*Groan* Not another zombie novel. It’s not what you think.

“Not another zombie novel. Aren’t there enough of those?” That’s the response I received from my writing group and friends when I told them about my new novel, Dead Winter. Funny part about that? I thought the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Dawn of the Dead, 28 days later and good ole’ Charlie Higson, but zombies were quickly becoming the new vampire in YA.
So, why did I finish writing it? Because I fell in love with the characters and theme. The more I wrote, the more it became a living thing. I couldn’t stop it and after awhile, I didn’t want it to end.
I had an idea. What if zombies could be used to show something other then blood-thirsty, undead freaks that couldn’t be stopped? What if, in a teenager’s mind, it would be a type of conformity, a reflection of our society. Everyone needs to grow up, get a job and create a family to do it all over again. Let’s be honest, not many people get the career they really want. They need money to pay for housing and food. People aren’t being productive members of society because they want to, the human race is doing it because they have to in order to survive. We all become conformists, uniform and bland in our sameness.
At least that’s the way teenagers I’ve spoken to see it.
So the zombies in Dead Winter reflect that. The story became about doing whatever you could to avoid something like that from happening. It equates to something a bit more terrifying in the novel, but once you read it, that’s the overall point I was trying to make. The lengths one will go through to avoid becoming just another cog in the machine.
In a way, Dead Winter deviates from the standard “plucky survivors fight their way to freedom, while being picked off one at a time,” formula that the zombie novel is famous for. Is some of that in there? Of course, but it isn’t a zombie novel so much as the study of what a teenage girl would do in this situation and the oft times brutal decisions she has to make throughout these two horrifying days. The zombies are a catalyst for conflict, but most of the conflict takes place on a moral and introspective plane.
When those same peers (you remember them, the ones that groaned) actually read the completed novel, they all apologized for their initial response. Was it vindication enough? Yes. I wasn’t looking for it, mainly because I loved the story so much and had a great time writing it, but also because most of those people would never have picked up a zombie story to save their lives, much less a YA novel involving the undead, and all of them were hooked after the first page.
And that, my friends, is the best feeling in the world.
-T.J.

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