Sickness rips through Brian’s school, blood devouring zombies that won’t let anyone or thing stand in their way. What would you do if you were stuck in school and everyone around you was slowly being taken away into sickness? We caught up with Tom Leveen, author of brand new YA horror ‘SICK’.
Without giving too much away what can we expect from ‘SICK’?
Hopefully more than a zombie novel. All horror is fundamentally about something else (thematically speaking), and I really wanted SICK to dive in and wrestle with issues we’re all facing today: racism, violence, loss of family…loss of humanity, really. I hope I raise some of those issues for readers while still giving them a pulse-pounding action story about friendship, family, and sacrifice.
What was your inspiration behind the story? Did you watch a scary movie and think ‘I can do that better?’
I think we all see movies or read books that we think we can do better, and a lot of times, we’re probably right! But SICK came about organically from multiple conversations with old high school friends and what we would have done had the zombie apocalypse happened while we were in the drama department together. Bishop would go out to investigate and get eaten. Tom and Matt would be like, ‘We told you!’ and hide in the prop room…” So my high school is very much the setting of SICK, and it’s pretty close to the real thing. The fence is really that tall, for example. It wasn’t a great school back in the day, and a lot of the issues addressed in the book came from very real scenarios, just without the “zombies.”
‘SICK’ is the fifth YA novel you’ve written but the first in the horror genre, did you find it easy changing writing styles?
Yes! Very easy, really, because while to readers SICK is a departure, for me it’s a return home. My first stories, and most of my stories up until college (I started writing in second grade) were horror stories. One of the first “teachers” I had was Stephen King; I began reading his short stories at an early age, and was watching horror movies by the time I was six or seven. I’m not saying this was a good idea!
The other aspect to this is that SICK is still in most ways a contemporary YA novel like my others, because while the monsters are scary and the violence is gory (I’m told), the themes and characters are very much rooted in modern high school life. The presence of “monsters” only magnifies them.
You hold a blue belt in tae kwon do which is pretty impressive, do you think that would help if we were invaded by zombies, or would you use a different weapon?
There was a time it would have helped, but now I tend to throw my back out picking toys up off the floor, so I’m not sure it be any good in the apocalypse…
I think I’d choose a nice samurai sword like Mishone’s. Multifunctional, strong, quick, efficient. And everyone looks bad-ass with one!
Is there a character in the book which you can really see yourself in?
That’s a tough one, because the author is always in all the characters in one way or another. But honestly, I’d have to say Laura. I got the idea for her panic disorder from my own experience with it, and I enjoyed being able to give her a strength as a young person that it took me a lot longer to find in myself.
Have you always known you wanted to write for a living?
Pretty much. It didn’t occur to me to write with the intent of publishing until much later, though, because up until just recently, my focus was on theatre. Theatre was a quick fix; I could start rehearsals and know that in six to eight weeks I’d have a finished story for people to see. With books, it’s long process—two years at the absolute bare minimum. Much closer to three. I’ve been writing novel-length fiction since high school, but never gave much thought to publication. I just enjoyed the process.
What is your writing process? If you have one.
Speaking of process…
I generally get an idea and write it down, then maybe use it right away to springboard into a novel, or else let it sit and marinate for a while. Weeks, months, even years. Eventually I’ll get a scene with two or three characters, and the story takes shape around it. Usually I know how it’s going to end no more than halfway into writing it.
And sometimes, you just have to put an entire first draft away, for a while or forever, because it just ain’t workin’.
What advice would you give to someone if they wanted to become a writer?
For anyone who’s not married yet, I suggest getting out of the house. Go have adventures. Meet lots of new people. These are experiences that will later become the things you borrow from to write about. The crazy cat lady across the street might become a rogue dwarf in your epic fantasy, or the principal in your YA contemporary.
Meanwhile, get into a writing habit. Should you write every day? Pretty much, but sometimes that’s not reasonable. On the other hand, if you’re serious about writing, you will find and/or make the time to do it. It’s that simple. My friend and author Erin Jade Lange said, “You have to love it more than showers.” She’s right! There is no fast or easy way to publication. You just have to sit down and do the work.
Lastly, if you have the chance to meet authors or any other professionals in the business, do so. Go to book signings and conferences and ask questions. I learned more about the craft and business of fiction in the last four years than I did the previous twenty combined.
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