Today, I have a very special guest for Zombie Awareness Month, Ms. Eloise J. Knapp, author of The Undead Situation, which found a place on my coveted Top 10 Zombie Novels of 2011 with authors like Mira Grant and Joe McKinney, Her newest novel, The Undead Haze is currently available in EBook through Permuted Press, and in Audiobook by Audible Frontiers, and read by Kevin T. Collins.
At the time of this interview I had not listened to The Undead Haze, so don’t worry about spoilers. Now that I have listened, I can asure you all it’s awesome. Check out my reviews of both books in this series.
So, Eloise, Welcome to The Guilded Earlobe. I’m sure you will answer my inane questions with style and class.
BOB: When I first hear of The Undead Situation, the biggest thing I heard was about your age when you wrote it. All I was hearing was, “OMG! She was like 10 years old when she wrote it with crayons…. isn’t that AWESOME!” (The preceding statement was maybe a bit exaggerated.) Now, skeptical Bob was skeptical. So, could you tell us about how The Undead Situation came to be?
Eloise: No, you have it right. 10 years old with crayons, but halfway through I switched to colored pencils for crisper letters….
I started writing the beginnings of TUS when I was about 16. I wrote short vignettes here and there. Eventually my uncle started writing his novel and planned on self publishing it. I was inspired and became very motivated to turn those short pieces into something bigger. I set my mind to it and self published by the time I was 18, then a few months after that PP picked it up.
BOB: As a big Zombie fan, I had your novel on my radar, but these sort of wunderkind stories of young authors always leave me wary, but I try to keep an open mind. When I did listen, I was blown away by the maturity and insight you brought into the genre, especially in your characterizations. Cyrus is perhaps one of the most fascinating characters I have encountered in Zombie Fiction. A man who is seemingly a sociopath, but in someway, finds himself in this harsh new world. When you were developing Cyrus as a character did you ever worry that he was too different? That readers wouldn’t be able to connect with him, or find him at all likeable?
Eloise: I didn’t worry about him being too different, because that is what I wanted from him. Part of why I started writing was because, while I loved all kinds of zombie books, all the characters seemed too similar. I wanted Cyrus to be different. Easy to hate, easy to love, easy to laugh at, all in one. I knew there was a risk in people not liking him, but it was one I was willing to take for the sake of producing something unique. If I wanted almost all readers to connect with him or like him, he wouldn’t be who he is. He basically wouldn’t exist.
BOB: As someone who tends to lean more towards the introverted side, who enjoys his moments of solitude, and can often find the company of those beyond his closest friends and family a bit trying, I could relate in some ways to Cyrus. You would think an apocalyptic event would be the perfect place for a loner like him. Yet, I think one of the major themes of The Undead Situation is trying to find a balance between being wary and distrustful of people, and the fact that you need others to survive. With the ending of The Undead Situation, I can’t help but wonder how this dichotomy will affect Cyrus and Blaze. Without getting into too many spoilers, is this something that is further explored in The Undead Haze?
Eloise: Yes, yes, YES. It is explored a lot. A new character is introduced who forces Cyrus, in ways he isn’t happy and totally unfamiliar with, to truly consider his stance on being wary and distrustful versus how much you need other people to survive; or rather, the fine line of needing versus using other people for your own gain. TUH is heavy on character development. Cyrus didn’t like it, but it had to be done.
BOB: Beyond writing, you also do work as a photographer and model for some really awesome Zombie Apocalypse photographs, have edited an anthology and put all your skills together for Z Magazine, the first magazine written by Zombies for Zombies. You have done this all while attending college. When I was in college, I didn’t write any books, ran the radio station morning show when I wasn’t hung-over and was lucky if I actually read all my assigned work. I was very often on the edges of burning out. So, what are some of your favorite things to do when you just want to blow off some steam and escape the world for a bit?
Eloise: Instead of stating the obvious (watch zombie movies, go shooting) I’ll tell you some things you wouldn’t guess. I love to do hot yoga (about a 110 degree room, hour long sessions) about 4-6 times a week. Since I was young I’ve always loved baking and cooking, so I do quite a bit of that. When I have time I also quilt or work on other sewing projects. I also run a food blog with my grandma.
BOB: As you know, my blog focuses on Audiobooks. The Undead Situation features the work of one of my favorite narrators, Kevin T. Collins. I know some authors like to get involved in the audio productions, while others are hands off. Also, some authors will not listen to their own audiobooks because they fear it will affect their voice, while others love listening, even going as far as saying it helps them in their writing. So, did you listen to the audiobook version of The Undead Situation? Did you have any thoughts, revelations, icky feelings, or anything of the sort about the production?
Eloise: I listened to about 70% of TUS before I couldn’t. Naturally the voice wasn’t I imagined for Cyrus, but that is sort of a given. After I got over the voice (and I really love the narrator, I just had to get used to it after the first twenty minutes) it was an icky, icky feeling. Having something read back to me like that made me point out all the errors in my own work, wince at certain words or things I thought were cool at the time but didn’t anymore, etc. By the time TUS was turned into an audio book it had been so long since I revisited that my writing had changed a lot. In that sense it was also a revelatory because I realized certain things I did and tried curbing them.
BOB: If you were not writing about Zombies, what would you be writing about?
Eloise: I would still be writing post-apocalyptic fiction, but just not with zombies. I’ve also considered branching out into regular old dramatic fiction, but it’s a twinkle in my eye. Rather than say what I’d be writing about, here are some things I know I won’t be writing: romance (just can’t do it), young adult (I can’t stop things from getting too violent), paranormal (I’m afraid of ghosts and would scare myself).
BOB: Is there one book on your shelf that your fans may be shocked to see there?
Eloise: Almost the entire collection of Little House on the Prairie books. Vintage. Up until a few years ago I read at least one every summer. When I was a teenager I’d read all of them in the summer.
BOB: If Zombies were infesting your neighborhood right now, and you only had time to grab one item from your room, what would the item be, and why?
Eloise: I’d definitely grab the .22 rifle and a ton of ammo. I don’t have a good bug out bag built so the rifle seems like the next best thing.
BOB: We have moved from a world where authors do more than just write, but now engage with their fans through social media on an almost daily basis. You blog, attend cons, post charming and often hilarious videos and engage with your fans in a meaningful and professional way. Is there anything about Zombie fandom that has surprised you? Also, feel free to share any cool interactions you may have with fans over the years.
Eloise: One thing surprised me at first, in the absolute beginning of connecting with people, and it was only for a moment. When I first went to zomBcon my mom (I don’t think she’ll ever read this, but if she does, sorry mom!) was constantly going on about how people would be weird, mean, inconsiderate. That they were, for a lack of better words, freaks. It was offensive to me, of course, because wasn’t I a “freak” since I loved that stuff too and wrote about it? At the time I lived and breathed zombie books and movies. Anyway, she went to zomBcon with me and I had been nervous because I let her get to me, but right when I started meeting people it became obvious that they were the nicest people I had ever met. The sense of camaraderie (especially at zombie only events) is overwhelming. Everyone is nice, everyone is supportive and willing to talk. Like I said, it only surprised me for a second before the, “Well duh! Of course they’re awesome!” kicked in. Moral of the story? The people your mom calls “freaks” are the best people ever.
And I do have a fan interaction that, to this day, gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Almost two years ago a woman sent me this insanely long email about The Undead Situation. It was a mixture of praise and the most intense, blunt criticism I’d ever received. Ever. After I read it (it was at least two or three full word doc pages) I sat there, dazed. I sat on it for a day then emailed her back, thanking her for taking the time to email me and that her criticism was very helpful. We talked on and off for a while, then eventually I asked her if she wanted to beta read my sequel, maybe put some suggestions in here and there. Well, she ended up ripping every page apart. Every comment and edit was a brutal reality check. I loved every second of it. No beating around the bush. If she thought something sucked, she said so. After working with her I can safely say I became a better writer.
BOB: So, now that The Undead Haze is being released, what is next for you?
Eloise: I’m working on the last book in Cyrus’s trilogy and the last edition of Z Magazine. Don’t get your hopes up though; I’m a slow writer and it will be a while before The Undead End (my nickname for it) is finished. In the mean time I’m blogging, making videos, connecting with fans, and facing the “real world” now that college is over.
BOB: I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. Any last words?
Eloise: Thanks! And…
Prepare for the apocalypse!
You can connect with Eloise J Knapp: