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!

4 thoughts on “THE DEAD-FILLED HALLS Deconstructed and Excerpt!

  1. Sydney says:

    I love that your main character has actually been bitten. I haven’t seen that in any other stories. In fact, the closest one that I can recall is the remake of Dawn of the Dead where one of the more central guys who is made to be a lovable type is bitten towards the very end. But that’s honestly it. I’m looking forward to reading The Dead-Filled Halls! :D

    • Savannah Foley says:

      I think that’s a common trope of zombie books; either someone (not the MC) gets bit and it becomes a secret between them and the audience, or the MC gets bit right at the end. But getting bit is an incredibly traumatic experience; you KNOW you’re going to die! I really wanted to explore that.

  2. Cristina says:

    Love the new site Sav! And I LOVE the idea for the Zombie book! I’ve thought about writing a similar short story in which the main character becomes infected, so I can’t wait to read this excerpt! I’m going to check out the trailer too :)

    And when did you and the LTWF girls go on vacation?! That’s so awesome! How many of you went?

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