Zombie Awareness Month Roundtable: Young Adult Zombies

28 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

While Zombies have been around for centuries, they are currently hitting the mainstream in a big way. Zombies are not just for adults anymore. Young Adult authors are using zombies of all shapes, sizes and speeds to tell their stories, and they aren’t holding back on the darkness and gore. Today I have asked some of the Top Young Adult authors some questions on Zombies and Young Adult Literature.

Today’s Participants are:

Ilsa J. Bick Author of The Ashes Trilogy.

Darren Shan, author of the Zom-B Series.

Sean Beaudoin, author of The Infects

Growing up in the 80’s most of the Young Adult Novels I read were about Chocolate Wars, being The Cheese and becoming Invisible (So, yeah, I went through a Cormier phase) Today, it seems there is so much more diversity in Young Adult novels. What do you thing makes Zombies so interesting to today’s youth?

Ilsa J, Bick: I’m not so sure they’re more or less interesting today than they were in the past. These kinds of books were around for us, but they were marketed to adults. (Remember: the Borg of Star Trek: TNG are really very much the same thing when you get right down to it; they even walk like zombies–either that, or goose-stepping Nazis.) I think YA writers today have more freedom to write the stuff that kids might want to read. What we churn out, though, is really no different than anything you could’ve read in science fiction and fantasy (the YA lit of my day) or horror. It’s only that kids don’t have to read about adults in these situations; they get to read about themselves saving the day.

Darren Shan: I was (and am) a big Robert Cormier fan too! I’m actually trying to do some of the same things in my Zom-B series that he did in his books — encourage young readers to question the received wisdom of their elders, to think for themselves, to fight for a better and less cynical and manipulative world. I just do it with a bit more blood and gore! To be honest, I’m not sure why zombies are so hot at the moment. While interesting stories can be woven around them, as monsters I do find them rather one-dimensional, so I’m surprised by just how fascinated the mass market currently is with them.

Sean Beaudoin: Well, zombies were pretty interesting to me in the 80’s too. Don’t forget Evil Dead (evil book), Re-animator (evil scientist), Return of the Living Dead (punk rock/evil army experiments) and the original Dawn of the Dead (evil mall). I think everything is cyclical. There was plenty of demented violence in the comic books I was reading then. The technology is just better. Z in HD.

When writing for Young Adults, how do you approach the darkness and gore of the world of a Zombie Apocalypse differently than if you were writing for Adults?

Ilsa J, Bick: I don’t approach it differently at all. Nothing I write is more or less gory than an episode of The Walking Dead, a graphic novel, or the latest shoot-em-up video game. When I include a traumatic or horrible detail, it is to reinforce that actions have consequences. Pull a trigger, someone may died, and while it’s a horrible thing to see, it may, in fact, be more horrible to do.

The main difference, I think, between adult and YA lit is that these stories provide kids with a vicarious avenue for grappling with seemingly insurmountable odds–an awful, ravaged world–and winning, surviving, and doing the right and noble thing. All you have to do is think of the end of Matheson’s I am Legend to see the difference. One is nihilistic; a YA novel is likely to be much more hopeful. It kind of has to be because, at a certain level, what you’re really writing about is the scary transition from childhood to adulthood: to the moment when the kid works up the courage to walk out the door of his house into the wider world.

Darren Shan: I don’t. I learnt long ago (to my surprise) that when it comes to gore you can get away with an awful lot in YA books. Adult watchdogs aren’t that bothered about violence in books for teenagers — they tend to only really object if sex is brought into the equation. Personally I think it should be the other way round, and that in a truly healthy society we would be more concerned about our children’s obsession about weapons and fighting than in their interest in sexual curiosity. But this is the world in which we live, so when it comes to writing for young readers I have to be careful on the sexual front, but have a pretty free hand when it comes to the darkness and gore. That being said, as dark as my novels for young readers get, I do handle them differently to my books for adults, in that I try to introduce moral elements. For instance, I never condone the use of weapons. I always encourage readers to engage in conversation before relating to violence, pushing the message that most problems can be solved peacefully if we can engage openly and directly with those who we see as our enemies – although  in my books, for dramatic reasons, this rarely happens! There is a clear line between good and evil in my YA books — while I don’t hide the darkness of the world from my readers, I do always say to them that it’s a darkness they can light up if they have the courage and the drive, that they can make the world a better place if they’re prepared to knuckle down and be better people than their elders.

Sean Beaudoin: I pretty much write exactly what I was going to write anyway and for some reason they keep publishing my stuff. I don’t write specifically for any age group. Some study just showed that 50% of people who buy YA novels are adults anyway. My new book, Wise Young Fool, definitely pushes the envelope. I’m sort of still half surprised I haven’t been arrested yet. But that may just be because it isn’t out until August.

What popular singer or hit TV series cast would you most enjoy seeing facing down a horde of carnivorous undead?

Ilsa J, Bick: NCIS: I want to see Leroy Jethro Gibbs and especially ex-Mossad operative Ziva David kick some undead butt.

Darren Shan: Singers and actors are harmless. I’d like to put Simon Cowell up before
them. Soulless puppet masters are the ones we should be wary of in this life, not their eager-to-please puppets.

Sean Beaudoin: I would love to see Ted Nugent quickly run out of ammo and then be eaten by a busload of zombie Girl Scouts. As far as TV, it wouldn’t bother me at all if a ravening hoard gorged on that Millionaire Matchmaker chick.

What aspects of today’s youth do you feel makes them better suited to surviving in a Zombie Apocalypse over us ummm…. older young adults?

Ilsa J, Bick: To be honest, I don’t think they’re well-suited at all. Most kids spend their entire lives these days staring at teeny-tiny screens and texting madly instead of having an open-ended conversation. They have no ability to sit quietly and do nothing, or notice much of anything that isn’t fed to them through earbuds or on a computer. Many have the attention span of gnats. A couple nights ago, there was some special Jeopardy for college kids, and while these guys knew about YouTube and songs, they had no idea what latitude and longitude were. So they’ll be both lost and starving. The only thing going for kids today is they might be faster, but only if they occasionally get off their butts and go for a walk or ride a bike. Otherwise, I think they’re dead meat.

Darren Shan:They are creatures of hope. I’m no benign hippy. I know children can be even crueller and more heartless than their older counterparts. But they also have a capacity for change that a lot of us in the greying brigade lack. Countless generations of children have grown up to make the same mistakes that their elders have, becoming money-driven, self-obsessed, planet-harming monomaniacs. But I keep hoping that coming generations will find a way to break the cycle and take us in a more positive direction. A zombie apocalypse could be beneficial in the sense that if the slate is wiped clean, maybe the young can build a better world out of the ashes of the old. That’s a concept I explore in Zom-B.

Sean Beaudoin: I don’t think teenagers believe anything any more, which is greatly to their advantage. Twenty years ago we all still were sort of under the impression that The Authorities would show up at any given disaster and take control and save our collective fannies. At this point any smart 17 year old knows you gotta make your own contingency plan, gas up the mini van, steal a few pallets of canned beans, and head for the hills. Let the walking appetizers stand there crying and bitching because the zombie cops haven’t shown up yet.

Most of characters in your novels are embroiled in some stage of a Zombie Apocalypse, spending each day fighting for their lives. What type of lives do you think they would have had if instead, they lived in a zombie free world?

Ilsa J, Bick: Well, if you’ve read my books, then you know my guys were haunted from the get-go. I’m not convinced their lives would be any better. In fact, in a couple cases, I think having to focus their angst on an apocalypse saved them.

Darren Shan: This isn’t actually the case. Without giving too much away, in Zom-B there are two types of zombie — the standard, braindead type, but also a small band of living dead teenagers who have regained their mental faculties (albeit while still needing to eat brains to survive). These are the central characters of the series. I wanted to look at what it would be like if you became a real monster, and if it’s possible for human kindness to exist in even the most unlikely of places. For some of these characters, the zombie apocalypse is actually a weird sort of blessing, as it forces them to become better (undead) people than they would have been in ordinary life. In a nutshell, the main message of the series is that there’s hope for every single one of us — even those of us who for whatever reason find ourselves strewn among the seemingly damned…

Sean Beaudoin: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that Nick wasn’t having the greatest life. But I think everyone feels that way at his age. I certainly did, and so did everyone I knew. Anyone who seemed too pleased with their lot was probably spending too much time with the airplane glue. It’s possible that is one of the themes of the book, if I believed in themes: there’s really not that much difference. Survival is relative, but the love of a girl in steel toe’d boots is eternal.

Thanks to Ilsa, Darren, and Sean for stopping by. Look for more Zombie Roundtables this week, plus reviews of Zom-B City and The Infects.

Shadows Blog Tour: Guest Post by Ilsa J. Bick

26 10 2012

As the followers of my blog probably realize, I don’t participate in many blog tours. In Fact, this is my first. Last year, Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick was one of my top Zombish audiobooks of the year and I have looked to the release of Shadows with great anticipation. When I got invited to join the tour and found out that Ilsa would be willing to talk audiobooks, I jumped at the chance. So, here we go:

SHADOWS by Ilsa J. Bick

Publisher Summary

The Apocalypse does not end. The Changed will grow in numbers. The Spared may not survive.

Even before the EMPs brought down the world, Alex was on the run from the demons of her past and the monster living in her head. After the world was gone, she believed Rule could be a sanctuary for her and those she’d come to love.

But she was wrong.

Now Alex is in the fight of her life against the adults, who would use her, the survivors, who don’t trust her, and the Changed, who would eat her alive. Welcome to Shadows, the second book in the haunting, apocalyptic Ashes Trilogy: Where no one is safe and humans may be the worst of the monsters.

For a refresher before listening Shadows, check out this refresher for Ashes.

With that, let’s welcome Ilsa J. Bick to The Guilded Earlobe:


I am a huge audiobook fan and so have listened to many stories over the years.  There’s something about a very good narrator that can make even an only so-so read a spectacular listen just as the reverse is true: a crummy narrator can kill a book.

What I’ve really enjoyed with my audiobooks has been the degree to which producing them becomes a real collaboration.  The Audible folks have been fabulous, and because I’ve been a member for so long, listened to tons of books, I know which narrators I think serve my story well.  To that end, the Audible folks routinely ask for my preferences, or they come up with their own list on the basis of what I ask for.  In fact, for my very first book with them, DRAW THE DARK, I asked for and got Joshua Swanson right off the bat (and he’s a very sweet guy, too).

My job to listen to try and figure out which voice best captures what I want to convey.  For the ASHES series, Katy was an easy choice.  She’s not only gifted and experienced, she’s such a pro.  Before ASHES and, just recently SHADOWS, she and I talked about what my visions were for how people should sound; how to pronounce certain words; all that. She’s a very gracious, tremendously giving performer, and she really wants to get it right. Katy’s stories of what goes into a performance are real eye openers, and kind of funny, too.  (Like how do you deal with shouting?  You know, when people are screaming in books . . . how do you do that without blowing eardrums or destroying the sound?  It turns out there are tricks.)  

Now, having said all this and enthused over my narrators (and they are all super), I have never listened to my own work other than a little snippet, just as I try to stay away from audiobooks while I’m actively writing something.  There are two reasons.  In terms of my own work, I already know the story; I’ve read it more times than you can imagine; and I only have so much time in the day to discover and listen to new work.  Plus, to be really honest, I don’t actually enjoy listening to my own stuff.  (Maybe that’s why actors don’t like watching their own films, I dunno.)  Just makes me feel . . . funny.  Maybe I need to be a tad vainer, or something.

But far more serious is this tendency I have to assimilate and mimic voices like a parrot-magpie.  I’m completely serious.  My husband HATES going to foreign countries with me because I pick up intonations and accents and cadences very quickly, and then you run the risk of offending someone who thinks you’re making fun.  (No, I’ve just got you in my head; I can’t help it.  Language is like music that way.)  Voices and the tone of a story can easily take up residence in my head, and that can be a problem.  Yes, it helps a lot in terms of characterization; if I can “hear” my character’s voice, then I keep cadence, tone, and all of that straight, and the character’s voice remains distinctive.  In fact, one of the exercises I actually practiced when I was doing STAR TREK was taking a key speech done by, say, Captain Kirk and then recasting the same lines in the voice of the different captains.  I know that sounds funky, but all these actors had different ways of delivering their lines just as the captains had their distinctive personalities.  So the way Kirk might say something, the language and gestures he’d use, is fundamentally different than how Picard would deal with the language, or Janeway.  Getting a character that rooted in your head helps you maintain a consistent and authentic voice for your folks.

So—being a bit of a mimic, and I’ve also done a ton of stage work—I worry that I would hear Katy, for example, and not the Alex I imagine.  I know how I think Alex would say something, but Katy is her own person, with her unique interpretation.  What I wouldn’t want to do is write Katy.  I’m Alex’s mouthpiece, the only one she’s truly got, and Tom’s and Ellie’s, etc.  The work is to keep them straight as authentic individuals, with their unique voices.

I want to thank Ilsa for taking the time to talk about audiobooks. Make sure you check out my reviews of Ashes and Shadows and head over to Brilliance Audio or Audible to grab your copy read by the wonderful Katherine Kellgren.


This post is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. You can find more post by clicking on the banner below.

Audiobook Review: Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick

26 10 2012

Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick (Ashes Trilogy, Bk. 2)

Read by Katherine Kellgren

Brilliance Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: YA Apocalyptic Horror

Quick Thoughts: Shadows is a rapidly paced, mind numbing follow up to Ashes. While the plot can become disconcertingly complex at times, it is full of gore, psychological terror and some truly stunning moments. Shadows won’t conclude any story lines in anything close to a satisfying way, but it definitely sets you up for what is sure to be a crazy end to the trilogy.

Grade: B

WARNING: This is a review of a second book in a planned Trilogy. While I try and avoid Spoilers, be careful before reading.

So, I have been thinking about Zombies. Strange, right? I have been trying to determine which is actually creepier, the traditional Romero style dead zombies, or the virus infused 28 Days Later living rage zombies. OK, before you get all up in my face, I know, I know, if they are not dead, then they aren’t really zombies. Not in the mood for that semantics argument. If you are about to be attacked by a mindless raging human, hell bent on tearing you to shreds and eat your tasty insides, I am more than willing to let you stop and take it’s pulse before you feel comfortable calling it a zombie. There is something inherently creepy about a dead, rotting corpse slowly shambling towards you, reeking of decay, yet hell bent on taking a nice big bite out of your meatier areas. Yet, I think live human variants of the traditional zombie come with its own level of creepiness. They are not dead, but changed. On some level, they are what they were before, just with altered thoughts or lack of them. With dead zombies, you can argue that they aren’t really human. Yet, live humans who attack, and consume us, no matter what their mental state totally gyrate on our most sacred beliefs and taboos. What is worse is the moral questions and the ambivalence. Your mom dies, and then rises again to eat you, well, put a bullet through that monster’s head. Yet, a living zombie is simply sick. Perhaps the sickness can be cured. How would you feel if mom changed, you pumped her head full of lead, and then the CDC announces that they have a cure for the changed the next day? My guess would be, pretty darn sucky. This is why I always find the living rage zombie creepy on its own level, and very dangerous. Any bit of hesitation and you could be lunch. I don’t want to be lunch.

When Ashes ended, Alex was in a precarious situation surrounded by The Changed. Alex is missing, but clues abound that she may alive somewhere, and Tom is assumed dead. Rule, the strange fundamentalist town that Alex was living in, is in chaos due to Alex’s escape and Chris’s return. Lots of strange revelations and realizations about the very nature of Rule happen. Then we wait a year in a cruel state of perpetual anticipation for Shadows to be released. . Shadows picks up right where Ashes left us off. Bick doesn’t ease us into anything, but throws us right into the turmoil and action. I’ll admit, at first it was a bit disconcerting. Part of me wished I had read the handy prep guide Bick posted on her website before reading Shadows. It took me a while to reintegrate myself into the world, and Bick leaves very little room for that process. Yet, once I managed to get myself straight, the story took off. Shadows is told from multiple perspectives, all which contains parts of the picture as a whole, and a whole lot of misinformation, at least for the characters. This is part of the beauty and also a bit of the problem with Shadows. No character has the whole picture, and many are suffering from misconceptions or outright deceptions about what it going on. This gives Shadows the feel of a complicated jigsaw puzzle where someone has happened to throw in a bunch of random pieces that don’t fit. It’s a beautiful mosaic, but one that clouds the complete picture. There are some truly stunning moments in Shadows. Bick is great at utilizing the complicated psychologies of her characters. She takes bits of their past traumas and forces them into situations where they most confront them. If I was one of Bick’s characters, I would hate her for what she is putting me through. Bick also ups the gore ante. This novel is not for the feint of heart. It’s graphic, tragic and often very, very disturbing. While I had some struggles with the novel, the ending sequence is absolutely riveting. No matter how cliché it sounds, I was literally leaning forward on the edge of my car seat, with my heart pounding during the final moments of this audiobook. Shadows is a rapidly paced, mind numbing follow up to Ashes. While the plot can become disconcertingly complex at times, it is full of gore, psychological terror and some truly stunning moments. Shadows won’t conclude any story lines in anything close to a satisfying way, but it definitely sets you up for what is sure to be a crazy end to the trilogy.

So much of the fun of this audiobook is simply listening to Katherine Kellgren perform. Kellgren is one of those rare narrators that simply goes for it. Kellgren just unleashes the full fury of her voice, and it is really a sight…err… sound to behold. There were moments where she was reading the novel so fast and so furiously that you just were waiting for her to stop and try and catch her breath. Yet, despite the speed of her reading the pace was always concise and easy to follow. Kellgren creates real tension with her voice, building on the written word better than almost any other narrator I can think of. Her characterizations are always well thought out and authentic. She just simply pulls you into the world and never lets you leave. At times it actually hurt to push the pause button and return to reality. It’s been nearly half a year since I last listened to a Kellgren narration, but listening to Shadows reminds me why she gets like all the Audie nominations. The amazing thing is, the three performances I have listened to by her this year, Dreadfully Ever After, Among Others and now Shadows, are all very different books, yet they all felt like the were made for Kellgren. Now, I must stop going all fanboyish, and just end with this. Even if you don’t love Shadows, it’s worth a listen simply for the narrator’s performance. Being that I liked the novel as well, it was a double score for me.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

22 12 2011

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick

Read by Katherine Kellgren

Brilliance Audio

Length: 11 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Young Adult/ Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Ashes does a service to fans of Post Apocalyptic novel, introducing younger readers to the genre in a way that should hook them in, building a fan base to help keep the genre going strong.  The author explores a lot of areas that long time fans of end of the world tales will recognize, but does it with a new modern spin that will keep listeners enthralled.

Grade: B+

As I often fail to point out, The Guilded Earlobe is a full service audiobook blog, well, except if you want me to rewrite the publisher’s summary, or wash your car. I like to do more than just tell you what book rules the universe, or lament the narrator who decided to read some dark fantasy in a chipmunk voice. I like to share the lessons learned through the books I have experiences. That is why, often, when I review a post apocalyptic tale, I like to extend a very important service. Since we are only a year away from when those wise Mayan calendar makers decided the end of the world would be, and since that means soon we will all be scrounging for food, and starting crazy religious cults, I like to offer you tips that I learn from listening to post apocalyptic novels to help my readers survive. Often, these tips are learned from the incredibly stupid actions of the characters of the novel, which is no criticism of the author, since realistically, there will be plenty of people doing incredibly stupid things when the apocalypse comes. Today’s tip is brought to you by Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. If someone just set off an EMP killing millions and turning teenagers into raving zombie like killing machines, and you find a nice little out of the way cabin with enough supplies to last you through the winter, stay there. Sure, you may get stir crazy, and you may want to go out into the world and see what is going on, but really, stay put for as long as you can before heading out into the world. Of course, staying put in a cabin really doesn’t make for good fiction, so don’t expect people to write a novel about you.

I really wasn’t sure what to think about Ashes when I first started it. I have read an EMP novel before, William Forstchen’s One Second After, but Ilsa J. Black does some interesting things with this novel. The EMP pulse does more than just knock out electronics, but it seemingly messes with the electrical impulses of the population, killing some, while changing others. I found the concept brilliant, and a great set up, yet Black also goes and creates an extremely annoying character names Ellie. Ellie is a young, temperamental girl who freaks out at everyone trying to help her whenever she gets a chance. Now, I have to give a hand to the author, I am getting sick of all the “mature beyond their years” child characters in books,, but Ellie, especially as the novel opens, was quite annoying. So yeah, part of me was hoping she may fall off a cliff, or get eaten by wolves, but eventually, I sort of became found of her in a “If you let me punch you in the face, then we can be friends” sort of way. Luckily, I found the other characters, especially the main character Alex, more complex, and interesting, even if many of the male characters failed to see her for the strong person she was, and just wanted to protect her, and keep her locked away. Ashes is a Young Adult novel, and I think it’s the perfect primer for teenagers who want to become obsessive Post Apocalyptic fans like myself. The first half of the novel is full of action, and survival, and I think it will hook many younger readers who are just getting into the subgenre. The second half was a more nuanced introduction to many of the tropes of post apocalyptic fiction which long time fans will appreciate.  Ashes is part of a series, so the ending is a bit abrupt, but the set up moments of the finale is quite chilling and well done and will leave the reader with a lot to look forward to in the next edition.

Ah, the narration. Katherine Kellgren is a prolific narrator, yet this is my first time listening to one of her performances. The first half of the novel she reads at a lighting quick pace that kept the listener scared to pause the audiobook for fear they may miss something in the microsecond it takes for the device to register the command. Also, early on, I found myself having to lower the volume in order to handle her performance of the Ellie character. With a character that is supposed to be young and annoying, it’s only appropriate for the narrator to give the character an annoying voice, yet, well that still doesn’t keep it from being annoying. It is the second half of the novel that Kellgren really begins to shine. She has a flavor to her voice that I could never really pinpoint but it brought the prose alive in unexpected ways. She makes smart choices with her characters, and has quite an impressive vocal range. Ashes does a service to fans of Post Apocalyptic novel, introducing younger readers to the genre in a way that should hook them in, building a fan base to help keep the genre going strong.  The author explores a lot of areas that long time fans of end of the world tales will recognize, but does it with a new modern spin that will keep listeners enthralled.

Note: A special thanks to the good people of Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title to review.