Well I have always been a fan of the zombie genre. The Romero movies were great. They certainly did not hold my or anyone’s interest year round like the Walking Dead does, but I always went to the movies to see any zombie films when they came out. The Dawn of the Dead remake really blew me away. It is probably the best zombie film ever made.
Back in the 80’s I was a huge fan of a comic called Dead World, and struck up a friendship with its creator, Gary Reed. I would have to say that Gary is the one who started my zombie obsession, I really enjoyed reading his comic, and have several letters printed in those pages. Gary and I are still friends today, and he wrote a sound bite for the cover of Zalem, Mass. Book 1: Constantinople.
The big problem with comics in the 80’s/90’s is that there was just SO MUCH STUFF COMING OUT!!! Everyone who wanted to publish a comic did so. The independent market was completely flooded. Because of this, I missed out on The Walking Dead when it first came out, in fact, I never heard of it until AMC picked up the show.
The Walking Dead just completely amazed me, and I was an instant fan. Have the show debut on Halloween was marketing genius, everyone was looking forward to it, and it did not disappoint. Everyone loved it, and everyone loved talking about it. My 3 sons and I watch it together and all started reading the comic as well…we just couldn’t get enough.
Inevitably my boys and I started talking What if scenarios. What would we do? Where would we go? Would we survive if the Zombie Apocalypse ever really happened? That sort of thing. The conversations became so rich, and vivid, that I finally decided to start writing Zalem, Mass. where it is actually my family struggling to survive this horrific new world. Originally I wanted to take the story on the road and have the characters travel the countryside for one reason or another, but Salem is the Witch City, not only does it have so much spooky history, but it also has become the Halloween Mecca for millions of people. It was because of this that I decided to keep the central story right here in Salem.
With that said I came up with the series title, Zalem, Mass. The idea of covering the “S” on the Entering Salem city sign with a bloody “Z” was so simply, and so catchy. I took the idea and worked with a local Salem artist and close friend of mine named Christina Robichau, and we came up with the final book cover with a bunch of zombie arms reaching for the bloody city sign. Again so simple, and yet so perfect. The fans loved the image, and I could not keep posters and t-shirts in stock.
So now that I had a title, a cover, and fans, it was time for me to start writing the book! Talk about a backwards journey. My stuff was selling and I had yet to write anything. It was then that I knew that Zalem, Mass. was going to be a hit, and that was my biggest inspiration…people were actually anxiously waiting for me to finish the novel so that they could start reading. I found that very exciting.
And of course all the feedback once the books started to become available. I absolutely love hearing how this is the Zombie series that readers have been waiting for, or how much the readers care about the characters and how hard that they cried during different parts in books. That is the sort of feedback that inspires any writer to continue to write.
What was the journey to publication like for you?
I have many friends who work in the comic industry, so I knew that if I were to write Zalem, Mass. that I would have some amazing artwork to go along with it. Marvel/DC artist Thor Mangila from the Philippines is one of the best artists in the business who was really a big help. Not only did he do a lot of artwork for me, but he also taught me how to write an art contract so that I would be sure to own the art for my book and therefore be able to reproduce it for t-shirts, posters, or anything that I wanted.
Martin Teña a Marvel/DC colorist from Mexico worked very hard on both books 1&2, as well as my Zalem, Mass. Calendar. Chris Wahl was a huge help in helping to bring out the colors on Thor Mangila’s paintings. Chris worked on all of them and refused to take a penny for his work. He also colored the piece for Chapter 7 in Book 1. Chris’ work is amazing, he works for Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Mad Magazine, you name it he does it. His painting of Chewbacca is to die for, and it is hanging on Leonard’s wall on the Big Bang Theory.
I was delayed publishing quite a bit as my editor Erin Rydgren got very busy having twins, and understandably so. That was frustrating at times, but well worth the wait as Erin inspired me to write and expand each and every chapter; she always seemed to know exactly what was missing.
Once the book was ready to go, it was time to find a publisher. While hunting, Thor suggested buying Zalemmass.com in order to market my book, and also suggested copywriting everything, which I did. I sent cover letters to lots of publishers, who clearly did not know what they were talking about. I kept hearing that the zombie craze was over and there was no interest anymore. But I knew that was insane and untrue just by the sheer number of friends who watched and enjoyed talking about the Walking Dead, so I kept at it. Eventually I got a few nibbles from some publishers who are clearly out there to take advantage of new authors and just take their money. Fortunately I had many friends in the field coaching me along and telling me who to avoid. In the end, I decided to self-publish with Amazon and have had great success. Book 1 has sold over 1,000 copies, and Book 2 continues to sell out every time I get a shipment in.
I will be doing a book signing for Zalem, Mass. Book 2: Loss at Harrison’s Comics (252 Essex St.)in Salem, Ma. From 1-3pm on October 24th.
Why do you think Zombies are so hot these days? One might think the market is over saturated, but it seems like fans can’t get enough.
The Walking Dead is a HUGE reason for the Zombie craze. The show just gets better and better, and the comic is even better than the show, so fans of the book know that the best has yet to come. Just wait until the fans of the show meet Negan!!! Things will really hit the fan then.
With TWD raising the bar so high, fans of the genre have been getting some pretty amazing TV shows, movies, comics, artwork, etc., and that certainly spills over into Salem during Halloween where we see costumes, decorations, Zombie walks, runs, and of course Zalem, Mass.
Obviously you have a deep connection to the city of Salem. What do you think makes the city so special?
I was born, raised and educated here in Salem, Mass, and I still live here. Salem is a magical city that is rich with history and a fascination for everyone interested in the famous Witch Trials of 1692, it’s what made Salem the place to be on Halloween night.
So when you combine the Witch craze with the zombie craze with the Salem/Halloween craze, Salem, Mass. becomes the perfect location for a zombie series, and Zalem, Mass. does not let the readers down. It uses real people and real locations, places like Market Basket, the Power Plant, Forest River Pool, and Winter Island, and these are just a few of the Salem landmarks that can be found in the storyline. Using real world locations helps to bring the story to life for those familiar with Salem’s Geography, and one of the reasons why the series continues to maintain a perfect 5-Star rating on Amazon.com. Can a Zalem, Mass. Tour be far away?
It’s October, which is big business here in Salem. Do you have any favorite Halloween attractions in town?
Being a Salem resident, and a history teacher, I do not frequent many of the attractions, since I know the history better than the vast majority of the tour guides. But still, Uncle Boogeyman doe some amazing work painting Jason masks, and of course Harrison’s Comics is the place to be for any sci-fi, comic book, or horror fans. That store has everything a fan could want and is well worth visiting. They even carry both Zalem, Mass. books. Harrison’s is mentioned briefly in book 1, a bit more so in Book 2, and will have a MAJOR jaw-dropping scene in Book 3.
Zalem, Mass. fans will also want to check out 14 Hathorne St, the place where the whole storyline begins. Fan-favorite character, “Pa” always decorates the house and goes all out; in fact he’s already at it. Each day more and more decorations and lights come out. The house has been featured in the Salem Evening News several times, and the real decorations come out on Halloween night, where trick-or-treaters will not only find some great decorations, sound effects and candy, but they will also get quite a scare from yours truly, when I dress up as Jason Vorhees this Halloween night and have a blast terrifying the neighborhood.
And of course downtown Salem on Halloween night is always packed full of great fun for anyone fascinated with the macabre.
Let’s talk comics. Are you a Marvel or DC purist? More into independent stuff? Or are you into a mix?
I have always been more of a Marvel fan, Benn Grimm of the Fantastic Four is my favorite character. When the Thing yells, “It’s Clobberin’ Time,” it still brings a childlike smile across my face.
We are clearly living in the best time to be a comic fan. The movies coming out several times a year are dreams come true for us comic book fans, the rest of the world finally is learning what we have always known…Comic books are not just for kids, and there are some great stories waiting to be told on the big screen.
Although I prefer Marvel, I do love DC as well, Crisis on Infinite Earths is still the best comic story that I have ever read, and trust me, besides recent stuff, I have pretty much read everything from both Marvel & DC that has ever been written.
Over the years there has also been a lot of great Independent stuff. In addition to Dead World and The Walking Dead, which I already mentioned, comics like Southern Knights, Boris the Bear, Girls, The Sword, and all the Valiant stuff has been really good. Wendy Snow-Lang who owns the Art-Corner on 264 Washington St. here in Salem put out a really cool comic book series about vampires called, “Night Children.” It was really neat because it was black pages drawn on with white pencils. The only other color was the occasional hint of red blood. I really enjoyed her stories, and she has been framing my artwork for years.
What’s your favorite current title?
To be honest, I really dislike stories that erase older stories. Both Marvel and DC have been doing that lately. I also hate when Marvel tries to over cash in on their hype. When the X-Men was really big, they put out a million titles littered with characters that nobody cared about, but fans had to read them anyway if they wanted to continue reading about their favorite heroes. Wolverine was in one title, Nightcrawler and Kitty in another, Colossus in another, etc. etc. What fans really wanted was to read their core X-Men in one place, like when John Byrne was on the title.
They are doing the same thing now with the Avengers. Nobody cares about the billion heroes and the billion different Avengers titles. The Avengers are characters like Captain America, Thor, Vision, Wonderman, Beast, Scarlet Witch, Hercules Black Panther, Ms. Marvel (not as Captain Marvel), Yellow Jacket, Wasp and Hawkeye. Hulk & She-Hulk are fun too, but the rest are just not necessary. Bring back this team and let George Perez draw it, and then you have something again!!!
But my favorite current title? I guess that would have to be The Walking Dead…It seriously continues to get better and better.
Any aspirations to create comics of your own?
I have been in numerous talks to create a Zalem, Mass. comic. Thor Mangila is very interested in drawing it. While it won’t be tomorrow, I would not rule it out, especially with Thor involved.
Currently I am busy with teaching, coaching, making family time, etc. I am also hard at work finishing up a full color “History of Christmas” book which I hope to have out by late November. The book will answer any and all questions that anyone ever had about the holiday. Why do we use a tree? When was Jesus really born? What are the origins of some of the songs? Is Santa real? How old is he? Can reindeer fly? You name it, it’s in there. This will be the perfect holiday gift and I promise you this…You DO NOT know the whole story, but will be fascinated with every page that you turn.
So what’s next for you? Will we see more Zalem?
Currently available are:
1. Twas the Night Before Christmas in Zalem, Mass.
2. Zalem, Mass. Book 1: Constantinople
3. Zalem, Mass. Book 2: Loss
A fourth book called “The Artwork of Zalem, Mass. Book 1: Constantinople” will go on sale at the October 24th book signing for the first time. It will be available on line after that, but I wanted to have something special and new for fans at the signing. There will also be about 25 different posters available at the signing for only $3 each.
And then finally I will begin Zalem, Mass. Book 3: The Spanish War after I finish the Christmas book.
Beyond Book 3, I will continue writing the series as long as I have a story to tell, and as long as fans continue to enjoy the story.