Nashville has really sorta become the
“it” city of late – and why not, we've got it all – it's the
home of country music and more country stars than you can shake a
banjo at, a professional football team (Titans), a professional
hockey team (Predators), our own regular TV series based in this city
(Nashville) – and now the living dead have even found their way to
Music City, courtesy of horror writer Annie Walls. I got a chance to
sit down and chat with Annie recently about her books, writing, and
more. I think you ghouls will dig it!
Dr. Gangrene - So tell me about your
latest series of books, your zombie novels.
Annie – My zombie novels are dark
fantasy. It’s a character driven series called the FAMISHED
TRILOGY. The first one is called TAKING ON THE DEAD. I just
published the second book, CONTROLLING THE DEAD. I just started
revising the third one, LIVING WITH THE DEAD. It’s pretty highly
anticipated by my readers, so it’s exciting.
Dr. Gangrene – So the response to the
first two books has been good then?
Annie – Yes. I was quite surprised
with how many people like my story.
Dr. Gangrene – So tell me a little
more about the story – it’s a zombie apocalypse, right?
Annie – Yes, it’s set in Nashville,
and it’s about a young woman who’s alone for four years and she
comes across some circumstances and eventually heads out into the
world to see how things are going. It’s just about her and how
she’s adapting to the new world and all the people in it.
Doc G – So it takes place in
Nashville, huh? Cool! Does the action ever end up in your home town,
Murfreesboro (about 30 min South of Nashville), and will Nashville
readers spot places and landmarks they recognize?
Annie - I should say, even though I do
not mention Murfreesboro, it starts out there and later on, there's a
Walmart scene. (laughs) Yes, lots of landmarks in Nashville.
Although, my books aren't a survival handbook the story setting moves
to New Orleans, Montana, to Arizona in the second book. And all over
in the third.
Dr. Gangrene - So the zombie apocalypse
has already occurred when the book starts.
Annie – Well, the prologue is her
going through the zombie apocalypse. Then the first chapter starts
four years later.
Doc G – Is it a giveaway to say what
causes the zombies in your novels?
Annie – Yeah, a little bit. You don’t
really know until around the end of the second book. But there’s
clues and hints all through… Cause it’s her, she’s finding all
Doc G – I see, we’re learning as
Annie – Yeah, you’re learning as
Doc G – So you mentioned to me the
other day you like to write gore…
Annie – I do, I really like to get
Doc G – I was reading some of your
reviews and some people felt they were heavy on the romance, which
makes for an interesting combination, romance and gore.
Annie – Well, you know, it’s what
people take out of it. There is a romantic element but that’s not
the focus. Not at all.
Doc G – Cool. So after you finish up
this series, what’s next?
Annie – Well, I have a couple of
series in the works. More dark fantasy, and I did write a quirky love
story novel, but I don’t know if I’m going to publish that or
not. It was just a spur of the moment write. But the series I will be
publishing is a dystopian society story, and the main protagonist is
a psychic. Lots more colorful characters with a gritty, raw feel.
That’s what I like to write.
I also have a graphic design business,
so it’s a balancing act. I just started graphic designing, and I do
all my own graphics. I started doing it because it’s really, really
expensive, and when you’re an indy author that’s an expense you
have to take on, so I just learned to do it myself. Since then I’ve
had other people ask, “Will you do my book cover, “ or, “Will
you design my blog,” so it’s just taken off from there.
Doc Gangrene – I do really like your
covers, they are really well designed.
Annie – Thank you.
Doc Gangrene – Is that something
you're open to doing more of, designing covers for other authors.
Annie – Yes, I am open to that, it's
just a matter of time management.
Doc G – Have you always been
interested in writing?
Annie – Yes, I’ve been writing
since I was really young, just little stories here and there, but
I’ve never really thought to make that my actual dream. (laughs)
It’s just something that came about a few years ago.
Doc G – Well, the Indy publishing
scene has gotten to the point where it’s possible now.
Annie – Yes. It’s easy to publish,
but the steps an Indy author should take are hard work. You really
have to put a lot into it to be noticed. It’s the quality of
writing, getting an editor and a copy editor, beta readers help…
Indy authors have a bad rep for putting out low quality work because
it is so easy to publish. It is a lot of work, but I like both sides
of it, the promotion and the marketing, connecting with readers. It’s
Doc G – How do you do connect with
Annie – Social networking. I get all
kinds of comments and emails and I respond to every one. Right now I
can still do that, but it’s getting to a point where I can’t tell
each reader apart, so it might change. But I’ll keep trying.
Doc G – That’s a good problem to
have. Where can folks find you?
Annie – I’m on twitter,
@theanniewalls - and facebook, and google plus. And my website
Doc G – Do you do a newsletter?
Annie – Yes I do, not all the time.
And you can subscribe to it through the website.
Doc G - So you just had the launch for
the second novel?
Annie - I did. I’m going through my
book blog tour now, where all these blogs read my book or do an
interview or something. And I have a big giveaway going on for a
signed copy of Controlling the Dead. I’m putting together a
Famished trilogy inspired “Zombie Survival Kit”(laughs).
Doc G – Cool!
Annie – Yeah, that’s really been
fun to do. I just got these little soaps in the mail – zombie
repellent! It smells really good, I shoulda got myself some! It
actually repels insects too. It’s just a little kit that I’m
throwing together and you can win in a giveaway.
Doc G – That kind of stuff is
thinking outside the box, and that’s what you’ve gotta do.
Annie – You do, you really have to
step outside the box, for sure.
Doc G - When do you find time to write?
Are you a morning person or…
Annie – I write whenever it’s
there. I can’t force myself to write. It could be anytime of the
day. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to write, and I’ve
stayed up for a few days in a row to write. It comes and goes.
There’s also been like a month and a half where I didn’t write at
all. But I think everyone is different in that way.
Doc G – Definitely. So, getting back
to the zombie books, when do you think the third one will come out?
Annie – I wrote all of these within a
matter of months and I’ve learned so much about writing and my
writing has dramatically improved, so the revision stage is gruesome.
When I wrote the trilogy it was in past tense, and I’m switching it
to present tense. The third book is 130,000 words, (laughs), so it’s
gonna take a little while, but hopefully before next summer (2014).
Doc G – Since it’s so long, is
there any chance it could expand to a fourth as you’re writing it?
Annie – Oh no, no. A trilogy is a
trilogy – I’m sticking by that. It’s gonna conclude… the end.
Doc G – Then on to something else.
Annie – Yeah, with the big blowup of
the zombie thing, truthfully, I’m kind of tired of zombies! I’m
ready to move on. There’s only so many ways you can kill a zombie
and have it be entertaining (laughs). I’ve been a zombie fan since
I knew what zombies were, but now that everyone is all “zombie,
zombie, zombie” I’m kind of burned out.
Doc G – I get that. Well thanks for
chatting with me Annie, and I wish you all the best with your books.
Be sure to let me know if I can ever help you with anything.
Annie – Will do and thanks!
You can order Annie's books off Amazon here
And, as a special bonus, Annie has graciously shared an excerpt from her book, the afore -mentioned Walmart scene - Enjoy!
* * * * * * * *
The sun shines brightly, which means there are no signs of famished as the van pulls in the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot, empty of cars. Not a single one. Old scorch marks adorn the lot from body disposal. Litter blows all over like leaves in the fall. Reece, Mac, and I glance at each other. Usually, places like this show more signs of outbreak panic. I’m surprised at this because I’ve always avoided where there could be many zombies in one place. Reece drives by the entrances; both doors are wide open with no visible movement inside the store. He backs the van into an entrance as far as he can go.
Being parked inside of a Wal-Mart has potential for some comic relief.
My mouth opens to crack a joke until Reece says, “Mac, you take medical supplies. Kan, you go look for any camping gear you can find. I’ll take household items and hardware.” His voice is all business and commanding, now that we’re here.
Sunlight bounces off Reece's tattooed bald head and causes a double glare in his sunglasses. His leather vest squeaks as he opens his door. “Keep alert.” Mac and I nod, getting out.
Since the air is warmer in here than outside, Mac pulls his red hoodie off, throwing it in the back. I almost leave my jacket in the van, but slide on my battered army pack taking stock of myself. My machete hangs from its normal spot on the right side of the pack – the Bersas and a hunting knife adorn my belt.
I take a deep breath through my nostrils, making out a faint trace of decay from the living dead with a strange, bitter stench. We stand in a row listening for any sounds of lurking zombies.
“Smell it?” I whisper, glancing to Mac. His brows draw together, and his bottom lip sticks out as his tongue runs across the inside of it rapidly. I can see him perfectly in the light of the open glass doors, sandy blond curls puff up on one side as if he had run a hand through it. His white T-shirt seems extra bright.
Blue eyes search around intently before stopping at me, burning bright as he flashes me a smile and tugs on one of my long dreads. “Nothing to worry about. It’s not strong and it’s warm in here. Not an ideal place for the undead,” he reassures me.
I return the smile before letting my gaze seek movement. Light coming in through the doors illuminates enough to make out aisles. The darkened shadows seem to drift outward as I watch. Mac claps his hands and the sounds echoes.
While we wait, Reece walks a few feet away searching down the closer aisles. A croaked moan cuts through my awareness seeming to bounce from walls to rafters. I freeze at the sound as the hair on my arms stand on end. A thick slithering comes from between the cash registers. Clearly in no immediate danger, I walk toward the sound without another thought. I can’t see what it is from the darkened area.
“Hey,” Mac says quietly close to my ear as he moves to stand in front of me, before clicking on a small flash-light. I pull my gun as I catch sight of what lays in the flashlight beam. I slide back the rail with ease, silently chambering a bullet.
“Don’t waste your ammo,” he says as the light flashes the length of the zombie on the smooth, tiled floor.
It looks up at us with eyes filmed over a milky color, but darkened black with settled blood. With all of its hair still intact, skin sags around his eyes and jaw. One arm reaches out toward us, clawing the air. A few of his cracked fingernails have already fallen off. The bottom half is nothing but gnawed bones with hanging nerves. Thickened blood smears the floor beneath him, leaving a trail from where he had been dragging himself. With the other arm completely missing, the flailing one has a huge bag strapped around the shoulder with a few ripped strips of a faded black shirt sleeve.
“Holy shit!” Reece breathes, approaching from behind. “Damned thing is ugly. Might be the source of the smell.”
I doubt it. It’s not old enough for the decayed smell in the air. Judging from how rapidly he can move his arm, if he had legs he would be able to run.
Mac hands me the flashlight. “He was hanging onto that bag for dear life,” he observes, bending over with a knife. The famished’s hand grabs at him. Mac automatically steps on it as if it’s a pesky cockroach. Holding the arm down with his combat boot, Mac slits the bag open. I shine the light on its contents. Liters of rubbing alcohol and dozens of boxes of cold medicine spill out.
Mac scoffs in unison with Reece. I say, “Someone must have been sick.” Reece holds back a snort of amusement. I glance at him sharply. “What the hell is so funny?” He only raises his bushy eye-brows. I must be missing the obvious.
“No one was sick. This dude was going to cook meth. Explains the weird smell. Might be why he is so hyped for an older zombie,” Mac explains as he straightens, stomping his boot to the famished’s head. “Fucking redneck.” Disgust oozes from his tone as the zombie wiggles. He stomps again, this time a crunch sounds, splattering fresh gore. Specks of it hit my jeans.
I cock an eyebrow at Mac crossing my arms. “And you aren’t?” I joke.
He smirks, “Okay, backwoods redneck.”
I nod as though I approve.
Reece sighs warily, not trusting this location. “Let’s finish in here.”
Sticking the gun in the front of my jeans, I make my way to the back where the sporting goods section is located. The place has been looted. People looted for anything they could carry. I doubt I’ll find ammunition here. Getting closer to the back, the rank smell thickens. It’s also gotten darker, but I still have Mac’s small flashlight in my back pocket.
My eyes widen as I realize there are aisle racks moved around; arranged to make up separate rooms. Judging by all the garbage and sleeping bags, someone lived here, and by the way it stinks, for some time. I notice more empty bottles and cold medicine packaging. Mac was right. The pre-zombie had been cooking meth. Everything that I came for has been used at some point. The blankets are soiled and reek of the unknown. The only question that remains is where are the other occupants? I assume they escaped an attack.
A shuffle sounds in the next aisle. I freeze as a groan floats down my own aisle, sending goose bumps up the back of my neck. I turn to see an old one turning down my aisle at the very end. Excitement surges, and I start walking closer to it when several more turn into the aisle.
I stop to watch as they walk jerkily slow. The first one’s head cocks to one side as if curious about me. It reminds me of a dog waiting on a treat. This one had been a woman, the hair a gangly mess of missing chunks. Her skin, still bluish in color, would soon turn green and textured. This might be a good time to try a Molotov. Knowing the risks, I pull a jar out of my pack, stabbing a slit in the top with the hunting knife before re-sheathing it in my belt, and then dip the cloth to thread it through the slit. A few twists of the cap, and I light the rag with a lighter.
Tossing it to the floor in front of the putrid, the glass busts, making the moonshine splatter and catch fire instantly. The flame spreads on the floor and up the putrid’s body in a licking wave as it follows fumes, spills, and splatters.
Blinking at the flaming zombie, I note it slows them considerably as its skin melts in front of me. Time to get out of here before the burning smell hits me.
A snarl erupts from behind me before I am slammed in the back, falling forward to the floor. A frustrated grunt escapes me when I catch myself on my knee as pain splinters through it. My huge pack smacks me in the head, but keeps the famished from getting a lock on me.
Holding myself up with my arm, I kick out, scrambling away from the zombie. When I get myself turned around, the famished is on top of me again. We fall, with me on my back, awkwardly because of my pack, as I hold the famished away from me by its neck, and the machete clangs on the floor. The zombie’s hand entangles in my dreadlocks. My scalp feels like it’s ripping from my skull. I yelp, feeling its clammy skin almost to the point of slimy. Trying not to cringe away from it as thick drool drips down my neck from its mouth, I use all my strength trying to keep it away from me.
There’s another inhuman snarl, and I know at least one more comes for me. The fire from the flaming zombie gives me enough light as the second zombie tumbles into me from the side. Throwing my elbow at it, I knock it away.
The first zombie’s mouth snaps way too close to my face as I grapple with my gun in my left hand. Pulling the trigger, I get a clean shot to the head, turning my head before the gore shower sprays me. The shot still resonates in my ear as the stench of burning putrid becomes thick in my throat, tasting of foul death.
Gunshots echo from the other direction. Reece and Mac. The zombie wastes no time jumping on top of me, but not before I put my feet in the air bending at my knees. Aches spring in my joints with the weight of it. It’s breath smells like rotten meat and soured blood, which brings on a bout of nausea as I swallow the extra saliva, threatening to help release the contents of my stomach. Stained black teeth bite the air in front of me as I push up with both legs with all my strength. Having the desired effect, the zombie disappears sideways as I kick it – able to aim my gun at it immediately, squeezing the trigger.
The zombie torch reaches me, a keening sound coming from its throat. I kick myself away from the already dead famished, easily surfing backward from the slick zombie blood. One shot to its head, and it slumps on top of the dead zombie, still on fire. Standing up, smoke fills my lungs, and I put my hands on my knees, trying not to hack.
When I’m able to gulp air, relief washes through me in a strong tide, bringing exhaustion with it, but I still have an aisle of slow zombies coming at me. Their scuffling sounds ten times louder now that my famished brawl is over.
An explosion drowns out the putrid parade, then another right after. The double sounds boom inside my ears, causing instant pain, and shake the building violently. They are going to bring the Wal-Mart tumbling down on top of us, all the while making us deaf.
I cover my head and ears as debris flies all over me. Some of the zombie have fallen over from the explosions, making it smell like burnt cheese mixed in a used restroom toilet. I don’t have time to worry about Mac and Reece, I just have to get to them.
I turn to run in the other direction, slipping on blood, and my boot squeaks on the slick floor. I catch myself on a rack, my right arm windmilling. The rack tilts slightly, causing items on it to tumble down onto me and crash to the floor. Luckily, nothing hurts. It’s either that or my adrenaline keeps me from feeling it. Regaining my balance, I let go of the rack in order to keep running. The rack smashes down behind me.
Coming around a corner, I smack into a body, and strong hands grab my arms. “Kan!” It’s Mac. His stark white shirt glows from the fire, and it reflects in his wide eyes.
“Shit! Famished all over. We need to leave!” I shout the obvious, my hearing still filled with static.
He pushes me out of the way. “Yeah, I know,” he shouts back, pulling his gun to fire rounds into the aisle I just emerged from. His shots make my ears ring all the more. I think he just wants to shoot something.
“You’re wasting bullets! Will you give my ears a rest? They are going to start bleeding!” I shout some more.
“Whhuuut?” He yells, mocking me by cupping a hand around his ear. Smiling at his joke, he grabs my arm. “Let’s go,” he says urgently. We look around every aisle while hurrying to the van.
Mac shoots more on the way out. I ignore them as long as they aren’t in our way. Reece has already started the van and waits on us. We jump in, and before we can even get the door closed, he peels out of Wal-Mart. I fall back against the seat, knowing I needed this trip. I needed the reminder. I'm getting too comfortable, which is a mistake that will eventually bite me in the ass. I know it.