Several reviewers of my book Zombie Turkeys have commented, “I don’t normally like zombie books, but I loved yours!” I know exactly how they feel, for I feel the same way.
In my fifty-five years of reading, I read one Steven King novella, in the anthology Legends. I enjoyed it, admired his craftsmanship, but I didn’t like the genre. I also read John Ringo’s zombie apocalypse series, ‘Dark Tide Rising’. I loved that, but I generally love John Ringo. The zombies were just a convenient opponent . I looked with horror on the rising tide of zombie popularity in our culture, generally thinking zombies were disgusting and not nice.
Then I wrote Zombie Turkeys. What made me change my mind? My mind didn’t change; I just enjoy parody. So I have to read zombie books and watch zombie movies to write my parody. No one said the life of a writer was easy. I knew that when I signed up.
What was the genesis of Zombie Turkeys? Where was the moment when I, like Dr. Frankenstein screamed, “It’s Alive!”?
Frankenstein, “It’s Alive” scene.
I just fried a turkey, outside in the driveway, with my obligatory bottle of cold beer. We got a new turkey fryer and I wanted to test it before Thanksgiving. I achieved complete success. My family gathered around the table, laden with the golden turkey and I had a funny, random thought.
“What if the turkey came back to life and started eating us?”
And one of my children, not known for reticence, chimed in, “A zombie turkey!”
“A zombie turkey!” I exclaimed. “That’s it! That’s what I’ll write for NaNomo!” That’s National Novel for November month.
You see, I had been forced into retirement at 59. My company, Caterpillar Inc., was in the third year of a sales slump and as a grizzled, highly paid veteran, I was on the chopping block. They made me a retirement offer I couldn’t refuse, so I didn’t. This happened in September. By October I decided to write my first novel for NaNoMo, so I wouldn’t sit around and mope. I expected to fail with the first novel, so I wanted to write something light, easy, and expendable. Fail worthy, if you will.
Zombie Turkeys filled the bill. I could visualize the whole plot immediately: the zombie turkeys start from a small flock and spread irresistibly over the whole country. I could start in central Illinois, where I lived for the past thirty years. I would use all the standard zombie tropes: people would begin with denial and disbelief. There would be horrible grizzly deaths—not by a grizzly bear, but by a turkey. The government would be forced to take action by the outraged citizenry. There’d be political infighting. There would be denialists. There’d be blazing military action. There’d be chainsaws and axes. There’d be screaming teenagers.
And every time the turkeys seemed defeated, they’d come back. But they’d be better, stronger, more numerous than before. Then, just when all hope seemed lost and the country and the protagonists were going under, they’d discover the cure and stop the plague.
In November 2015, the story seemed to write itself—except when it didn’t. This was the first time I had written a novel full time with a deadline. I soon discovered I loved writing dialogue and action scenes—but I hated transitions and descriptions. Every time I came to a lull in the action, I got bored and stuck.
I knew this was a learning process, so I stuck to it. To my chagrin, the novel ended and I didn’t have my required fifty thousand words. I went back through it and added descriptions and transitions. I only had forty-eight thousand words. So I failed NaNoMo’s goal of fifty thousand.
Worse, I knew the novel needed to be longer if I wanted to sell it. I imagined selling thousands due to its novel nature. But I was burnt out. It was December and the holiday season. We were busy spending my severance pay and we had a big Christmas planned. So I took the month off.
In January, I searched earnestly for a ‘real’ job, as a project manager. I applied to hundreds and got lots of interviews, which took my time. I also read about publishing, traditional, indie, and hybrid publishing.
The more I learned, the less I wanted to go the traditional route. I had to sell my book to an agent, then he or she had to sell it to the genre editor, then the editor had to sell it to the company. Too much waiting, too many things I couldn’t control.
Indie publishing, using Amazon, Smashwords, or other online publishers looked really good. I loved the idea of selling with no inventory. I soon realized the major criticism of indie authors who were self-publishers was atrocious editing. Having gone through my Zombie Turkeys six times by March 2016, I realized I couldn’t edit myself. I had to pay the piper, the editor.
One of my neighbors had written and published a children’s book and he suggested some editors. I contacted them.
“Too gory!” said one.
“I don’t do horror,” said another.
But one editor suggested another and I contacted her, Dori Harrell. She was willing and gave me a sample edit. She really made the first chapter better! Dori was positive and encouraging, just what I needed after months of discouraging self-editing. Oh, and I got turned down from all my job interviews too.
I had some more self-editing to do before I sent the manuscript to her. I had been busily reading about publishing and writing. I re-did several scenes and honed my transitions and descriptions. I also added a surprise ending. Then I sent it off in June 2016. My baby had left home and was in the hands of another.
Meanwhile, I knew I needed a book cover. I was quite pleased with the title, Zombie Turkeys, but I knew the cover was just as important. I had no clue about what to use, but I thought an action scene from the book might be good. Then, there was the minor detail of the artist.
I talked with my son, who led an art group when he was in college. He recommended his childhood friend, Sean Flanagan, who was an excellent artist. We talked and he agreed to do the cover art. With a couple of other artists, we brainstormed ideas for the cover.
They considered my action scene too busy. Looking at the top selling zombie books I saw all the covers were simple and dramatic. Sean came up with a group of cover proposals:
I liked the first image, but all the artists liked the third one. I thought it was a little childish, but I trusted my artistic crew. We went with the third image for the cover. My action scene idea was deemed acceptable for the back cover.
This was in August. Dori had been in steady, encouraging communication with me. She was doing line editing, going over every sentence, making it better. She pointed out several scenes where I didn’t describe the setting or the placement of the characters. She loved certain characters and I suggested adding a romantic subplot for them. Between corrections, additional descriptions, and new scenes, my forty-eight thousand word novel was now fifty-four thousand. I really felt it was salable now.
I just needed the cover and chapter icons. We brainstormed chapter icons, where a brief image would summarize the chapter. Sean worked on those and the covers.
My first launch date was September 30, 2016. The chapter icon artwork wasn’t ready in time. Also, I had passed the manuscript from Dori to my layout editor, Rik Hall. He formatted the interior and the chapter icons, and much to my surprise, I found additional errors both Dori and I had missed.
I had decided to go Amazon Kindle and Createspace for publishing. I set up my accounts and got everything ready. I got the cover art in time, but even if the icons had been ready I couldn’t make the interior and exterior ready for the launch date. I pushed it back to October 31st. That seemed strangely appropriate for Zombie Turkeys.
The book was also set from November to New Year’s Eve. Everything came together in synchrony for October 31st. I arranged the launch party at the local library. I invited dozens of guests. And I became a horror author.