For many zombie novelists and filmmakers, their introduction to the genre goes back to George Romero. In the case of writer Devan Sagliani, that first brush with the undead came via G.I. Joe.
“I had a kids record player with a Peter Pan Storyteller recording of ‘GI Joe The Secret Of The Mummy’s Tomb’,” he explained. “I didn’t understand the difference between mummies and zombies as a kid. To me they were both people who had died who came back to eat the living.”
Although not usually renowned for being masterworks, Sagliani said the G.I. Joe tale was a primer that was educational and inspirational.
“I learned all about attention to detail, mood, and suspense listening to that story over and over again as a kid,” he said. “It was not just a great escape from what I was going through at the time but also a crash course in fiction.”
Despite his unconventional introduction, Sagliani’s continued education in zombies did include viewings of Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and Wes Craven’s “Serpent and the Rainbow.”
“I was also heavily into comics, shockingly enough, and zombies were a recurring theme in them,” Sagliani said. “I wasn’t hung up on super heroes, outside of the X-Men. I was all about horror comics. I guess you can say I was going through a lot as a kid and these forms of entertainment served as a good outlet for me.”
And it wasn’t long before Sagliani was writing his own horror stories as well.
“I wrote my first short story when I was in fifth grade. It was about a man being stalked by a monster on an island. It didn’t end well,” he said. “To this day I think my teacher was shocked and concerned. It was the kind of thing that would earn you a teacher parent conference, I assure you.”
Sagliani’s career as a zombie novelist was actually an outgrowth of his somewhat negative experience as a screenwriter. He said he was gripped by an idea for a film based on the live action “Humans Versus Zombies” game played on college campuses. He couldn’t shake the idea until the screenplay was finished.
Those interested in the movie can find it at Wal-Mart as well as Redbox and Netflix, but it won’t be the movie Sagliani wanted you to see. While getting a screenplay developed into a movie might seem like a success, Sagliani said the experience wasn’t what he’d hoped for.
“The process didn’t turn out as I had expected at all. Working in Hollywood means having your original vision compromised, no matter what you are promised or what the contract says,” he said. “Once again I got a first hand lesson in the way things work in the entertainment industry. Ultimately it all worked out though because my dissatisfaction with HVZ lead me to finally take the plunge into novel writing head on. I wanted full control over what I wrote.”
In the time since, Sagliani has completed two zombie novels, one targeted toward the young adult market.
“Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde” is a young adult novel based around Xander Macnamara. His brother leaves him at a military base and tells him not to leave, but then zombies begin to organize into large groups and overrun buildings and large installations, forcing him to move on.
16-year-old Xander is forced to hit the road with his young friend Benji, a comic book obsessed geek. They set off toward Southern California to find Xander’s brother Moto and along the way they encounter not just zombies but also the remains of a crumbled society and learn how dangerous the living are compared to the dead in the post-apocalyptic world.
They run into neo-Nazi’s, bikers, gangs, religious cults, cannibals and more. Xander meets the love of his life, a child celebrity turned reality television star, at a guitar legend’s house and they save her.
“It’s a wild ride full of nonstop action. I wanted it to be a coming of age story as well as a travelogue. I wanted to show the relationships between people in a world out of control,” Sagliani said. “I think it accomplishes all that and more.”
“The Rising Dead” is an adult horror novel that finally answers the age old question ? If the zombie apocalypse happens in Vegas does it stay in Vegas? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. The novel centers around an unlikely group of misfits, mostly college aged kids, who band together in an attempt to survive the madness. As the reality of the zombie apocalypse begins to unfold we see them being changed by it, right down to their core beliefs and personal values.
“I’d say most zombies books don’t offer much in the way of character development. Usually you just get introduced to characters long enough to know them before they die,” Sagliani said. “I wanted to try to develop my characters a little more so you could see the impact that the catastrophe had on them, how some grew through the adversity while others fell apart. I just wanted to write something fun and dark and play with the end of the world a little, but the idea kept growing. I’ve got big plans for the sequel too.”
The prospect of sequels seems natural now, but Sagliani admits there were times when he wasn’t sure he’d finish the first book.
“The funny thing is that I woke up every day and had to talk myself into writing the book. I kept thinking no one would want to read it, that I was just wasting my time,” he explained. “You can imagine how surprised and happy I was to learn that people genuinely enjoyed it and wanted more.”
Fans of Sagliani’s books will be happy to know that Permuted Press has secured the rights to sequels of both books. Unfortunately, do to the nature of publishing, they won’t be available until next year.
In the meantime, Sagliani is working on another zombie book that will be released sooner.
“It’s all interconnected short stories based on the zombie apocalypse during the first six weeks after it hits Los Angeles. It is a very graphic, no holds barred tribute to my city and it’s history. I was born and raised here and I wanted to do something that showed my love for the City of Fallen Angels,” he said. “I’m hoping to have something ready before fall of this year, but I’m not going to rush anything out that isn’t totally ready or properly edited.”
“Zombie Attack” and “The Rising Dead” are both available on Amazon now. Permuted Press is releasing the paperback of Zombie Attack in November along with the Audible version. It won Best Zombie Ebook of 2012 on Goodreads. The Rising Dead will be available in paperback and on Audible early next year.