I recently enjoyed interviewing Jessica Meigs, author of THE BECOMING. Check it out below, and then you can learn more about Jessica and her fiction at www.becomingzombies.com.
Craig: Welcome, Jessica! What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it.
Jessica: Right now, my first (and only) published work is through Permuted Press. It’s titled THE BECOMING, and it’s just been recently released. It follows a man named Ethan Bennett and his best friend Cade Alton as they try to survive their entire world falling apart around them. Along the way, they pick up several fellow survivors who all bring something to the table to help ensure their survival. There’s loss, suffering, emotional outbursts, lots of violence, zombies, humor, some seriously important information being withheld, and even the beginnings of a little bit of a love story. So there’s something for everybody in it!
Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Jessica: I’d definitely throw my preference in with fast zombies. I mean, think about it: slow zombies are far easier to get away from, but fast ones? A human can only run so far so fast before getting winded. Zombies. Never. Get. Tired. Just the thought is chilling.
As for living or undead, can I vote for both? In my novel, I include both: people who are infected and homicidal (a la 28 DAYS LATER) who, if killed by anything other than a headshot, turn into the undead type we’re all familiar with. The undead tend to be slower than the infected, but they’re both equally deadly. I think I’d consider this my trademark; it’s what I decided to bring to the table when trying to figure out a way to make things more difficult for my characters.
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Jessica: I think, at least for me personally, zombies are interesting to write about because they’re a great vehicle to show an audience virtually anything you want to show them. I mean, look at all the different themes underlying just zombie movies specifically: there’s statements about science, humanity, consumerism, racism, cultural taboos…you name it, they’re there.
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Jessica: While I loved Jonathan Maberry’s new book DEAD OF NIGHT, the one I’ve enjoyed so much that I’ve re-read it at least half a dozen times since its release is actually a tie between FEED and DEADLINE by Mira Grant. Those books are amazing, and I’m just dying to find out what happens in the third part of the trilogy—I don’t think I’m going to make it until May/June!
Speaking of Maberry, though, he’s definitely one of the Kings of Zombie Lit. The man knows how to tell a compelling story, and he does it masterfully, both in the aforementioned DEAD OF NIGHT and in his Joe Ledger series, ROT & RUIN, and DUST & DECAY.
Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Jessica: Oh man, that’s a toughie. If I could choose only one zombie movie, I think I’d pick Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. I know, it’s a little bit of a sacrilege picking a remake as a favorite, but at the same time, it’s special to me for two reasons: 1. It introduced me to the idea of zombies that run. And that’s been essentially instrumental to the development of my own story. And 2. It really got me into zombies again after a very long absence from the genre. So obviously, in a way, I owe that movie a lot.
Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Jessica: Definitely the survival horror. It’s fascinating watching, reading, and writing about people attempting to live in a world like that. It’s only during times of duress that a person’s true character emerges; and whether good or bad, it’s always interesting to watch. Extended periods of high stress can break a person mentally, and that’s—as terrible as it is of me to say—fun to write. (In fact, throughout my entire trilogy—especially in the second and more significantly the third book—readers will get to see a character progressively cracking up as events transpire.) I can’t really get that effect when I’m writing a story that focuses more on the zombies than on the survivors. I think this is why my stories are so character-centric. And it’s what appeals to readers, because they have someone they can empathize with—and I think this is what accounts for the popularity of shows like THE WALKING DEAD, which is very much character-driven.
Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse) or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Jessica: I think between the two, my absolute favorite is post-apocalyptic, but it really depends on how far past the actual collapse the story has gone. I love reading stories where the world in general has already just barely collapsed, and characters are still struggling to get the hang of the new way of life and the absence of things that made their lives comfortable before the apocalyptic event—such as electricity, ease of communication over long distances (such as telephones, smartphones, etc.), lack of internet, lack of running water, lack of easily obtained food. It can really make the struggle for survival far more interesting than the actual collapse.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Jessica: One word at a time.
In all seriousness, I used to be a total pantser—I’d just write whatever came to mind as it came to mind, with no real idea of where the heck I was going. Now, though, especially with this trilogy, I’ve discovered the joys and wonders of at least having a basic outline with the major events I’m aiming for jotted down. I also have set minimum word counts to reach every day—I have to hit my minimums, which is usually around 2,000 words, and everything after that is just a lovely bonus. Once the draft is done, I let it sit for a while before I go through and rewrite, then I do one more pass for editing, and then I turn it over to my beta readers to let them nitpick it apart. So there’s definitely a method to my madness, though anyone who actually saw me writing would think it was total chaos and that I’d lost my mind!
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Jessica: I think there’s definitely a certain set of requirements for a good story: 1. a good idea, 2. a good set of well-developed, realistic characters, and 3. an ability to actually tell the story and do it justice. There’s a surprisingly large flood of zombie books on the market now, but so very few of them stand out because they’re not bringing something new to the table or aren’t bringing something old with a new twist to it. Either that, or they’re bringing something great to the table, but they spend so much time on the zombies or the plot that the characters are as interesting and distinguishable from one another as cardboard. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it’s part of why I wrote my trilogy: I read a really horrible zombie book that sounded fascinating from the blurb, and while I did manage to finish it because it was fairly like a train wreck, I just couldn’t believe it’d been published. The characters were incredibly flat and behaved so unrealistically for their ages, the idea—while interesting in theory—wasn’t done justice to, and the zombies weren’t threatening so much as eye-rollingly awful.
I think, as a writer and as a fan of the zombie genre, I felt it was my job to bring readers something that was better than that book and the others like it on the market today. I strove to make my characters realistic—though at times, not necessarily likable—and tried to get some diversity in there. Every character has their motivations for pretty much everything they do, whether it be survival, protecting someone close to them, or even revenge. My characters are fairly complex and flawed people, living in a world equally complex and flawed, and I spent hours writing and jiggling things around to make them so. Prime example: Remy Angellette. I have an entire novella sitting on my computer hard drive right now that details exactly what happened to her when the virus broke out and how she got to where she is when the rest of the characters find her in the first book. I have several novellas like that; most were written out for my own information, but who knows? Maybe they’ll see the light of day sometime.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Jessica: Right now, I’m awaiting the publication of the second and third parts of The Becoming trilogy with Permuted Press, THE BECOMING: GROUND ZERO and THE BECOMING: REVELATIONS. As for active writing projects, I’m currently working on a zombie horror project that takes place in 1868 tentatively called THE DEADENING (though I like that title enough that it will likely stick), and I’m tinkering with the outlining and moderate drafting of a possible fourth book in The Becoming trilogy (yes, I’m going to be the next Douglas Adams with a four-book trilogy). I’m also revising one of those aforementioned novellas that I’m considering self-publishing when I’m able to as a means of promotion for the second book in the trilogy. I have a massive list of ideas that demand to be written, and one day, hopefully, I’ll actually get to them all!
Craig: Thanks for joining us, Jessica!
Jessica: Thanks for the opportunity!