Creepy, or Romantic?

“He doesn’t blame you for ruining a potentially romantic moment? This may be a boy to hold on to.”

“Okay, who says the moment was romantic? Does “tell me what to do, I’ll do anything for you” sound romantic? OR CREEPY?”

“Creepy,” admitted Dad.

“Romantic,” said Mom.

“Seriously, Mom?”

“Look, for tens of thousands of years women have been trying to wrest control from men,” said Mom. “Ever since men figured out the connection between sex and babies, they have tried to control women’s choices. We’ve had to fight for every right we have, from being counted as human beings to working in any job we choose to perform. When a man hands you the power rather than trying to control you? That’s romantic in my book.”

“Is that why Dad’s home cooking dinner while you’re out working your dream job?”

“Hey, I have an interview for Monday,” said Dad in an injured tone of voice.

“No, but I doubt I would have married him if he wasn’t the kind of man who would do that for me,” said Mom coolly.

When I was a teenager, I was in love with Rochester from Jane Eyre. I still am, a little bit. I loved how forceful and passionate he was, and I admired Jane for her ability to stand up to him. I still love Jane for that, but I can’t see Rochester quite the same way any more. He’s a liar, he treats Jane like a possession, and he toys with her emotions for his own ends.  Yes, she teaches him a lesson, and so I still love the book, but I don’t think it’s a good model for romance. I have come to prefer Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

The Byronic hero is still popular today, especially in Young Adult fiction. Edward Cullen, Christian Grey… People even go nuts for Severus Snape!  I guess girls love the passionate man, the one who is desperate to get the girl at any cost. We want to be adored, and pursued, and to feel confident in his affections. Luke-warm “yeah, I guess you’re all right” love doesn’t get our motors running in the same way.

But seriously, that doesn’t mean that the guy has to be a jerk. 

Rochester tries to marry Jane under false pretenses, knowing she would refuse if she knew how things really stood. Edward Cullen constantly ignores Bella’s demands. He tries to stop her from seeing her best friend. Christian Grey… well… I don’t think I even need to say any more. Can’t we have more heroes who adore passionately, but respect boundaries? More love interests who listen to the word “no”? Can’t we have a romance where the man passively allows the woman to make a choice, while worshipping from afar? We need more men like Fitzwilliam Darcy, who makes a proposal, accepts it, and then backs off and gives the girl some space.

I wanted to make a book like that.

Enter Howard Mullins.

Howard, or Howie as he prefers to be called, is a zombie. He isn’t like those vampire lovers, who want to hunt and capture and penetrate. Howie is more of the patiently-waiting type of heroes. Howie just really, really likes Stella’s mind. He wants to be with her, but he backs off when he is told. He worships her, but he respects her decisions. He cooks. He cleans. He wants to make her happy by serving her.

The decision, ultimately, is up to Stella.

A Different Kind Of Heroine

There aren’t many fat heroines out there, and when you do see a fat heroine, chances are she isn’t an action heroine.

Enter Stella Blunt.

Stella is a big girl, with a big presence, and a brown belt in Kung Fu. She prefers to lash out first, make apologies never, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way.

Society has very fixed ideas about what a “fit” woman looks like. When you have a bold, active type of woman in a story, she isn’t usually overweight. Overweight girls in story books are often lazy, clumsy, and unsure of themselves. They lose weight as they gain confidence and energy.

So what are we telling teen girls about how they should think about themselves? Everyone has days when they “feel fat”, which really means “feel unattractive”. When you “feel fat” you don’t want to wear revealing clothes, or go out and do active things with your body. “Feeling fat” is a feeling of body shame.

I wanted to show someone different – someone who doesn’t let her weight stop her, or define her. Someone who doesn’t try to change how she looks, or wish she was someone else.

That’s not to say that Stella doesn’t need to come to terms with her weight. Specifically, she needs to come to terms with how others might perceive her. Years of bullying and teasing at school has left her with a big chip on her shoulder. She expects prejudice. She expects to be hurt. She makes fat jokes about herself before others have the chance.

Stella has some things to learn before she can truly feel comfortable in her own skin. But one thing is for sure – she is going to kick a lot of zombie ass along the way.

Where’s The Zombie Love?

People think vampires are so sexy, and I’ve never really understood why. Maybe it’s the whole penetration aspect? I don’t know. Anyway. I decided that other kinds of undead deserve a little love, too. What’s wrong with zombies?

Oh, sure, people point out that vampires are sentient while zombies are not. In fact, that’s the whole point of zombies. Plus they are gross and rotting, whereas vampires are just supernaturally strong and attractive and (depending on who you are reading) may sparkle.

But what if a zombie wasn’t completely zombified yet? What if he was only half-dead, in the way that a vampire is only half-dead? He wouldn’t come swooping in your window at night, or sweep you off your feet with his Byronic temperament, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of the things that vampires do are… well… creepy. Thirsting for your blood, watching you sleep… Plus, I personally wouldn’t be happy in a relationship where I could be physically overpowered.

A zombie, now… a zombie would probably be happy to follow your lead. He would love you for your brains. He would be a willing and adoring follower.

It has been done – I’m sure Warm Bodies is the first thing that comes to mind – but I don’t think it is done often enough.

And so I conceived of Howard Mullins, the anti-vampire. In my feminist retelling of the classic boy-meets-girl, the woman is the strong one, the leader, the decision maker, and he really loves her brains.

…Plus I get to make rigor mortis jokes.

To read excerpts from my not-too-serious zombie romance, click here.