A few years ago, I bought a fantastic zombie novella for Apex titled Asylum from Mark Allan Gunnells. It’s a classic Romero zombie fan’s dream: trapped survivors, vicious zombie kills, and hordes of zombies having dinner. Mark has written a sequel, of sorts, titled Fort that I cannot wait to read. Enjoy Mark’s What Say You about Fort!
OUT OF THE ASYLUM, INTO THE FORT
Zombies are incredibly popular in entertainment and incredibly unpopular at the same time.
What I mean by this is that for every person who loves and celebrates zombie literature and film, you have someone who says they are sick of zombies and that they are polluting the market. Each new zombie story that is released seems to draw as much ire as it does praise.
Which makes it interesting for the writer with a zombie tale to tell.
Years ago when I was writing my zombie novella Asylum, I was quite new to publishing and wasn’t really aware of public perception of these sorts of things. I just had an idea I was passionate about, and I wrote it. I was lucky enough to find a home for the story with Apex Publishing, which aggressively promoted the book, and for a writer at my level, the book sold fairly well.
And yet as I got more involved in the horror community through message boards and other online avenues, I discovered the backlash that existed against all things zombie. I encountered people who were quite aggressive in their distaste for the zombie subgenre and made a point of telling me they’d never read my novella. Some even went so far as to say they believed the horror genre was being killed by the glut of zombie fiction and thought writers should stop writing it.
This was a bit baffling to me. I have my personal preferences, but I never feel anything should be off-limits to writers because I believe writers should always pursue the ideas that inspire them. Plus when I love a writer’s work, I’ll follow him or her regardless of genre. Still, everyone is different and people have a right to feel how they do.
That said, it caused a brief dilemma for me because shortly after publishing Asylum, I realized I had a new zombie idea, a novella that would act as a semi-sequel to Asylum. Now that I was aware of the contingent of readers who despised zombie fiction, it gave me pause.
But only for a moment. I’ve always been a writer who believed the best writing comes not from trying to fit a certain market or deliver what is expected but from simply falling in love with an idea and exploring it, regardless of all else. The fact of the matter is the idea of this new zombie novella, Fort, excited me and I wanted to write it. True, there were a certain number of readers out there who wouldn’t be interested in it, but you can say that about almost any subject matter. The question becomes not is it a story that others want me to tell but is it a story I want to tell. And the answer was definitely yes.
The writing was quite enjoyable for me, but in this case, the rewriting of it was even more enjoyable. Sinister Grin Press bought the novella, but in their initial editorial notes they asked if I could bulk up the story, increasing the word count, and they also said they wished I could find some way to explore more of the college campus on which this story is set. Those two requests gave me the idea to interject flashbacks throughout the piece, revealing the characters’ lives before the zombie outbreak. This gave Sinister Grin what they wanted while allowing me to deepen the characters without detracting from the forward momentum of the main plot.
And it afforded me another exciting opportunity. The connection between Fort and Asylum was there but not overt, mostly just a reference in the opening of the story. By creating these flashbacks, I realized I could make that connection a little more direct by incorporating two of my characters from Asylum, Curtis and Jimmy, into them. It was actually thrilling fun to resurrect those characters, so to speak, and hear their voices again. Like revisiting old friends you thought you’d never get to see again. I hope readers feel the same.
I realize that with this novella there will be those that avoid it just because it deals with zombies, and that is out of my control. My hope is that those who give it a shot enjoy the writing, that they find it to be an exciting and engaging story. I would also hope that people who enjoyed Asylum will give Fort a try and that readers of Fort who never read the earlier novella may find their way to it.
I think it’s important as a writer to follow your instincts. We all want to please our readers, but I believe the best way to do that is by being true to our passions. The simple fact of the matter is that we’ll never be able to please absolutely everyone, but we run the risk of pleasing no one if we aren’t writing stories we believe in.
I believe in Fort, just as I did Asylum, and I look forward to hearing what readers think about it.