I am often asked, “Where did you get the idea for middle-school zombie,” and by “often” I mean that one time I insisted on telling a colleague who made the mistake of feigning interest in my life outside the newsroom.
I don’t remember the specific day the idea arrived, only that it was hot, narrowing it down to one of the eight months in Phoenix that qualify as uncomfortably scorching (that would be March-October, for the uninitiated). However, I do vaguely recollect this particular day being at the end of August, when I was likely in the midst of one of my four daily showers.
While squirting body wash on a loofa, I thought about how difficult it would be for a zombie to fit into middle school. Yes, just like that.
Everyone knows middle-schoolers are hard on everyone. Not playing sports makes you an outsider. A zit on your forehead makes you an outsider. Studying hard for good grades makes you an outsider. Ironically, being outside does not make you an outsider, as long as you are with the kids copping a smoke under the oak tree in the far corner of the playground.
Imagine what a middle-school zombie would go through. And that is precisely what I started to do. But not a flesh-eating, lurching, brain-dead zombie popularized in Hollywood. A nice, decent zombie who enters politely through doors rather than crashing through windows, and prefers chicken nuggets dipped in honey sauce over fresh human intestines when it came to after-school snacking.
I dried off, dressed and started writing. No, that’s not quite right. First I Googled “zombie middle school novel” to make sure no one else had written something like it, since it seemed like one of those ideas that was too obvious to have gone undiscovered. Like that really good but really secret Thai restaurant in a strip mall someone told you about, and when you go the only thing you discover is a 45-minute wait for a table.
Dozens of zombie tomes popped up in my search, but nothing about a relatively normal teen zombie going to school. And certainly none with humor at the core. Within four hours the first chapter was written (it was not very good, but it was a start). For the next six months or so, I worked weekends and a few nights, all the while hoping there wasn’t a similar novel in someone’s pipeline.
Now as publication approaches, I can honestly say that of all the zombie books about middle-schoolers, “Dead Jed” is the funniest one written by me.