You Should Write About Zombies!

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Zombies are hot these days.  Whether they’re the moaning, shambling kind from Night of the Living Dead, the fast-moving Rage types or the Walking Dead zombies that fall a little in between, people think zombies are cool.  There are zombie walks at cons and classes on doing zombie makeup.  For three years in a row there was an online zombie blogalypse called Blog Like It’s The End Of The World, in which everyone wrote entries to their blogs on a designated day as if the zombie apocalypse was occurring.  There’s even a zombie marathon (and let me tell you, if I lived closer, I would SO join in.  As a zombie, naturally – I can’t run well enough for a road race.  I shamble much more effectively.)  And, of course, there are zombie novels…  World War Z, Feed, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and many more.  One day in the library I was chatting with a patron I knew personally, talking about how odd it was that zombies were so popular.  I mean, really, they’re gooey and they smell terrible and they kind of eat you if you stand still to long, but people love them.  My friend said, “Hey! You should write a zombie book!  You’d make lots of money!”

As if it was that easy.

Anyone who’s been at this a while has probably had someone say something similar.  It happens all the time.  People who don’t really know much about the business offer advice that’s well-meaning but completely off base.  My uncle, some years back, announced to the family that if I’d just write something like Harry Potter, I’d never have to work again.  But sometimes that advice seems to make a little sense.  Look at vampires, for example.  They’ve been hot for over ten years, and the trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down.  It would probably not be a bad idea to try my hand at a vampire novel.  There’s a ready audience, just slavering for more stories about bloodsuckers.   Except that vampires aren’t really my thing.  Anything I write wouldn’t quite ring true.  It’s better to try writing the stories that do rev my engines, because my excitement will imbue the story with energy. Our own Carrie Ryan talks about how she was trying to write chick lit (fiction that focuses on women’s issues, often written in a humorous tone) when the idea for her zombie book came to her and wouldn’t leave her alone.  She wasn’t following a trend, or even trying to start one.  She wrote what made her happy to write.

Sometimes you luck out, and the great idea you want to write also matches a rising or present trend.  Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series approached the popular vampire subgenre from an unusual direction – her character was hunting vampires instead of falling for them.  It was a brilliant move, too – she’s made the NYT lists twice now.  She wasn’t trying to ride a trend, but writing the story that made her heart beat faster and her imagination soar. 

If what you want to write matches something popular, that can be a perfect situation.  But you can’t depend on it.  Trends end without warning.  If you write a story because such-and-such is selling right now, you’re courting heartache.  The best thing to do is to write the story that’s in you, and hope that you do a good enough job that you create your own trend instead. 

Has anyone ever given you wacky advice?  Or do you have a crazy trend idea you think we should all jump on? 

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31 comments to You Should Write About Zombies!

  • Totally agree with your caution on this, Misty. Sometimes you get lucky and get in at the start of a trend, but deliberately grabbing the coat tails of something that’s already hot is dangerous, if only because it’s likely to be at least two years between coming up with your idea and it coming out in print, probably more. Who knows what teh market will be doing by then, and there’s nothing worse than trying to ride out a trend which publishers think has bottomed out. Even if you can catch the wave, you’re likely to be at its mercy. I managed three archaeological thrillers before the Da Vinci Code hype cooled, after which I struggled to place similar books with traditional publishers. What was a huge subsection of the thriller market has dwindled down to a few big hitter authors.

    Time to start a new trend, I think. Next year, killer bunnies are goign to be super hot, so get to work!

  • “It’s a bunny!” “It’s a killer!” /montypython

    I’m sure I’ve gotten that kind of advice before, but all of the well-meaning-yet-totally-off-base advice I’ve received pales in comparison to the tip an a**hat (pardon my American) in my university writing workshop gave to my friend Justin, who had written a vampire-hunter story.

    A**hat: So, yeah. I really think it would be a lot more interesting if you changed the setting to a tractor-pull and made all the characters talk like professional wrestlers.

    I can’t help thinking he was trying to get him to write Sookie Stackhouse novels.

  • No crazy trend ideas, but I have heard people say, “why don’t you write urban fantasy?” “Or steampunk?” I kinda like steampunk, I like anything bizarre tech that shouldn’t work, but does (one of the reasons why I love space opera). But I don’t have anything steampunk jumping into my head. Oh, sure, I suppose I could somehow shoehorn it into another idea, but it would feel like adding it for the sake of adding it and probably read that way too. If you’re going to write steampunk, it should be integral to the story, like the story couldn’t work without it.

    As far as urban fantasy, I see the market sort of flooded with it. There are frontrunners in the genre, to be sure, and then a slew of emulators, and I just don’t wanna jump on that bandwagon. I have an urban fantasy lying around, but haven’t had a desire to actually finish it. Well, it’s actually an urban fantasy cross genre, to be technical. Still, I feel like there’s so much of it out there it’ll be difficult to A) do something different enough, and B) get noticed above the pack.

    And then there’s what I’m writing now–science fiction and fantasy. It feels like sci-fi might slowly be taking an upturn. I see people out there wanting it, especially in the romance market, even a few companies saying they specifically want space opera, but not many people picking it up so far. And it’s been difficult to find an agent to pick it up. Then again, I’ve never been one to go the easy route. Course, it doesn’t help that I’m sort of a mad scientist at times, mixing genres and concepts to fit my vision. I’ve even got some sci-fi/fantasy/romance stuff sitting on my hard drive, which I’m sure will be fun to try to sell…

    I could write zombies, I LOVE the genre. I wrote zombie material for Eden Studios’ All Flesh Must Be Eaten. But even with its current trending, I’ve always seen it as almost a niche market. Perhaps that’s changing with the popularity of The Walking Dead, though. I’ve seen zombies be incredibly popular for a few years and then all talk about them die out, only to rise again, which is fitting, I guess. Then again, I’d probably do some crazy cross-genre mashup to shake up the post-apocalyptic status quo. 😉

  • I’ve had people tell me that I should work on a “new Harry Potter,” just like your uncle suggested for you, Misty. As you say, if only… My best ideas are the ones that excite me, not that the ones that conform to someone else’s business model. That may be why I’m not making millions in this business. I’m sure it’s why I still love to write.

  • DizzyMia

    I’ve been told I should write steampunk or urban fantasy. I laughed. I laughed a lot. And then started to hiccup because I couldn’t stop laughing. As much as I love both of these genres, I’ve got no idea how to go about writing them. I’ll happily stick to creating a world and a culture from the ground up.

  • “You should make a movie. No really. That’s where all the money is today. Like, who reads books anymore?”

    (laughing sigh…)

    Yeah, more than one person has offered this advice, recently, as if I have any of that power in my hands. As if people really don’t read books anymore. They do, you know. Even new, old-fashioned, paper ones. I used to explain how that part of the business works, but now I just smile and say, “Your mouth to God’s ear, and maybe Steven Spielberg will call.”

  • Mikaela

    As it happens I am writing about zombies. *grin* I stumbled upon anthology call on Scott Oden’s blog, the anthology is totally on spec, though. I thought zombies in the Ancient times sounded like an interesting premise . I also decided it was a good writing exercise. Get an idea, write, a submit. I finished the first draft yesterday, and I have a sinking feeling that it might end up too long for the anthology. sigh.

    Oh. The question. Uhm. Probably, but I cannot remember exactly what I was supposed to write. LOL. Now, if I told more people that I was writing, I would probably get more suggestions. :).

  • “I’m a writer.”

    “Oh really? What do you write about?”

    “I’m working on a story where dead bodies on a morgue spaceship come to life and…” watches the other person’s eye glaze over “It’s like Stephen King meets 2001.”

    “Oh! Wow! I’ll tell you what. You should write something with vampires.”

    “vampire saren’t really my thing…”

    “But True Blood is my favorite show and you could make ba-jillions of dollars.”

    Looks deep into her warm dark eyes….

    “Yeah, I could write about vampires.”

  • I do remember at one point during high school, my mom was trying to get me to write anything besides fantasy. She even started suggesting I write “inspirational fiction”…which is just weird, as neither of us reads it.

  • Unicorn

    If only teenagers could decide to like unicorns, I might sell something one day. Monsters, unfortunately for me, are the fashion. I even get the unicorns to stab the bad guys with their horns and anyone who hears about what I write still gives me a funny look. Mind you, they do that a lot. Can’t imagine why. 😛

  • LScribe, my mom is very supportive, but when she heard my book had magic in it, she was hesitant to tell all her friends from church. Magic being the devil’s work and so forth. Fortunately, she read it and now is my biggest cheerleader. 😀

    Faith, I hear the movie thing aaaaallllll the time. My answer is always “I’ll do that as soon as you give Jerry Bruckheimer my number!”

  • Oh yes, I get that. I also get the “you should write something Christian.” Which is so offensive I don’t know where to begin, because 1. do you think only pagans read fantasy? 2. have you read what passes for Christian fiction these days? I may be a genre hack, but even genre hacks have standards! and 3. thank you for the implication that I’ve sold out my faith for my writing. How’s your walk with God been lately?

  • @Sarah. My family would die if they knew that I wrote *cue big gasp* romance. Granted, this is the same family that think I’m an alcoholic for keeping a couple of bottles of wine in my pantry and a six pack of woodchuck in my fridge. I’m such a rebel.

    My mother (who does know that I write romance) on a regular basis says “Vikki, you should write for children. You’re so good with children.” (Like these two things are related) My school teacher mother pauses. “You like history. They’re doing stories to go read along with the history text now. You could write those.” Bless her heart.

    However, my favorite question from my well-meaning family is “So, when are you going to get published?” Like that is something that I can control.

  • I often have people tell me I should right about them. No, seriously. It’s happened several times already. What part of action adventure fantasy sounds like biography of an average Joe? Not that average Joe’s can’t have adventuresome lives, or even action or fantasy. Come to think of it, I don’t want to write about somebody else’s action or fantasies. Nevermind.

    Chasing trends, bad. Got it. *Scrambles off to write Urban Christian Steampunk about Zombies and Vampires at a magical boarding school*
    NGD (who has eaten too much chocolate and needs to go for a run)

  • I haven’t had many people say “you should write X!” Except my SO who says “You should write comics books! Write comic books!” And I say “As soon as you know someone in the business, I’ll write comic books…” I don’t know anything about writing comic books! And I can’t draw a decent stick figure. I also know nothing about the business. I’m just starting to get a handle on THIS business–I can’t fathom learning a new one right now.

    I thnk maybe my father said something about writing the next Harry Potter or something, but I love him and don’t want to have to hurt him, so if he said it I’ve erased it from my memory (or my memory is just going…)

    I think my UF right now is a bit odd, but maybe I’m just not reading similar things. The topic (guilt ridden heroine who kills demons) isn’t that original, but it is 3rd person, two pov book. The heroine and the her nemesis both have povs. So it isn’t epic urban fantasy like JR Ward who has like 6 or 7 povs and 350+ page books (whose work I like, btw, I’m noting her style, not criticizing it). Mine is an 80,000 word one, with two MCs who are on different sides of the fight. Essentially it’s 60/40 or so, with the 40 being the nemesis. (The out and out evil villain is a non pov character.)

  • NGD (who has eaten too much chocolate and needs to go for a run)

    Did you bring enough chocolate for everyone?? -grin-

  • *passes out the rest of his chocolate*

  • “You should write real-crime stories.”

    I duck my head a bit and look at my dad through my hair, hoping I’m hiding my grin. “But, Dad. I don’t know about any true crimes.”
    “But you write science fiction, fantasy, and horror! What do you know about that?”
    “Well….” I stare out over the yard, watch my wolf-hybrid leap into the air, trying to catch Rafe – my raven – who is teasing him again. Rafe floats on the thermals, rising slightly with a twitch of wing tip. “I work at an Air Force Test Base. I write Military Plans. I have three sons. Doesn’t that fit those three genres?”
    Dad shut up.

  • *snags a piece of chocolate on her way out*
    Thanks, NGDave!

  • The Mathelete

    Funny post, Missy. I’ve never had the weird suggestion issue before personally (loved some of my fellow MWers though). As to zombies — I’m 100% with you. They’re completely gross and not at all sexy. I like to feel slightly dirty for being attracted to my villains, not mortified and physically dirty knowing that their ears may fall off at some point during the story. Now, maybe old school thralls . . .(Curses! Another one for the “write this someday” file)

  • Mathlete, seriously. There’s a subgenre of YA that’s basically zombie romance, and the whole idea of that turns my stomach.

  • Razziecat

    I’ve never wanted to write about anything except the stuff that goes on in my own head. Some of it–okay, a lot of it–is space opera, but it’s focused much more on the people than on the technology. I have no interest in zombies, and vampires aren’t my thing–although to be honest, I actually did write a vampire short story as an exercise for my online workshop, and I have no idea where the idea came from, since at the time, I’d never heard of Stephanie Meyer/Twilight. I’m exploring steampunk now, but frankly, the authors doing it now are so incredibly good at it that I don’t think I have anything new to say in that subgenre. So I think I’ll stick with writing stories that I would like to read and not worry about the current trends.

  • Baha. My husband actually *is* working on a zombie novel, so I don’t get that.

    But what I do get, what frustrates me more than anything, is the line from well-meaning friends and family about rejection: “Even J.K. Rowling got rejected a bunch of times!”

    … Seriously, do you know how patronizing that sounds?

  • I’m suffering from Zombie Overload. Half my friends are involved in ZomBCon or the Seattle zombie walk. And hell, I went to school 30 minutes from the Monroeville Mall, from “Mall of the Living Dead” or “Dawn of the Dead” or whatever it was.

    Oh, and we’ve at least three zombie burlesque groups in town…eeeek.

    Now, space vampires… Been done before, but it’s soooo obvious. Who else would make better space explorers. They don’t need air. They can deal with cold. You can put them in a wooden box for decades with little complaint.
    Just give them radiation shielding…you know, the whole sun thing.

    I guess you’d need to solve the whole Prozac fortified blood thing, given all modern vampires range from emo to clinically depressed.

  • With as much time and as much struggle and sweat and pain and tears that go into a novel, choosing to write about something that doesn’t make you happy, even when you’re mired in doubt and difficulty, is just plain nuts. Write the story of your heart. That’s the only one you’ll write with passion. Trends come and go. If you’re writing something trendy and you love it, then you might rise above. More likely than if you write something because you think you should. My two cents anyhow. Which is to say, Amen and pass the Whiskey, Missey.

  • […] Misty Massey on You Should Write About Zombies! […]

  • TwilightHero

    Ah yes, I too have been told, twice, that I should ‘write something like Harry Potter’. The first was from a guy at a party, who went on to say I just needed to make it ‘more modern’. I smiled and refrained from saying quite a lot of people write modern magic, it’s called Urban Fantasy, and anyone who doesn’t know this needs to read more books.

    The second was from my mother…who refused to read books with the slightest hint of magic before J.K. Rowling’s. Considering I was the one who pushed them on her – don’t get me wrong, I loved HP – I had that awkward sensation where someone you’ve tried to change changes a little too much…

  • My biggest problem with all the zombie stories is that there is no happy ending. I mean, way long time down the road… the zombies take over and everyone dies. It’s just depressing, don’t read it, don’t write it (unless you count Monster Hunters International but the zombies are like accessories, so i don’t count that one).

    My current WIP is fantasy and is going to be my first completed novel. I really want to write a space opera next. Now I just have to figure out the best way for me to execute that.

    The funny thing for me was that before I ever heard of Harry Potter or J.K. I had written something similar. I put it to the side when I read the first book in Harry Potter because I felt like I needed to develop the story a lot more before I could keep going. Laura, I too have heard about J.K. getting rejected as well, it is patronizing.

    My most hated response from people isn’t as much a suggestion but a look. I tell them I’m working on a book or I’m a writer and they follow up with, “What do you have published?” When I tell them that the novel I’m working on will be my first, their eyes sort of glaze over and they wander off. The alternative is that they tell me about this wonderful idea they are going to get published to which I say, “How much do you have written?” The answer is usually no.

    Someone did suggest that I write something like Twilight with ‘vampires and stuff’, to which I responded (no offense to the Twilight fans), have you read the books? They usually haven’t even seen the movies, much less read the books. They know that it’s making money so they suggest that.

    *steals a chocolate, pops it into her mouth and washes it down with the whiskey bottle going around the room*

  • I will say, I don’t really follow trends very closely. I write what I like and enjoy. And if that runs parallel to a trend, well, that’s because there’s something in the trend that I like. Otherwise, it’s because I like something else.

    Zombies, for instance, do figure into my current WIP… but they’re peripheral. (There isn’t an ongoing Zombie Apocalypse, for instance, and the story isn’t about such an apocalypse… rather, mankind had long ago defeated the Zombie Apocalypse.) And even if a trend passes, I’m not likely to remove that element from my story simply because it’s no longer on trend. Back to zombies… they’re peripheral to the story, but they still play in important role, and the worldbuilding doesn’t work if I take them out.

  • The Mathelete

    Wow, I’ve clearly gotten old. The kids are dating rotting zombies, and a box of chocolate and bottle of whiskey went around without me nabbing some. You all are too awesome and really make my day after the kind of crazy days I sometimes have.

  • I’ve been told to write something like Harry Potter and make stack of cash. But reply: “No, I prefer to write unpublished epic fantasy laced with poor grammar. I just don’t have time to make all that money.”