Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guest Author -- Zoe Archer

Author Zoe Archer is dishing with us today about her newest release, The Undying Heart, in the anthology, Half Past Dead. The Undying Heart is a prequel to her upcoming paranormal historical series, The Blades of the Rose, which starts this September. Please help us welcome her to The Romance Dish as she asks....

When is a zombie not a zombie?

It seems you can’t swing a severed limb these days without smacking right into some undead flesh. Even though they’re cold cadavers, zombies are hotter than ever—in movies, video games and, yes, books. Though a certain book who shall remain nameless inserted zombies into a beloved novel of prideful and prejudicial Regency-era lovers, it’s a fairly recent trend that the reanimated dead have shown up in actual romance novels.

When my editor at Kensington called me and asked if I’d like to contribute a novella to a zombie-themed anthology, HALF PAST DEAD, I immediately agreed, even though I hadn’t given much thought to zombies within the romance novel context. All I knew was that whatever I wrote would serve as a prequel to my upcoming paranormal historical adventure series, THE BLADES OF THE ROSE (on shelves this Fall). My initial impulse was to have the hero and heroine battling zombies during the course of their story. After all, that’s what heroes and heroines do, isn’t it? Chop up mindless, decaying zombies with chainsaws or, in the case of my story—set after the Crimean War—using sabers.

Being a research dork, I started learning about the historical origins of zombies. Turns out that the image of the rotting, brain-eating zombie is a recent invention, largely popularized and fixed in the general perception by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its sequels. Later filmmakers and writers took that idea and ran with it, so now whenever you say the word “zombie” to someone, they think of some extra in the “Thriller” video: mottled flesh, groans, and killer dance moves. Okay, maybe not so much with the dancing, but you get the picture. Rotting dead person shambling mindlessly, relentlessly along in their quest to devour the flesh of the living.

But that’s not how zombies began.

Zombies are part of Haitian vodou lore. Vodou is a set of mystical and religious beliefs that spring from the mix of African tribal spiritualism, Catholicism and the spiritualism of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. Part of the vodou belief system is the idea of loas, or spirits, who are subordinate to a higher deity. Vodouisants worship these loas and make offerings to them. Helping the faithful in their worship are priests and priestesses, as well as sorcerers, called bokor. These sorcerers “serve the loa with both hands,” meaning they practice dark as well as benevolent magic. This includes the making and control of the zombi.

A vodou zombi isn’t a putrid corpse that hungers for brains. The zombi is a person brought back from the dead who is subject to the power of the bokor. Without any will of their own, the zombi must do as the sorcerer commands them in a kind of undead servitude, sometimes for decades, until they are released and allowed to rest. No flesh eating. No missing limbs.

(This is a very simplified account of the complex and rich vodou faith, but I wanted to give you a little backstory about my creative process—including discovering surprising truths about things I’d always taken for granted.)

After learning all this, I started to rethink my initial ideas about my novella. Stories thrive on tension, and what could be more tense than having a hero who had been killed, brought back to life, and then forced to do unspeakable things at the behest of a villainous master? What if this hero somehow managed to break free from his master’s hold? What if, in his search for vengeance, the undead hero crosses paths with the woman who has loved him ever since they were children together? And what if she is the only woman who can love him, even when he’s dead, and whose love transforms and warms his cold, still heart?

I knew I was taking a chance when deciding to make Major Sam Reed undead, but I also knew that if ever there was a group of readers who enjoyed innovation, it would be romance readers. After all, vampires and werewolves have been popular for over a decade, and each author puts their own unique spin on preexisting paranormal beings. If some vampires’ hearts only beat in the presence of their intended mate, or if some werewolves have to contend with complicated pack politics, why couldn’t a romance hero be a zombi whose perfectly intact undead body responds to a lover’s touch?

Despite being dead, I still think Sam is one sexy guy. He’s dark and tormented but desperate for a love he believes he can never have. Cassandra Fielding won’t let a little thing like death stand in the way of what, and who, she wants. She’s a Blade of the Rose, and Blades know that where magic is concerned, anything is possible. Even love.

Zoe has graciously offered to give away a signed copy of Half Past Dead to a random poster who leaves a comment or asks a question!


  1. Hi Zoe! I'm on my way out to take the dog to the Vet but I'll be back later to chat about "The Undying Heart". I never thought I'd fall for a member of the undead but Sam is one seriously sexy hero. Can't wait to hear more about the Blades of the Rose books planned for this series.

  2. A dead, yet not dead hero? Sounds kinda strange, but I liked the synopsis and your post, Zoe. PJ has raved about this story, too, on another blog. I really like the title.

  3. I didn't expect to like a zombie romance hero much, but I was wrong. I thought the "back from the dead" aspect worked pretty well. It's fascinating how your research contributed to this different (and much more interesting) version of the zombie. Sam is more attractive as a hero than a lot of vampires I've read about!

    Obviously you don't need to enter me in the contest, though. "I've already got one; eet's verry niice" (in a dreadful French accent).

  4. Zoe, you have four consecutive "Blades of the Rose" books coming out in the fall. Can you tell us anything about them? Will we see Sam and Cassandra in any of the stories?

  5. Hi Zoe! I love zombies and I'm totally intrigued by a zombie romance hero! I can't wait to read your anthology! :)

  6. Sonomalass, I felt the same way! I'm a little squeamish when it comes to what I typically think of as a "zombie" so I really didn't think I'd like "The Undying Heart" but I was so wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and have already marked my calendar for the rest of the Blades of the Rose releases in Sept - Dec.

  7. Deb, I know. It's a strange concept to grasp but Ms. Archer really does make it work.

  8. I found your research on the origins of the zombie quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I've never heard of a zombi hero, but it sounds interesting.

  10. Thanks for everyone's great comments!

    And, PJ, you will see Sam and Cassandra again in the BLADES OF THE ROSE series, but I'm not saying when or where!

  11. Hey Zoe! Welcome to The Romance Dish!

    I think romance has come a long when since I started reading. The paranormal genre has opened up so many different and new storylines. These days, I'm game to try just about anything.

    Wishing you much success Zoe!

  12. Hi and welcome to The Romance Dish, Zoe! We are so glad you're here with us today. :)

    As many other have said, I've never thought of an undead hero/heroine to sound appealing, but your blurb makes it so! And I quite enjoyed reading about your research. Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Zoe,

    Half Past Dead sounds like a winner. Count me in for the contest!

  14. Definitely a different take on a hero! I can't wait to read this one!

  15. Now this is a first, I am completely intrigued. And I love the historical background on the subject.

    Tormented, dead AND sexy. Who can resist?

  16. Hi, Zoe! We are so pleased that you're with us today.

    PJ has had nothing but good things to say about "The Undying Heart." When I first heard undead/zombie hero, I thought, "Eww", but now I know I HAVE to read this story!

  17. Hi PJ, glad to see Zoe Archer as the topic of today's chat and questions. I was on the fence for a while now and since reading this and getting the needed background to let me know that this is not a one shot deal but a book series coming out, I am in....
    I have read of this particular Zombi type used by bokors in books before but not as the main character or characters and sounds like a well done fleshed out, pardon the pun, reading experience...

    Jackie B Central Texas

  18. LOL @ Jackie! It does give "fleshed out" a whole new meaning, doesn't it? Honestly, zombie-type movies and books (of the Night of the Living Dead variety) are not my cup of tea at all but Zoe has written a wonderful love story where I never forgot what Sam was but, like Cassandra, I loved him in spite of it.

  19. Thank you for posting your research findings; it always frustrates me when popular culture takes something and adds their own 360 twist to it, with the audience none-the-wiser. Sam sounds scrumptious, and I already love the "childhood crush" plotline, so your book sounds like a must-read to me. :D Thanks for the chance to win!

  20. i haven't read any of books about zombie romance hero. THis book intrigued me !

    please enter me in to the giveaway :)

  21. If it's paranormal,I'm game for anything, too. Having liked your previous historicals, Zoe, I'm excited to read your paranormals.

  22. Hi Zoe,
    It's nice to read the truth about Voodoo. A lot of people dont understand it. I'd like to add to your backstory. There is a certain amount of time a body can be buried before being 'brought back'. They are given a herb to 'live' again. Then they are brain dead and used as slaves. I've done a lot of research on this topic myself. The only thing I don't know are the amounts of certain ingredients used to make the powder to 'kill' someone.

    I'd love to win HALF PAST DEAD! Thanks.

    Meljprincess AT aol DOT com