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Zompocalypse Now: Shana Festa on 'Time of Death: Induction' (Q&A)

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Shana Festa.

Ms. Festa is the debut novelist of Time of Death: Induction (Volume 1) (Permuted Press, $16.95). Under her alter ego, The Bookie Monster, she reviews horror and paranormal novels with an emphasis on zombie fiction. Also a registered nurse, Ms. Festa has clinical experience in mental health, geriatrics, HIV and substance abuse; she also possesses more than 15 years of experience with project management and data analytics. Ms. Festa makes her home in Cape Coral, Florida with her husband and two dogs.

Time of Death: Induction was published last month and marks the first book in a projected series; the title is currently averaging five stars on Amazon. Devan Sagliani, author of the Zombie Attack Series, praised, “Time of Death is a brilliant debut novel from a true fan of the zombie genre that manages to capture the essence of the apocalypse from a woman's point of view without leaving anything out. Readers will find Shana Festa's work original, poignant, funny, gory, heartbreaking, and above all else totally satisfying. Time of Death showcases a strong new voice in dystopian fiction that will leave you hungry for more.” Further, James Crawford, author of the Blood Soaked Series, heralded, “Festa's zombies are the Romero-classics, but the heroes could be your neighbors; normal people pushed too far. The characters feel genuine, and you can't help but get involved with them. That's the strength of this book, and like any good zombie, all I want is more!”

From the publisher:

When no one or nowhere is safe, where do you go to escape the monsters? In a few short days, 37 year old Emma Rossi’s hard work will finally pay off. She will don her cap and gown and graduate with a degree in nursing, but not before she loses her first patient and is confronted with a new reality. In Cape Coral, Florida, a storm approaches. The dead are coming back to life. And they’re hungry. Infection ravages the Eastern Seaboard with alarming speed while attempts to contain the spread of infection fail. Within days, a small pocket of panicked survivors are all that remain of civilization. Fighting to survive the zombie apocalypse alongside her husband Jake and their dog Daphne, Emma comes face-to-face with her worst nightmare. Relying on snarky wit and sheer determination, she is forced to commit atrocious acts to protect her family and avoid joining the ranks of the undead.

Now, Shana Festa sinks her teeth into some questions …

1) What inspired you to write TIME OF DEATH – and how do you feel that your novel stands apart from the other zompoc stories that have been so prevalent?

I love the genre. Zombies used to be a crippling fear for me, and I immersed myself in them to overcome that terror. One day, I realized I wasn’t afraid anymore and was hungry for more. I started reviewing them under The Bookie Monster moniker and after a few months, an author asked me if I had plans to write my own novel. Until that moment, the idea had never entered into my mind, but once the seed was planted, it took hold and Emma Rossi was born.

The Time of Death series is told from the perspective of a wildly inappropriate and snarky female with zero filter. Pretty much…Emma is me. The most common feedback I receive from readers is the realism of Emma’s character. She’s just a normal girl, doing normal things, but pushed to become more in an apocalyptic world where the dead walk. I’ve interspersed a few real-life experiences, and fictionalized them of course, into the story, and it’s paid off in spades.

2) Speaking of the zompoc genre, what are the essential elements to these stories – and why do you feel that zombies remain so popular in culture?

There is no logic to a zombie. So there’s no restrictions on how far you take a story. The must-haves, in my opinion, are a great protagonist, pee-pants inspiring horror and suspense, creative settings and intriguing subplots, and blood. There has to be gore! For me personally, I love humor sprinkled in to create moments of levity. Fans of the genre, even as niche as it is, will always be there to eat up the zombie fiction.

3) How has your alter ego, The Bookie Monster (reviewer), influenced your own approach to writing – and do you find that your background in Psych Nursing informs your creative endeavors?

My publisher laughed at me when he found out I had no intentions on becoming a writer when I started The Bookie Monster. He jokes that the way I built my platform did everything right to become a successful author. So, hooray for dumb luck! I’ve had the privilege of reading somewhere around 400 books set in the zompoc genre. I’ve heard that many authors don’t read within their own genre so as not to subconsciously steal ideas from another author. I don’t agree with that theory, at least not for my own personal needs. I know what has worked, and what hasn’t worked, in the genre, and that due diligence affords me the ability to avoid regurgitating content, and to give readers a fresh perspective. I mean, how many times can a band of misfits hunker down in a mall? Overdone much?

I do use my experience and education in the nursing field for inspiration several times in the series. The only item, though, that has provided a burst of creativity is my first chapter in the first book. Code Brown is one of those real life moments, and it was my jump-off point to begin writing. If you’ve read it, I’m sure you pity my experience. It’s not scary, but man will you cringe. One word…Flexi-seal!

4) You envision this book as the first in a trilogy. How does such conceptualization impact storytelling – and how much of the overall story arc do you (think you might) know in advance versus what might develop organically?

Actually, while I originally thought in terms of a trilogy, it looks like I may have more story to tell. Before beginning book two, I’d outlined through the third book. However, my main character took me in a different direction, and now it’s looking like there will be at least one more in the series. I’ve kept bits from the original outline, and added much more to the story. So much, in fact, that I realized the outline I created for book two needed to be split into two books. My process is to sketch it out, but let Emma write herself. When I get an idea, I write it, and it’s usually her strong willed personality pulling me off track. Instead of repositioning the writing, I adjust my expectations. Emma is stubborn!

5) As a first time novelist, what have you found to be most surprising about the publishing industry – and what advice would you give to other aspiring writers, both in terms of craft and marketing/promotion?

If you build it, they will not come. When I started writing, I remember thinking writing was the hardest part of the process. Man, was I dead-wrong. Marketing, promoting, and getting your book into the hands of readers is the hard part. You can write the most awe inspiring work of fiction, but if you expect it will just market itself and take off on its own, you are in for some major disappointment. The real work begins after you write “The End”.

Aspiring writers will suffer a major reality check, and without adjusting their expectations, will find it difficult to succeed. My suggestion is to begin building relationships before you even start a book. Establish a platform and an online/public presence and start creating a readership as soon as possible.

6) Leave us with a little teaser: What comes next?

Not what readers think! Readers of the first book will be left with an assumption of where Emma’s tale will take her. And it doesn’t, at least not yet. Book two, Asylum, is every bit as funny, scary, and inventive as Induction. And just like the first book, no one is safe.

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With thanks to Shana Festa for taking time out of the zompoc to indulge our curiosities!

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