I know I’ve been absent from my own blog a bit lately. Don’t worry, dear blog-subscribers, I’m just working on a novel, finishing an edit and raising a baby. I will endeavour to write a blog post of my own this week (on commas), but in the meantime I am VERY grateful to some wonderful indie authors for making a guest appearance in my absence.
Today’s guest is zombie-loving Jack Wallen—the consummate creative. Once getting his artistic fix in theatre, the former actor is now creating hilarious characters of his own in his books Gothica, A Blade Away, I Zombie I and, most recently, Shero.
Me: Your character Jacob Plummer in I Zombie I is very sarcastic, which adds a wonderful, amusing quality to what is essentially a creepy, undead apocalyptic tale. His irreverent attitude to the zombies, giving them nicknames such as “Flaky” and “moaners” and generally taking the piss out of them, doesn’t diminish the horror and suspense you manage to create throughout the tale, though. That’s a fine line to walk. Discuss!
Jack: What’s really interesting about this is that there was much more humor in the first draft. When my wife read the first twenty or so pages she said, “You really need to take out the humor.” So I pulled it back a bit to keep it from going overboard, but realized that some people simply have to use sarcasm or humor to deal with overly-emotional situations.
I put a lot of thought into what would happen to me, if I were thrown into this situation. I came to the conclusion that one of two things would occur: I would either dive so deeply into a funk that deep-throating a pistol would be my only escape or I would open up the sarcasm floodgates and attack everything around me with humor. Making light of an insanely ridiculous situation is often the only route to sanity.
Me: Without making this a spoiler, did you have an ending in mind when you started writing I Zombie I, or did what happens to Jacob’s character just evolve as you wrote?
Jack: I actually allowed it to evolve as it went along. I do all of my first drafts in bed (writing them with pen and paper). I would hop into bed and say, “What do I want to put these poor people through tonight?” and just let it flow. It wasn’t until I got to the end of I Zombie I that I realized this story had grown beyond a single book. Once I had that mindset, I knew it was a trilogy and that the end result would be a bit different than what people expect. I have such a strong desire to deliver something new, something unexpected.
Me: In I Zombie I, I notice that there’s a heck of lot of pop culture references, everything from REM to I am Legend to Night of the Living Dead, Mad Max and Dawn of the Dead, as well as a few more highbrow references to artists like Jackson Pollack. You’ve also set up Zombie Radio, as a promotional activity, which operates as kind of a “bonus feature” to draw consumers into Jacob Plummer’s post-apocalyptic world. Several times Jacob even mentions that his situation is fiction made real and that, “Zombies were for goth girls to sex-kitten up and novelists to run into the ground. Zombies were simply not real.” It almost seems like you’re trying to create a kind of cultural “hypertext” about the story and the character, recognising that this is not the first Zombie book and giving a nod to “genre” throughout. Is that deliberate or just a happy accident of writing a character who is a journalist, so is very familiar with popular culture?
Jack: It was very deliberate. I looked at it this way—how can you write a book about a genre where the characters are unaware the genre exists? That would be like James Patterson writing a thriller whose characters had no idea murderers existed. The zombie genre has been around since the ‘50s, so why should characters existing in a story set in the future not know about George Romero? And since music is such a formative force in my life, why wouldn’t I want to give it a nod.
I want readers to connect to my books in as many ways as possible. I want it to be visceral, emotional…tangible. And I want to plant thoughts into readers’ heads that might stick throughout the story. Thanks to social media and the immediacy of media, people connect dots they didn’t used to connect. It seems that everything now exists on a finely woven web and nothing is left out. Music, movies, news, pop culture—it’s all there for us to consume in mass quantities. That is something that must be a part of a story that has room and attitude for it. Those are my books.
And with the I Zombie trilogy, the voice in each book is different. I didn’t want to have a trilogy where it seemed it was nothing more than a rehash of the same old prose. I wanted the readers to feel like they were getting something different, yet connected to the same story line and the same characters.
Me: You’re about to release a new Zombie book, a sequel called My Zombie My, which I believe is set thirty years in the future from I Zombie I. Can readers expect more of the same “undead” humor and horror with a slightly different cast of characters, or can you give us a hint as to what kind of surprises and plot twists might be in store?
Jack: No. The next book actually takes place right after the events in the first book. My Zombie My is the second book in the I Zombie trilogy (with a nod to Rob Zombie). I am, however, planning on a new series (as yet unnamed) that will take place 30-some years after the final book in the trilogy (Die Zombie Die) takes place. This new series will star one of the characters from the I Zombie trilogy, who is sort of introduced in the first book and become a critical element in the overall world at the end of the third book.
Me: Horror is a pretty popular genre and your books rip along nicely with a riveting blend of action, introspection, suspense and laughs. Had you tried querying agents and getting a traditional contract before you went indie? What made you decide to self-publish?
Jack: I queried a few agents for I Zombie I, but quickly realized how much further I could take this series on my own. It became very important that I have artistic control over this series and I knew the only way to do that was by going indie. Once I got I Zombie I published, I had no reservations or regrets.
I have not queried agents since and I have no desire to do so now. If an agent wanted to approach me, I would listen, but the deal would have to be fairly incredible for me to move from indie to traditional.
Me: Your latest release, Shero, is a superhero parody with a transgender protagonist, and would make a great graphic novel too. What made you want to write this book? Are you a superhero fan?
Jack: I have a lot of dear friends who live within the GLBT world. I came up with the idea of Shero because I realized they needed a hero to show the world anyone can be a superhero—regardless of what they wear, their sexuality, their gender, race, religion…the list goes on. I have always been a comic book nerd (among being a nerd for many things). At one point I thought Shero would have been a great graphic novel, but there are things I can do with words that cannot be done with pictures. And I don’t want anyone to paint Shero as an eyesore. I want everyone to see Shero as a beautiful human being, with incredible fashion sense—and killer nails. ;-)
Me: Shero is a bit of a departure from your other novels, Gothica, A Blade Away and I Zombie I. Were you concerned about the possibility of stepping outside of your fan base? What sort of response have you had from your fans and do you think Shero might garner you a new set of fans?
Jack: The good thing about both Shero and A Blade Away is they both touch upon similar topics. That alone brings the same fans to the same books. And Shero also offers an appeal to readers who wouldn’t normally enjoy a superhero book. Anyone who likes Chick Lit will enjoy Shero. How could you not? What with all the Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, and Vera Wang references.
Currently I have three series I am working on: I Zombie, Fringe Killers, and Shero. I believe this offers me a solid fan-base that is not too widespread. Although fans of Shero might not be so inclined to read I Zombie I, they would enjoy A Blade Away and Gothica. And fans of I Zombie I would also enjoy both Gothica and A Blade Away.
The fans of Shero are ecstatic about a superhero story that doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. I believe they are going to wind up being the most hardcore of my fans, simply because of the nature of the main character. Transgendered readers have longed for something to read that is not erotica. They now have that in Kate Spades.
Me: I see that when you first started out you tried to do everything yourself. Do you now work with editors, formatters and cover designers, or do you still do the lion’s share of preparing your work for publishing?
Jack: I write the books, design the covers, and do the marketing. What I don’t do is the editing. I am a self-proclaimed HORRIBLE editor. I am convinced the zombies in I Zombie I would make better editors than me.
Me: What do you think is the single most important piece of advice you could give to a self-published author?
Jack: Never give up. It’s a rough road to go alone, but it’s one that offers such enormous possibilities. There will be a time when you think, “Why am I bothering?” The sales won’t show up, no one will review your books, you will seem alone in a sea of successful authors. Don’t let that get to you. Keep plugging away. And most importantly…just keep writing. The more you write, the better you write. And don’t ever forget there is, in fact, an element of luck involved with this. The more you participate, the more chances luck will catch on to your coattails and bring you fortune.
Me: What’s with all the cats, Jack? (My partner will only tolerate one).
Jack: I’ve always been a sucker for a cat. We started with only one and then that cat’s sister happened along. From there it was a series of, “Hey, I hear you like cats!” and “Oh my gosh look what’s on our doorstep.” The last kitty (Wookie—one of the most dynamic felines I’ve ever met) was a flood victim rescue that we had to have. We are holding steady at six and will probably stop there.
At least that’s the plan.
Thank you, Jack, for being such a great sport and for making Zombies fun again as well as scary!
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