Adam Selzer, most recently the author of I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It and The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History, graciously offered to do an interview on my blog! Hooray! I loved Zombie and couldn't wait to find out more about the mind that it sprang from!
I guess I always wanted to be one - I used to make picture books when I was about 7. And in third grade I was always trying to write an adventure series. The adventure series ended up being eight or nine stories about my friends and I having adventures - they were about 10, 15 pages each. But I never stopped thinking of them as a "real" book series. Then, when I grew up...look, these days, even if you can find a job, it's tough to find a company that doesn't have its head up its butt to work for. I've worked day jobs off and on, but writing is a lot more satisfying. I feel like I've really accomplished something when I finish a book. My credit rating is a joke and I don't have a retirement plan, but I also don't have an assistant manager to deal with. That's a worthy trade-off, I think.
2. Where do you write? Do you have to create a certain mood or atmosphere?
Most of my writing is done at Sip Coffee in Chicago - I'm there every morning, usually the minute they open (in fact, I'm there right now!). Like a lot of writers, I make playlists for projects - songs that have the right atmosphere for the project, songs the main character would like, songs about the right kind of subject matter, etc. I don't know if it actually helps me write, but it's fun. For "Zombie," there were some goth and zombie songs, a few by bands that Alley would like, like Neutral Milk Hotel (who I could never get into, honestly, until I started listening to them on that playlist) and a bunch of songs that just had this sense of ragged glory that I always want my books to have.
3. It says on your website that I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It was based on a song you wrote. How did you go from the song theme to a full fledged book?
I wrote the song, "I Thought She Was a Goth," in the shower one day ten years ago, and it just took on a life of its own (you can download it free on the page). For a few years, every time Robert Aspirin (the recently deceased and much-missed fantasy author) and I were in the same place, he'd shove a guitar in my hands and say "play it!" He told me he was teaching it to bands all down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Then one day Random House decided they wanted a zombie book in a real hurry, and somehow they got ahold of that song and asked me if I could turn it into a book. I had to change a bit around - there's not nearly enough story in the song for a whole book. I reversed the genders of the characters in the song, then tried to figure out how a girl might mistake her zombie boyfriend for a goth without being an idiot. Doug, the zombie, hasn't decomposed much, so it's an easy enough mistake to make - especially in Des Moines, where you never really expect to meet a zombie. Suburban Des Moines is not the world's most diverse place - one of my favorite things in the book is that Doug is just as surprised to find out Alley's Jewish as she is to find out he's a zombie.
4. Did you do any research on paranormals for this book? I love the strained interaction between the different types of post-humans.
A little - I worked a night job in the ghost hunting industry at the time I was writing the book, so paranormal business was always on my mind. I had a bit of a problem with paranormal YAs - they seemed to be full of mean guys who acted like stalkers and girls who thought that being stalked meant they were so in love they should be rearranging their whole life for guys they really just met. I really wanted to explore a lot of the relationship issues that I thought a lot of paranormal YA was ignoring. Love always involves a lot of sacrifice and overlooking someone's flaws, but where do you draw the line? Despite the fact that there were zombies and vampires in the world of the book, I wanted it to be as realistic as possible. There's nothing paranormal about vampires in the book - it's all to do with protein mutation or something like that. The world of the book is how I imagine the world would work if those sort of vampires and zombies turned out to be real.
5. Love, love, love the pamphlet on your webpage, "Vampires, Zombies, and You: Questions and Answers about Post-Humans for Teens!" Should we be keeping an eye out in school nurses' offices across the country for more?
That was another thing that bugged me - it seemed like a lot of those books used becoming a vampire as a metaphor for sex. That's just silly. Becoming a vampire is a WAY bigger decision than having sex. Sex is definitely a big deal, but if you're careful, the fact is it probably won't kill you. You probably won't even get pregnant. But becoming a vampire WILL change your life completely, and FOREVER. Like, for millions of years or however long it takes for someone to tear you apart or whatever. I figured that in a world where zombies and vampires were known to exist - and girls were known to be gaga for them - "conversion" would turn into a much bigger issue than sex or drugs. Only about half the girls who try to convert survive. Actually, technically, none of them do. I don't really think the "Twilight" thing has gotten so extreme that girls are actually trying to become vampires, so nurses probably don't REALLY need these pamphlets yet, but if vampires were revealed to be real and moping around high schools, as they are in the book, I could see it happening. Can I also plug the fake Huffington Post article on there? (Check the comments!!)
6. Your book, The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History, also came out this past December. How do you approach the non-fiction writing process as opposed to fiction? Do you prefer one over the other?
I like them both! The non-fiction is incredibly satisfying and rewarding - you can always tell when you're making progress, which you can't always do with fiction. But non-fiction has a shelf life - sooner or later, nonfiction books start to seem out of date. Fiction COULD last forever. It probably won't - our ideas of what's funny evolves over time. For most of the last 170-odd years it was generally agreed that The Pickwick Papers was the funniest thing ever. It's still funny, but when I read it now, I can't help but think, "well, I guess you had to be there." But then again, practically every classic book that's still read today is fiction. Well, fiction or philosophy, I guess.
The work itself is very different for them - "Zombie" took about three (very frantic) weeks, and "Smart Aleck's Guide" took about three years. But it's really the same amount of discipline - it's still getting up and going to the coffee shop every single morning.