Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zombies Don't Guest Blog

The Top-5 Things
Writing About Zombies Has Taught Me
About Writing YA
By Rusty Fischer, author of Detention of the Living Dead

I always love it when a new book comes out because I get to take all I’ve done in the past year and start blogging about it for guest posts! So, this time around, I wanted to apply what I’ve learned while writing about zombies to what I’ve learned about writing YA. And the weird thing is, they’re surprisingly similar.

So here is my guest post on The Top-5 Things Writing About Zombies Has Taught Me About Writing YA:

The First Thing Zombie Writing Has Taught Me About Writing YA:
Watch Your World

When you write about zombies, you have to be very careful with the world you’re building. I learned this the hard way after my debut YA novel, Zombies Don’t Cry, came out and I got dinged by a few reviewers for my zombie science. To me, it was simple: lightning strikes teenager, teenager becomes zombie, hilarity ensues.

Well, for a lot of people, they wanted more; much more. As in: How, exactly, did lightning make her a zombie? What kind of zombie is she? Why can she talk? Etc.

So whether you’re writing about zombies, vampires, werewolves, faeries, kingdoms, dragons or just your normal, everyday, non-monster teenager, watch your world. Know what color your main character’s best friend’s hair is. It sounds silly, but how many times has an editor popped me by saying, “Rusty, last chapter she had red pigtails, now she has raven black long hair. Which is it?”

The more you know your world, the more real your characters become for you and your readers.

The Second Thing Zombie Writing Has Taught Me About Writing YA:
The Story is the Thing

I love writing about zombies. I love writing YA. So it’s only natural I’d love writing about YA zombies. But there’s a point, I think, early on, where subconsciously you think, “Well, this is about zombies; that’s enough!” I mean, yes, every story has a plot but there is SO much more to writing a zombie book, a YA book or ANY book than just the hook of trying to write a zombie mash-up book or “Twilight for zombies” or whatever.

Writing in a really cool genre isn’t enough to pull off a really cool story. You have to start with the story and then, for me anyway, the genre has to come second. For me, zombies aren’t a genre anyway. They just happen to be what I write about. And young adults are the characters, the people, I most relate to so they’re who I write about.

But it’s really easy to get so caught up in a trend, or as in the case of zombies, a tidal wave and think, “Man, if I just make those vampires I was going to write about zombies instead, I can have this to a publisher by the end of the month…”

But if you’re really going to write about zombies, they’re not just interchangeable monsters you can swap out with, say, vampires or werewolves. They’re a different breed and you have to know and respect that breed. Just like YA; it’s not just “kids,” it’s a very specific, very sophisticated audience with certain rules and lingo and all the rest.

And above all, zombie lovers, YA readers and YA themselves, demand a good story. Something rich and alive with characters they care about and an arc they can follow and get invested in and feel a little sad about when it’s all over. That’s not just zombie or YA writing; that’s any writing.

That’s good writing…

The Third Thing Zombie Writing Has Taught Me About Writing YA:
Know Your Niche

So, I learned this one pretty fast: not all zombie books are alike. Did you know this? I did not. You see, when I set out reading YA zombie books, I read the first three I could get my hands on at the time, which would be: You Are So Undead to Me by Stacey Jay, Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amada Ashby and Never Slow Dance with a Zombie by E. Van Lowe.

Now, if you’ve ever read any of these three books, you know they all are a very specific type of tongue in cheek, funny, zany, teenage drama type of zombie book, which fit perfectly with my sensibilities. So naturally, those were the types of books I was drawn to read and the type of book I initially wanted to write.

But… but… lots of zombie publishers, readers, reviewers, agents, bloggers, fans and so on like another type of zombie book; a gorier, straight-up dystopian end-of-the-world Walking Dead type book. And they’re quick to let you know it, too!

I never thought “cute” would be a derogatory term, but it is to certain reviewers when they come upon a certain zombie book about a certain sentient zombie who can, you know, drive and go to school and wear berets to cover up the lightning scar on the top of her head.

So, yeah, it’s not your job to write solely for reviewers but if you don’t want to be shocked when/if you get slammed for your very specific type of writing, know what you’re writing going in. Know your niche, live it, breathe it, inhabit it.

Know if it’s gory or cute, funny or clever, dark or lighthearted, and own it. Don’t just know your niche, but own it. Me? I’ve kind of settled into this place where a lot of people describe my books as “B-movies in print.” Now, a lot of serious writers might get ruffled feathers to be described that way, but I love it. Why? Because that’s exactly what I’m going for.

Confidence is a really underrated writing skill that is constantly ebbing and flowing. The more you know and own your niche, the more confidently you’ll write in it.

The Fourth Thing Zombie Writing Has Taught Me About Writing YA:
Know Your Publishers

You would think it’d be easy for a zombie writer to approach a zombie publisher and get… zombie published. I mean, you publish zombie books, I write zombie books, let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah.

But for every zombie publisher, there is a personality. Some really, really like gore; some like no gore. Some won’t touch YA; some won’t touch certain types of YA. Some like “Romero” zombies, some “28 Days Later” zombies, lots don’t like “sentient” zombies; the list goes on and on.

Now more than ever, publishers seem to be getting really, really particular about their brand. Particularly zombie publishers. I’ve had a lot of publishers send out really nice rejections that say things like, “You know, we know this would sell well and it’s ‘hot’ right now, but it’s just too violent for our current line…” Or not violent enough. Or too funny, or not funny enough, etc.

Of course, I’m no fan of rejection but this process has really taught me to fine-tune and tailor my submissions much more personally than I have in the past. I’ll really get to know a publisher (or agent) before submitting now. I’ll follow them on Twitter, “friend” them on Facebook, subscribe to their blog, etc., just to get the drop on what kinds of books they put out, how often, how they promote them, where they promote them, etc.

Knowing as much as you can about a publisher before you submit isn’t cutting edge news, but now more than ever it’s a prerequisite for getting published, be it in zombies, YA or gardening books.

The Fifth Thing Zombie Writing Has Taught Me About Writing YA:
Zombies — and Kids — Just Want to Have Fun

Probably the most important thing writing about zombies has taught me about writing YA is to have fun. Yes, I said zombies, YA and “fun” in the same sentence. I’m not even saying to have slapstick, wearing a clown nose fun (unless that’s your thing), but if you’re writing at all, it should be fun.

If you’re writing about what you love, it should be fun. If you’re writing a 60,000-word YA zombie novel on deadline, it should still be fun. You have to have fun with your writing, no matter what you’re writing about.

Am I saying every day is going to be daisies, wine coolers and lollipops? Heck no. But even so, the idea you’re working on should be fun, crafting a really clever line of dialogue should be fun, capping off another chapter should be fun and writing “the end” at the bottom of the last page should be fun.

Because you know why? When you’re having fun, when you’re really enjoying the genre you write in, the characters you write about, the world you’ve built and the story you’ve decided to write, your readers will have fun as well.


So there you have it; a few years into this whole YA zombie paranormal genre writing scene and I hope I’ve learned a little more than a lot. I’ve tried to share just a glimpse of what I’ve learned in this guest post, and I hope it helps you no matter what genre you write in! I’d love to hear what you’ve learned on your own writing journey. As always, comment boxes are open below…

PS: And thanks, Vicki, for letting me stop by and bend your readers’ ears for a little bit. I hope I’ve helped!!!

Yours in YA,


About the Author

Rusty Fischer is the author of Zombies Don’t Cry, as well as several other popular zombie books, including Panty Raid at Zombie High, Detention of the Living Dead and the Reanimated Readz series of 99-cent living dead shorts.

Rusty runs the popular website Zombies Don’t Blog ( At Zombies Don’t Blog you can read more about Rusty’s work, view his upcoming book covers and read – or download – completely FREE books & stories about… zombies!

You can also check out my reviews of Detention of the Living Dead, Ushers, INC., Vamplayers, and Zombies Don't Cry here at The Wolf's Den. And a HUGE thanks to Rusty!