What’s that you say? You’re not in the mood for yet another friggin’ zombie book? I can understand that. Over the past few years—I would say since the publication of Max Brooks’ comical Zombie Survival Guide—zombies have experienced a sort of renaissance. (Heh, get it? Renaissance? Reawakening? Regeneration? No? Okay.) We saw a remake of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, we saw a bunch of undead invade the gaming world in such titles as Left 4 Dead, and we saw new comic series debut, including the popular Walking Dead, which has its own strangely flat, melodramatic TV show now.
You might say that zombies have gone through a period of oversaturation. I’ve wandered too many aisles at Barnes & Noble only to bump into a table devoted to silly zombie parodies. You know the genre has played itself out when book titles such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Married with Zombies are striking chords with readers.
Now, I’ve loved zombies since waaaaaay back, when I first caught Night of the Living Dead at a revival house in Southern California, some time back in the early 1980s. I became a George Romero nut, at least through Day of the Dead, and I did my due zombie diligence by digging up old zombie short fiction and old Hammer films. Yes, as a teen, I immersed myself in the undead. Even today, I get a guilty-pleasure kick out of pop-culture treasures like Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, and I’ll occasionally make time for novels such as Brooks’ World War Z (soon to be a Brad Pitt film) or Madeleine Roux’s Allison Hewitt Is Trapped. And I’ve been known to disappear into my home theater for hours, giggling maliciously while I play Left 4 Dead.
Still, even I recognize that the zombie genre is suddenly very tired. I was happy to see its revival (heh get it?—okay, never mind) a few years ago, but now I’m just as weary of it as you are. Particularly in fiction.
Which probably leads you to ask, “So, uh, why did you write a zombie novel?”
And my answer, of course, is, “I didn’t.”
One of the things I wanted to do with Blood Red was provide a truly original take on a tired genre. I wanted to subvert expectations. I’m not going to go into too many details about my approach, because only about a dozen people have read this book so far, and chances are, whatever I write would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say, while writing Blood Red, I kept this notion at the back of my head: You aren’t writing a zombie novel. Yes, my book is positively choked with corpses, and okay yeah they come back to a sort of reanimated state … yeah, sure, uh, but they ain’t zombies.
When you finish reading Blood Red, you’ll see what I mean. (And while I’m on that subject, go ahead and click the contact link at the top right of this page, and get in touch with me about purchasing one of my limited edition paperbacks! Joy!)
So, anyway, I didn’t write a zombie novel. And yet—whoa!—it sure feels a lot like a zombie novel. It feels like a zombie novel for quite a bit of its length, truth be told. But my goal was to yank the bloody rug out from underneath you, particularly once you get to the later chapters. Whether I was totally successful in that aim, I’ll let you decide. But I hold a certain pride for the way I maneuvered the “undead” storyline, avoiding the clichés, and coming up with something that I had never seen before. (One early reader told me he detected a little Day of the Triffids influence, and I can see it, but it’s a slight influence at best.)
What does an author do when he has written a novel that appears to abide—at least in the first act—by typical genre stereotypes, but only later breaks down those stereotypes to become something unique? How do you communicate a book’s potential charms to literary agents who, let’s face it, resort to snap judgments in regards to the slush pile?
Now, I’m not saying that Blood Red is some unique masterpiece of style and wit. Heck, it’s my first horror novel. All I know is it was a fun, challenging thing to write, and I know it has some odd, tricky things going for it. But I’m finding it nearly impossible to communicate those things to the powers who might usher this book toward publication. Because I’m certain that most of the agents I’ve sent Under the Skin to have taken the most cursory of glances at the first chapter and have bellowed, “Bllleeechh! Not another goddamn zombie novel!” while spastically hitting the Delete key.
Hey! I didn’t write a goddamn zombie novel!
I wrote Blood Red.
Give it a look.