When people find out that I’m an author, their first question for me is, “What do you write?” It has taken me a while to answer, without embarrassment, that I write about zombies. I never set out to be a zombie writer. In fact, I prefer writing contemporary pieces—no vampires, no werewolves, no aliens, and definitely no undead—but that didn’t stop me from trying something new.
Let me explain: A few years ago, while I was still new to the writing business, I joined a critique group (the best thing I’d ever done), and at one of our get-togethers it was suggested that each group member write a few pages outside of their comfort zone. Pick a different genre and give it a whirl. It would be fun, they said. It would be interesting, they said. It would push us to write something we were unfamiliar with, they said.
So I went along with the idea, since I’m always up for new challenges.
The romance writer in our group was assigned to write a fantasy story, and the children’s writer assigned the task of writing a romance. Because I opened my big mouth and said, “Bring it on! I can write the beginning to any story!” (I said this in jest), they tasked me with writing a zombie western romance. Yep, a zombie western romance. That’s what I get for opening my big mouth.
Not to be outdone, I accepted the challenge, put myself in an Old West frame of mind, and wrote the first chapter. They laughed at the humorous parts and cringed at the gory ones, then they told me to go home and write more.
At this point, I’d just finished writing Desert Rice, a truly emotional journey for me, and I wanted the opportunity to write something fun, something new, something exciting. What would be more fun than writing a zombie western romance novel?
I decided to try a few things I’d never tried before—writing in third person, and writing from a male perspective. Could I write from a dude’s point of view without it sounding too feminine? I was curious to find out.
In 2010, I used NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote every day for the thirty days to create a first draft. I was having a blast, and my critique partners were enjoying it, but partway through, I realized I had several plot issues that wouldn’t easily tie into a nice bow at the end. There was just too much, and it would end up being a huge novel, given the way it was unfolding. I wasn’t sure what to do, and just about gave up. I’d done everything I’d set out to do—write in third person and write from a male perspective—and I was okay with the result.
But my critique partner and good friend, Diana Tracy, wouldn’t let me quit. It wasn’t enough for her. She suggested I turn the Zombie West concept into a series. She actually insisted upon it. I resisted; this wasn’t supposed to be for real. Not really. This was a joke, a writing exercise and nothing more. She kept insisting, and the more I kept writing WANTED: Dead or Undead, the more I realized that she was right. She was always right.
The other thing I realized while writing it was that I really enjoyed my characters and the whole Wild West setting. I think down deep inside I was always meant to be a cowgirl, and this was my outlet. These characters drew me in and made me fall in love with them. I wanted to know the end of the story, to give them their happily ever after, and so quitting while in the middle of their story was just inconceivable.
And that is how a silly writing exercise turned into the Zombie West trilogy, which Evolved Publishing picked up, and which has since won several awards. I’ve embraced my zombie-loving side, and instead of embarrassment, I’m proud. I took on a task unfamiliar to me, and feel as though I’ve succeeded at it fairly well.
Just goes to show that, sometimes, it’s a real good thing to step out of our comfort zone and try something different. We never know where it might lead.
So what is next for me? Who knows? Maybe I’ll tackle witches or aliens. Maybe I’ll write a children’s book or maybe a fantasy. I’m no longer going to limit myself, but remain open to all the various possibilities. I’ll write the story that wants to be written.
For now, I’m thrilled that Dead Plains, the 3rd and final installment in the Zombie West trilogy, is officially releasing on Monday, October 21st, just in time for Halloween! (You can actually get it now, but… sshhhhhhhhh….) 🙂