The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Young, hot, and dead

Young Adult Zombies

Tomorrow, I leave for the Miami Book fair, where Tananarive and I will be sitting on a YA book panel, talking about our zombie series DEVIL'S WAKE. She just finished her final read-through on the book, which will be out next February, and of which we are very proud.
But we've been asked: why is this book "young adult"? Why create a "horror" novel and suggest it is appropriate or even valuable for teenagers?

 Well, first of all, it isn't a "kids book." It is a book in which the lead characters are kids, and we decided that it would be smartest on all counts to set the level of sexuality and violence at a PG-13 level. That if we cared about these characters, and believed in this situation, we didnt need buckets of guts to create genuine fear and excitement.

 The interesting thing about zombies (of whatever variety) is that they have no individual personalities. We can't romanticize them, or save them, or reason with them. They are simply death and disease and corruption, come to bring flesh to our fears.

 The enduring value of such stories, from my POV, is the examination of human response. Remember that all we have to write about (from one valuable perspective) is "what is true?" and "who am I?"

 In writing terms, this is "what are human beings?" (as expressed in characterization of individuals and society) and "what is the world?" (as revealed in the way physical and biological structures and forces respond to effort, as well as the "ethical structure of the universe" in terms of how fate responds to human effort. The writer's philosophy is revealed by the way these two things interact.

 A human being's maturity and awareness is revealed by the way they navigate these two. Someone with a totally accurate map of external and internal reality would never set a goal they didn't meet. 

Someone aligned between conscious and unconscious drives would never act contrary to their own interests. A person aligned more deeply would be satisfied by life as it is...but still blossom and evolve as a being.

 If you know yourself, you aren't surprised by the behaviors of others. The more honest with yourself you are, the easier it is to detect the "gaps" between what people want you to believe, and what they actually are.

 The young characters in DEVIL'S WAKE and its sequel, DOMINO FALLS, are thrust into a living nightmare, in which they must trust themselves, and each other, and decide very very gingerly who they will trust in addition to that core family.

 And they must also test every group, situation, and culture they encounter, constantly adjusting expectations and ideas about what human beings are, who they are, "what is true" and how to best test one's ideas.

 Isn't this what growing up is about? Learning who we are, and what the world is, and how to refine and strengthen the connection between our dreams and our reality? How control our emotions and refine our reality maps?

 Once upon a time I defined an important line between childhood and adulthood as the point where you can focus your attention, energy, emotions and intellect to create goods and services you can trade legally to produce the resources necessary to put food on your table and a roof over your head.

 In other words, hunt, gather, and shelter. Maslow's most basic level. The beginning of Self awareness.

 Zombies just make it more fun.

 So...what exactly happens in the next installment of the Devil's Wake saga?

 I could tell you, but then I'd have to bite you.


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