Guest Post: The Zombie Hero – Eleri Stone
Writing the Zombie Hero
I pitched Reaper’s Touch as a cowboys versus zombies story. It’s historical western + romance + bio-plague apocalypse. Most people were interested enough to take a look at the (very unofficial) blurb:
Abby dreams of a normal life though she has trouble imagining what one would look like. She doesn’t know how to farm, cook or sew a dress. She only knows how to kill Reapers—the slavering once-human monsters who terrorize the border towns she patrols. She’s not after the gold and glitter lifestyle the aristocrats enjoy in their mountaintop cities, but she knows there has to be more to life than this endless war. Born star-marked, she’s been a Ranger since she turned fourteen. Eleven years have passed and now she’s ready to lay down her guns and return to her family.
Jake is a Reaper, turned nearly two centuries ago during the initial outbreak of the plague. He’s managed to wrest control of his body from the parasite that infected him and he’ll do anything to end his centuries’ long slavery to the bloodthirsty creature even if it means his own death.
Rumors of a cure are quickly silenced by the destruction of the research facility where Jake is held prisoner. After his escape, Jake and Abby form an unlikely partnership to discover the truth about the cure and to find out who was responsible for the massacre at Fort Hill.
And the question I invariably get after that is – “Wait a minute. Your hero is a zombie?”
Yes. Yes, he is. It’s a little more complicated than that but in a nutshell, yes. I understand that zombies shouldn’t be sexy, really I do. And yet everyone who’s read the story up to this point has told me the romance aspect is believable. What makes it work?
I had to tweak the traditional zombie a bit.
First of all, while Jake is a flesh-eating undead monster, he’s not really a classic zombie. He’s infected by a parasite that takes over the nervous system of its host. The parasite controls his mind but makes his body able to heal almost any wound. He’s not a rotting corpse.
The hunger for human flesh is unfortunately true and it’s something Jake struggles with mightily. His mind was completely overtaken by the parasite for nearly two centuries but he’s gradually been able to reclaim control of himself and his…um, appetites. He is repulsed by what he is and that serves as the primary motivation for his actions in the story.
The infectious bite part of zombie lore is also true, but in the Reaper world, a small percentage of the population is immune. They become Rangers, protecting the rest of the vulnerable human population from attack. Abby, the heroine, is immune to Reaper bite so Jake can’t infect her.
So while zombie is the closest monster relative to the Reapers in my story, there are some key differences. But the biggest factor working in favor of the romance is that there’s the possibility of a cure. It’s newly discovered and as yet untested, but the hope is there. Jake and Abby work together to recover it despite the many, many difficulties this presents. So, it’s not an insta-love kind of relationship. They don’t trust each other or like each other in the beginning. They’re both justifiably concerned that the other might try to kill them. And it takes a long time to build a level of trust that allows them to function as partners and then friends.
But, yeah…zombie hero. It works.
About the Author
Eleri Stone was born and raised in New Jersey. She graduated from the University of Iowa, married her college sweetheart, and settled in the Midwest where she still lives with her husband and their three children. A lifelong fan of fantasy, she started reading romance as an adult and was instantly captivated by the strong female protagonists and character-driven storylines. All of her stories have some element of speculative fiction and they all end with a happy-ever-after.
Be sure to check out her book ‘Reaper’s Touch’ on Amazon!