Friday, June 1, 2012

Author Interview & Book Review: Dead Reckoning

About a month ago I received an email from the awesome people at Bloomsbury with a list of YA titles for review. I got very excited when I saw Mercedes Lackey's name on the list. I have been reading her books for over 20 years. I also loved the Shadow Grail books she co-wrote with Rosemary Edghill (who is an X-Men fan BTW). It got even better when I read the description:

From bestselling authors Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill, comes a new thriller DEAD RECKONING. Jett Gallatin expected trouble in Aslop, Texas—but not zombies. Jett is a girl disguised as a boy, living as a gambler in the old West as she searches for her long-lost brother. Honoria Gibbons is a smart, self-sufficient young woman who also happens to be a fabulous inventor. Both young women travel the prairie alone - until they are brought together by a zombie invasion! As Jett and Honoria investigate, they soon learn that these zombies aren't rising from the dead of their own accord ... but who would want an undead army? And why? This gunslinging, hair-raising, romp will leave you on the edge of your seat.

DEAD RECKONING is a historical zombie apocalypse gender bender. It is like the authors rooted through my brain and picked all my favorites to wrap up in one book. Now somewhere I read a blurb for the book comparing it to Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. Personally, I don't think the two can be compared because they are playing two completely different ball games.

THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH is a dystopian series that takes place many years after the fall (i.e. the zombie apocalypse). They are not trying to solve where the zombies came from or even how to stop it; the characters are merely trying to survive. It was also heavy on the romance. DEAD RECKONING, while just as primitive of a landscape though with cool steampunkish tech like Gibbons' Auto-Tachypod, takes place at the beginning of a small scale  zombie uprising and yes, they want to solve and stop it. In other words, heavy on the mystery. The characters in DEAD RECKONING are complete strangers, not friends since childhood, who band together to stop a threat from harming others. The characters also have completely different personalities that perfectly complement each other.

As if reading such a fantastic book wasn't enough, I got the chance to submit some questions for the authors. I have talked to authors before, but this is my first legit interview. As I have said before, authors are my rockstars. Does that mean I am a groupie? Hmm...

Rosemary Edghill was kind enough to send out a wonderful reply to my questions. Now before we get started, everyone give Rosemary a virtual cupcake cause today is her birthday! Yay!

*Internet Hoards Singing*

Now, on with the show...

Q: I love supernatural books where the monsters are the evil-they-have-to-be-killed kind of monsters (you know, not the sparkly love interest types), so I have to ask, what inspired you to write a historical western featuring zombies?

R:We started with the characters: Gibbons the rationalist, and Jett the … not-so-rationalist. We wanted a threat that would pit them against each other as well as against it: so clearly it had to be something that looked supernatural. There's been a lot of stuff done lately to retcon zombies from supernatural creatures to natural ones (plague, alien organism, yadda), so they made the perfect slipstream monster for Dead Reckoning. And in 1865, we're still near the beginning of the zombie myth. The concept hadn't really made it out into the popular culture yet -- even Gibbons is barely familiar with it -- so it also gave us a chance to work with an archetype very familiar to our readers yet fairly-unknown to our protagonists. Which was a lot of fun.

Q: I like gender benders where the girl pretends to be a guy, I was taught Shakespeare did it in his plays because he was worried about the male actor's psyche of being in a dress and wanted to get the guy back in tights -or whatever- as soon as possible. Why did you decide to have Jett disguised as a boy in the story? Why not keep her gender secret longer than you did?

R:Jett is a Southerner in the post-Civil War period. She's lost everything: her home, her family, her future. All she has left is her quest to find her twin brother. But in the mid-1800s, a young woman couldn't just go off and do as she pleased. It would be the equivalent of, say, an eight-year-old child's position today. People wouldn't take them seriously. They'd always be calling Child Protective Services and trying to send them home. Of course, there isn't a Child Protective Services in the Old West, but if Jett were travelling as Philippa Sheridan instead of as Jett Galatin, she would be exposed to a huge amount of danger -- and have far less freedom.

As for why we decided to reveal her masquerade so soon…

If we kept it a secret, we'd have to present her to the reader as a boy, and that would mean we wouldn't be able to tell any of the story from her point of view. It would also shift the focus of the story we were telling to her disguise, and we wanted it to be about her relationship with Gibbons, and the two of them dealing with the zombie apocalypse. Last of all, if we revealed the truth about her disguise at a point much later in the story, the readers would already have gotten used to thinking of her as a boy, and there'd be this whole "Wait, what? What's going on now?" thing. And that would lose forward momentum at a point where we wanted the pace to pick up and head full-tilt into certain doom…

Q:I love all the background info you have regarding the mythos behind zombie lore and superstition. How much research did you do before you wrote the book?

R: I started out in Regency Romances (and I'm a huge history junkie to boot!), and Misty's Elemental Mages series is set in the Victorian period. We were both pretty familiar with the time period. (And my heroes have always been cowboys…) The main part of the research we had to do was to figure out what people of that period could know about zombies, based on the information available. The other part was in making sure that the real-life technology we described (such as the telegraph) worked as it would have worked in that time and place.

The one thing I had to do a lot of handwaving on was the food, actually. Canning technology was just starting to become widespread -- it had been driven by the need to feed the army (on both sides) during the Civil War -- and I knew there were a lot of canned goods available on the frontier (such as peaches, tomatoes, and condensed milk), but try as I might, I couldn't get a full list of what might be on the shelves of the General Store. So I tried to distract everybody, and concentrated on what I did know…

Q: How did the whole process of collaboration work with writing DEAD RECKONING?

R: This is our tenth book together, so we've got it down to a science by now.
We use Google Docs a great deal. We start by breaking the story in chat. At that point it looks like a really long book report full of spoilers. Then I go off and do a scene-by-scene breakdown. For example, the first scene in the book looked like this:

SCN 01: We establish the tiny Western town of Alsop, Texas. It's spring, but a Texas spring is like anyplace else's deep winter. It's the beginning of the droving season, when thousands of head of cattle are driven north along the Chisholm Trail to Kansas railheads. It's just dusk when a lone figure on a gleaming black stallion rides into town. The figure's fancy turnout -- silver conches and stamping on the black leather saddle, silver-studded reins and bridle, silver-studded saddlebags -- proclaim them less of a working cowboy than a "bad man" -- a "shootist" -- a gunslinger. The rider, too, is wearing black studded with silver, from the silver heels and toe-caps on the boots, to the silver spurs on the boots, to the silver conches on the black leather vest, to the silver-studded hatband on the black Stetson. The only touch of contrast is the ivory handles on the matched pair of Colt Peacemakers he wears strapped to his hips. The fact that they're tied down proclaims him as someone who lives and dies by the gun. The town of Alsop is a single street, with a livery stable at one end and a church at the other. Between the two are the usual buildings: hotel and dining parlor, general store, telegraph office, newspaper, sheriff's office. And of course the saloon. The prairie wind blows dust, discarded paper, and the inevitable tumbleweeds across the street as the black rider's horse ambles slowly up the street and stops in front of the saloon.

As you see, there's a lot of background information included, mainly so it's there when we need it.

Next, we divvy up the scenes and start writing. We post them in Google Docs, broken out into chapters, and revise each other's work as we go. When the book is done, one or the other of us downloads all the chapters, assembles them into a single document, does a last polish, and off it goes…

Q: Both White Fox and Jett left us with questions, is there already a sequel in the works for DEAD RECKONING?

R: Yup! We're off to Denver! And imagine my glee when I found a detailed map of the city from the very year I need…

Q: What would you say is different about writing for young adults rather than adults?

R: Wow. That's a hard one. (My work has always been tagged "of interest to teens" from my very first book, which was a space opera titled HELLFLOWER, so I may not be the best person to ask.) I think it's always a case of knowing what's important to your audience, and telling that audience a story that won't bore it. So if my main character is a sixteen-year old, I do my best to look at the world from that perspective. If my main character were fifty, the perspective would change…

Q: I am a fan of the romance genre, what would you say is your favorite genre to work with? (BTW congrats to Rosemary who with the addition of the Western has now written a book in every genre). *high five*

R: *high fives you back* If I were guessing about Misty, I'd say "historical fantasy" would be her answer. My favorite is urban fantasy, because I am totally in love with the idea that something wonderful and strange will suddenly show up in the middle of an ordinary day and an ordinary life and then there will be Adventures.. At least, I like to think it's wonderful Sometimes it's monsters, but in that case, a hero/ine is never far behind!

Q: Which books or authors would you say most inspired your writing?

R: ::laughs:: All of them! Mark Twain, Damon Runyon, Robert Heinlein, J.R.R. Tolkien, Andre Norton (who I got to collaborate with OMG!), Georgette Heyer, "Doc" Smith, Leslie Charteris, Raymond Chandler, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, C. L. Moore… Each one of them taught me something -- about how to tell a story, about how to make a character "real", about Sense of Wonder, which I think is the most important gift a writer can give themselves and their readers.

Q: I know many authors that are now using iPads to write on the go, what is your writing preference: paper and pen/pencil, desktop, laptop, or mobile device?

R: I adore my iPad, but I can barely write emails on it -- the touchpad is incredibly frustrating. So it's computer (laptop or desktop) for me. I actually wrote my first couple of books on an IBM Selectric (yeah, I know, the dark ages), and I used to write my shorter stuff longhand. But from the moment I got my hands on my first computer (an Apple ][e ) I've never looked back. Revision is so much easier!!!!

Q: Any advice for unpublished writers?

R: Misty's advice and mine is about the same (I know, as I've heard her give hers A LOT): write! There's nothing to beat Butt In Chair to help you hone your writing discipline and your craft. The basic rules are pretty simple:
1. Write. 
2. Finish what you write.
3. Submit what you write.
You'll face a lot of rejection, frustration, and disappointment along the way. But these three rules are the only ones I know to turn someone from Unpublished Writer to Published Writer.

Q: Between City of Heroes and the Marvelverse, you have both plied your craft in the realm of those a bit superhuman...If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?

R: Misty may chime in later, but for me: FLYING!!! I want to soar above the towers of Gotham, or Metropolis, or the Big Apple! No contest!

Q: Thank you very much for sharing your works and words with us, is there anything else you would like to add?

R: I started out in fandom, writing fanfic, and the one thing I miss as a "pro" writer is the amount of feedback I used to get. Like the book? Hate the book? I want to know! You can find me in my usual hangouts: and

Now if that wasn't just fabulousness in itself...Imagine if you will that Cowboys vs Aliens, Wild Wild West, and Walking Dead were all put into a blender...this book will appeal to readers who love historicals, steampunk, supernatural, and mysteries. Though the authors comment at the beginning of the book that they apologize for some of the rather unenlightened attitudes and language of the book, it is a clean read...well, clean other than disintegrating corpses. The target audience is grades 7-12 and is perfect to give to those middle schoolers looking for a good zombie book. It will even appeal to boys. 

*Update: Check out Bloomsbury Teens Facebook page for great prizes related to the books release!