Stories Behind the Stories:
You Don't Eat People You Love
I always said I would never write in the Zombie genre. When it happened, it happened without my intention, as I had been writing something else entirely.
'You Don't Eat People You Love' is the exciting little zombie story that never should have been. Its creation was in response to an open call for an anthology from DCL Publications titled Queens of Hearts. As I had requested the anthology to happen, naturally I had to take part in it, and I wanted to go back to DCL's roots with my submission. I wanted to return to the times of kings and queens, lords and ladies, villages and castles.
I began a story called 'A Heart Unfrozen' about a Queen who ruled over a kingdom where true love was not allowed. It was a great story with a killer premise and a terrific beginning, but midway through it, a massive wall of writer's block appeared.
For days... weeks... I toiled with the story, trying to move beyond the point where I was stuck, but nothing worked. I couldn't even budge the plot, much less move it along.
As with most anthologies, Queens of Hearts had a deadline, which meant there was no more time to be wasted on overcoming the 'Heart Unfrozen' blockage. I had to move on.
So, I did something that I think a lot of authors find themselves doing on occasion and I closed the story, opening up a new, fresh blank document immediately after.
My mind was frozen from 'A Heart Unfrozen,' and so I could not rely on the traditional definition of royalty to get me through this second attempt. I decided to make my protagonist the winner - the Queen - of a Valentine's Ball at her high school. Yet, even with this premise in mind, I still began the story at her cabin in the woods where Bethany is hosting an after-party, as the day coincides with her eighteenth birthday. The reader is never taken into the Valentine's Ball or the high school.
I did not know where the story was going. I wanted to write something quirky, while keeping elements of romance and horror constant throughout the tale. Somehow, quirky became a zombie, and somehow - even odder - the beginning of the story opens after the initial zombie attack.
'You Don't Eat People You Love' is not your traditional zombie story. It is, beyond anything else, a love story. While the zombie theme ultimately defines the story's genre, it is so much more than that. It takes a deeper look into the transformation from human to zombie in a way that shows a different side of the brain-hungry creatures than we're used to seeing in film or reading about in books. Bethany, along with her boyfriend Tommy, must utilize their love for one another if they hope to survive the zombie outbreak. That theme of love's power rides steadily from the start of the story to the very end.
About midway through the story, I give readers a taste of what they are accustomed to. A survivor is trapped in a car, and Bethany and Tommy are determined to save him. There is a huge mass of zombies all around him, some even beating on the car. Tommy's distraction of the zombies is, in a way, a throw-back to the 80's, when guys in movies would do the most absurd things to impress their girlfriends. In this case, Tommy utilizes the power of song to distract the zombies and pays tribute to Beyoncé in a most unexpected way.
Carlos is the survivor that the two lovebirds are trying to save. Carlos's story is a complex tale - one of tragedy and of karma. While he seems to be an innocent bystander in this story, I always introduce (or at least try to introduce) a character into my tales with a side that will shock the reader and, in this tale, Carlos is that character.
The character of Carlos allows the reader to feel so many different emotions that they would not have been able to experience without him. Carlos also allows for a very important moment to happen between Bethany and Tommy - one that should go down in zombie literature history... but I'm a bit biased.
One thing that I tried to ensure from start to finish was that Bethany remained brave and true to her heart. This shows in even the most tragic ways, as well as in the greatest of ways, throughout the story. Bethany's love for Tommy and his love for her, depict every move the two make, and it is a beautiful thing.
Having said all of that, 'You Don't Eat People You Love' is laugh-out-loud funny. Although I sometimes incorporate an element of humor in my writing - like with Ashaki's Beauty Parlor or 'To Adventure' in Enchanted Fairy Tales - I don't typically write comedy. Still, 'You Don't Eat People You Love' is a zombie comedy with heart. At a time when the world is so serious, I felt this story was a good opportunity to bring a smile to my readers' lips, and I hope I did my job.
Jae El Foster