R.M. Hamrick discusses the latest book in her zombie series, “Chasing Redemption.” She talks about her writing process, self-publishing, and the things that inspire her.
Rebekah Hamrick lives in Savannah, GA and has published two books in her zombie apocalypse series. The first, Chasing a Cure, was written in a sprint during National Novel Writing Month but conceived during a marathon. Finishing books and races are two of her favorite things. Her pet tortoise, Cortana, is always an inspiration.
Even though she’s new to the self-publishing world, Rebekah has been writing for a long time. She started off in litRPG before litRPG was a thing—her first stories powered by DOS.
Despite not having taken a year of algebra until she was a senior in high school, she graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Biomedical Engineering and now monitors spinal cord function during surgeries.
When Rebekah needs to refuel, it’s going to be by downing craft beers and pizza over a board game with her husband, pole dancing, sleeping through movies, or taking her dogs to the beach.
Wherever you catch her: in the surgery center, coaching runners, or helping her fellow writers, you can count on her to be thinking about how she can make the world a better place, like some sort of Baby Groot with a Captain America shield. The Dancing Defender.
Excerpt from Chasing Book 2: Chasing Redemption
“What have you learned?” asked Audra entering the room.
“Both of his legs are broken. They will need to be set. Superficial wounds to the stomach. I’ll wash those out and close them. Shouldn’t be a problem,” said Satomi of their captive.
“Shouldn’t be a problem? This is a big problem, Satomi. I need to know what’s going on here. What is this?” she gestured to what she considered a creature in their building — a creature not quite human, and not quite zombie.
“It’s a patient.”
Satomi would continue her exam and hopefully also get Audra’s information as well. She searched for an entry point for the infection. He kicked at her with broken extremities. Scars were scattered across his body, but there was no fresh bite. Audra stood in the corner, arms crossed, and exasperated. She had changed shirts, but she was still matted in blood.
Satomi pulled on the eyelids and revealed dilated eyes with a cloudy gray. Inside his mouth, his teeth were decaying. Satomi untied his shoes and pulled them off to reveal a decent stench and sores. It seemed he had been wearing those shoes and remnants of socks for days, weeks maybe. Potato sack tunic uniforms suggested a system in place.
The sickness was specific and the numbers revealed purpose, not accidents.
Trilogies are incredibly difficult to plot. You have to bring the first book to a satisfying finish and plan a second that can be enjoyed as a standalone. I think you succeeded. How did you come up with the story for Chasing Redemption?
Dad: So-and-so finished your book. I told them there would be more. You’re writing the sequel, right? I’ve been telling everyone there’s a sequel.
Me: *chokes on my beer*
I actually didn’t have a trilogy in mind when I wrote Chasing a Cure, but the world I had crafted to tell a story took on a life of its own. After Audra finished her quest, no one wanted to let that book-universe go — and I found I didn’t want to either.
I know my exact location when I came up with the two stories that I wanted to tell for the Chasing series. I was out for a run (of course) on the east side of my favorite park. I was spitballing ideas to myself, and came across one that made me gasp. My heart started racing and my mind spun with branching possibilities. My jog turned into a hard run. I trusted that if I had such a visceral response, I had hit on something good.
Chasing a Cure is so well produced, it could be on the shelf in a brick and mortar bookstore. Why did you make the decision to self-publish?
Because I knew I could do a good job. I have an eye for formatting (yes, I just said that). I hired an editor who understood and complemented my writing style (Mike Waitz at Sticks and Stones does just that). I hired a cover designer to make the book marketable (more than marketable, Christian Bentulan gave me top-tier design).
It didn’t make sense for me to hand over editing and cover influence, publishing timeline, pricing control and distribution to someone else. I knew exactly what product I wanted to present and fortunately had the resources to make it happen.
You’re on my short list for people who have a shot at surviving a real-world zombie apocalypse. Can you talk about how your knowledge about and passion for running shaped your conception of Audra?
When I stopped bashing running and gave it the college-try, I didn’t expect it to become integral to my life. It’s given me opportunities and challenges. It’s provided a place to process, to escape, to contemplate. Some authors create settings so vivid they become like another character in the story. I knew running could hold the same weight.
Audra isn’t highly educated. She’s poor and homeless most of the time, but she hones a skill that saves her from zombies and gives her the means to support herself. Unfortunately, running also physically isolates her from other survivors, allowing her character flaws to flourish and her life to stagnate. She needs moments of community and moments of isolation to finally process and emerge from the grieving process.
You have a biomedical engineering degree. Did your background or experience with medicine play a role in Chasing Redemption?
Definitely. My freshman year of college, we created computer model systems to simulate treatments for HIV. You try to account for every variable — viral load, efficacy of treatment, propagation rates — because they all play roles in the outcome. And in the end, you still have to make some assumptions which can mess it all up. I wanted to showcase that fragility and volatility in Chasing Redemption.
Additionally, I currently work adjacent to spinal surgery. I enjoyed exploring how Satomi and other doctors would cobble together modern, outdated, and survival medical techniques to treat people in their fallen world.
If I can get readers to accept my non-traditional zombies through science, science can also move the story in profound ways. Zombies themselves are one dimensional, but people are creative and resourceful. If given the opportunity, I knew they’d use zombies to gain power, to gain riches. They’d try to control them. They’d try to benefit from a zombie’s character traits. And, they’d make mistakes.
What did you learn from Redemption about writing a sequel that you wish you knew when you started?
Be sure to give your characters multiple flaws, because if book one’s story arc fixes that one thing, you’re left with a flat character you have to drag along.
Also, don’t steamroll into book three until book two is near finalized. I had an entire draft of book three I had to toss, because of decisions I reversed while revising book two.
Your storyboarding and plotting process looks incredibly involved. Can you tell us about it?
I have a bullet journal which my friend calls my second brain. I keep everything in it — from daily to dos, how to format a manuscript for different e-readers, and almost every note for the Chasing series. I know the main story line and the basic plot, but what I don’t know is HOW I’m going to tell you. I want to surprise you, but I also want to play fair.
Chasing a Cure would have been pretty boring had I presented it in chronological order. Instead, we follow Audra trying to save Belinda and we get this parallel story in flashbacks so that we can reach and understand the end. Chasing Redemption has characters with the exact same intent, but with vastly different perspectives and abilities which creates an unexpected but almost inevitable outcome.
I can’t wrap my head around this easily, so I put all the key points (plot, relationship changes, character decisions, etc) on post-it notes. I move them around to see what the effect would be on the characters and on the reader. What if we knew this before that happened? What if we didn’t? I move them around until I find something provoking and interesting. A little like Dumbledore’s pensieve.
What are your favorite zombie and horror books and movies? Did you find any inspiration from other kinds of movies?
Both the book and the movie adaptation of I Am Legend explores loneliness and duty. Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series is set in a zombie-filled world, but delves into global media, blogging, and political power. “The walking dead” in The Walking Dead comics are not the zombies, but the survivors.
In these works, the infected masses create scenarios for the survivors to explore humanity. Revisiting relationships, power, obligation, large or small-scale economy through the lens of an extreme situation reveals to us truths or possibilities we might not see in our normal zombie-free lives.
I was inspired to use zombies to explore the stages of grief and familial duty. Chasing a Cure is really a story about the grieving process, complicated by the fact that her sister isn’t dead, but could be revived. How does someone reconcile that? I don’t know if Audra makes the right decision, but science fiction allows us to explore it.
The Chasing Series is rare in that it starts off with a cast of one and grows into a lovable ensemble I’m rooting for. Most zombie stories go the other way—a large cast of survivors who dwindle away. What inspired you to flip the script?
If I had written a story about Belinda, we would have found other people immediately. I get the feeling that Audra purposefully kept them isolated. Was that a mistake on Audra’s part? Possibly.
Can you give us any hints about where Audra goes in Chasing part 3?
In the last installment, the survivors are facing what could be the final wave of the epidemic. Audra has to come to terms with all the mistakes she’s made while deciding on a strategic push that will either end the downward spiral or accelerate them toward extinction. No big deal.