Today we’re talking with Jessica Meigs, Author of the Becoming series. This is a short interview about her zombie apocalyptic series. After this interview was done, she published a short novella, ‘Brother’s in Arms’ that fills in between book 1 and book 2. If you haven’t read any of her work, you’re really missing out.
What can you tell us about The Becoming trilogy?
So much that I think I’ll just throw a few things out there. I think the Becoming trilogy is definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, just from a plot and character perspective. It’s currently three books long (though those who pay attention to my website might have caught a little piece of news regarding that fact). The third book is the longest—approximately 30,000 words longer than the first book. The second book is also a bit longer than the first. As you can tell, my plot got more complicated the further it went along. And you’ll definitely want to pick up all three books, just…please don’t kill me when you get to the end of the second (once it’s available, that is!).
Now that Book 1 of the trilogy has been released, what are the projected release dates for the remainder of the series?
I’m not totally sure, but I’m willing to guess that the second book will probably be out sometime in 2012, considering we’re done with the editing. I have no idea when the third book will be out. None of this is confirmed from my publisher, though; this is all just my educated guesses.
As this is your first published work in this genre, can you tell us what or why you chose to write in it?
It was a bit involuntary, if that makes any sense. I had been interested in zombie movies for quite some time, and in 2008 I got into zombie literature. I started to devour pretty much everything zombie that was in print that I could quickly and easily get my hands on. At some point, I read an absolutely awful book, so bad that I said to myself, “Hell, I can do better than that!” So I sat down and started writing, and here I am!
With the heightened interest in zombie apocalyptic fiction, did you find that it was difficult to come up with a plot that to the best of your knowledge hadn’t been previously written about?
I actually didn’t worry too much about what had already been written. I was, at least with the first book, just writing what my characters dictated I write. A lot of what happens in it wasn’t planned—at the point in time that I wrote the two novellas that comprise the first book, I hadn’t discovered the joys of outlining. I did retroactively outline the book when I sat down to rework it for Permuted, though, so I was able to fix some issues that I hadn’t noticed regarding pacing. But the book is really more about the characters and their survival than it is about the zombies—the zombies are just part of the setting—and people fight for their survival in different ways. So I think that, since I focused so much on the characters and their survival, with the zombies as a secondary plot device, it makes the book a lot different from many on the market today. It seems there’s a demand for zombie products like this too: just check out the popularity of The Walking Dead.
You mention on your blog that you spent hours creating a playlist for your novel. Was this list motivation while you wrote or background music for the reader to listen to as they read each chapter? Will this playlist be made available either on your blog or printed inside any of the books?
The playlist was, initially, for my own benefit. Some days, I would have trouble getting into the groove for writing something so consistently dark, so one day I sat down and spent a day setting up a playlist of music. Initially, it only had a handful of songs, but as I came across music that made me think of my book, I would add it to the playlist. By the end of writing the third book, I had a playlist that, when played in order, actually encompasses the entirety of the trilogy!
As tempting as it is to have the list printed in the books or made available on my site, it isn’t really feasible, because the playlist is over one hundred songs long! However, I do have a post on my site with a link (http://becomingzombies.com/2011/11/21/the-becoming-the-playlist/ ) to the playlist to stream over Spotify, so that option is there for readers who’d like to hear what I listened to as I wrote.
What kind of research did you do to get the ambience of the story setting, the environment, incorporating medical science into the plot, attitudes of the characters, developing the characters specifically of Cade, Ethan and Brandt?
I spent a lot of time on Google Street View to get an idea of what areas I hadn’t been looked like, but for the most part, several of the scenes take place in locations I’ve actually visited. Granted, there’s been some creative license taken with them, but I think that’s a given when it comes to writing anything set in the real world. I studied quite a lot of virology to understand how viruses work so I could incorporate that into my plot; plus, I’m an EMT, and my father is a Paramedic, so I had several avenues of research open to me in regards to textbooks from classes that I could dig for information in.
Developing characters is a really interesting task. A lot of their attitudes came naturally; I write a lot before I even get started, most of the time, so as a result, I have a ton of short stories and novellas that are stashed on my hard drive that explore the lives of the characters, both before and after the viral outbreak. One particular novella, for example, follows the character Remy Angellette, showing what she was like before the outbreak, how she handled it, and what happened to her family—and what happened to her that put her where the rest of the group found her in the first book. (I’m contemplating releasing some of these novellas as promotions for the second and third books too, if there’s enough interest from readers!)
As for characters, Cade’s character, I think, had the most development; unlike the original novellas, I rewrote her character to give her more finely honed skills, to cast her in the role of a different nationality in order to add diversity (and to give her a good reason to possess the skills she does have). She seems to routinely be the reader favorite too. The others, while developed, weren’t quite as developed as she was, and as a result, they ended up in many cases being complete surprises to me. For example, when I created Brandt, I never knew he had a rather dark past. That only became apparent to me when I rewrote and reworked the first book, and as a result, the major plotline deviated from the plan in the second and third books. And, I think, that resulted in the rest of the trilogy being that much more interesting.
Referring back to the first part of question 4, heightened interest in the genre, was it difficult for you to find a publisher?
Amusingly enough, I never tried to find a publisher—a publisher found me. I had been working hard on what was going to be the third novella in the series when I got an email from Permuted Press offering to reissue the first two and publish the last three as a trilogy rather than a series of novellas. I, of course, accepted, because Permuted is the best publisher in this genre.
What advice can you impart to authors who want to break into the zombie/horror genre?
Definitely keep writing and keep honing your craft. Don’t worry about whether or not the genre is “played out”—I see that complaint a lot, and it’s clearly from people who don’t know or understand the genre. Read the genre. Read it a lot. Read every zombie and dystopian and post-apocalyptic book you can get your hands on. And then read some more. Understand what you’re getting yourself into before you even start—zombie fandom is an entire culture, not just a book or a film. And research, research, research.
Who do you feel is directly responsible for your entry into the horror genre and specifically the inclusion of zombies into your work?
This is going to sound really odd, but I can’t say. As I mentioned in my answer to an earlier question, it has a lot to do with a really bad zombie book I read. I’ve decided I’ll never tell anyone the name of the book or the author, though, mostly because I’m too nice. But I can honestly say that this particular book is the number one reason I’ve gotten into actually writing in the genre.
What are your favorite books and films within this genre and do you consider them to be an inspiration to your work or more of a baseline?
I could name dozens of books that I find to be an inspiration, both within and outside of the zombie genre. But within the genre, I’d definitely pick Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy as one of my big inspirations; I absolutely love her style of writing and her storyline in general—it’s complex and intense and fascinating, and once you start reading, you really can’t put it down. Another one is Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay books; in the process of trying to find great zombie lit, his is one of the very few YA zombie books I found that are done right. I also just recently read Dead of Night, and it’s at least as good as Patient Zero, so I’d definitely recommend it to newcomers of the zombie lit genre, especially if you’re into strong female leads.
Favorite films tend to include 28 Days Later and Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. I think this is why I decided to roll with the idea of a two-stage virus in my novels—I wanted zombies that run much like in both films, but I also wanted zombies in a traditional sense too, like you’d find in DOTD. I’d definitely count these two specific films as inspiration for the zombies included in my novels.
If you had to do it all over again, the writing, the self-publishing, working with a publisher, etc, what would you do differently, specifically from what I understand you had to ‘break’ your book down into 3 books to make the trilogy. Is that common practice due to the length or was it something that the publisher requested to allow you more space to weave your storyline?
Actually, the conception of the trilogy was rather…interesting, to say the least. Originally, I had set out to write a single novel called The Becoming. I was writing and writing, and then I decided to go back and rework the beginning a little bit, just to give the reader a better idea of what had originally happened in Atlanta. So I wrote what’s now the first chapter of the first book, and I continued writing past that and just kept writing and writing. Next thing I knew, I had almost 90,000 words that sprang from a simple reworking of a prologue. So I decided that perhaps there was another book before it, and the original beginning of the novel became the beginning of the second book. So the first half of the second book is actually the oldest part of the entire trilogy.
Also, originally I had planned to release it all as one book. But there was so much demand from friends and acquaintances on Twitter that I decided to serialize it on Amazon—I figured I might as well make a little cash while I was working on the rest of the story. I split the newly written first book in half and posted the first half on Amazon and B&N. It ballooned from there and that resulted in where I’m at today. It was the publisher who decided that it’d work best as a trilogy, and in a publication format like that, I definitely agreed.
As for what I’d do different: absolutely nothing. This has obviously worked out for me, and I can’t say that it would have worked out so well if I’d done something differently from what I had. I think if Permuted hadn’t picked me up, I’d have continued self-publishing The Becoming and then moved on to writing something else.
I understand that you wrote most of your book on a Blackberry, was this difficult to do or was this something that you did in your spare time while at work or was this done to facilitate an easier way to take notes when away from your laptop?
When it came to writing on my BlackBerry, I was a victim of necessity more than anything else. At the time I started the novels, I did not own my own computer. I managed to get in front of a desktop about once a week, and that wasn’t really enough time to do much of anything OR keep myself motivated enough to actually finish. So I did the only thing I could do: I began writing my novel by pecking it out on my BlackBerry. After I actually got a computer, though, it really became more of a challenge to myself: could I actually finish an entire draft strictly on my BlackBerry? Turns out, I could…two entire books, in fact! (The third, due to deadlines, was not 100% written on my BlackBerry, though I think a good-sized portion of it was.) It wasn’t difficult per se, especially once I worked out a method for my madness, but I sure wouldn’t recommend it to anybody!
For more information on this series: