Admittedly, I phoned it in for last week’s Friday Five. Granted, I had a dog just getting out of surgery, but that’s no excuse. That’s why I’m coming back with a vengeance this week with YA author Devan Sagliani! He’s an author from one of my favorite book imprints, Permuted Press, and when it comes to writing zombie fiction, Devan is a jack of all trades – successfully writing YA fiction and adult fiction. Devan has some great stuff ahead for you, so I’m going to step aside and welcome him to the blog!
Zombie Attack! is touted as a Young Adult series. Was it hard to tone down your zombie novel for younger audiences?
I’ve been a fan of YA fiction for a long time now, and not just JK Rowling, although I love the Harry Potter series. It was what got me into YA in the first place. I was obsessed with Eoin Colfer for a while too and his Artemis Fowl series. It’s wonderful to be able to escape into the mysteries of adolescence again and leave the problems of being an adult behind for a while. A lot of great writers are now falling in love with YA, and not just because of the Hunger Games. Salman Rushdie is one of my favorite writers of all time. He’s got two YA books available now. James Patterson one of the most gifted and prolific writers of all time is working a lot in YA these days too, with great success. His Witch and Wizard series is doing amazing.
It’s a totally different mind set for sure. Everyone now and then I’ll catch myself wanting to add material that might be too adult for kids and then pulling myself back again. It can be frustrating but in the end it makes sense. Kids can handle a lot but these days but they are still kids. No matter how sophisticated we think they are because they watch graphic cable television shows and movies they are still developing. Many of them have no frame of reference to what they are encountering and that leads to inappropriate responses to the material. They haven’t developed the kind of empathy and compassion necessary to understand the mature context of some of these situations, even if they get the gist of what’s happening. There is simply no substitute for the kinds of real life experiences that will shape and mold them into the adults they will one day be, particularly in the proper context.
In the end though I think it’s all about storytelling. You don’t need explicit language and adult themes to tell a great story. You just need lots of imagination and the drive to capture it all. I’ve had more than one parent contact me and thank me for keeping Zombie Attack clean enough for their zombie obsessed teen to read. That’s a cool feeling.
How do you approach switching gears to writing for a younger audience to more of an adult audience with your books?
I like to put myself into a mindset of a teenager when I write YA fiction. I think about what I loved when I was that age and what I was into and I write from that perspective first and foremost. It’s a fun challenge to recall some of the growing pains I went through as a kid and then work to incorporate them into my characters lives. Teens lives are all about uncovering the mystery of what it means to be an adult. You get to discover the world anew during that period of your life. It’s frustrating on one hand because you always want to grow up fast when you’re a kid. But it’s also exciting because everything is new and amazing and special still. Sometimes we lose touch with that as we get older so writing YA is a great way to remind myself of how surprising and wonderful life can be. It’s also a way to give that voice inside of me new breath to scream down all the hypocrisy in the world. We lose touch with that too as we get older.
And if I feel I need to express something more sophisticated I know I can always save that for my next novel that isn’t for teens and up. Scenes and ideas that get cut from YA that I write always find their way into other places.
What is it about the zombie genre that interests you the most?
I’ve been drawn to the idea of apocalypse since I was young. There was always just something about seeing movies and reading books that focused on a dystopic future where the technology and science we worship so much has turned on us, bringing us back to some kind of original state. We take for granted that the things we enjoy in this life will always just be there, but the truth is everything is in a fragile balance. It can all be taken away in an instant. Just look at what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans or Superstorm Sandy to the East Coast or even the tornado in Joplin. And those were in the United States, where we have so much wealth and resources! Then look at Haiti after the last quake and imagine the whole world like that. It’s terrifying but it’s a real possibility it could happen.
Zombies speak to me for a number of reasons. I like the idea of a mindless killing machine that cannot be reasoned with as the antagonist. It’s truly terrifying to think that people you once knew and loved can turn into monsters that won’t hear your pleads as they come to kill you. I think in a lot of ways zombies also speak to our sense of mob mentality and our lust for violence as a culture. Whether we watch them tear apart another person or we imagine that we are putting them down for good, it’s still a form of release. In that sense it can be healthy. I think that is just part of the reason zombies are so popular right now.
Zombie fiction allows us to start over and re-imagine the world. It gives us the chance to be heroic and selfless, as well as the chance to quench our blood lust and anger at how unpredictable and unfair life can be. When we read zombie fiction we can be equally good and bad. We can explore the darkest recesses of our soul without being judged. That’s what I love about it.
Do you have any zombie apocalypse survival tips?
The first thing that comes to mind is that scene in ZOMBIELAND ? Cardio, cardio, and more cardio. You definitely want to be in good shape when the apocalypse hits. And having a supply of fresh water is going to be a big advantage. You can survive nearly two weeks with no food but no one survives more than a few days without water.
Beyond the basics I’d say it’s all going to boil down to your ability to interact with others. No one gets by alone in this world. As human beings we tend to view ourselves as our own little island but the truth is we are much more interconnected than we even realize. We truly do rise and fall together. These bonds will be even more important in the event of a crisis of any kind, much less a planet wide epidemic that demolishes rule of law and society as we know it.
What’s next for you?
I am currently working on the sequels to Zombie Attack and The Rising Dead for my publisher Permuted Press. I have the plot all written out for Zombie Attack part 2 and it is going to blow readers away. I’m about a third of the way through the first draft. There are some big surprises in store for sure. In addition to bikers and cannibals there are also snake handlers, a zombie circus, a ghost town, tree people, and so much more. We also get to see some of the best and worst characters from the original story come back. It’s going to keep readers on the edge of their seat from the first page to the very last. I can promise that. Plus it’s looking like it’s going to be longer too.
I’ve also just released a collection of transgressive short stories called A THIRST FOR FIRE on Kindle. All but one of these stories were published in the last ten years and several were nominated for awards. I started out writing in a more literary style which quickly devolved as I got into more taboo subjects like sex and drug abuse. Really they’re an exploration of identity and freedom when you get past some of the anti-social, erotic elements. They were my first steps towards developing my voice as a writer, when I was still learning the disciplines of my craft, and I am proud of them. I’m hoping some of my zombie fans will be interested in reading about monkeywrenching suicide punks and meth addicts and sadists and drug dealers and pimps and killers. The collection also contains a story called Depth Charge which was my first apocalypse story and is definitely the precursor to my love affair with zombie fiction.