Southern Festival of Books recap: Zombies, Writers, Sushi Nazi, and Shakespeare

On Saturday Chris and I drove up to attend the Southern Festival of Books. My primary goal was to meet Sharon Creech and hang out with Kat Zhang, but lots of other awesome stuff happened, too. Like this:

Zombie Walk!

Then someone offered Chris fake blood, so this happened:

And thereafter when we took ‘nice’ pictures, Chris had blood on his face:

That was us in this weird modern park, btw. On astroturf. Personally I think it was a critique on how by overprotecting our children we offer them a sterile, false reality, but I digress.

Kat Zhang and I were also on a windy bridge together, which resulted in pictures like this:

So to everyone who says I should be a model just because I’m tall… no. Here’s your reason why. Kat’s ‘Supermodel’ pics turned out great, btw.

I did see Sharon Creech talk, but never ‘met’ her or got my picture with her. I did hover awkwardly with her handlers outside a public bathroom waiting for her to come out, until I realized where I was and where they were, and thankfully she ignored me when she emerged. How do you explain that one? Umm, yeah I didn’t notice you were in the bathroom… Can I have a picture?

So yeah. Sharon Creech. Amazing woman and writer.

Then we had dinner at Sam’s Sushi, which is this little hole-in-the-wall place probably about as large as my living room. There are 2 tables and 3 additional chairs, and if Sam doesn’t like you he moves you out of his restaurant. He is the Sushi Nazi, like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. He also makes the most delicious, huge sushi rolls for $4, so we go and meekly wait to be served our deliciousness. I don’t have any pictures from this because I didn’t dare.

After, Kat took me as her +1 to an author’s reception for the writers attending the Festival. It took place in the inside parking lot of a snobby art gallery, a fact we did not realize until they started disassembling the area. Then it was like, ‘OMG there are cars behind that curtain! And cement underneath that rug you just rolled up! And where are you going with those lights?!’

Kat and I met some awesome people, among them A. J. Hartley, who was super nice and cool and funny, even if he did name-drop like a publicist’s roladex thrown out the window on a windy day ;-) I’m just teasing. The poor man can’t help it if his career as a writer and Shakespearean professor has led him to have such personal contacts as R. L. Stine, Patrick Stewart, and J. K. Rowling. Also Carrie Ryan and a number of other people I admire very much. But don’t worry; we razzed him about it all night so I’m sure he feels good and admonished for being so awesome.

Other points of interest: I ate deep-fried Oreos for the first time. They didn’t taste so much like Oreos as donuts, but I have no complaints.


Tomorrow I am off work and planning to write all day in an effort to finish the sleeping beauty rewrite. I’ll post if I finish, so wish me luck!

I am planning an article on being an introvert yet attending events like these, and the mental toll it takes.

Talk to you all soon!

<3, Savannah

THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS Deconstructed and Excerpt!

A new excerpt from my zombie book is available here at vvb32 reads for zombie week!

After Deconstructing my sleeping beauty retelling I decided to make a deconstruction post after finishing every book. Sort of a way to relax and look back at the process. So, here’s the Deconstruction of THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS!

The Inspiration: I’ve been fascinated with zombies for a long time, ever since I saw Night of the Living Dead while home alone at the age of 15. Hoooly cow. Terrifying! I’ve been scared of zombies ever since. (I talk more about the psychology behind this fear here).

But it never occurred to me that I could write my own book about zombies. Not even when my friend Susan Dennard sold her book, an adventurous steampunk with necromancers and the walking dead. Zombies were Beyond for me; something I admired and relished but didn’t feel capable of producing myself.

Until Chris talked me into playing the video game Left 4 Dead 2 with him. We were a team of four lone survivors, trying to fight our way out of multiple zombie-infested areas. And then I had The Idea:

What if the zombie apocalypse happened while I was in high school?  What if they were surrounding the whole building? How would I escape?

A premise was born.

The Writing: I went into this writing without the full plot developed (surprise, surprise). I knew, of course, how I wanted it to end (and boy is it explosive!) I was really inspired by that repeated quote in the movie INCEPTION:

Mal: You’re waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you; but you don’t know for sure. But it doesn’t matter. How can it not matter to you where that train will take you? 

Cobb: Because you’ll be together.

I also wanted to explore something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a zombie book: a main character who is going to become one of the infected. How does a teen girl deal with knowing that in 48 hours she’s either going to have to kill herself, or turn into a monster that might attack her friends? How do you face mortality? Say goodbye to your family?

Call me morbid, but whenever I go on a long roadtrip I write out a ‘last words’ letter to my family, just in case something terrible happens. It makes me cry every time, but I think it’s worth it to tell them how much I love them, in case I don’t get the opportunity to say goodbye. As I was in the beginning stages of writing this book I went on vacation with some of the girls from LTWF, and had an 11-hour roadtrip in front of me. The letter I wrote to my boyfriend Chris was inspirational in figuring out how to face those feelings of having to say goodbye in advance.

While at the beach house in Florida, I just couldn’t leave the story alone, and wrote 2,000 words by hand during some of our down-time. Returning to normal life, I kept a word count chart in google docs (I detail that process here) and used that every day to track my progress.

Along the way, I realized my characters were going to be setting off a bomb, and a little unexpected romance found its way into the story. For the bomb I ordered a book off Amazon for how to make improvised munitions (it’s so weird how you can  just buy that stuff with no questions asked), and for the romance I… well… daydreamed a lot? Romance comes pretty naturally to me.

I started writing on July 12th, and finished on September 11th (yikes), so this book was written in 9 weeks. The total word count came out to 55,000 words.

Except not totally.

Initial CP feedback confirmed what I’d been thinking about: The book started too late into the story. I was going for a ‘start with the action’ angle but it left readers disoriented. So now on the task list is going back and adding a few chapters at the beginning showing Milani receiving the detention, interacting with her brother at their foster home, and then the actual lockdown. I’ve put off doing this, however, until I finish edits on my first book, Nameless.

The Reflection: Like the others, this book was magical. Immediately Milani popped into my head. Why a half-white, half-Hawaiian, angry, grieving girl from O’ahu with cultural identity issues? I have no idea. Maybe because I was displaced as a teen, too, when my parents moved us from my home state of Washington to Illinois. In March of my Junior year. My Junior year! I’d been in the same school district my whole life, and suddenly I was going to be graduating with strangers.WA to IL might not seem like a huge change, but I was proud of where I was from. I disliked everything that was different. The environment, the local mentality, the accent, even the demographics in my high school, was just different. And I wasn’t happy about it. So I truly identified with Milani, and the disdain she felt for her new student body. She had spent her whole life as a native, thinking poorly of all the tourists that came to her island, and now suddenly she was one of them. I saw the potential for her individualism to both help and harm her. To truly conquer her situation and save her brother, Milani would have to give up her prejudiced attitudes and learn to work with people she professed to hate.

I went into this book intending to break stereotypes. There are 4 members of the team Milani eventually joins to make the bomb and escape together: Milani herself, James, an intelligent nerd, Allen, a track jock, and Lindsay, a softball player/popular girl.

For the first time in my life I actually based a character off of a real person; James is a derivative of my boyfriend, Chris. Like Chris, James’ family has a history of engineering, and he’s naturally interested in machines, computers, and explosives. I needed a really intelligent character who could guide the group to finding the items they need for the explosives, and James was that character.

Unfortunately the other two characters didn’t fare quite so well in the unique department. Allen turned into the angry jock type, and Lindsay became, frankly, super witchy (though she did save Milani’s life a couple of times, and, in retrospect, her behavior was totally justified). In Lindsay’s defense, Milani isn’t very nice to her. But really, did I truly want to villianize the popular kids? Hasn’t that been done to death?

Well, it turns out the story called for it. I needed some of the characters to be antagonists to keep the story moving along and create tension within the group. So while I did my best to give them motivations and depth, Allen and Lindsay did sort of become the ‘bad’ popular kids. We’ll try to break stereotypes on another project.

This was the first book I wrote where every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger. It was super fun to figure out what dangerous situation my characters were going to have to claw their way out of next, and I really enjoyed writing tense and scary scenes. I tried to keep in mind one of the rules of horror writing: for a good scare, go slower, not faster. Describe every creak in the dark, every sliding shadow, every skipped heartbeat. And then when all hell breaks loose, write fast and furious, moving the story as fast as the action to keep the reader on the edge of their seats.

It was great fun basically all the time. :-)

The Plan: Honestly this one’s going to sit for a while. I’m rewriting Nameless again, and there’s still stuff going on with the sleeping beauty story. I’ve honestly considered self-publishing this book since it’s short and sweet, but what can I say? I’m a traditional publishing girl at heart. I’ll probably get those last few chapters written when Nameless is stalling (as it inevitably will).

Well, it was super fun, guys! Thanks for all the support during the process!

Zombie Book Finished!

Hey everyone!

Just wanted to drop a note that the zombie book was finished on Sunday night, at a whopping 51k (I kid, I kid). It’s out with CPs at the moment so hopefully it’ll get beefed up during the critiquing process.

I’m super busy with visiting family and more story ideas so I’ll write my recap on another day.

Thank you everyone for your support during the writing process. Your encouragement made it all fly by.


Book Trailer for the Zombie Book!

I’m getting soooooo close to finishing the zombie book, and in honor of this momentous occasion I thought I’d make a book trailer!

I can’t figure out how to embed in this version of wordpress, so go visit the trailer here on my youtube channel!

I hope you’re as excited as I am!

(Click here to read an excerpt from the book!)

How Do You Want Your Brains? Writing About Zombies

As I mentioned on here a few times before, I’m currently working on a zombie apocalypse novel. I’ve written before about how scared of zombies I am, but working with them has transformed my fears into enthusiasm. You could, these days, if you were so inclined, call me a Zombie Enthusiast. *Puts brain-splattered monocle into place*

One of the most enjoyable parts of working on this book has been planning out which types of zombies I want to use. For such a well-known genre, the monster itself has many variations: undead, alive, slow, fast, hungry, lusty, moaning, silent; the list goes on and on.

Below is a list of the some of the more popular different types of zombies, and the pro’s and con’s of each. But first, a glossary!


Zombie: A blanket term referring to the walking dead, or the undead (Romero zombies)

Infected: Sometimes used interchangeably with ‘zombie’, could be taken to mean someone who is about to become a zombie, or someone who has whatever causes zombieism and is acting like a zombie, but not technically dead yet.

Horde: Sometimes referred to as ‘The Horde’: a large group of zombies, typically attacking a building.

Incubation: The time it takes for someone who is infected, or zombie-capable, to become a full-out zombie.

Reanimation: Refers to the point in time when someone rises from the dead as a zombie (Romero). Usually takes place after incubation (WWZ, Resident Evil).

Turn: As in, ‘to turn.’ The point at which someone becomes full-on zombie, usually after reanimation, but not in the case of still-living infected, as in 28 Days Later.


Type: Voodoo Zombie

Cause: Mostly dried pufferfish. And a little bit of voodoo.

Effect: Turns the infected into mindless slaves.

Characteristics: These are the original zombies. Still alive, still human, just mindless slaves of the voodoo master.

How It Spreads: Typically the voodooer would get the secret pufferfish recipe onto the skin of their victim. The toxins in the pufferfish slow down the victim’s life signs to the point where they are considered dead, and buried. Then the voodoo practitioner digs them out of their grave and presto! You’ve got yourself a zombie slave.

Side note: I own several dried pufferfish. You can read into that whatever you like.

Why are they scary: You get what you think is a bit of dust on your arm and then the next thing you know you’re rising out of the earth like a corpse and forced to do whatever it is some crazy voodoo witch wants you to do. You lose your personality, your sense of time, and your family thinks you’re dead. It’s basically a living nightmare.

Why they don’t make sense: This is a tricky one, since there are reports of this actually  happening. The only hard part of making this work is infecting the person in the first place, then convincing their family they’re actually dead. These days with autopsies and formaldehyde it’s highly unlikely this tactic would work.


Type: Romero Zombies

Cause: Radiation.

Effect: The dead walk. All dead, even the recently buried (no infection; the zombieism is transferred simply by dying)

Characteristics: The goal of Romero zombies is to consume (that’s where the symbolism for consumerism came from, har har). These zombies are undead, and have low intelligence. Humans only.

How It Spreads: Through death, or biting. Incubation is at least 24 hours for bites.

Why are they scary: They want to literally eat you. Dead corpses have risen from the grave to sink their rotting teeth into your flesh. Terrifying.

Why they don’t make sense: So do they stop eating you after you die? Or do they keep eating you? If so, then why don’t they eat each other? Could you, hypothetically, turn, and then start eating them back? Or yourself?

Also, space radiation? Seriously?


Type: Resident Evil Zombies

Cause: Science Experiment gone extremely wrong (T-Virus) (T for Totally Awesome?)

Effect: Turns the infected into walking corpses.

Characteristics: These zombies are also undead, and slow. Low intelligence. Incubation period of less than 24 hours. No real eating; these zombies exist only to spread the virus. Also spreads to non-humans.

How It Spreads: Biting. Originally the virus was airborne, though.

Why are they scary: Have you seen Resident Evil? Walking corpses that don’t care if you shoot them or break their legs are scary.  End of story.

Why they don’t make sense: A virus that originally spread through the air ducts? But doesn’t go airborne afterwards? Also, if you’ve seen the later movies, you know how the virus managed to mutate and turn its hosts into squid-humans, which is just ridiculous. Plus there are ‘bosses’, but that’s because this movie was based on a computer game. I don’t really like computer/video game zombies because the nature of the game demands ‘bosses’. Some zombies mutate into really weird, oddly specific types, and that just bugs me because it wouldn’t happen ‘in real life.’


Type: 28 Days Later Zombies

Cause: PETA  Tree-Hugging Activists Another science experiment gone wrong (The Rage Virus)

Effect: Turns the infected into violent monsters that want to attack any uninfected.

Characteristics: These zombies are ‘fast’, and can be moderately intelligent. They’re still considered alive. Eyes typically become red or yellow, and the infected vomits blood. Some people may have a genetic immunity to the virus, but can be ‘carriers’ of it and pass it to others.

How It Spreads:  Fluid transfer, whether saliva, blood, or bloody vomit. There is no incubation  period for this one; the virus goes into effect almost immediately.

Why are they scary: In the first Romero film, one of the characters is able to repel a zombie simply by pushing her back weakly. These zombies are not like that. They will hunt you down, can probably outrun you, and attack you like a boxing linebacker. Plus, any hint of contamination and you’re a goner.

Why they don’t make sense: First of all a virus could not possibly spread that quickly. Secondly I don’t buy into the whole ‘rage’ thing. Finally, did you see 28 Weeks Later? The same zombie followed them around the whole time! Totally illogical!


Type: World War Z Zombies

Cause: Unknown, some type of creature in a river in China. Not known whether this is a virus, a bacteria, or something else.

Effect: The infected become walking corpses that seek to pass on the infection.

Characteristics: These zombies are slow, both physically and mentally. They are attracted to noise, and usually moan themselves. They can last for years at a time, growing progressively more raggedy. These zombies fail to blink, so their eyes quickly become milky with scratches on the retina. They are attracted to all forms of life, but the infection itself does not cross species.

How It Spreads: These zombies pass the infection mostly through biting, but in one notable case the infection was transferred through a heart transplant, so clearly it’s fluids-related. There is a 72-hour or more incubation period, after which the infected dies and ‘reanimates’.

Why are they scary: These are the zombies that took over the world. The incubation period is so long that infected were able to fly all over the world, spreading the infection rapidly.

Why they don’t make sense: These zombies are very well done, in my opinion, but the constant moaning means they wouldn’t be able to hear their prey a lot of the time. However, the author uses this to his advantage because the moan activates other zombies nearby, so if you encounter one sooner or later more are going to show up. Plus they can keep moving after being frozen and dethawing, which violates the rules about how cells work.


So, what have we learned? It makes more sense for zombies to exist solely to ‘reproduce’ by passing on the infection. Shorter and longer incubation periods are ideal for fast transmittal over a large areas. Dim-witted zombies are more common, and good in horde situations, but smarter ones can be used very effectively to create scarier situations. A zombie who can figure out how to pick your locks? No one would survive the zombie apocalypse.

Here are the specs I chose for my zombies, pulling features from my favorite canons:

Type: Savannah Zombies (Woo!)

Cause: Bacterial in nature, originated in Asia before spreading to the US through Hawaii.

Effect: The infected become living and undead zombies seeking to spread their infection.

Characteristics: The bacteria works like a hive mind, taking over the human body and using it as a host to the infection. After a two-day incubation period during which the human becomes more ill, the infected turn when the bacteria population reaches a breaking point and takes control of the human. ‘Fresh’ zombies are intelligent and speech-capable. Once the human within has died the zombie loses its intelligence and begins the moan. These zombies are fast in the early stages, but get slower. In late stages the bacteria consumes the body completely and it has a harder time moving. Growths burst from the skin. The bacteria makes the infected run at a high temperature, even when deceased, and gives their blood and skin a greenish hue.

How It Spreads: This infection spreads through biting, but could conceivably spread through other fluids.

Why are they scary: In the beginning stages the zombies are able to express their hungers and pursue characters with intelligence. In later stages they are essentially decomposing corpses badly mutilated with infection and continuing to move. I don’t know about you, but that certainly gets my adrenaline going.

For more zombie goodness, here’s an article about how the zombie apocalypse could actually happen (including brain parasites, hooray!).

And to balance it out, here’s an article about why the zombie apocalypse could never happen.


What are your favorite types of zombies? Alternately, what do you find really unrealistic about the zombie genre?

Teaser Tuesday: Zombie Book Excerpt

As promised, here’s an excerpt from the zombie book I was hoping to work on. I say was because it’s going to have to be put to the side for right now, even though I love it and can’t wait to work on it one day!

Also, I’m going to be out of town for the next 5 days in Florida along with some friends from Let The Words Flow! So excited! The house doesn’t have any internet, though, so if there are any emergencies, like the zombie apocalypse, count me unresponsive. ;-)

Click on ‘Read the Rest of this Entry’ to read Chapter 1 from the zombie book, tentatively titled THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS!!!

Continue reading “Teaser Tuesday: Zombie Book Excerpt”