Inspiration, Failure, and Zombies
By E. Van Lowe
It amazes me where the inspiration for our stories comes from: a dream, a song, a fleeting image—and sometimes failure. That’s how it was for me. The inspiration for Never Slow Dance With a Zombie came out of a failed pitch.
In Hollywood we sell TV shows by pitching them. In 2004, when I was hot off the success of writing Even Stevens for the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon invited me to pitch a show idea. The idea I came up with was about a girl whose father had become a whistle-blower and the family suddenly found itself in the witness protection program. Yeah, I know. Where are the zombies? Bear with me.
The twist in the show was that my fifteen-year-old protagonist, Destiny, actually loved the idea of starting over in a small town where nobody knew her. I created a first person diary in Destiny’s own words for the pitch. When I went to Nickelodeon on a rainy day in November, the two executives in the room—one male, one female—laughed; they ah-ha’d, they clapped. But they didn’t buy it. Why? Who knows? Development executives rarely tell us why. I was pretty bummed when I heard they weren’t going to pick up the pilot. That’s when I decided it was time for me to get back to writing prose. (I’d written prose since I was a child. TV was actually a side-track for me.) I would write AKA Destiny as a YA novel, and show the folks at Nick they’d made a huge mistake.
I started an outline. Here’s where it gets strange. When I sat down to write a sample chapter, a zombie story jumped into my head. I have no idea where it came from. Maybe I’d been watching 28 Days Later again. I don’t know. The idea was simple: two girlfriends in a high school overrun by zombies decide to have the time of their lives. It was a silly idea. Not enough there for a book. I was certain it was one of those tricks your mind plays on you to keep you from the work you’re supposed to be doing. You know, like instead of writing chapter one of your seminal work you decide to clean your entire apartment—and you have never cleaned your apartment. I was sure it was one of those things.
But as I wrote the first few chapters of AKA Destiny, the silly idea kept developing. She’s jealous of her best friend—stop it. She wants a zombie for her boyfriend—STOP IT! You have work to do.
One day, just to kill off the idea, I wrote chapter one. And the snarky, self-possessed voice of Margot Jean Johnson was born. Where did it come from? I honestly don’t know. She sounded nothing like Destiny. It was totally unplanned…and perfect.
Chapter one of Never Slow Dance With a Zombie is pretty much as it was that day I dashed it off the top of my head. And that voice is still with me. Never Slow Dance With a Zombie is now available in a bookstore near you, and that other book—nothing.
That’s how it is with inspiration. You can’t plan it. When it comes along, all you can hope is that there are zombies.
Never Slow Dance With a Zombie (978-0-7653-2040-7; $8.99) was released from Tor Teen in August. Visit the author online at evanlowe.com.
Fears and Ideas
By Freda Warrington
Writers may give a small inward groan when people ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ but, the truth is, it’s an eternally fascinating question. My own ideas seldom arrive fully formed, but develop in a tree-like fashion and usually in need of considered pruning. Everyone has ideas, but the real question is, what makes us want to turn them into novels?
I began writing in childhood, always in search of the thrilling ‘otherworld’ feeling I got from my favourite books, and from the landscape of Charnwood (near Leicester, England) where I grew up. Fantasy was the genre that spoke to me. Although often unfairly derided as escapism, fantasy can reach deep into the heart of fundamental ideas; concerns of friendship and passion, bravery, suffering, heroism. The scholar Joseph Campbell insisted that the hero’s journey—the staple of myth and fantasy—applies to us all, because it’s the adventure of being alive. Even my first published novel (re-issued by Immanion Press as A Blackbird in Silver Darkness) had its roots in my childhood fears of cold war and nuclear annihilation. I couldn’t do much about it in real life, but I could send my heroes (anti-heroes?) Ashurek, Estarinel and Medrian to confront the terrifying Serpent.
Heroism is less obvious in Elfland, which has a more natural, contemporary edge. Still, I always write for the same reasons, a need to work out my fears and fascinations in story form. A single mental image—a face, perhaps—can inspire a whole novel. In the case of Elfland, it was the slow fusion of several elements. First, I’ve long been intrigued by the concept of beings who are human-like yet ‘other’: angels, vampires, elves, elementals, demi-gods, what you will. My Aetherials (or Aelyr) evolved as my own interpretation of such a race; ancient creatures embodying something mysterious, untouchable, erotic, potentially dangerous yet spell-binding. They’re chameleon-like, moving between other worlds but able to live among humans if they choose. And in Elfland, my characters have become so nearly human that they’re deeply torn between mortal and Aetherial instincts. Which self is authentic?
Houses fascinate me, too, because every household is a micro-world in its own right. You live one life in your house, while yards away your neighbours are living an entirely different one. An infinity of different worlds all around us! So an image entered my head of two households, as unalike as alien planets. A friendly house containing a loving family, the Foxes. A cold granite manor on a hill, containing a broken family, the Wilders. I pictured a crag of rock, concealing the Great Gates to the Otherworld… which I knew had been suddenly barred without explanation by the sinister gatekeeper, Lawrence Wilder. I needed to know why!
And most importantly, I knew this was a tale about unrequited love; the story of a young woman, Rosie Fox, trying to make sense of human life and love when she’s not truly human at all. From such simple origins grow the passionate tangles of a novel.
Elfland (0-7653-1869-5; $25.99) by Freda Warrington, released from Tor Books in August 2009. The author's website is fredawarrington.com.
The Genesis of City of Fire by Laurence Yep
By Susan Chang, Senior Editor
As an editor, one of the things I love to do is come up with ideas for books I’d like to read and find the perfect person to write the story. These ideas come from anywhere and everywhere: TV, magazines, web surfing, video games, comic books. One day, I was sitting at home watching an episode of National Geographic Explorer. Called “China’s Secret Mummies,” it was about ancient mummies unearthed in the Tarim Basin in Western China in 1978.
Surprisingly, these mummies had Caucasian facial features and light hair. Who were these people? What were they doing there? Being a science fiction fan, my initial thought was of a “first contact” novel about Western traders journeying to China thousands of year before Marco Polo. But DNA tests proved that the area where the mummies were found was one where cultures and peoples had mixed over a long period of time—so the story is not one of first contact, but of an ancient multicultural society. Fascinating! I thought someone had to write a novel about this. I couldn’t think of anyone who could do justice to the idea right away, so I filed it away in my brain.
A few weeks later, I was doing booth duty at the American Library Association conference in Chicago when who should walk into our booth but two-time Newbery Honor Award-winning author Laurence Yep—and everything fell into place. Larry had to write the novel! When I emailed him a couple of weeks later to propose this, I learned that Larry had seen the TV show as well. As he says:
I’ve always been fascinated with the Silk Road. More than tea, silk, and jewels traveled along the routes of the Silk Road; it carried ideas and legends as well.
I was especially intrigued by the Tarim Basin mummies, who were apparently Caucasians with light hair and who wove cloth in the same manner as the Celts in Europe, yet lived on the edge of Central Asia. They were an enigma who both presented a challenge and hinted at a rich story line.
I leapt at the chance to write about them. For me, half the fun of storytelling is not only trying to bring interesting characters to life—in this case, a dragon assassin, a young amazon, and the youthful reincarnation of a tragic Chinese hero—but also in creating the vibrant world that produced those characters.
Setting the novel in an alternate historical timeline also allowed me to blend my twin loves of history and fantasy together. I hope City of Fire is not only funny and fast-paced but also has a depth and a resonance—as if readers can feel the vibrations from a golden bell still tolling in an ancient city buried deep beneath their feet.
City of Fire (978-0-7653-1924-1; $15.99) was released from Starscape in August. Look for the second book in the trilogy, City of Ice, in Fall 2010.
Cover, Cover, Who’s Done the Cover?—Updating Necroscope
By Melissa Ann Singer, Senior Editor
It’s exciting and a little frightening to repackage a classic. From relatively humble beginnings as an outstanding work of horror fiction that combined vampires, psychic powers, and shapeshifting aliens, Necroscope has now been read by millions of people all over the world, in at least a dozen languages. I’ve seen only a fraction of Brian Lumley’s fanmail, but it’s clear that Necroscope holds universal appeal; Brian’s readers are adults and teens, men and women, and come from all walks of life.
Necroscope has had outstanding packaging, from the creepy first British cover by Alan Hood to the striking later British edition by George Underwood to Bob Eggleton’s amazing vampire skull on the US edition.
Under those great covers is an amazing book. However, people’s tastes change, and book covers shift in response. A cover that looked fantastic twenty years ago doesn’t necessarily work for today’s readers. Part of an editor’s job is to find ways to keep a book fresh, through changing format, changing copy, and changing art. This year, it’s Necroscope’s turn to get a new look.
I was lucky to be able to rely on Seth Lerner, Mass Market Art Director, and Vanessa Paolantonio, Junior Designer, who jumped at the chance to re-envision Necroscope and its first three sequels (Necroscope II: Wamphyri!, Necroscope III: The Source , and Necroscope IV: Deadspeak) for the 21st century. I think they’ve done a great job—when the new covers were first shown around the office, there were gasps of delight.
Which is not to say we’ve abandoned our old friends, either. Brian Lumley’s latest book is a collection of stories about Harry Keogh, the first, and arguably everyone’s favorite, Necroscope. Necroscope: Harry and the Pirates and Other Tales of the Lost Years bears a wonderful Bob Eggleton skull and crossbones. When you want to combine vampires and pirates, who better to ask than a Hugo Award-winning artist?
Look for mass market editions of Necroscope, Necroscope II: Wamphyri!, Necroscope III: The Source, and Necroscope IV: Deadspeak in September; Necroscope: Harry and the Pirates and Other Tales of the Lost Years released in July in hardcover.