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.
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!