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Sharon, the Undead Redhead

undead redhead, calumet editions
Buy Jen’s UNDEAD REDHEAD at Amazon!


the Undead Redhead

Meet Sharon Backovic: vegan, ginger, and undead.

The Making of an Undead Redhead

undead redhead, zombi, sharon, ginger, vegan, satire
Sharon Backovic, the Undead Redhead

In “Undead Redhead,” heroine Sharon Backovic faces a lot of problems even before she dies, in a freak wedding bouquet toss incident. Her journey forces her to confront even more troubling questions, like, When I was alive, was I really living, or just going through the motions?

For Sharon Backovic, life was never easy. Yeah, I did that to her. They say, pile on the adversity and give your heroine something to overcome.

When I got the idea for UDRH, it was in part because all the killing and blood and gore in zombie TV shows and movies. Not that I have anything against a good slasher flick, but I really got to thinking: Are zombies just a convenient way for authors to kill a lot of people without any ethical or philosophical consequences? After all, you have to kill zombies, or they’re going to kill you. They can’t be saved from their own natures. They can only be stopped.

That’s an interesting story as far as it goes, but it wasn’t one I felt like telling. Instead, the zombie craze got me thinking about other, older traditions of zombie-making, like the actual origin of the word in voodoo practice. Here, zombis (without the “e”) are created by priests practicing the Petro tradition.

Vodou and the Zombi

In order to understand what this means, you have to understand the basics of the voodoo religion, which has been portrayed on screen and in books so many times but seldom with any grounding in truth. I’m just a neophyte when it comes to understanding the long and rich traditions, but I can give you a grounding in the basics.

undead redhead, zombi
Waglet Alcine from Undead Redhead

First of all, I’m going to use the spelling commonly associated with Haitian practice, vodou, partly to distinguish it from Louisiana voodoo, with which more people are familiar, but about which there is more misconception than knowledge!

Vodou is a 400+ year old religious practice with roots in Africa and the Caribbean, with many geographical variations. Worship is directed not toward what is considered an all-powerful and unknowable God, but instead toward the spirits who serve Him. The pantheon of vodou spirits, or loa, is complex and vast, and each of the spirits belong to a house or family that immediately tells you something about their nature.

Possession By the Loa

Priests of vodou are called hongan (males) or mambo (females) and part of the rituals involve inviting the spirits into their bodies to use as they wish. Vodou rituals can be strange or exhilarating for both the participants and observers, as the priest dances or otherwise allows one of the lords of the pantheon to assume their consciousness.

undead redhead, zombi
Malcolm Sinclair
from Undead Redhead

Officiants of vodou rituals are often given great respect in places like Haiti, and can hold political as well as spiritual power. The affiliation of a priest with a particular vodou family can tell you something about their beliefs and philosophy. There are darker as well as lighter forms of vodou, and the Petro tradition contains some of the darkest.

One of these is the spell to make a zombi, out of the corpse of a dead person. This is where our concept of the “zombie” comes from: the misuse of a dead individual by someone practicing Petro magic to create an unwilling servant with no will of its own. Understandably, most people frown on this!

That’s about all the spoilers I’m going to give you—for the rest of the story and how it relates to Sharon’s “afterlife,” you’ll just have to read the book!

Read more about the fascinating world of Haitian vodou and the loa.

What An Idea Isn’t

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We tend to get a little deluded about just what an idea is. Not surprising, with marketers and lifestyle gurus trying to sell you the idea of get-rich-quick and easy Nirvana. Before you get excited about that great idea you had that will change your life, let me offer a bit of a reality check I like to call, “What An Idea Isn’t.”

What An Idea Isn’t

I developed my first novel after having a particularly good dream at the age of 13. The first time I finished my first novel, it was 1994. I had just returned from a month in Nova Scotia where I’d parlayed 200 pages into 600 (double-spaced—the word count was around 120,000) and had a first draft. Then, I spent four months writing a third of the story I developed from that idea into an actual novel.

Image of The Last Rite by Jen Frankel book cover
The Last Rite by Jen Frankel

I self-published a reworked and re-edited version of the book in 2002 through one of the first “print-on-demand” outfits, the Great Unpublished, which became Global Book, then Booksurge, and which is now in fact the Amazon-owned Createspace. This was mostly, actually, due to the prohibitive cost of photocopying the manuscript or printing it out at home for those who wanted to read it, and for submitting it to traditional publishers. Oddly, and charmingly, not only are a few of those still floating around on the net (one reseller was asking $120 at one point!), someone contacted me a few years ago about a copy they’d found at a used bookstore that a gentleman of my acquaintance had printed and coil-bound for himself at a Kinkos. It’s not just on the Internet where you can find everything eventually. . .

By 2012, I had a new, much stronger novel, transformed from a third person to a first person narrative to better suit what I intended for the rest of the “Blood & Magic” series, new graphics, a greater adherence to my plans for future books in the series, and a new campaign.

That is a novel. It may have begun as an idea, but that was only the beginning (and a very small part of) the process.

An Idea isn’t precious.

Everyone has ideas. Put me on the spot and I’ll come up with as many ideas as you give me minutes. Most of them will be okay, or questionable, or a little red-wine-inspired awful. One may be terrific, but the majority will be disposable. An idea is cheap. Or rather, it’s free. It takes little effort to tease out of your brain, and it has no monetary or intrinsic value. It barely exists, and can be snuffed out by another thought coming along behind.

An Idea isn’t your ticket to wealth and fame.

Ten times a week (more if I’m around certain venues, like a comic book convention), I hear, “I have the most awesome idea. It’s going to make me millions.” It won’t. Never. Unless, maybe, you’re J.J. Abrams and tell someone who has the power to do something about it, “Hey—I have an idea about a bunch of people who get stranded by a plane crash on a desert island.” And yes, the idea leads somewhere, but not because a great idea that automatically added zeroes to a bank account.

An Idea isn’t unique on its own.

Someone comes up with a great idea. Around the world, maybe even at the same time, other people are coming up with exactly the same idea. The idea is just the starting point, a dot, one dimension of what might develop. But until you go beyond the idea, everyone’s dot looks pretty much the same.

An Idea isn’t the same as a story.

A screenplay is the framework for a film. It’s the blueprint that allows a lot of other professionals to craft something bigger and more concrete. Having an idea isn’t the same as having a story to tell. A concept isn’t even a blueprint. It’s an inkling, an iota of inspiration. A story is a sequence of events; an idea is a moment; like in a snapshot, you can’t glean much information about what’s outside the frame, what came before, or how it all ends.

An Idea isn’t the hard part.

Even more than ten times a week, I hear, “I have a great story. You should write it for me.” No, I shouldn’t. You should. You haven’t given me the gift of something precious: you’ve thrown out the first step in an enormous process by the end of which the original idea is probably the only thing you never sweated over.

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Buy Jen’s UNDEAD REDHEAD at Amazon!

But don’t be discouraged. If there’s anything that labouring twenty (cough) years over my first novel has taught me, it’s that it does get easier, and you do learn to work harder and better, and those ideas are a key and a gateway to something worthwhile.

An idea is not precious, or hard, or a marketable commodity. But it’s a start, and once you get started, all you need is to do the real work, and turn it into something that is.

Newsletter 1.7

Newsletter 1.7