In 2005, in a spurt of inspiration, I wrote a short story called “Tiny Fingers” while on break at work. The vivid image of a young mother staring in horror at the small hand of her zombified toddler shoved underneath the front door of her house desperately trying to reach her was so powerful I had to write the story. After posting it online and receiving some very positive feedback, I continued with the story of Jenni and Katie escaping into the Texas Hill Country. AS THE WORLD DIES was an online serial until 2008 when I self-published it as a trilogy. The first two books in the trilogy were nominated and won The Dead Letter Award for Best Fiction Book and received rave reviews. In 2010 Tor acquired the complete trilogy and reissued it in both trade paperback and mass market paperbacks.
Though the story has been called ground-breaking due to its two female protagonists, I never set out to write a story that would tear down a genre trope. It never occurred to me that I was writing something revolutionary when I started AS THE WORLD DIES. In retrospect, I should have realized I was treading on what was considered sacred male territory by some of the comments that first short story received. Two male writers of online zombie fiction basically tore the short story apart and mocked the female protagonist. Though they were the only naysayers, their commentary stung. It was the encouraging messages I received that convinced me to continue writing the zombie serial that would become AS THE WORLD DIES.
As time progressed, I began to understand that I had done broken fresh ground without ever intending to do so. Reviewers raved about the boldness of having two female protagonists as the primary characters and fans wrote emails expressing their love for Katie and Jenni. I begin to hear from other female writers that they were inspired by AS THE WORLD DIES to write their own zombie fiction.
In 2005 the zombie genre was dominated by male writers. In 2012 female writers have definitely made their mark. Mira Grant, Madeline Roux, Jessica Meigs, Carrie Ryan, Ann Aguirre, Dana Fredsti, Eloise Knapp, and Alexia Purdy are all great examples of women who created some of the best zombie literature in the market today.
Yet, we’re still faced with the reality that some men and even women doubt our ability to create exciting horrific fiction. I recently attended an event where I was ignored while people walked to the male writer’s table without giving me a glance. I spoke with another female writer who experienced the exact same phenomena. On more than one occasion I have been told by both male and female readers that they were surprised that a woman could write a good zombie story let alone write one with female leads.
I recently asked several of my lady zombie writers about the criticism we receive for treading into waters once dominated by our male counterparts. I also asked them why they write about zombies. I’d like to share some of their awesome insight with you.
Jessica Meigs, THE BECOMING
I choose to write zombie apocalypse literature mainly because the books that were out there at the time (I had yet to read AS THE WORLD DIES at that point) were just disappointing me. They were all focused on blood, guts, gore, military actions, and the zombies themselves, to the point where the books were about zombies. I didn’t want to read about that. I wanted to read about the survivors, because that’s where, to me, the interesting stuff lies. How people survive their entire worlds being eradicated, how they react to it, how it changes them—basically, the human aspects of the apocalypse are far more fascinating to me than any graphic depiction of zombie slaughtering.
Eloise J. Knapp, THE UNDEAD SITUATION
Screw the notion that the male gender is a prerequisite for creating quality zombie fiction. The idea that a female can’t produce because of their gender is completely irrational. A man cannot truly fathom what the experience of the zombie apocalypse would ever be like, nor can a woman. Neither could ever know with absolute certainty. When it comes to writing zombie fiction, both men and women are on equal ground. They are both attempting to answer a hypothetical question through the format of fictional writing. The level of success with which they execute this task is dependent only on the individual’s level of creativity. Nothing more. What makes a good story isn’t what gender the writer is, but how they weave their knowledge, experience, and passions into their fiction.
Alexia Purdy, REIGN OF BLOOD
I love writing about zombies because the fear and adrenaline is so exhilarating. Emotions run high under duress and I love imagining these scenarios and what people would do in these unusual end-of-civilization situations. I, as a woman, feel I can write this well. I don’t think it’s any different from a way a man would write. It can be gritty, intense and emotional.
Sue Edge, DEAD TROPICS
I write about zombies because I am fascinated by scenarios that destroy people’s comfort zones and force them to tap inner reservoirs of strength they don’t usually know they possess. I also think being female makes me delve more into a character’s feelings and motivations than male writers do. We want to know what makes people tick!
Dana Fredsti, PLAGUE TOWN
I write about them because I’ve always loved the zombie as my favorite monster. And I agree with Sue – women tend to have a totally different and more emotionally based perspective than a lot of the male writers, who get into the whole gun/survival porn aspect. And well, if there’s a zombocalypse, women have a stake in it too.
In the end, my own reasons for writing about Jenni and Katie in the AS THE WORLD DIES zombie trilogy mirrors those stated above. I wanted to write about people just like me, ordinary Texan woman facing extraordinary circumstances in a manner that was realistic and true to the human condition. I also wanted to write a truly terrifying tale that would make the readers fear for their favorite characters and keep them up late at night with the lights on. I don’t regard my gender as a hindrance to creating taunt, terrifying tales of horror.
One of those male writers that gave me such a hard time when I first posted “Tiny Fingers” later told me he had mocked the story because he had feared that I was the better writer. In one short story he felt I had conveyed much more intense horror and hit with a deeper emotional punch than anything he had ever written. He congratulated me on my success and apologized for trying to tear me down.
Between 2005 and 2012, so much has changed in the zombie genre that I have high hopes that in 2019, the thought of a woman writing a book filled with zombies, gore, violence, and an emotional heart won’t give anyone pause, because the fabulous fiction of female writers will fill the bookshelves and will have found a place in the hearts of the zombie fans.
Rhiannon Frater is the award-winning author of the AS THE WORLD DIES zombie trilogy and the author of several other books: the vampire novels PRETTY WHEN SHE DIES and THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE and the young-adult zombie novel The Living Dead Boy and the Zombie Hunters. All three books in her zombie trilogy, THE FIRST DAYS, FIGHTING TO SURVIVE and SIEGE are now available in bookstores everywhere. THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING was released June 2012.
A walled city surrounded by lush land, protected by high mountain summits, and fortified by a massive gate to secure the only pass into the valley, The Bastion remained humanity’s last hope against the fearsome undead creatures known as the Inferi Scourge. On one fateful day, the valley gate failed and the Inferi Scourge overran and destroyed the human settlements outside the walls, trapping the remaining survivors inside the city. Now, decades later, the last remaining humans are struggling to survive in a dying city of dwindling resources…and dwindling hope.
Vanguard Maria Martinez has lived her entire life within the towering walls of steel. She yearns for a life away from the overcrowded streets, rolling blackouts, and food shortages, but there is no hope for anyone as long as the Inferi Scourge howl outside the high walls. Her only refuge from the daily grind is in the arms of Dwayne Reichardt, an officer in the Bastion Constabulary. Both are highly-decorated veterans of the last disastrous push against the Inferi Scourge. Their secret affair is her only happiness.
Then one day Maria is summoned to meet with a mysterious representative from the Science Warfare Division and is offered the opportunity to finally destroy the Inferi Scourge in the valley and close the gate, reclaiming the lost lands and energizing the populace with renewed hope for the future. The rewards of success are great, but she will have to sacrifice everything, possibly even her life, to accomplish the ultimate goal of securing the future of humanity and saving it from extinction.
RHIANNON FRATER ONLINE