February 19, 2014

Unsettled Settings by Catt Dahman

Unsettled Settings


Catt Dahman

Z is for Zombie is a very emotional series for me. With nine books (so far) published via Severed Press, I was able to explore characters, situations and some interesting places. I found myself discovering great settings for my characters to engage with one another and with, of course, zombies, or “shamblers” as we call them. I found that the settings truly drove the action and consequences in my book.

I am a native of North East Texas, so I write about it. I know other authors from Texas, Joe McKinney, Rhiannon Frater, and Bowie Ibarra. They are friends of mine and I respect them tremendously; however, I did growl at them as I wrote because I thought to myself, “Now, Austin is Bowie’s, so I can’t go there….” I did that more than a dozen times, being vigilant not to go into their universes. I am sure Bowie would share some of Austin, but no, I couldn’t trespass.

One of the most useful settings is Hopetown. Originally, it was Popetown, named after the owner who was a zealot and fraud; I was able to actually look the “place” because it was based on a “compound” of a famous person who lives outside of Fort Worth. (I claimed Fort Worth in my universe.) Fenced for fortification, Hopetown offers a river, lake, cafeteria, dorms, a big house, barns, and a media center, so everyone is able to gather in a safe place, spread out, and have a normal life. Hopetown becomes the place everyone wants to join.

Hopetown contains numerous basements and sub-basements for supplies, and in the midst of the underground, there is a little gang, left from the crazies who lived as a cult. For entertainment, the gang makes a sort of “gauntlet. In the middle of dealing with undead who hunger for flesh, a group must deal with other things in the basement: snakes in a pit, tumbling boulders, and the shock of finding that the cult buried secrets in the basement.

This was a lot of fun because I set up the gauntlet and my team to clear it, but they had to fairly and realistically survive the traps (the gang) I set. Imagine my irritation when I found that it was harder than I imagined to survive the basement. There was no cheating allowed. They had to come up with imaginative ways to stay alive and help one another, forming tight bonds. Seriously, I was greatly pissed off at some of my characters who were inadequate in the basements.

Another place people gather for safety is a zoo. Some of the people help the animals that are left and appreciate them, and elephants are great for helping move logs and paraphernalia. Some of my characters set up life there at the zoo, behind the rock walls and fences. It’s a good place until there is an accident, and the ocean exhibit is shattered, sending not only the shamblers into a room with survivors, but some ravenous sharks as well. I enjoyed this because when I see the sea exhibits and look through the glass at swimming sharks, I always wonder “what if the glass breaks?” I always wonder things like that.

A house in Jefferson, Texas figures throughout the series and it is based on my family’s farm there. Jefferson is a popular tourist attraction because of all the historical homes, riverboat rides, and reenactments. I had a wonderful opportunity to juxtapose modern day life (with zombies) against the old-time charm when life was humbler. In my series, with no cars, no electricity, no running water, and a need for older crafts, I was able to show how when everything was stripped away, it was as if characters went back in time.

What was extra fun is that the bayou is very natural. It used to be a place for steamboat trade and now is smaller, but there’s moss, big cypress trees, vines, snakes and alligators. That was a great locale because I spent many weekends in Jefferson. At times, an alligator would come up to our land and try to get a dog or there would be a puma screaming from the woods. Chilling memories.

Port Arthur, Texas is the place my survivors all finally go to; it’s a protected island where they have cabins and livestock, and live like old timey settlers. For my characters, Port Arthur is a true safe haven for many years. I can’t say it remains safe because I am kind of a cruel “god” with my proceedings.

And I wrote the requisite mall scene but in my own way. I follow the George Romero Rules , but being able to explore the mall situation was a challenge. Again, I wrote myself (my characters) into somewhat of a threatening place and then I had to get the people to safety in fair ways. I do this a lot. I write the situation and give myself limitations and constraints and then have to figure out how to overcome them. It’s like making a puzzle for myself that I must solve and really, it is not easy. I never want to have a magical rescue or “oops, I forgot I have a gun in my pants as well as 30 grenades”. I am fair and if someone can’t get away from the zombies, then, there is nothing I can do but let them be eaten. It’s a tough job.

I have scenes at Stephen F. Austin University, in towns in Arkansas, at an airplane crash sight, and of course at the hospital, as all zombie authors should. My beginnings are in the hospital and a neighborhood in Texarkana, Texas, which is a small city (70,000 pop.) on the Texas/Arkansas border. It’s where I lived most of my life. I changed a few places but Texarkana is the first, and most important setting because that is where everything begins. Long ago, a friend gave me some blue prints of a hospital in Texarkana, and with modifications, I used those religiously, making some scenes a difficult challenge for me.

I could have had an imaginary world entirely, but because I used the exact highways and towns as they are, I provide myself with, yes, a test, but also an emotional and cerebral attachment to the places. When readers tell me they found themselves emotional about certain events in the series, I know what they mean; I found my journeys equally as emotional. I close with number nine. Nine books seemed to sum up the story I had to tell, but guess what? Readers have asked for a tenth and after some thought, Severed Press and I decided that a tenth (at least) will be written.

It’s time for another visit to North East Texas.

I hope some friends come along.

catt dahman is the author of  the Z is for Zombie series,  published by Severed Press.
The series includes  nine books so far.  catt dahman:
"...has been writing for more than 30 years, has taught in public schools, private schools, and college. Her degrees are from A & M. A native of Texas, she has lived all over the US, but is currently back in the Fort Worth, Texas area where she lives with her husband, son, 4 cats, 1 dog and a ferret."
Visit her website at Catt D.com.

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