Author Interview: Frank Vieira on Zalem, Mass. Sequel

There has been no stronger craze than that of zombies. The subject has been dominating TV in the popular series, The Walking Dead, the silver screen like (Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead) as well as novels (World War Z, Pride Prejudice and Zombies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth and many more). Lucky for BOM, we had the chance to speak with author Frank Vieira, whose series is adding to the zombie genre with his sequel Zalem, Mass, Book 2: Loss Yes, it takes place in our home of Salem!

 

How did you begin this journey of not only writing one novel, but its sequel? And most of all, how did you come up with the clever title ‘Zalem, Mass’?

I have been an avid comic, sci-fi, and horror fan for years. I collect comics, used to love

watching Creature Double Feature, and love everything sci-fi like: Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, and of course The Walking Dead. My introduction to the Zombie genre really came from George Romero’s work–I loved his films, and would always go to the theater upon release, but they never really made people as “Zombie-Crazy” as they are today. That took The Walking Dead. An amazing show, and the comic is even better. I should also mention Gary Reed’s comic Dead World released in the 1980’s. The comic is amazing, and really is what paved the way for comics like The Walking Dead to even get started. Gary and I have become friends over the years. I have letters in his comics, and he wrote a soundbite for the back cover of Zalem, Mass. Book 1: Constantinople.

I’m friends with many Marvel & DC creators, who have been after me to make the jump into comics for years but I never really found the time. I’m too busy being a husband, father of 5, 8th grade history teacher, and a baseball/softball/wrestling coach. Once my boys and I started getting into TWD, we began having conversations about what we would do if a Zombie Apocalypse ever really happened. What would we do if it started to surface right here in Salem, Massachusetts? The stories became vivid, even a person’s introduction to the pandemic was crucial. At the onset, people would be unsure, and think it was an elaborate prank or something other than zombification was happening. It’s hard to kill a person, even in that scenario, not to mention trouble with the law if you are wrong. It makes a person hesitate, and it is in those initial moments we discover who survives and who does not. Acceptance is the key element, and 80% of those lost, die in the first few moments. With that said, I was motivated by my sons and my conversations to finally sit down and write about how we would attempt to survive, so it is my family who are the main characters in the story. Real people. Fans of the books can actually come to Salem and meet the majority of the books characters.

In addition to the cast, all of the locations in the books are 100% real, and you can actually travel the paths the characters have. Readers have reported not being able to go anywhere in the city without imagining zombies being there! I just eat that stuff right up. Some of the characters are made up, such as Scat, and much to the dismay of my male fans, Bambi & Tristan. However, Tristan is actually modeled after the very beautiful Kahli Dearani, a local model from Quincy, Ma. Fan-favorite Bambi is actually modeled after the amazingly beautiful super-model, Bianca Beauchamp. Both Bianca and Kahli sent over pictures that we needed to create our breathtaking artwork.

One of the key elements in my decision to start writing was having so many AMAZING professional artists as friends! I mean when you have artists like Thor Mangila and Chris Wahl attached to the book you can’t go wrong. I came up with the concept of the bloody “Z” over the ‘Entering Salem’ city sign, tossed in a few bloody handprints and the title was born. I made a prototype and sent it over to a local artist and friend of mine named Christina Robichau. Christina took my initial concept and really turned it into something spectacular, and just like that Zalem, Mass. was born.

I created a fan-page  on Facebook, and  the site really blew up as friends of friends began to like the page. We currently have over 2,100 active fans. Salem is legendary as the “Witch City,” and over the years it has become the Halloween Mecca for millions of tourists. Combining this phenomena with the current zombie-craze, seemed like a win-win situation and I decided to keep the story grounded here in Salem rather than sending the cast on the road as initially planned.

 

What makes your story unique? And without giving away too much, what scene are you proud of the most in your second installment?

The biggest thing is 100% of the locations and geography in the book are real and accurate (including Steve’s Quality Market., and the Plummer House among other sites) and 90% of the cast are real people. Fans are also able to buy their way into the series as a way to support the publishing and art costs. But story wise, what really makes this story unique is the close family the story follows, so the readers get to meet them, fall in love with them, and then begin to feel like they are part of the family. When characters die  fans literally report breaking down in tears. That to me is the strongest motivator and the best feedback I can ask for. Another key element is I’m not afraid to use the “Z-Word.” In Zalem, Mass. I call them zombies. In this world, Romero’s movies exist, and so does TWD. I don’t know who came up with the rule of not being able to use the word, but rest assured, in Zalem, Mass. I call them what they are. Zombies!

A last thing is bringing it home and making it authentic. In our world people joke about how much fun they would have in a zombie apocalypse, and how they wished it would happen already…But in the world in my books, that is no longer the case. Family members die, and it is devastating. I get a lot of compliments on this line from Book 2:

“Everybody used to joke about how ready they would be if the Zombie Apocalypse ever started, and how much fun it would be, but nobody could have ever been prepared for this.”

Scene from Chapter 13
Scene from Chapter 13

The scene I am most proud of is in Chapter 13. This was my big gut punch–just blows readers away. I almost wanted to start with it as Chapter 1 of the first book. In the end I decided to be patient and it becomes the first chapter of Book 2. This is drawn and painted by Thor Mangila and digitally highlighted by Chris Wahl.

A few other scenes that are amazing…but not to give much away, check out the art!

(artwork penciled by Michael Magallanes and colored by Chris Wahl) drawn and painted by Thor Mangila and digitally highlighted by Chris Wahl.

4untitledChapters 19 & 20 from Book 2 are also amazing. The readers get to really see who Bambi and Tristan are as each of them has the chance to truly shine. These two sisters become major players and quickly become fan-favorites in the series. (It is penciled by Michael Magallanes and colored by Martin Teña).  I am also including a picture of Kahli & Bianca modeling as the zombie fighting sisters.

123sssAnd of course the last chapter of Book 2 (Chapter 22). Everything hits the fan in this chapter. Initially Zalem, Mass. Books 1 & 2 were meant to be one book, and I wrote each chapter as if it was an episode of a TV series. So Chapter 22 is kind of like my Season Finale. Here is a  quick preview. (artwork is drawn and painted by Thor Mangila and digitally highlighted by Chris Wahl)

 

Take us through your own personal creative process–how long did your first draft take versus the final piece? Did you obtain an editor or self-edit? Will there be another installment? If not, what’s next?

Once I started writing, I had a lot to learn. My close friend, Thor Mangila was very helpful in this regard. He taught me how to write an art-contract so I would own all of the artwork, and use within the book. He also made sure I copyrighted everything so nobody could steal my ideas. Erin Rydgren was my editor for Book 1. an amazing and quite simply, my right-hand. I cannot begin to describe how helpful she was in the process, and how much she inspired me to write. Erin always seemed to know exactly what was missing, and made damn sure I included it in the final draft. Sadly Erin got too busy to help with Book 2, so I self-edited.

Each book took me about a year to complete. The process was started with a basic outline of the book so I knew what I would need to accomplish in each and every chapter then sit down to write my “sloppy copy”, getting the meat of the chapters written. Once the first draft was complete, I went back and expanded on each chapter Some more fun that I had with the series is there are Easter Eggs all over the place, and not any one fan will find them all. Some of these hidden gems can only be spotted if you know me or other characters. Other hidden Easter Eggs include references from comics and sci-fi.

 

What inspires your writing?

As for my biggest inspiration, it is truly the fans. I am thrilled to death to hear about how much they love the story and cannot wait for more. Hearing that they cry, that I literally moved them to tears just blows me away, and is why I continue to write. I am also amazed at howmany celebrity artists come to me and ask to be a part of the book. And when a supermodel like Bianca Beauchamp says she is a fan and wants to part of the story, you jump on the opportunity , and know you are a success. Recently I was contacted by Stephen King who wants to read the story, so I will be sending him a complimentary copy. I truly look forward to hearing what the master of horror thinks of my work.

 

Will there be another installment? If not, what’s next?

As for what is next, there will be a Book 3 called “The Spanish War.” I cannot really talk about why it’s titled that way, but let’s just say by the time a reader is ready to start Book 3, you will know. Beyond that, I will keep writing as long as the fans continue to enjoy it, and as long as I have a story to tell.

 

You utilized Kickstarter as a way to raise money to publish your second novel. Take us through that process and what advice would you give to writers seeking funding to publish their novel.

Kickstarter is a great way to not only get some financial support, but also really get your stuff out there. People see it, and become fascinated and then want to read the book. Some of the rewards offered where to become a character in the book, the ability to be killed as a zombie, and even having your Salem store featured in the book. Fans could also pre-order the book as well as some various merchandise through Kickstarter. Shirts always remain very popular.

 

Amount raised: estimated $10,000 dollars in 2 different Kickstarter campaigns;

$6000+ for Book 1 and $3,000+ for Book 2.

 

Some advice to writers seeking funding is to build your fan-base, and keep them interested. I use my fan-page on Facebook to do just that, providing quality rewards, and created a fun video. It will capture your fans’ imaginations. And then advertise, advertise, advertise!!! I used Facebook, my fan-page, the newspaper, and even donated my books to the local library. The more people find out about your work, the more successful you will be.

 

Where can readers learn more about your work?

 

My fanpage: WWW.Facebook.com/Zalemmass

Website: WWW.Facebook.com/Zalemmass

And finally readers can use this link to read a great article that was written about me from The Salem Gazette. http://shelleysackett.com/2015/10/23/zalem-zombies-on-the-prowl-in-salem/

 

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