Book Chat: Sick by Tom Leveen

Book Chat is a special feature here in the blog that features and highlights authors and their books through an interview.

Are you familiar with these films namely; Resident Evil, Dawn of The Dead, Shaun of The Dead, and Zombieland? Or maybe you’re such a big nerd of these books namely; World War Z by Max Brooks, Feed by Mira Grant, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, and Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion? Notice how they sound similar? Of course, they all shout Zombies!

If you are a huge buff of zombies, today, I have brought you a very special treat that will surely zombify your inner being! Tom Leveen, author of an upcoming zombie book titled Sick is here on the blog to answer some questions regarding his new book, plus, get a glimpse on what he is working next! Read on you zombie freaks!

RELEASE DATE. October 31, 2013
PUBLISHER. Amulet Books
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SYNOPSIS. Breakfast Club meets The Walking Dead as a group of unlikely allies tries to survive a deadly outbreak. 

Brian and his friends are not part of the cool crowd. They’re the misfits and the troublemakers—the ones who jump their high school’s fence to skip class regularly. So when a deadly virus breaks out, they’re the only ones with a chance of surviving. 

The virus turns Brian’s classmates and teachers into bloodthirsty attackers who don’t die easily. The whole school goes on lock-down, but Brian and his best friend, Chad, are safe (and stuck) in the theater department—far from Brian’s sister, Kenzie, and his ex-girlfriend with a panic attack problem, Laura. Brian and Chad, along with some of the theater kids Brian had never given the time of day before, decide to find the girls and bring them to the safety of the theater. But it won’t be easy, and it will test everything they thought they knew about themselves and their classmates.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Tom Leveen has 22 years of theater experience as an actor and director. He was the Artistic Director and a co-founder of two companies: Chyro Arts Venue, an all-ages nonprofit visual and performing venue; and Is What It Is Theater, a community theater that operated for 13 seasons. Tom lives with is wife and son in the Phoenix area. PARTY was his first novel, followed by ZERO (a 2013 YALSA Best Book) and MANICPIXIEDREAMGIRL, all with Random House. SICK, a YA Horror is his fourth book.

First things first, what gave you the inspiration for the novel?
Except for the whole monsters thing, the story is more or less true in terms of a typical day for me in high school. My friends and I got into a conversation a while back about what would happen if a zombie apocalypse happened while we were there, and we all agreed the drama department would be the easiest building to defend. That was really it—the rest wrote itself! The main difference is that I wrote from an outsider’s point of view instead of a drama student, because I also wanted to investigate that Lord-of-the-flies aspect, the us-versus-them that happens in schools everywhere.

In fact, it’s really the chief thing I hope readers take away. Sick isn't (supposed to be) a hack-n-slash gore-fest, or the literary equivalent of a B-grade horror movie. It’s about real people with real prejudices and fears, and how those things change and alter under extreme circumstances to reveal who we all really are. The blood and guts are fun too, don’t get me wrong . . . but I hope everyone also enjoys the character arcs and growth that happens.

The characters began as loosely based on my friends, but there’s not much of them left by the time you get to a final, published book. Still—they’re in there. It’s always fun to listen to them debate which one of them is which character in my books!

The question we all want to know is how would you choose to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?
I've discussed this with friends too. We had a lengthy, in-depth discussion once about “zombie migration patterns,” and concluded the wilderness would be our best bet simply because of the numbers: there just won’t be as many zombies out in the desert or forest like there will be in a metropolitan area. So I think we’d head out to the desert or mountains.

My wife gives me a hard time about this sometimes, but I think it’s essential that everyone be prepared for the zombie apocalypse. A lot has been made of this since the novel World War Z (which is awesome by the way; I met Max Brooks at a ComiCon once, great guy). But for real: If you’re prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for every possible natural disaster. I’m not one of those people who literally thinks, “The Zombies Are Coming!” But if they did, we’d have plan, that’s all I’m sayin'.

What would be your song choice to accompany a zombie beat down?
Ooo . . . that’s a great question. I think maybe The Wait by Metallica (I think that’s a cover). Or Postmortem by Slayer. And then to round things out, maybe some Mozart; like the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro.

If a movie got green lit tomorrow and you had ultimate power who would be your dream cast?
All brand-new, unknown actors! No previous experience with Nick or Disney, let’s get some new blood up there. (No pun intended.) Except maybe the cast of The Way Way Back. That would be a great cast to start with. Maybe Allison Janney could play Brian’s mom, Anna Sophia Robb could play Kenzie . . .

What’s next on your writing agenda?
That’s always a tricky question, because there’s what’s actually hitting shelves, and there’s what I’m working on. There’s usually a one-to-two-year delay between the two! Next coming out is a contemporary (realistic) YA called Random, about a girl who’s being charged in the suicide death of a former friend of hers, and the night before entering a plea, a random guy calls and says he’s going to kill himself unless she can talk him out of it. That comes out Summer 2014. Right now I’m working on a big handful of various novels—supernatural, realistic, middle grade . . . all across the board. One is about what might happen if the world literally went to hell. I’m still working out the mythology for that one.

What are some of your favorite books we should all be reading?
I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately . . . highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver on that front. For the supernatural fans out there, you have to read Lisa McMann’s Cryer’s Cross. Loved that. The old YA Horror novels by John Bellairs are still among my favorite (like The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt), as is the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. One of my all-time favorites is the audiobook version of Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli.


Book Review: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
RELEASE DATE. April 2, 2013
PUBLISHER. Amulet Books
PAGES. 400
AGE GROUP. Young Adult
GENRE/S. Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Romance
FIND IT. Amazon | Goodreads

SYNOPSIS. In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

THOUGHTS. Despite having a great fascination for history, I admit that historical fiction is rarely my comfort zone. I rarely do an exploration of this genre and rarely do I become fascinated by a historical setting. In fact, it is only when a fantasy element is incorporated into a historical fiction that I get lured into its pages. Oddly, or should I say, surprisingly, with an indefinable appeal, something drew me to In the Shadow of Blackbirds. It could be the intriguing title. It could be the arresting cover. It could be the fusion of a paranormal element. Or, it could be the eerie presence radiated by this novel. But one thing I am sure about is how clever Cat Winters is for putting in such a static-producing literary work that I really could not describe with all the good words combined. I rarely say this but I am hands-down for Cat Winters. Just totally hands-down.

From World War I to the Spanish Influenza; from the shell-shocked men in the trenches to the desperate mourners in the séances, Winters has this flair for writing historical fiction. She deftly executed the livid ambiance and the eerie time setting of In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I almost felt like I was in there when all of it happened. Like, I could feel the sadness and fear of every family as they sent their fathers, sons, and brothers to war. Like, I could smell the stinking smell of onions that filled every house in America. Like, I was one of those direly queuing outside the spiritualist photographer’s studio. There was no single evidence of lapses or changes in the history. Everything was accurately laid and authentically told as if Winters had a firsthand account of those times. The researches she had done really manifested even alone with the dark atmospheric setting of In the Shadow of Blackbirds.

As difficultly affecting as it maybe, I managed to fully immerse myself in this disturbing historical novel even with the haunting archival photographs containing of real people in gauze masks, real dead bodies in body bags, and real ghosts in family portraits, scattered throughout the pages of In The Shadow of Blackbirds. But what actually heightened the affecting and disturbing setting more are two greater elements: the great set of genuine characters, and, the charismatic and undying love story of two characters.

Apparently, In the Shadow of Blackbirds is more of a character-driven story. I do believe that each of the characters Winters penned could be portraying the real life stories of real life people who had lived during those times of trauma and turmoil because of how she adeptly delivered realism and vitality into the story. With that realism and vitality, it was easy to fall in love with each of the characters, both protagonists and antagonists, and understand each of their personalities and thus, it was easy to get lost into the story regardless of the time and setting. In other words, Winter’s ability to construct characters is very natural and her characterizations perfectly traverse along with the powerful dystopic setting of the book.

Along with the character-driven story, another driving force of the novel is, of course, the love story. Winters delivered an extremely compelling and intensely tangible love story in In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Even from the beginning, despite of how Mary Shelley and Stephen’s love story torn by the war, even through letters, flashbacks, and apparitions, their love story is indeed magnetic. Heedless of the demand for physical affection, the powerful presence of love is ever-present throughout the pages, let alone of the unexpected dramatic climax and ending that both rendered me emotional even after I turned the last pages. Both unrequited and fervor, it is a breathtaking love story that could be an equivalent to the Shakespearean classic, Romeo and Juliet, only with more rationality and more swooning.

With a well-researched time and setting, a familiar paranormal element, a confounding denouement, a set of authentic characters, and a poignant love story, in a tout ensemble, Cat Winters’s first novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds will undoubtedly capture the hearts of many and haunt them in a good way. Even if there'll be the demand for a sequel, a film, a Broadway play, the story of Mary Shelley will live on, thanks to the phenomenal mind of Cat Winters.

Rest assured that this won’t be my last Cat Winters book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Cat Winters’s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS, was named a 2014 Morris Award Finalist, a 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, a 2013 Bram Stoker Award Nominee, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013. Her upcoming books include THE CURE FOR DREAMING (Amulet Books | Oct. 2014) and THE UNINVITED (William Morrow | 2015), and she’s a contributor to the 2015 YA horror anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS.

Cat lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.


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