DD: Thanks for plugging in, Rhiannon! First off, tell us about the original THE LIVING DEAD BOY.
RF: The original book was written long ago (2010) for my nieces and nephews. At the time they were between the ages of 4 and 15. They’re diehard zombie fans, and they were annoyed that there weren’t any zombie books where kids their age were the heroes. I remember one of my nieces just bugging me like crazy to write about kids fighting zombies. These kids are so zombie crazy, that the littlest wept bitter tears when she wasn’t allowed to watch The Walking Dead series premiere. She was four at the time.
One time, when my brother was visiting me with his family, he pulled me aside to say that he was grateful that I had prepared his kids for the zombie apocalypse. He knew that they would be able to handle themselves if anything happened to him.
“I will totally shoot you in the head if you turn zombie, Dad,” my niece promised.
“Yup,” her brother agreed.
I thought that was pretty hilarious, but it also inspired me.
So the gears started spinning and I thought, “Well, how would kids who are zombie fans handle the z-poc?”
Out of that question Josh and his fellow Zombie Hunters (their club) were born.
I guess you could say The Living Dead Boy is very much a Goonies versus the zombies type of book. Though it is centered on kids, there is a lot of death and mayhem. Since I wanted the youngest of zombie fans to enjoy the book, I did dial back my descriptions of the gore. That hasn’t deterred adult fans from loving it, too. In fact, I suspect adult zombie fans just add in the gore with their imaginations.
DD: The sequel is LOST IN TEXAS: THE LIVING DEAD BOY 2. Where do we pick up after the events of the original?
RF: It picks up a few hours after the first book ends. I considered a jump ahead in time, but that didn’t feel right. I, personally, like zombie stories that take place the first days of the z-poc. Exploring how people react in disasters is something I really enjoy. I used to work on federal disaster relief grants. I spoke with city and county officials and with the survivors. The disasters were everything from wildfires to hurricanes.
So, we rejoin Josh and the surviving Zombie Hunters as they’re traveling on an Austin Metro bus that is part of an evacuation convoy. Most of the kids have lost all their family, and Josh is lucky enough to be reunited with his dad, a former Marine. Josh’s big struggle at the beginning of the book is trusting adults to keep everyone safe. He’s very well-educated on zombie films and books so he’s just expecting the worst. Though he’s twelve, he’s a very smart kid. And he’s right. Things go very wrong, and he once again has to step up into a leadership role with his friends.
My beta readers, who are all adults, have loved the new book. That’s a very rewarding feeling after not being in the world of Josh and his friends for six years.
DD: What's your process like? Do you have a writing schedule, word goals and the like, or does it just come as it comes? Maybe a little of both?
RF: When I finally feel an idea is solid enough to write, I do try to write every single day. It’s not always easy. I suffer from basal joint arthritis thanks to writing by hand for many, many years. I wrecked my thumb joints. So I sometimes struggle with pain.
One thing that is very true in my experience is that the mere act of writing helps open up the story. It does feel a lot like watching a movie in my head and transcribing what I write. And the more I write, the more details I see.
I’m slowly increasing my daily word count, testing how much stress my joints can take, but I don’t hit same high word count I used to. That stings a bit.
DD: Do dreams inspire your work? Do you keep track of dreams?
RF: All my books are born in dreams. I dream very vividly. My dreams are like mini-movies. Of course, not all dreams are worthy of a book, but once and a while I’ll wake up and know that I just dreamed something with a ton of potential. I use Workflowy to record the details of the dreams that feel like the seed of a book. Sometimes those ideas take years to germinate, and others are just ready to go immediately.
DD: Is there anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in zombiedom?
RF: Well, going back to my experience working on disaster grants, I do wish we’d get away from the nihilistic viewpoint of everyone being evil. I visited areas that looked positively post-apocalyptic and listened to the survivor stories. Over and over again, I was told how complete strangers rescued people that were trapped, and in the aftermath, shared what little food and water they had. They also helped each other with shelter, and finding loved ones (including pets). There’s always going to be some bad stories, but overall it was very heart-warming to hear tales of great heroism and kindness in the face of terrible disasters.
Humans aren’t perfect, but we do survive in communities. That’s something writers often forget.
I’d also like to get away from the evil military trope. I know so many men and women who have served bravely and selflessly in the armed forces that are just amazingly good people. I hate that they end up as villains in a lot of zombie stories. The same with police officers.
Again, there are always going to be a few bad ones in the mix, but I’d like to see things a bit more realistically portrayed in zombie fiction.
Happily, since when I first started writing in the genre all the way back in 2005, there are a lot more women writing about zombies, and we’re getting a lot of very solid, positive portrayals of female characters. That’s been very heartening.