August 13, 2009

JUNIOR ZOMBIE WEEK: Brain Picking with Amanda Ashby

(author: Zombie Queen of Newbury High)

Through the magical power of the internet, I met up with the always entertaining and exclamatory (!!!) Amanda Ashby, author of Zombie Queen of Newbury High. We chat about her book, popular culture, undead Daleks, and the perils of dating in a time of zombies.

ZED WORD (ZW): Did you always intend Zombie Queen to be a novel for young adults? Since most young adult books don’t have zombies or allusions to flesh eating, did you struggle with how far to push the zombie aspects of the story while keeping it age appropriate?

AMANDA ASHBY (AA): For a long time I used to joke about writing a zombie book, more as a way of torturing my critique partners than anything else, but after awhile the idea just grew, and from the moment I decided to actually try and write one I always knew it was going to be a young adult story. I didn’t really worry too much about how far to push the zombie aspects since it is a confirmed fact that I’m a chronic wimp and hate gore and guts and so it was never going to be very blood splattered (as you might have noticed). In fact, my zombie obsessed husband thought it was terribly amusing that I was even attempting to write a zombie book when I watch most horror movies with my hands clamped firmly over my eyes!!!

: I suspect that Josh Whedon has had an influence on the style of your book. Not only is Mia obsessed with Buffy and Angel, but your own writing style focuses less on description and more on that Whedonesque style of snappy dialogue and pop culture references

AA: Ah, so you’ve noticed my lack of blazing crimson sunsets and rich, lush foliage!!! The truth is that I love popular culture and have never understood why people look down their noses at something just because it appeals to the masses rather than to a select few. Anyway, as well as being an avid reader, I’ve always had a very big television and movie addiction (not to mention reading gossip blogs like, so it’s really no surprise that these things come out in my writing.

Two of my favorite authors are Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and I’ve re-read all their books numerous times because I love how their humor is always character-based. As for movies, I love things like The Princess Bride, Clueless, anything by John Hughes (who made growing up in the eighties so much more fun!) and more recently movies like Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde, and since this is all about zombies, I really need to mention Shaun of the Dead and Fido, both of which are completely brilliant!

I won’t attempt to mention all my TV shows, though I have to say that as well as Buffy, Friends is one of my favorite series ever. I also grew up with a Doctor Who-addicted father, so I spent many an evening hidden behind the couch trying to figure out my best route of escape if the Daleks should attack my suburban Australian home (unfortunately, since the Daleks still seem to be around I can't actually reveal this plan in case I might one day need it. Sorry!).

ZW: Daleks! Could the spell that turns Mia’s classmates into zombies in your novel be used to turn Daleks into zombies too? And if so, would that guarantee the immediate extinction of the human race?

AA: Most definitely. Did you not see what Davros looked like? I mean if that doesn't have potential zombie written all over it then I don't know what does. Though seriously, even though Davros had a brain (somewhere inside his shriveled up head) all the other Daleks seemed pretty dumb and obedient, so they could easily be turned into flesh-eating monsters.

Then, instead of running around going 'exterminate' they would be going 'extra rare. I need that leg extra rare'. Thankfully, like zombies, Daleks don't exactly have a lot of speed or agility, so as long as you stay out of the way of their blasters I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't succeed in taking over the world (though, just in case they do, I still have my escape plan figured out and nope, I'm still not telling!)

ZW: While we’re on the topic of pop-culture, I know you have a Naked David Boreanaz fan club sticker on your blog. Can I safely assume that there is something of your own personality and pop-culture crushes represented in the character of Mia?

AA: My David Boreanaz obsession knows no bounds and these days my husband hardly even bats an eyelid when I drool over DB while watching Bones! Though strangely enough, when I wrote Zombie Queen I actually had Mia crushing on Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural, and it was my editor who suggested I use Buffy (as well as asking me if I had ever watched it before!!!!!). As you can imagine, I didn’t need to be asked twice to talk about my favorite show!!

ZW: Getting back to the particulars of the novel, much of the plot revolves around the High School Prom and the trials and tribulations of getting a date. Then you inject zombies into the mix. So, what do you consider more frightening? Fending off zombies or the politics of high school dating?

AA: Dating, definitely. I mean, I shudder when I think of my own high school years, and there is no doubt in my mind that I would rather fend off a hundred brain-dead, bone-munching zombies than go back to the humiliating, angst ridden days of my teenage crushes.

ZW: Once the zombies appear, a character in your story reveals that there is a wider and hidden supernatural world beyond what the reader at first expects. Do you have any plans to revisit the fictional world and characters of this novel and explore some of the hints about what else could be hiding in the dark besides zombies?

AA: Actually yes I do!!! I’ve just finished a book that is tentatively called Fairy Bad Day about a girl who goes to an elite slaying academy where they train to fight a variety of paranormal creatures. None of these creatures are zombies, but the academy is closely linked to the Department of Paranormal Containment [which appears in Zombie Queen of Newbury High], and I’ve even had Chase make a guest appearance so that readers can see just how he and Mia are fairing!

ZW: Oh, yes. Mia and Chase. There is a cute little teen romance between them at the heart of Zombie Queen. In another equally well-done young adult zombie novel, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a romance plot also unfolds amongst the threat of zombies. Is there something about romance and zombies that go well together?

AA: Isn’t Carrie’s book amazing? Honestly, I nearly died of embarrassment when I read it and realized that ‘that’ was how a zombie book should be written. Whoops! As for zombies and romance, well, to be honest, I’m not really sure that falling in love in the middle of a zombie outbreak is a great move since you’re just adding to the numerous things that could go wrong along the way. Because seriously, is there anything worse than being stood up just because your potential boyfriend has had his legs chewed off? No, exactly!
Amanda Ashby is the author of Zombie Queen of Newbury High and You Had Me at Halo. She currently lives in New Zealand with her two children and husband. When she’s not reading and writing, she watches only the finest of television programs such as Buffy, Angel, Firefly, 24, Bones, How I Met Your Mother, Battlestar Galatica, and American Idol.

To find out more about Ashby and her work, visit her website ( and her blog (