Jessica Meigs is the up and coming author of the series The Becoming: A Tale of the Zombie War. As I mentioned in my review for The Becoming: Outbreak, Jessica and I often chat on Twitter, but I didn’t know a whole lot about her as an author. I started to send her a personal email with all of the questions that follow, but then I thought, ‘You know what? I should interview her for my blog so everyone can see what she’s about.’ She gladly agreed to the interview, and this is what she had to say…
Tell us a little bit about yourself… who is Jessica Meigs?
I’m twenty-five years old at the moment. I was born and currently live in a small town called Demopolis in the state of Alabama, where my day job is retail accounting, and I also work part-time as an EMT-Basic on an ambulance base. I attended college for four years while I worked towards a double major in English and History. Unfortunately, due to finances, I was forced to take a break from it. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and a couple of VERY tolerant parents who are willing to put up with me hogging their couch and kitchen table while I work on whatever project I happen to be working on.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Mostly, I like to read, and I read a LOT. I’m one of those people who will read anything you put in front of me, regardless of topic. I also listen to entirely too much music, primarily rock music. (What can I say? My mother raised me right!) And I LOVE going to concerts. It’s basically the world’s best stress reliever for me to just jump into a mosh pit and scream and sing my lungs out as loud as I can.
Have you always wanted to be an author? Who are your favorite authors… who inspires you?
I’ve technically always been an author. I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was seven or eight years old. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve gotten particularly serious about writing and getting it out there for other people to read. I decided to do it myself as opposed to handing my novel through the ridiculously long submission/rejection process in the hopes someone would be willing to publish it, because then I could work with and interact directly with my readers. Maybe one day I’ll get a traditional deal, but right now, my focus is getting my name out there.
My favorite authors are also the ones that truly inspire me. I’ve always been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien; The Lord of the Rings is one of those books that really speaks to me, and I can’t help but appreciate Tolkien’s gift with words. On a less “literary” bent, another favorite author is definitely Mira Grant; she’s exceptionally talented, and her zombie novel Feed is one of the best I’ve read and usually one of the first I recommend to people who ask what zombie novels I would suggest for them. In a similar vein, I’m a big fan of Max Brooks; his book World War Z is pretty much the definitive zombie novel in existence, and that’s not even considering his Zombie Survival Guide. An author I discovered more recently would be Jonathan Maberry and his book Rot & Ruin. If you can get your hands on this, I’d definitely recommend it. And lastly, Cherie Priest. There are no words for how awesome Cherie Priest’s novels are, especially the books in the Clockwork Century series. It’s steampunk meets zombies. What else could you ask for?
How do you come up with the names for your characters? Do you arbitrarily choose the names first and fit their attributes to their names? Or do you come up with a character sketch first and fit the name to the personality?
When it comes to the process of naming my characters, it’s really dependent on the character as to how I settle on one. Some of the characters’ names are definitely a product of their attributes; the best examples I can think of for this are Brandt and Cade. Both of their names have militaristic meanings; Brandt’s name is Anglo-Saxon for “sword,” while Cade’s means “spirit of battle.” As they’re both military, it only made sense to give them related names.
As for Cade specifically, her name was originally Coty, but I wasn’t too fond of it and decided to change it, especially since it seemed to push the character into a girlier realm than I particularly wanted her to go. “Cade” is actually typically used as a man’s name, but I HAVE met a female Cade before, and since I wanted to give her a stronger name, that’s the one I settled on, especially when I combined her personality and her career with the meaning of the name.
For other characters, though, it can be a lot more arbitrary. That was the case with Ethan’s name. I chose it because I thought it was a name that just suited the image of the character that I had in my head. Ironically, the meaning of the name fits him to a T, so that worked out well.
As for your writing process itself, do you write by the seat of your pants, or do you take notes and/or make outlines before starting?
I’m sort of this weird hybrid writer. Some scenes I’ll write by the seat of my pants, others I’ll sketch out just the dialogue to get a better handle on a particular argument or discussion characters are having, and then other times I’ll get hardcore and outline it all out in detail before I even start the scene. It’s really dependent on whatever is going on in the scene in particular.
What attracted you to the subject of zombies in the first place?
I really started getting into zombies back when 28 Days Later and the remake of Dawn of the Dead were both released. The few zombie movies I had seen prior to those two featured the traditional slow-moving zombies, and I just never really found that scary in the slightest.
Zombies that run though? That was a whole ‘nother story. It made me think very distinctly of a predator/prey scenario, and I don’t know what you think, but the idea of being relentlessly chased and stalked like that is absolutely terrifying on a mental level. It’s part of why throughout my novel, I reference predator/prey set-ups, like the fox and the rabbit, the cat and the bird, and other similar pairings. It was with the introduction of these fast-moving zombies that I started to seek out zombie and post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels to read and that’s about when I got totally engrossed in the entire subculture.
There are a lot of zombie themed books/movies on the market right now… why do you think zombies have become so popular recently, and what makes your books different?
Zombies have always been popular, but the popularity just sort of goes up and down over time. I think zombies have really had a resurgence recently because of the whole vampire overload that supernatural and horror storytelling has been totally overwhelmed by. Literally, you can’t walk five feet in a bookstore without running into yet another vampire book, and I think readers and movie-goers are starting to get tired of it. There’s only so much you can handle of a particular topic before it just gets old, and vampires have definitely been done to death over the past three years or so, no pun intended. Readers are just ready for a change.
As for what makes my book different, I can’t say outright; it would spoil a major plot point in the second book for my readers. But I do think that the fact that my book focuses more on the PEOPLE surviving the viral outbreak rather than on the zombies themselves really makes it fairly different from a lot of zombie novels out there. The story is really a study of how people react and interact when faced with a severe crisis situation, and how I think certain types of people would address a scenario that introduces the collapse of civilization into the world we live in. It’s really a look at the question of how you continue to survive when everything and everyone else around you has simply just fallen apart.
How many books are in the series? Do you have an ETA on the next installment, and what can we expect?
There are five books in the series. The second book is titled The Becoming: Safe House, and the other three parts’ titles are going to be withheld until I settle on definitive titles for them.
The second book, Safe House, will be out towards the end of February. I’m working on self-imposed deadlines, and the full book should be in my beta reader’s hands by February 10th at latest. At worst, I’ll have it ready to roll in the first week of March, though I haven’t settled on a specific date yet.
As for what readers can expect? The best I can say is a whole lot more action, a lot more zombies, and a few explosions thrown into the mix for good measure. In each book, I amp up the crisis and stress levels for the characters just a little bit more, and I think the ending of the fifth book will entirely shock my readers when they get their eyes on it.
UPDATE, 4/4/11: Jessica’s books have been temporarily taken down from all sites because… SHE’S GETTING PUBLISHED! You can read her big news on The Becoming, the official website for her writing. Congratulations, Jessica!