The short history of Patient Z

I know exactly when I first came up with the idea for Patient Z, the novel coming on 23rd of July, from Loose Id. It was on the 24th of September 2012. How can I be so precise? Because I mentioned it on my Live Journal. At that point it was just called “the zombie bunny.” (Bunny as in plot bunny, not an actual zombified rabbit.)

I had no intention of writing it anytime soon. I already had other plans. I thought I would write some notes about the idea and put it away until after I’d written the second book in what’s now called the Red Dragon series. But the bunny kept on eating my brain for the next few days and with NaNoWriMo on the horizon it began to insist that November would be just a perfect time to write it. Zombies are a great subject for NaNoWriMo, it argued. And it would be nice to have another draft in hand. It doesn’t have to be all that long… Then the killer argument. Since at that point I hadn’t yet sold The Company Man, was it a good idea to write the next in the series? What if I had to change the first one a lot?

That’s the argument that got the zombie bunny onto the front burner. So I spent October planning it. Naturally it got bigger and and bigger, until I knew it was going to be at least an 80k long book. It acquired a title – Survivors. But since this was lamer than a knackered horse, I decided that for NaNoWriMo it should have a “silly working title”. This is a strategy I use to force me to keep on searching for a good title. Give it a silly one that won’t eventually just stick. So for NaNoWriMo, the story was called “Shoot the Fresh Ones First”. Which was a homage to the title of the very first NaNoWriMo novel I did – Shoot the Humans First. (Now available free on Smashwords!)

Along came NaNoWriMo and I dived in, and started writing. It was a successful month. I hit 50k by the end of the month. But there was still plenty of story left. I kept going. December is a terrible month to write in, with all the shopping and parties and stuff. But I kept going. I had a small disaster mid month when I lost the index cards I had the remaining scenes outlined on. (Never did find them.) But the rest of the story was very clear by then. I kept writing even when I was away visiting family over Christmas. At last, on 30th December 2012 I finished the draft. PHEW!

I left it a couple of weeks for the steam to stop rising from my ears, then I started the editing. The big picture editing, getting the plot whipped into shape doesn’t usually take me long, since I’m an outliner, so I finished that soon and sent it off to one of my brave beta readers. (Very brave, since most of the prose was still first draft!) She came back with some great feedback. And lo, what’s that on the horizon I saw – NaNoEdMo. The unofficial editing spinoff of NaNoWriMo. The challenge is 50 hours of editing in March. Anything like that I find very motivating. It keeps me from getting lazy. So I began the editing chapter by chapter in March. I got well over 50 hours and I got the editing done. I sent it to another beta for a last check over, did absolutely final polishing and on the 8th of April I submitted it.

It’s a full length novel and from conception to submission was six and a half months. That’s unheard of for me! I usually faff around with ideas for ages before I write them (usually because I’m busy writing something else.) Then I usually give them longer to rest before editing. But everything about this story happened fast.

It had yet another name by the time I submitted it – In His Blood. And – something much harder on me – so did one of the characters. Just a short time before submitting I spotted the blurb of another m/m book due out soon, and there was the exact same name as one of my characters – Cal Harrison. After some teeth grinding and cursing I bit the bullet, since it was a book in the same genre, and changed his last name to Richardson. I couldn’t have changed his first name by that point. In my mind his real name is still Harrison, even though it never appears in the book. Richardson is just a false identity.

The book was accepted by Loose Id in late April. Yay! From bunny to contract in just over 7 months. Thanks are due to my beta readers, Star and Kay. 🙂

What’s the book about? Zombies! Or kind of. It’s more “love in the time of zombies”, as two men, Cal and Mitch come together two years after the zombie apocalypse wiped out most of humanity. Each is coping with the new world in his own way. Both are survivors, but with very different strategies. Mitch is embedded in a community, serving it and protected by it. Cal on the other hand relies only on himself. So when he meets Mitch he’s soon at war with himself, torn between continuing his self-reliant strategy and becoming part of a community. Mitch is forced to choose between Cal and the community he’s committed to. The conflict is, at its roots, an old one, the conflict between the wandering nomad and the settled farmer. And between the community and its enemies. And between everyone and those zombies…

If you want a teaser of some of the things that pop up in the story, an idea of what the two leads look like in my head and lots of funny zombie memes, check out Pinterest board devoted to Patient Z!

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