The Walking Dead returned to TV this past Sunday and I have found myself with zombies on the brain yet again.
Actually, it’s not zombies I’ve been thinking about, it’s how a zombie is defined and what genres you can fit them into.
A few months ago I brought in some outside help to do a little marketing for me, and these people have been throwing ads up on Facebook using images such as this one:
The outside marketing help didn’t really bother to look at my writing, they just heard the word zombie and ran with it. Most fans who have seen these ads have mentioned that they didn’t picture Hector, Nyx, Gary, or the others to look like the fellow shown above. And I agree. That, quite frankly, is not my kind of zombie.
The rotted things in my books are capable of thought, well some of them are, and while they are rotted, they lack the squishiness of a corpse. I never got the feeling that Lun-Yis’s face was oozing goo. My bad guys have more of a leathery feel to them, possibly an offshoot of how old they are.
On the other hand, the ad with the above fellow in it is doing very well, assuming that the goal is to acquire Likes on Facebook (whether that makes sense as a goal is another discussion).
But following on the heels of all these new Facebook Likes comes worry, something I always feel when I use the zombie angle to market my books. Are my zombies real zombies? Oddly the premise of my books is, in some ways, the complete inverse of this question. My enigmatic undead have been around forever, since the dawn of sentient thought, and it’s been mentioned that humans catching glimpses of my characters is what gave rise to zombie stories in the first place.
And yet, these characters aren’t walking corpses. They’re entities of pure energy capable of taking on physical form, and some of them have rotted away for various reasons. Am I allowed to market them as zombies?
I don’t know. And for the most part I don’t care. Once I reach that point in my head I take a deep breath and remind myself that the marketing is not the story. The poster is not the movie. The cover is not the book.
When I think about storytelling, I think about an old wizened person holding sway over a crowd of people. Maybe before bed by a campfire. Maybe to pass the time while the winter lumbers on outside. Maybe to keep a royal court entertained.
I don’t think about genre or marketing. I don’t go on to imagine one of the people around the campfire raising their hand and telling the wizened elder that they aren’t allowed to have fast zombies.
I just imagine the storyteller doing their job of riveting everyone’s attention, and the crowd doing their part by investing in the story, and everyone just being thankful that they aren’t outside in a blizzard. It is from that mental place that I do my best storytelling, and for that reason I often put the brakes on when I begin to mull too much about genre.
Still…I look at that picture from the ad up above and all I can think is, “That’s not my kind of zombie.”