I’ve seen Rhiannon Frater’s name tossed around in zombie circles for some time now, and I even “friended” her on Facebook, after I ripped on Entertainment Weekly for their lame zombie reading list (Rhiannon gave me props for that)…but I just never got around to reading any of her work. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read zombie-lit written by a female author. (I can see my fellow female zombiephiles throwing me to the infected horde for that one.) I was worried a female writer would do to zombies what Stephenie Meyer did to vampires. I know I sound like a throwback to the Dark Ages, but if someone asked me to name my favorite horror authors, they would have been all male until my recent discovery of Mari Miniatt (unfortunately, Miniatt chooses to fraternize with the other undead).
As fate would have it, Frater’s book, The First Days: As the World Dies, appeared on my list of offerings by Amazon’s Vine Program, so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to broaden my apocalyptic horizons. The First Days actually began as a series online and now has the potential to become a TV series – watch out Walking Dead. The main characters are two women, Katie and Jenni, who meet up in the suburbs, and together they flee the waking nightmare of their infected loved ones trying to kill them. The story takes place in Texas, and Frater’s knowledge of the landscape really lends itself to the descriptions of the survivors’ settings. It was Jenni’s personal story that won me over in the first chapter. Frater’s characters suffer some devastating losses that would make a lot of the male zombiephiles cringe and weep.
The two women are strong characters, but believably so. They are not uber-warriors, but neither are they weepy victims waiting for a guy in shiny ATV to roll up and rescue them. Frater finds the perfect balance that both male and female readers will be able to relate to on some level. The male characters are written just as well, with the kind of variety you would expect in a group thrown together by chance. As a matter of fact, one of the guys had the sense to consult a zombie survival guide when the outbreak first happened!
After their share of horrific obstacles trying to rescue Jenni’s stepson from a remote camp, the two women finally take shelter at a compound built by some construction workers with the supplies and common sense to get fortified before the outbreak overwhelmed them. The storyline then includes the complexities of strangers working together to stay alive. Of course, there’s always someone in the group who takes everything for granted, and makes life difficult for the rest, and the book ends with more terrifying circumstances unfolding as a result. The First Days is the first book in a trilogy, due to be released this summer, including Fighting to Survive (Book 2) and Siege (Book 3).
I recently had little Q & A with Rhiannon Frater:
Q. It’s not very often the main characters in zombie stories are women, especially ones that the male characters turn to for help. Did you choose women because it was easier to write from their perspective, or was just because the story worked better that way?
A. Though I had noted the distinct lack of strong female characters in most zombie stories, I didn’t purposefully sit down to write a story from the female perspective. I had a vivid image just appear in my mind one day while I was at work and it was the opening scene of THE FIRST DAYS. I wrote the story while on break. It was as if a short film was running in my mind and I was transcribing what was on the screen. That Jenni was rescued by another woman, Katie, was a surprise, but I liked it quite a bit.
So, basically, I wrote the story that came to mind. Even though Jenni and Katie are the heart of the story, there are many wonderful male and female characters. I believe my characters come across as real people. There are no “super heroes” in the story. Just regular folk trying to survive. I really love the men in my story, too. Travis and Juan are great guys and my husband describes them as “regular dudes.”
It was only as I was posting the original version online that the readers let me know how revolutionary it was to have two women at the heart of a zombie story that could survive on their own without a man rescuing them.
Q. When I browse various message boards in the horror community, I see some of your colleagues get accused of being graphic just for shock value, or having too many sex scenes. Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?
A. I believe that gore, sexual content, adult language, and violence should fit within the context of the story and move the plot forward while creating a more vivid world. I have read books where I felt the author put in something really grotesque in order to freak out the reader. Instead, it pushed me out of the story. The same with sex scenes. I often skip those altogether if it seems like it was shoved into the plot for no other reason than to titillate.
My love scenes in the zombie series are pretty tame, because those scenes were about forming a deep connection with another human being. I always agonize over love scenes because I don’t want to fill the book with unnecessary content. I always ask myself “Is this necessary to the plot?”
As for gore and violent content, again I always ask myself if it is enhancing the story. In the zombie genre, your characters are living in a world populated by the dead. Gore and violence are a way of life. In the beginning of the book, I think the gore and violence hit the reader a little harder because the world is dying. Once the dead claim the earth, the gore and violence has become the norm and the characters have adapted.
Q. I noticed that your bio mentions your involvement in the Goth community; I thought that involved the other undead, vampires. What made you choose to write about zombies, as opposed to other sub-genres?
A. Actually, a lot of Goth people don’t like vampires at all. There is a whole other subculture that embraces the vampire mystic and though the two scenes sometimes overlap, there are a lot of Goth people who hate vampires. South Park did a great parody of the disdain most Goths have for vampires.
Back in the day, I was heavily involved helping coordinate big events for the Goth scene. Sadly, those days are behind me, though I still love the scene and it is the subculture I embrace as my own.
A lot of Goths love the horror genre as a whole. As for me, personally, I am terrified of zombies and I tend write about the things I fear. After that image of those tiny fingers pressed under that front door came to mind, I realized I was going to end up writing about zombies. I feel like the story chose me, not vice versa.
Q. You included some serious issues in your character’s lives, both before and after the apocalypse, such as domestic abuse, bigotry and drug addiction. Is there a message in your trilogy that you hope readers will grasp?
A. I never think about messages when I’m writing. I just try to write a very good story. But I suppose if there is one thing readers of the AS THE WORLD DIES zombie series tell me they gleaned from the story is the message of hope. Humanity may screw up, but in the end we are strengthened by our sense of community. Most zombie stories are just about a bunch of people fighting then dying because they’re too stupid to work together to survive. Yet, history tells us that humanity tends to band together to create communities that allow us to not only survive, but flourish.
Yes, there are serious issues touched on in the books, yet at the same time it felt natural for them to be there. We are a flawed species, but we are also very strong when we need to be. I think that is why readers love Katie and Jenni (and their supporting cast) so much. The women are flawed, but they try to do the best they can in a very violent and terrifying world.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with our zombiephiles? Any current or upcoming book tours?
A. I know Tor plans to do a regional tour to promote THE FIRST DAYS. I’m not sure exactly where all I will end up, though I’m sure I’ll hit the major cities in Texas. I hope to make it to a few conventions this year, but we have yet to solidify those plans.
I have several other books in print right now. My book geared toward the younger zombie fans, THE LIVING DEAD BOY AND THE ZOMBIE HUNTERS, has been optioned for film and the producer and director hope to have it in production soon. PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES is my modern vampire tale that is a solid horror novel with vampires, necromancers and zombies. THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE is my gothic horror novel that takes place in 1819 and has been a very popular read on Kindle. My vampires are not nice and they do not sparkle, just so you know.
Anyone interested in my novels, future appearances, or the latest news on my writing can check out my author page at http://rhiannonfrater.com. If they want to know more about THE FIRST DAYS: AS THE WORLD DIES and the two sequels, they can check out http://astheworlddies.com.