The Zombie She Carried: Ingredient List

One of the reasons I love romance novels is because they recycle familiar tropes to create new stories. Like writing sonnets, the constraints of the form call for great creativity in order to produce something original. One of the reason I’m such a fan of category romances (particularly Harlequin Presents) is because anyone familiar with the sub-genre can rattle off a list of common elements, and yet every book is unique.

So when I set out to write The Zombie She Carried, I was looking forward to picking some of my favourite ingredients ( and a couple of least-favourite) and trying to put my own spin on them.

Ingredients:

1. Pregnancy. This one is obvious, given the title. But my heroine is already pregnant when the hero meets her, and as her doctor he’s responsible for her well-being…and for seeing her zombie baby safely to term.

I had a world of fun trying to work out the implications of an unplanned zombie pregnancy: what happened to the zombie-babydaddy? What risks does the baby pose for his mother? What sort of food cravings go along with zombie-baby pregnancy? WAY too much fun, seriously.

2. Slut-Shaming. Okay, this is one of my very least favourite things in romance novels: heroes who berate or reject heroines based on an accusation that she’s had an affair, or because she wasn’t a virgin when they got married, or a whole host of variations on the theme of “it’s not okay for her to have sex with anyone else, ever, even in the past.”

Not ALL categories do this, of course, and I like to think it’s becoming less of a Thing over time. But it does happen, and not even the grovelling at the end makes me okay with it, because the grovelling only happens once the hero finds out he was wrong about the heroine: she’s been innocent all along! But…does that mean it’s okay for someone to emotionally abuse the person they’re in love with in other circumstances? If she really WASN’T a virgin, or someone else DID have sex with her when she was passed out/after the hero left her, he still has no business being a jackass about it. So I tried to subvert that: my hero briefly misjudges the heroine, but then comes to his senses and admits that her past is her own damned business.

3. Dark, brooding, faintly sinister hero. I didn’t quite go full-blown old school hero, in part because I included some scenes from Victor’s POV (and he’s really a decent guy). But he’s a rich Russian doctor; his parents died under macabre circumstances, and his elder brother is a zombie hunter; and best of all is his specialty: Lamiatrics, the treatment of “devouring monsters,” in this case the hungry undead.

4. Sequel-ready siblings. This one’s a bit misleading, because actually the next stories in the sequence don’t focus on Victor’s brothers. But eventually I’ll get back to them, because I love them. In addition to Vlad, the zombie hunter I mentioned above, there’s Mikhail (also a medical researcher, and a womanizer) and Igor (youngest brother, lab assistant, and cured former zombie).

 

The Zombie She Carried is available for kindle, kobo, and nook.

The Zombie She Carried Beta v2

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas

I’m being buried alive by stacks of Christmas-themed romance novels, underlining a bitter truth: I can shop faster than I can read, and I can read faster than I can review.

But I’m doing this one RIGHT NOW because it’s new enough that maybe a positive review will be helpful to the author. You never know. (I don’t *know* the author, btw, I just really enjoyed her book.) So:

Title: ‘Twas the week Before Christmas
Author: Olivia Miles
 Harlequin Special Edition
Published: December 2013
Reasons I might actually remember this one: This one took that perennial favourite theme of mine, “Let’s save the inn!” and threw in a hero who was the reason the inn was in jeopardy. So highish stakes: her family home and business (which is her last tangible connection to her family) vs. the business he built to prove his self-worth (having been abandoned by his mother and left with an alcoholic father).

The heroine is nuts about Christmas (in a good way), which is precisely what I was in the mood for right now. Since she runs an inn, she gets to indulge this hugely by decorating everything and filling her home (formerly her grandmother’s home) with guests, which kind of sort of makes up for not having any living family anymore, and not having found the right man with whom to start a family.

Enter the hero, of course: a handsome single man mysteriously in her small town on “business,” which everyone thinks is weird because no one in said small town does business over the holidays. How can they? They have to sell crafts and homemade jam at the winter fair, damn it, and hold the tree-lighting ceremony.

Done clumsily, small-town-romances can be teeth-grindingly twee, but this one hit all the right notes. I think it being set at Christmas helped. Also the inclusion of an accidental arsonist suggested the author knows full well it’s not all sunshine and happy-neighbours in small towns.

The hero, also, is “in real estate,” by which he means he’s in town to buy some land and raze the gorgeous inn on it to put up a parking lot. No, really, I’m not just channeling Joni Mitchell there: he’s building a “high-end” mall and the hotel stands right where the “parking structure” has to go. Yikes.

It’s one of those extremely-compressed-timeline romances, which always makes me a teensy bit dubious about the happy ending, but it’s a Christmas story so I suspended disbelief and real-world-sense and just went with it.

I did wonder what had ultimately become of the hero’s mother. I mean, she’s hardly central to the story or anything, but since she did wreck his childhood by abandoning him to his even-more-childhood-wrecking father, I couldn’t help feeling a little cheated that they didn’t find her grave/one last letter or diary. Or, I don’t know, she could have shown up AT the inn. With amnesia! Okay, I’ve been hitting the eggnog; I’ll stop now.

Active Ingredients:
Inn in Peril
Developers are Bad
Small Town (Sweet Variety)
Backstory: Alcoholic Dad, Runaway Mommy
Orphaned Heroine
Christmas
Snowstorm
He Doesn’t Want Children

Inside, it’s kind of blah.

Title: Baby It’s Cold Outside
Author: Addison Fox
Published: Signet Eclipse 2011
Reasons I might actually remember this one: I love the title, the cover, and the heroine, but overall this book reminded me why I prefer categories. This one had TOO MUCH MIDDLE, and never quite recovered from the sagginess.

https://i0.wp.com/thumbs1.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/m/mEdrhnnaDzn0uFCBDxT372A.jpg
 
In all seriousness, isn’t that a cute cover? That and the title are why I bought it. And I didn’t *hate* it; I liked it enough that probably I’ll get around to reading the two other ones in the series. 
But I was a little disappointed. It felt…too long. It would have been great as a category-length novel. As it was, the middle felt like going over and over the same ground to kill time until there were enough pages for the hero’s asshattery to EXPLODE in a night of drunken bullshit excuses for not living his own life, at which point the heroine kicked him to the curb and he had to grovel and propose.
That part was good.
Also (unexpectedly) vivid and delicious was the brief glimpse, in the beginning, of the heroine’s mother and milieu. I am always deeply amused (and annoyed) by people who’re way, way over-invested in someone else’s relationships or lack thereof, and the author captured that whole situation perfectly. Plus the jackass in the taxicab (I can’t remember his name, but it’s a rich self-absorbed dude the heroine’s mother was trying to set her up with) made me LOL.
But it didn’t deliver on what Blake Snyder would call “the promise of the premise.” There was way too little time spent on the auctioning off of the men, for instance. And the women got to run a mini Iditarod, but…we didn’t really see it. We saw maybe a couple of lines of the heroine talking about the dog, but absolutely no direct experience of what it felt like to DRIVE A FREAKING DOGSLED, and that would have been so much fun to watch. And it’s not like there wasn’t TIME; there was enough dithering around in the soggy middle that surely one of the “he’s watching her talk to guys in the diner and he feels jealous but he reminds himself he can’t commit” scenes could have been swapped out for some firsthand Iditarod-ish action. 

It started out very concrete and real–I shivered for the poor heroine in her rapidly-ruined boots and not-warm-enough dress coat when she got to Alaska. And even some later scenes recaptured that immediacy: the snowball fight, for instance, was good. But by the end I was, well, ready for it to end. The heroine was what kept me reading; she and her best friend, and the new friend they make in Alaska, were my favourite elements.

Active Ingredients:
Sequel-Ready Friends
Heroine Is Unmarried; Town, Family Scandalized
Mother Likes to Introduce Heroine to Eligible Jackasses
Hero Can’t Commit for Stupid Reasons
So Very Cold
Tourism Advisory: Alaska

The Zombie She Carried

It’s done: The Zombie She Carried is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

So now that I’ve done it, I’m giving in to the irresistible temptation to babble on and on about it. Because it might not be immediately clear, but with this book I was trying to write a traditional zombie romance novel.

Not, that is, a paranormal. Nothing against paranormals–I read them by the truckload, and love them–but sometimes I’m in That Mood, when paranormals feel like heavier lifting than I want from my escapism right now.

You know: paranormals have all those creatures–bhampirs and werelizardkings and half-angel half-demon underwear models, and there are rules and hierarchies and I’m LAZY, damn it. Sometimes my energy levels and attention span just aren’t there for all that. Usually the answer is to retreat with a stack of Harlequin Presents, and lose myself in the bliss of Greek/Italian/Sheik billionaires and their innocent secretaries/stablegirls/mistresses.

But what didn’t exist, at least not that I could find, was a blend of both: a category-length romance that hewed close to those conventions but allowed a little paranormality to creep in.

So that’s what I set out to write, and I hope other people have as much fun with it as I did.