Josh Vasquez knows what they all say: “You can try and leave Savannah, but it always brings you back.”
It’s even harder to leave when the place’s infested with zombies.
The 30-year-old author of the Savannah’s Only Zombie Novel Series has found success in the self-publishing world, bringing the zombie apocalypse right to Chatham County.
A lifelong zombie freak (“Me and my friends were really into zombie movies before it was cool,” Vasquez clarifies), he was originally interested in creating a low-budget film about the living dead in high school.
“I wrote out this outline and the first few pages of a script,” he remembers. “But since we were in high school and had no money, that’s as far as it got.”
When the age of e-books and Kindle emerged, Vasquez saw an opportunity.
“I realized you could publish books yourself on there,” he remarks. “I never thought about writing a book but thought, ‘Hey, this could be fun. I’ll try it.’”
With A New Death, published in 2013, Vasquez spun a vision of a Savannah crawling with the living dead.
Fans are hooked on the story of 19-year-old Jeremy, a bagboy college dropout. He’s helping his mom out with the bills and feels frustrated with his relationship with his father, a wealthy man disconnected from the family.
Distinctly Southern in its exploration of family dynamics and the murky swamps (just thinking about getting from the islands to mainland Savannah in a zombie apocalypse is enough to make any local hyperventilate), Vasquez’s novels are unique in their broad vision of our town. Beyond Bonaventure, beyond River Street, the author captures a realistic, often overlooked Savannah.
“In most music and books, it’s all downtown and the Historic District,” Vasquez says. “It’s the more appealing parts of Savannah. In the books, I go through industrial areas...part of it takes place off Victory and Ogeechee in a warehouse. I was working there at the time, so I had an insider’s look.”
The author has taken a unique approach in tying the storyline together. After completing book one, Vasquez followed up with “CJ’s Story,” a short story following the 13-year-old son of a character introduced in A New Death. Book two, A New Darkness, published in March of 2014, chronicles a journey from Savannah to the Georgia countryside. To sate fans, a second short, “Lexx’s Story,” followed in 2015.
Vasquez is heavily inspired by classics like filmmaker George Romero and contemporaries like Max Brooks.
“The Zombie Survival Guide is my non-Bible Bible,” he says with a laugh.
The zombies in his series follow pretty standard zombie mythology: you’ve got slow-movers, “runners” with agility and speed, and then an evolved kind of “Hulk-like” zombie that “require a little bit more finesse.”
A New Death is Vasquez’s first completed novel, but the author has been writing all of his life.
“It started off as a coping mechanism,” he shares. “My parents were divorced, my stepdad and I had a rough relationship. We moved down here and I left my friends behind. I wrote stories to keep my friends with me and as an escape, then it turned out to be something I enjoy doing. This is the first story I ever finished and stuck with.”
A lead dock guy for a local trucking company, Vasquez works hard to strike a balance between his busy work life, marriage, life as a new dad, and writing.
Novel three is in the works; meanwhile, grab a paperback of A New Death at E. Shaver Booksellers, Planet Fun, or online via Amazon.
Vasquez is wary of the zombie craze fizzling out—right now, The Walking Dead seems to be a driving force in the genre’s staying power—but his passion for storytelling won’t die.
“I think it’s getting close to the bubble where it’s going to hit and not be cool anymore. But,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “I’ll still be one hundred percent in.” —Anna Chandler
Runner-up: Heave, Ho!