Today I am pleased to be interviewing Jessica Meigs, author of The Becoming; a series of post-apocalyptic zombie horror coming soon from Permuted Press. Read on for discussion of the apocalypse, pulp .vs. literary horror, her favourite authors and thoughts on the zombie movie that started it all.
Tell us how you got started as a writer and who or what your early inspirations were?
I’ve been a writer for almost as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of time as a kid writing goofy little stories that mostly mimicked things that I had read; I know for sure that as far back as second grade, I was actually actively writing down the stories I came up with instead of just telling them out loud. However, it was only in the past year or so that I started to get really serious about my writing and becoming a professional author. It was last October that I decided that if I was genuinely serious about making a career out of writing that I would actually have to start selling my work. I was intrigued
by the process of self-publication on the Kindle and Nook, especially since I’d been reading eBooks for quite some time and was a big fan of the technology. As I had had a decent demand from people on Twitter for the book I was writing, I decided that that was the way to go.
I self-published the first part of my story as The Becoming: Outbreak in the last week of December 2010. The response at the time was moderate; in that week, I sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 copies. In January and February, though, my sales absolutely exploded, and they continued to surge with the release of my second novella, The
Becoming: Safe House, in the last week of February. Both novellas were on the Amazon Bestsellers’ in Horror list for quite some time; I don’t believe either one dropped off of the list at all during the month of
And then on April 1st, I received an email that, I believe, changed my life: to have my little zombie story (and the three following novellas I’d planned for release) reissued by Permuted Press as a trilogy beginning at the end of this year. To turn the offer down would have been ridiculously stupid, as I was after exposure more than money at that point, and so I signed the contracts and became, in my eyes, the professional writer I wanted to be.
As for my early inspirations, they were wide and varied. Everything from L. Frank Baum to R.L. Stine and Lois Duncan and everything in between. I was a heavy reader who dug into anything I could put my hands on (and really, I’m still that way!). When I was in the 8th grade, I started to get really into the science fiction and fantasy genres and in the process read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and, later, The Lord of the Rings. After that, I was sold on the possibilities of the genre, and since then, I’ve made it a habit to re-read and study LOTR every year. I’ve had many, many other inspirations, but Tolkien’s writing in general (and LOTR in specific) were the catalyst for me starting to write more than silly little short stories.
The first novel in your zombie horror series, The Becoming, is soon to be released by Permuted Press. Could you tell us why the zombie appealed to you out of all the classic monsters in the bestiary?
I’ve been fascinated by the concept of zombies and zombie-like creatures (and the post-apocalyptic / dystopian subgenre in general) ever since I saw Night of the Living Dead on TV as a kid. The fascination was just sort of a side thing initially, mostly along the lines of, “Oh, look, a zombie movie on TV.” But it was when I started to really get into reading zombie literature about two or three years ago that I started to see the possibilities of using zombie lit as a vehicle for the multitude of ideas that I wanted to shove out there for the world to read. The zombie genre is incredibly flexible and can
be used to show just about any theme a writer wants to put on display. You can take average people and make them extraordinary just by throwing them into this unimaginable scenario where they find themselves not only fighting for survival but fighting for survival against these creatures that have the faces of the people they love. The very idea of having to, say, shoot your mother or your father or a sibling or even a child because they’re trying to kill you is one of
the worst things I could imagine, and what other way outside of zombies could I show that horror on a grand scale?
What do you think makes The Becoming unique?
This is a tough question! I think when it comes to it, one of the major things that makes my trilogy fairly unique is that it’s a zombie book that isn’t about zombies. It’s really more a story about survival, about friendship and love and finding out who you are and what makes you human and digging your nails in and never letting go of that. It’s about recognizing your destiny when you find yourself facing it, and taking hold of it and fulfilling it. It’s a trilogy that is very much character-driven as opposed to blood-and-gore driven like a lot of zombie novels seem to be nowadays; I’ve read many that are a borderline list of anti-zombie military tactics and weapons lists right out of a survivalist’s wet dream, but those books tend to focus on that to the expense of characterization. I didn’t want to do that. The zombie apocalypse is just the circumstances the characters live in; the weapons are just the tools they use to survive. Ultimately, it should be about the PEOPLE themselves.
Is there one character in The Becoming you identify with the most, and why?
I think in an effort to keep from confusing any potential readers, I’m going to stick with characters from the first of the trilogy (especially since the cast of characters essentially doubles by the beginning of the second book). I believe if I had to choose a character from The Becoming that I not so much identify with as look up to, it would likely be Cade Alton. Cade is a very strong-willed, tough-minded woman who takes no shit from anybody, who is willing to stand up for what she believes in and is willing to fight to survive in the dirtiest manner possible if she finds it necessary. She’s a very strong character, probably the strongest female character I’ve ever written, but at the same time, she isn’t afraid to be feminine.
She’s also, by all accounts, the most original character I’ve ever written; my editor tells me that she’s incredibly realistic and very believable, and she generally seems to be readers’ favorite character (overwhelmingly!). She’s definitely the one I’m the most proud of, to say the least.
However, that’s not to say the other characters aren’t ones I identify with though. There are elements of the other characters that feel as if they’re a part of me or my life in general. As an example, Ethan Bennett is a police officer; growing up, my father was one and I’ve had a great respect for law enforcement officers ever since. And the
character Theo is a paramedic; I myself am an EMT-Basic, so there’s an element there that I can definitely identify with. There are others, but to try to list all of it here would make this entirely too long!
What are the pleasures and pains of writing a series of novels as opposed to a standalone?
Standalones are, in my opinion, far, FAR easier to write than series novels! With a standalone novel, once the end of the story is reached, typically it’s over and done with. But with a series, you have to know exactly where you’re going in book two and three while you’re writing book one, so you can adequately foreshadow and work hints of the forthcoming plots into the first book. And if your book gets published and something drastic happens in the third that changes your storyline? You end up having to turn tricks to twist the story to where you need it to go WITHOUT contradicting anything in the first
book. Writing a series, at times, is the very definition of insanity, and honestly? I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Why do you think zombie and post-apocalyptic horror is so popular at the moment?
I think that the zombie and post-apocalyptic horror genres have always been popular; how else to explain the presence of publishers like Permuted Press, who specialize in the genre and have been around for quite some time? However, I believe that, like vampire literature, zombie lit experiences ups and downs in popularity, some higher than others. And right now, we find ourselves in the midst of what I can only call a renaissance of paranormal literature; everywhere you turn,
there’s books on paranormal topics.
I am of the opinion (and I might be wrong on this, but all evidence points to the contrary) that zombie and post-apocalyptic literature is experiencing its present surge because there is a segment of readers who have gotten tired of the whole vampire shtick. Everywhere you look, it’s nothing but vampires and werewolves, a phenomenon that I can only blame on the popularity of series like Twilight. These fans of paranormal literature are looking for something other than vampires
to read about, and I think a natural movement towards zombies has begun that, I believe, will only grow with the future releases of movies like World War Z.
Is there one particular writer of horror fiction that has inspired you? If not, please discuss two or three of your favourites, what you feel is unique about their work, and what you think you took from reading them.
I read a LOT of books, both in the horror and non-horror genres (non-fiction included!), so I’m inspired by tons of writers in all the genres I enjoy reading. But focusing JUST on the horror genre, if I had to choose my favorites (who have, incidentally, inspired me greatly in the process), it would definitely be Max Brooks, Mira Grant, and Jonathan Maberry.
I absolutely LOVE Max Brooks’ World War Z. When I’m asked about what my favorite zombie books are or which ones I would recommend to someone new in the genre, I typically recommend this one first. While the Zombie Survival Guide is a useful book to have for reference in the process of writing a zombie novel, it’s World War Z that has made a significant impact on my own writing. As a historian, I feel that the oral history style of writing Brooks took in WWZ was an interesting way to write it; it really made the events of the book feel like they really happened, and I think that made it the most frightening of all the books that I typically recommend. I think Brooks absolutely nailed the way human nature would play out in the process of a zombie apocalypse or other major, worldwide disaster.
Mira Grant is another author that I’ve been absorbed by. She’s writing a trilogy called the Newsflesh Trilogy. Currently, the first two books are out: Feed and Deadline. They follow a brother and sister approximately fifteen years after a major zombie outbreak called The Rising as they cover a presidential campaign as journalists/bloggers. The world Grant created in the process of writing her two novels is absolutely brilliant. Unlike Brooks’, which seems to look more at the behavior of ordinary humans and governments in the event of and aftermath of an outbreak, Grant’s novels are more in line with the type of zombie novel where the zombies have a heavy presence and the virus is a major motivating factor of the plotline. I don’t want to say anymore about the plotline of either book because it would likely spoil it for future readers; however, if you haven’t read either book yet, definitely pick up Feed (which is available as an eBook for only $7.99 on Amazon) and give it a try. Let’s just say there’s a reason it’s been nominated for a Hugo Award!
And lastly, Jonathan Maberry. My first exposure to Maberry was through his book Rot & Ruin, and I was totally blown away by it. It’s really more of a Young Adult novel, but I had heard so much good stuff about it (and it included ZOMBIES, man!) so I had to give it a try. And I’m SO glad I did. Unlike a lot of zombie authors, Maberry really hammered home the idea of the humanity of the zombies, if that makes any sense. He reminds the reader throughout the books via the main character’s older brother that the zombies used to be people and they’re just sick and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity when they’re put down. That’s a point that I think a lot of authors miss, and while I won’t say how that influenced my own trilogy directly, I will say that I definitely took that aspect of a zombie apocalypse away from Rot &
Romero’s Night of the Living Dead or Fulci’s Zombie, and why?
If I had to choose, I’d definitely say Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. I think the main reason for this is because it has some connection to my childhood (in that I first saw it as a child, as I mentioned previously) and because it’s the movie that kicked off my interest in zombies. The black and white and heavily shadowed film adds to the horror, and the film was one of the first to show an African American man in charge of a group of Caucasians, which in the 60s was very significant and highly unusual in film. Besides all that, who can beat the creep-factor of lines like, “They’re coming to get
What is your own opinion on the perceived division between pulp horror and literary horror? Do you think there is a difference or is it all smoke and mirrors?
I’m probably going to get shot for this opinion, but I’ll throw it out there anyway. I DO think that there is a difference between the two, but the difference is all smoke and mirrors. I think that the “literary” horror simply involves an author writing the exact same things as an author of “pulp” horror, with the sole difference being more flowery sentences and the overuse of a thesaurus to make it more “respectable.” Despite the supposed respectability of “literary” horror, I think pulp horror sells and will always sell far better than literary horror, because it offers an easier escape for the average
I once read a three-part article on The Monster Librarian where she discusses the reasons why the horror genre is treated as if it were the redheaded stepchild of the literary world. The article is here and she definitely outlines my thoughts on the matter far more eloquently than I could ever hope to. It’s essentially a must-read for horror fans who are tired of their favorite genre getting picked on!
What can we expect from Jessica Meigs in the future? Are there other avenues in the horror genre you wish to explore? Will you be looking to break into other genres as well?
The more immediate things you can expect from me are the releases of second and third books in The Becoming trilogy (after, of course, the release of the first book later this year). Besides that, I’m currently sitting on a stack of ideas, including a half finished manuscript involving poltergeists and a murder mystery (when I say it like that, it sounds SO hokey!), several novellas that will likely be expanded at some point, and a few other ideas that I don’t want to reveal because they’re really good ones, still in the research stage, and I’m trying to keep the details from getting out at this point. As you can see, I’m definitely planning to break out into other types of horror, but at the moment, zombies are definitely my focus!
I’m not sure if I’ll break into other genres at this point. If I happen to get a great idea that isn’t horror, I’m sure I’ll write it,
just to see how it turns out. If it ends up being something sellable/marketable, then sure, I’ll look into getting it published (most likely self-published, though). But I can’t say yes or no at this point!
Thank you for answering my questions, Jessica. It’s been a pleasure.
The Becoming (Book One in The Becoming Trilogy) is currently available for preorder from Permuted Press on BN.com for only $10.08!
NB: This is the preorder link for the paperback copy; the eBook isn’t available for preorder yet. Please also note that 12/01/11 is a placeholder date and it will most likely be out before that date.