Allison Hewitt is Trapped, follows the plight of a bookseller during a zombie apocalypse. Needless to say, booksellers and genre fans all over the world are loving this book, which actually started life as a blog!
Hi Madeleine and welcome to the Shearer's blog. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
After a few death threats from friends I'm finally catching up on the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin. I read the first one years ago and I'm only now getting back into it. I tend to read a few books at a time, so I've also got A Sorcerer and a Gentleman by Elizabeth Willey and Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley on the night stand.
Allison Hewitt is Trapped seems to have struck a chord with booksellers all over the world, what has your experience been when meeting booksellers?
I think they're universally awesome people, because so far all of my experiences have been really positive, verging on magical. I got a great message the other day from a young woman at a bookstore - all of the staff are passing around the book and making contingency plans for when the zombies come. It's delightful, I love knowing that I'm not the only one who has a bit of fun at work.
The retail setting of the book is similar to the setting of the classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead. Was this an influence to you?
Yes and no. I think urban settings are always appealing for apocolyptic scenarios. The country has its own creepy flavor, but the city is cramped, there are choke points and the destruction - physically and visually - would be much more striking. I'd say Shaun of the Dead was a greater influence, because I feel like the sarcastic underdog protagonist is extremely appealing. I could see Allison and Shaun getting on, having a beer, comparing cricket bat and axe techniques.
What are your zombie and non-zombie influences?
Shaun of the Dead, like I said, is utterly brilliant. The Walking Dead is another big one, because it's brutal and incredibly well-written. World War Z and 28 Days Later are also great. I'm a fan of the genre in general, but I'm also sort of a wuss when it comes to gore. I still can't get through American Psycho (the novel, not the film) without turning green. I don't read in one genre, so my influences are all over the map. As far as specific authors, Ian McEwan and Neil Gaiman stand out, also A.S. Byatt and Lois McMaster Bujold.
The wording of this next question may seem a little strange but what attracted you to zombies?
They don't complain if you make them look bad? No, I'd say it's that they're kind of a blank slate. Sure, everyone knows more or less what a zombie is, but you can use the entire phenomenon to express whatever you want. To me, they've avoided taking on any one definition. Vampires are sexy now, for some reason, and werewolves are headed that way, too, but zombies sort of transcend all that baggage. You can use them to represent any number of themes.
Allison Hewitt started life as a blog, how do you think technology is changing storytelling? (further to this - have you read Joe Hill's short story 'Twittering From the Circus of the Dead'? It's a zombie tale told entirely in tweets...)
I haven't read Joe Hill's work, but it sounds daunting. I can hardly think up a single tweet to sum up my day, so I can't imagine taking on a project that big. With technology, I think it's opening up new avenues to convey an idea. Whether it's Twitter or a blog, it's something new and it can change the reader's perspective. It's also scary, because technology moves quickly and there's always the fear that you'll become obsolete. With Allison Hewitt, it actually began shaping the story itself because I wanted her to react realistically to the comments. If someone gave her a suggestion, I always considered it.
Allison Hewitt is a very strong protagonist, did she exist clearly in your head before you began writing or did her character grow with the story?
I very deliberately started her off a bit shaky and incompetent, not stupid, but just unprepared for what hits. To me, a story really starts to shine when you see the characters grow and change over the course of the plot. I always intended for her to be strong, but the exact nature of that strength changed as I created the plot elements. I didn't want her to turn into a mindless action hero that could do anything. She needed to make mistakes and still feel relateable even when she started to wise up.
Did you have a 'eureka' moment when the concept of the book came to you? Can you tell me a little about how you came to this idea?
At the time, I was working on a much more serious, research-heavy project. I wanted a fun way to escape. It's ridiculous, escapism from your own work, but writing in a historical framework is nothing like having the freedom to use slang and modern references. Initially, it was just an experiment, to write something fun and share it with friends. Although I do remember thinking something like, "This is so obvious in a way, why hasn't it been done?" Then the comments started rolling in and I discovered the real potential.
What was the journey from aspiring writer to published author like?
Surreal, for the most part, it still is. This right here, answering questions about my book, is insane. You go to college and graduate and there's sort of this professional black hole staring you down. There's an expectation that you're not ready, that you need a graduate degree to be a real writer, and it's just not true. Practice and determination is just as important, and I'm lucky that my hard work paid off when it did. It's incredibly rewarding and humbling to have something to show for the hours and hours of plugging away at the keyboard. It's not the kind of trajectory you can predict, much more of a hold on tight and see where it leads situation.
I understand that you wrote a historical novel in your last year of college. Firstly can you tell me what it was about, and secondly was it more or less of a challenge than writing Allison Hewitt?
It was about two young sisters in a medieval setting. The men in their family don't come home from the Crusades and suddenly they find themselves beset by relatives wanting to fix up their lives and shove them into adulthood. It was much more challenging if only from a research standpoint. There's an idea of what "medieval" is and then you realize how much of that is from film and completely fabricated. I had to break down what I thought the time period was about and reconstruct my perspective from the ground up. Allison presented different obstacles, namely that it's out in the world now and that brings criticism, which is always tough.
You also studied acting, are you planning to follow that as a career at some point?
I'm not nearly competitive enough. I have friends pursuing acting careers and bless them, because I can't imagine that kind of pressure. You're just as likely to be rejected for your height or your face as for your talent. I can deal with someone telling me my writing isn't good enough, but to be told off because you're too short or fat? No, that would turn me into a crazy person.
What's next for you?
I'm looking forward to working on the edits for Sadie Walker Is Stranded, the sequel, and then some exciting new projects, all of which are in early stages.
Thanks again for taking the time and congratulations on Allison Hewitt is Trapped!
Thank you! It was a pleasure.