have moved on to other things like sea monsters and kajiu and military space opera, but zombies are their bread and butter.
Only a couple months after Severed published my Apex Trilogy, I had the bad fortune of being laid off. Bye bye full time employment! So, I immediately started putting feelers out into the publishing world to see if I could land a gig with someone. It was either that or go back to being a chef or back on the road as a salesman, the only two things I was truly qualified for other than writing. One of those feelers went to Severed Press to see what they were looking for.
They responded that they wanted Romeroesque zombie novels or sea monster novels.
I had nothing like that stewing in my brain. In fact, I was completely against writing anything as boring as straight zombie fiction. I’m the guy that mashed-up mechs and zombies! I’m the guy that created conjoined twins, one alive and one undead! But to write something as plain as Dawn of the Dead where the dead come back to life and just eat people? Puh-lease! Boring!
Or, maybe that was the point…
The magic of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was that it wasn’t just a movie about the dead getting hungry for a human snack. It was a deliberate commentary on American society and consumerism. It was satire at its grisliest!
And I know satire.
So, I dug deep and wondered if maybe I had some Romero in me. Was there anything I wanted to comment on in American culture today that hadn’t really been touched by undead hands? It took me a couple weeks of brainstorming before I realized the idea was right in front of my eyes.
You see, I happen to live in a subdivision. Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes made of ticky tacky. Culs de sac and vinyl siding. Cut and manicured lawns and neighbors that wave to each other. Oh, and the most important part: an HOA.
What’s an HOA? That’s the Homeowners’ Association. The absurdity is in the name. HOA. Homeowners is one word. It should just be called HA, but it’s not. The ridiculousness was just waiting to be mocked.
For those that don’t know, the HOA board is the last word on what happens, and doesn’t happen, in a subdivision. They decide if people need to get notices for their lawns being too long or their shrubs being too short. They tell neighbors to rat on each other or to just deal with the complaint they’ve received because there’s nothing to be done.
“It’s in the covenants! It’s in the covenants!” is their defense.
I am not a fan of HOAs. They can quickly turn from an organization with the homeowners’ best interest in mind to a totalitarian regime bent on making suburban life a living hell.
Or living dead hell, as the case may be.
So, if Romero mocked consumerism, then I was going to mock conformity.
Z-Burbia was born.
I set my novel series in a suburban subdivision just like the one I live in and set it in my neck of the woods: Asheville, North Carolina. Now, this meant I had lots of fodder for my story. Asheville is a liberal enclave in a sea of conservatism. And my fictional subdivision was an HOA ruled, conservative dictatorship called Whispering Pines that was stuck in the liberal enclave surrounded by that sea of conservatism.
Except, now instead of being surrounded by a sea of conservatism, Whispering Pines, and Asheville, was surrounded by a sea of the undead. Politics go right out the window when the dead want to eat your face. Yet politics never really go out the window, do they?
I was able to blend the horror of the zombie apocalypse with the slapstick idiocy of an HOA struggling to stay relevant in a subdivision that was constantly besieged by the undead, cannibals, crazy cults, and random survivors just looking for a safe place to live.
The novel wrote itself (not really, I wrote it).
I channeled all of my annoyance with suburban life into a protagonist that was able to say and do things that I couldn’t. I turned everyday life into a very successful series. All without having to mash-up genres or come up with a radical new idea. I just looked at the soul of the zombie genre, where it all started, and built on that.
Sometimes the tried and true is what people want because that is what they can relate to. I know I can relate to my Z-Burbia series, and apparently so can thousands of others since it’s been in and out of bestseller lists for almost two years now. The familiar is often the best way to express yourself.
Write what you know, and all that jazz!
So, the lesson here is that sometimes, no matter how unoriginal something may seem, there is always a fresh way to look at it. Don’t shut yourself off to something because it has been “done”. Perhaps it has been done, but not as well as it should be. Tried and true does not mean perfected. Keep digging and you can find the idea in plain sight.
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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!