This week the Romantic Times convention, an event devoted romance novels and their authors, takes over the Hyatt Regency downtown with writing workshops, panels, parties, and more. Making its debut at the convention is an e-book that mingles two of Georgia’s biggest pop culture exports: Scarlett O’Hara and zombies.
Gone With the Dead, an anthology edited by Lori Perkins, features 16 stories from different authors all centered around “Southern love and death.”
“I wanted to put together an anthology to showcase the incredible talent this [convention] attracts,” Perkins said via email, “And if anyone knows me, they know that two of my reading passions are romance and horror. When it comes to Atlanta, the first things I think of are Gone with the Wind and The Walking Dead.”
Perkins is also a fan of mashups, noting Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as an example of what the format can accomplish. “You can come up with a quirky homage to a beloved book to create something completely new and amazing, or at least amusing,” she says.
While Gone With the Wind certainly invokes stirring images of Scarlett O’Hara in the arms of Rhett Butler, romance might be the last thing you associate with gore-centric The Walking Dead. Sure, Rick and Michonne got hot and heavy plenty of times this past season, but relationships on the hit AMC series tend to end much more gruesomely than Scarlett and Rhett’s. (We’re looking at you, Glenn, Laurie, and Denise.)
Perkins is no stranger to the subject of zombie romance—she edited 2010 anthology Hungry for Your Love—and says there’s a huge audience for the genre, noting that other popular zombie franchises such as I, Zombie could be considered love stories.
“Zombies are a social metaphor for how we feel, so the fact that we’ve been in a zombie boom for the past decade is a reflection of our economic fears,” she said.
Romantic Times convention attendees can download the book for free on Smashwords with code GT22B through May 8. A reading with some of the anthology’s the authors will take place at the convention today at 5:45 p.m. at the Learning Center LL1/Ballroom Level of the Hyatt Regency. And here’s an excerpt from the the story that opens the book, a zombie romance set during a Civil War re-enactment:
Cristina and the Virus
by Sarah Bale
“Hey,” I said, breathless.
“Hey,” he echoed back in a similar tone.
We smiled stupidly at each other for a moment before he shook his head.
“We should start our rounds.”
As we walked, we checked in with the leaders of each section and Jeff made sure everything was in order.
“In the past they used to have night battles, but it’s too much of a liability nowadays,” he said, making idle chitchat.
I nodded. “I imagine people firing cannons and running around with rifles with bayonets in the dark is dangerous.”
He chuckled. “Dangerous, but fun. So I have to know… how does the owner of an alternative dance studio end up here? I’m sure there are more entertaining things you could be doing.”
If he only knew how boring my life was. Since my last breakup I’d definitely become a homebody.
“Well, Patrick can be pretty convincing. And I’ve always had an infatuation with Gone with the Wind.” I paused. “And then there was you.”
“Me?” His eyebrows lifted.
“Yeah. I saw you the first time I did a reenactment and you kind of make it fun to come back.”
“It’s the soldier’s uniform, isn’t it?”
I laughed. “Totally. You wear those blue trousers quite well, sir.”
“Well, if I might be so bold to say this–you look sexy in your dress.”
I doubted that, since I’d been sweating all day, but it was sweet of him to say.
I spun. “This old thing? I made it from some curtains.”
He laughed and pulled me into his arms. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn where it came from. You are what makes it sexy. Your smile. Your beautiful hair. And your eyes.” He stared down at me. “And, for the record, I noticed you the first time you were here.”
Wow. My senses were on high alert as the wind gently caressed my skin. Cicadas hummed around us. Jeff’s masculine scent teased my nostrils as I inhaled and I felt myself getting closer to him.
I peered at him through my eyelashes. “Are you going to kiss me?”
“My, that’s awfully forward of you, miss.” His face was serious, but his eyes were teasing as he brushed my dark hair behind my ear.
Reaching up, I grasped his coat lapel and tugged. His head lowered and he pressed his lips against mine. I smiled and he nipped my bottom lip. I nipped him back, shocked at my own eager response, and deepened the kiss. His tongue thrust against mine leaving my mouth burning with fire. I couldn’t help but to rub against his chest, which earned a throaty moan from him. His hand cupped the back of my neck and he pulled me closer. Holy hell. There was a dreamy intimacy to our kiss now and my knees threatened to give out.
He pulled away. “How have we never talked before today?”
“I wondered the same thing.”
I ached for another kiss and his eyes darkened as he stared down at me. Crushing me against him, his mouth covered mine as someone screamed in the distance. We both jumped and bumped our heads against each other.
“Ouch!” I said, rubbing my forehead.
“Sorry. We should check that out.”
He grabbed me by the hand and my stomach fluttered at the contact. I felt like Scarlett O’Hara as I grabbed my skirt with my free hand and ran with Jeff across the field.
A woman stood near the infirmary with blood gushing from her neck. Even in the dark I could tell her injury was serious. She screamed again and pointed toward the tent.
“He… he bit me. Oh my God. Why did he bite me?”
Jeff ran inside of the tent calling out for Ron. I went to the woman to try to help her. Blood poured from the wound and there was a hole where the man had ripped the skin from her neck. With each beat of her heart more blood squirted out. I didn’t want to alarm her, but I was fairly certain her artery had been nicked.
“Ma’am, sit down. I’ll help you apply pressure.”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve got to get out of here. ”
Her words abruptly ended as her eyes rolled back into her head and she fell to the ground. Blood gushed from the wound until her dress was soaked. I checked for a pulse, but couldn’t find one.
“Jeff! I need you out here!”
There was a commotion from the tent and Jeff ran out. His eyes were bright with fear and his jacket had fresh blood smeared on it.
“Christina, we need to get help. I… this can’t be happening. That man… Oh my god.”
“Calm down, Jeff. Here, use my phone.”
I pulled my cell from my dress, ignoring the wet blood on my own hand, and handed the phone to him. He dialed 911 and cursed.
“It’s busy. I don’t know what to do–they’re all dead and that man…” He ran his fingers through his hair. “That man… he attacked all of them!”
“I think this woman is dead. There was so much blood.”