Tag Archive for best middle grade zombie books

Climate Change Fiction: How I wrote a “cli-fi” book before I realized it was a thing

I recently came across a term for a literary subgenre that was new to me, cli-fi. As in “climate change fiction.”

This is an expansive category of fiction that includes climate change themes. Within that loose genre, the stories can be utopian or dystopian, literary or satire. It’s a wide open, burgeoning field.

Jules Verne is credited with writing the first books in this genre — long before the term “sci-fi” was coined — with the novel 1883 novel, Paris in the 20th Century, where he imagined Paris hit by a sudden drop in temperature that lasts a number of years. In 1964, JG Ballard wrote The Burning World, a novel predicated on a man-made climate disaster.

Neither of these men realized they were writing cli-fi. And neither did I when I wrote Better Off Undead. But now I understand how my book falls into that category.

I began Better Off Undead with a vision of a 7th-grade zombie, Adrian Lazares, the ultimate misfit. And that idea sat in a drawer for a few years — it seemed a little trendy, frankly — until in 2014 I went to the spectacular “People’s Climate March” in NYC, attended by more than 400,000 citizens of the globe.

 

I traveled down alone -- but not alone -- by bus. So this is me on that great day, seeking attention to a cause that matters. In many ways, this march affected and inspired the book I wrote.

I traveled down alone — but not alone — from Delmar, NY, by bus. So this photo is me, taken by a stranger on that great day, seeking attention for a cause that matters. In many ways, this experience affected and inspired the book I wrote.

People's Climate March, 092114Some of hundreds of thousands take part in the People's Climate March through Midtown, New Yorkscreenshot-2014-09-10-131902_550x322climate-march-9_3000019b10_medium140921_climate_change_rally_nyc_ice_cream_earth_msm_605_60520140921-dsc_0050imagesA protester carries a sign during the "People's Climate March" in the Manhattan borough of New Yorkslide_389314_4706504_freeslide_370038_4261286_free140921_pol_peoplesclimate_11-jpg-crop-original-originalimagemarch-for-climate-changeimrspeoples-march-newam-crew-537x366

Why was Adrian a zombie? I needed an answer for that. At that March, it all connected for me. The book would be set in the not-so-distant future. And suddenly, it was obvious: the world was out-of-whack, like Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I was writing a world-gone-wrong story. Cli-fi, in other words.

In Better Off Undead, Adrian and his friends live in a future environment imperiled by climate change. Weird things are happening to their world, but in the story it’s mostly unremarked upon, the new normal.

Some examples:

  • Adrian’s father is a mercenary soldier working for Corporate, fighting in the “water wars” somewhere in Africa.
  • Dane warns Adrian not to run away to California because “it’s on fire.” Adrian replies, “Not all of it.”
  • References to “super storms” and “superflus” and dengue fever, melting ice caps and rising seas, killer wasps and strangled lakes.
  • A subplot about honeybees and colony collapse disorder, references to bats dying of white nose disease.
  • “EarthFirst gas masks” are advertised on television.
  • By the way, this is a COMEDY. Booklist gave it a starred review and described the book as “Hilarious!” Just so you don’t get the wrong idea!

Adrian reflects: “I was a reanimated corpse, alone in the world, but I also sensed that maybe I was part of something larger.

My mom!

In this context, the zombie concept began to make sense.

And on it goes. The world in Better Off Undead is immediately recognizable, but at the same time, slightly off. The problems of today persist: bees and bats dying off . . . the end of privacy . . . data-mining by faceless corporations . . . spy drones . . . evil billionaires . . . and hologram advertising beamed into the night sky.

And, yeah, one lone zombie — maybe more — wandering around, wondering what is to become of this planet.

Somehow it all ends with a note of hope.

Because we can’t give up on that.

COVER REVEAL: “Better Off Undead”

After becoming undead, 

Adrian Lazarus 

has to survive middle school.

 

BetterOffUndead_pre

 

ADRIAN LAZARUS has met with a curious fate. He’s returned from the dead (after a bad bike accident, no helmet), yet not a lot has changed. He still has to attend middle school. Adrian has always been something of a misfit. But it’s not just being a zombie that makes Adrian feel like an outcast. He notices the world has changed, too: bees are vanishing, forest fires are burning, seas are rising, super-flus are spreading. Even so, the holographic advertisements in the night sky assure people that all is well. But Adrian and his friends –- a beekeeping boy, a mysterious new girl who just might see into the future, and Talal, a seventh-grade sleuth –- aren’t convinced. When they discover a birdlike drone has been spying on Adrian, the clues lead to two shadowy corporate billionaires. What could they possibly want with Adrian?

 

PUB DETAILS: Macmillan, October, 2017, Ages 10-up.

Cover illustration by Andrew Arnold.

FAN MAIL WEDNESDAY #237: A Video Blast from Nadia!

postalletter-150x150

 

This lively letter concluded with a bar code that I could scan, complete with password, in order to see a video by the letter writer. In this case, the lovely Nadia. I’ve only included an except of her letter, which went two pages, in addition to my response.

Here’s Nadia:

scan-3

I replied:

Dear Nadia,

I love the video attachment you included in your letter. I’ve only received a couple of those in the past, so it was a real treat to see your face and get a blast of your personality. And it did come through in blasts, loud and clear. Pleased to meet you!

I’d make one for you but that would require for me to know what I’m actually doing and, ummmm, that’s not happening. I think I’m most comfortable with my fingers on the keyboard. Point a camera at me and I tighten up.

You favorite place is Hawaii? I’ll try not to be too jealous. I’m a fan of Poughkeepsie, New York. Sigh.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from THE ONE-EYED DOLL.

Art by Iacopo Bruno from THE ONE-EYED DOLL.

Thank you for the kind words about my “Scary Tales” series. It’s a funny thing about scary books. They seem to attract the sweetest readers. People I’d never expect, bright and lively and full of joy, will come up and tell me how much they looooove creepy stories. Well, I’m doing my best. I’ve written six “Scary Tales” books so far. At the end of 2017, I’ll have a midde-grade book coming out, Better Off Undead. It features a seventh-grade zombie, Adrian, as the main character. It’s a wild story that touches upon climate change, spy drones, colony collapse disorder, forest fires, beekeeping, evil billionaires, makeovers, water shortages, and more. As someone with a keen interest in the health of the planet, I guess that’s what I personally find scary: the future!

img_2054In addition, I’ve got a new “Jigsaw Jones” coming out, The Case from Outer Space (August, 2017, Macmillan). My dog Daisy is fine, thanks for asking. She needs a walk right now and it’s super cold outside. I don’t want to do it. But I love her, and I suppose that true love involves doing things you don’t always want to do. Better put on my extra-thick socks!

Keep reading, happy holidays, and let’s hope for a better year in 2017!

James Preller