Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Genre: Zombie?

Hi, my name is Erin and I wrote a zombie book.

There. I admit it, loud and clear.

My idea for HOUND started as a short fiction submission for Permuted Press, the same place where my short story SAVAGE was picked up. I decided, hey, if I can get one story picked up by this press, perhaps my chances are good for getting a second story published with them. The anthology was all about a world after the zombie outbreak (instead of the running and screaming that takes place in most zombie films. Think, Resident Evil: Extinction instead of 28 Days Later.)

I love, love, love dystopian fiction. I also am a fan of zombie movies and video games for the most part. (Not a big fan of the old “classics” though.) My muse was off running full sprint, and I wrote a story about the childhood of who would later become the main character in a full length novel, albeit under a different name.

For the short story, I was all giggles. How cool are zombie gladiators? I felt I had come up with something original. Even with the short story was rejected, the editor commented on liking the idea, but the story ending was predictable. Then it was time for NaNoWriMo, and I wanted to participate for the first time. And I needed a fresh, new idea.

So I wrote HOUND. By the end of it, I was thrilled. I felt I had something different Рsomething beyond the genre of b-movie running and screaming from zombies, and always populated with one-dimensional characters with very big boobies that make up the clich̩. I wrote a zombie story about the characters, not about zombie fodder in the form of human beings.

Characters for me are alive, rule my books, and drive anything that happens. Most often I have a general outline, but then I’m as much a slave to my characters as the person who will eventually read the finished product. They dictate what I write.

But, I thought, zombie books don’t have deep characters, right? Aren’t they only clichés and card board cutouts with the purpose of being food for zombies? Of course, I’m making some assumptions here – based on the most general stereotypes – because I never read zombie fiction, and I certainly never intended to write it myself.

Somewhere in the mess I convinced myself that I was writing something else. Sure, there are zombies in my book. But this is about bigger things, I told myself. This reaches into other genres, I said.

I should have known when my first beta reader told me how she talked to her friends about the “awesome zombie book” she was reading that I was kidding myself.

As I’ve discussed in other posts, zombies seem to be a love or hate thing, but I guess so are a lot of things in a lot of different genres. There are people who hate spaceships, but I’m writing a book with a spaceship as my next WIP. I guess I was worried that HOUND wouldn’t be taken seriously if I pitched it as a “zombie book.”

A long walk with Erik involved me digging myself a hole and backing myself into a corner, where my feigned logic promptly collapsed on top of me.

“Zombies are popular and you have something original,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you pitch to market that’s hot right now?”

Tara Maya, who did a beta read for me, was arguing the very same thing, including the statement: You wrote a zombie book, and a damn good one. Deal with it.

So here I am, finally deciding on a genre. I put the word zombie in my query letter. I’m officially calling my manuscript science fiction/horror.

I am dealing with my fear of being a pigeonholed as a zombie fiction writer, one day at a time. And in the end, I can always get a pen name, right?

Anyone else ever have trouble finding their genre? How do you deal with categorizing your story if it straddles two or more genres?


Dominique said...

Well, I know the bind. But, I think maybe as writers we should worry less about the genre. Focus less on what to call it, and embrace instead that it is written. An agent and an editor can forgive you for calling it something other than what they call it. Call it like you see it. See it, know it, own it, be it.

Litgirl01 said...

Methinks you ARE (a cheesecake eatin) zombie! ;-) I read some of your published's good stuff!

scott g.f. bailey said...

My book, which will hopefully be on submission to publishers in two months after I revise it for my agent, is a retelling of "Hamlet." The whole time I was writing it, I kept thinking, "This is a stupid idea; nobody's going to want to read this but me; there is no way I can pitch this to an agent if I have to say 'retelling of "Hamlet" in my query.'"

And, you know, I was wrong. If the premise intrigues you, it will probably intrigue others. If the writing is good and the premise intriguing, it will probably land an agent and a publisher. Besides, zombies=cool gruesome.

Lady Glamis said...

It's like the layers thing I talked about on my post today. Some readers will read the zombie layer and some will read beyond that and see what else you were doing.

I have the same problem with my works.

What you have to focus on is what SELLS. What is going to sell your book? Probably the zombies. So pitch that and be done. :D

Tara Maya said...

Welcome to ZA. ;) Admitting you eat brains is the first step.

I think one of the things which makes your zombie book (yes, I admit, that's what I call it when I describe to my friends -- sorry!) stand out, *is* the depth of characters and world-building. And I actually think that's what makes it hot. It's the kind of twist which I think will appeal to a lot of people.

The Screaming Guppy said...

Welcome to ZA. ;) Admitting you eat brains is the first step.

Okay. I just LOL'ed all loud in my cube.

Thanks for the insight guys, and grats Scott on your success.

Mia said...

Hey :) First off... my other half is reading Monsterous, and made me read Savage because he said it reminded him of the way I write. I have to say I LOVED it, it was really packed full of wonderful visual descriptions. That isn't why I'm here, I was randomly looking at Twitter for the first time ever (I know, I'm SO late to the party...)and searched for the word "zombie" because I'm a huge zombie lover, and your twitters popped up (are they called twits? Or is that what I'm called? :)) and I thought "Huh, this person sounds cool" and looked you up and WA LA, you're the author of that story I read just a few days ago.. AND you're a gamer chick like me, AND you have a weakness for zombies. Now that was too cool for me. I had to say hi. So... Hi! Ok... long ass intro over, ZOMBIES!

I immediately LOVED the idea of Zombie gladiators, and could start seeing it in my head. I WANT to read your book, I will be crossing my toes that you get it picked up really soon. Permuted press are awesome, so I'm sure they will grab it. My other half is actually applying to them as an artist to do illustrations and covers... and since you like zombies, if you have a little time in your busy schedule check out our website - - which was a hugely fun project we did last year, and is an ongoing & updated thing too... basically it's astrology, but with zombies!

As for worrying about genre category... you know, as long as you're writing what you love, that's all that matters. What it seems you have is the ability to write in any genre you feel like jumping into, which is awesome! At least at this stage in your career your able to establish a reputation as being able to be versatile instead of writing to sell (picking a commercially popular genre and writing for it) and getting yourself stuck in a genre you don't really love. Writing to sell may be a necessary evil at times, but it can really bite you in the butt!