One thing writers get asked a lot is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Neil Gaiman wrote a long and articulated answer that, being something written by Neil Gaiman, is worth reading. I, on the other hand, am going to give you a much shorter and simple answer to a much more specific question: how did I get the idea for Revived?
One day, I was reading Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I’m a big Sanderson fan, and while this book may not be among his best – due to the fact that it’s his first published work – it gave me a moment of clarity. For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a short summary of the premise: around the mystical city of Elantris, people have begun turning into bald, gray-skinned creatures that, while being unable to die, retain the ability to feel pain and hunger and can never heal. These Elantrians are exiled into the once-glorious city and treated like lepers. In the book, many people are shown having misconceptions and prejudices about the Elantrians, including the belief that their condition is contagious (it isn’t). In fact, it was a dialogue between two minor character about the nonexistent risk of contagion that made me think: “Elantrians have HIV.” Which was Ernestian mindspeak short for, “The ignorance and prejudice Elantrians are targets of mirror the ignorance and prejudice that target ‘different’ people in the real world.”
If I recall correctly, that’s when I decided to write Revived.
Why did I choose to make it about sentient zombies, though? Because the modern zombie acts as a symbol for many things. It’s a symbol of consumerism, because it devours its prey blindly and without caring. It’s a symbol of antropophobia (fear of people), because it’s essentially a stranger that wants to hurt you for no real reason. It’s a symbol of corruption and disease, because it turns innocent people into something like itself.
Overall, the zombie carries with it a huge load of bad stereotypes. Which make it the perfect protagonist for a story about them.
Just think about it: if sentient zombies existed in the real world, they would have an obscene amount of bad press. There’s a lot of fiction about zombies as mindless, hunger-driven machines that can and must be killed without remorse. Not to mention their appearance: pale bodies, a shambling gait, open wounds. Oh, and they don’t socialize with “normal” people, because of their eating habits and because “normal” people tend to see them as threats. They would be the perfect target for hate groups, who would probably drop the “normal” in the last sentence and clamor to make Earth human again. It doesn’t sound so far-fetched, does it?
Revived isn’t just a story about discrimination, though. There are a few other themes, including solitude, disability, forgiveness and self-worth. But the discrimination theme is the one that sparkled everything, and I found it while reading Elantris. Without that book, I may have never written Revived. So thank you, Brandon Sanderson. Now, if you could please finish Oathbringer so I can put my greedy fanboy hands on it, that would be great.
Credits: Cover of Elantris by Stephan Martiniere; “Take me to the zombies” by Esparta Palma