Zombies vs. teenagers
Costumes encouraged at World Eye book-signing Saturday
Image courtesy of Howard Odentz
Author Howard Odentz, who provided this image of a man dressed up as a zombie at a previous reading, will read from his book “Dead (a Lot)” and sign copies of the book at the World Eye Bookshop on Saturday, Oct. 26, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Zombies are expected to attend and he and the bookstore are encouraging teenagers and adults to come in costume.
Image courtesy of Howard Odentz
In Odentz’s new young-adult novel, western Massachusetts — and Franklin County in particular — is overrun with zombie-like creatures.
Most of us don’t spend a lot of time pondering the relative realism of zombies and vampires. Author Howard Odentz does.
“Anne Rice popularized vampires. Now vampires are sparkly pretty things that go out in the daytime and are love interests,” he said, scathingly.
In contrast, he argued, “There are actually instances of some form of zombie-ism in real life. There are animals that experience it. A parasite takes over an insect’s body and controls it. In our age of diseases all over the place and biological weapons … a thing like this could happen.
The “thing like this” is the plot of Odentz’s new young-adult novel, “Dead (a Lot).” The book sees western Massachusetts — and Franklin County in particular — overrun with zombie-like creatures.
A mysterious illness called Necropoxy is spreading throughout New England (and probably elsewhere). A few individuals and families appear immune to its airborne contagion — although they may still be able to contract the illness if bitten by one its gruesome victims, who are known as “Poxers.”
The book’s narrator is teenager Tripp Light. He and his twin sister, Trina, are home alone for the weekend when the disease suddenly strikes western Massachusetts.
Just before their cell phones stop working, they receive a text message from their parents telling the younger Lights to head to their aunt’s house near the Mohawk Trail.
Although Tripp and Trina don’t really know how to drive yet, they manage to start a vehicle and hit the road to search for their aunt and parents. Along the way, they gather up a diverse group of survivors of the disease.
These include Tripp’s “frenemy” from high school, Priyanka, and her autistic brother, Sanjay; a college-radio DJ named Jimmy, who is confined to a wheelchair and keeps a pet crow; and a bow-and-arrow-toting small boy known as Bullseye.
Tripp’s narrative voice is strong and entertaining; he exhibits the sarcasm, bluster, and vulnerability of a true teenager. Odentz informed me that this authenticity is no accident.
He explained that his longtime partner (now husband) and he live in a “combined household” with his sister-in-law and her sons.
“So even though I am not a parent, we raised two teenage boys. We ended up being the hangout house so I heard these kids talk. Teenagers and their mindset fascinate me ... I wanted to be true to what teenagers would say and do.”
When I explained that I was taken aback by the slaughter of a pet poodle by a Poxer on page two, Odentz assured me that he was an animal lover. “I didn’t know what I was doing when I killed off that dog,” he said.
He and his partner run a small farm in Wilbraham on which they raise Nigerian dwarf goats along with a couple of llamas, a flock of chickens, a dog named Einstein, and a cat named Severus.
Happily, after the death of the poodle, the book’s remaining animals remain healthy and well cared for — with the exception of one grumpy rooster. The rooster is slightly abused in a good cause but lives to tell the tale.
Odentz didn’t apologize for that fictional abuse. “Roosters are awful creatures,” he told me. “I finally had to put my rooster on Craigslist. I said ‘No soup … but I’m not opposed to a pie.’”
Clearly, Tripp Light inherited his sarcastic sense of humor from his creator.
“Dead (a Lot)” is Odentz’s first novel. After studying writing in college, he spent many years as a communications director at MassMutual Financial Group. “They allowed me to be very creative there,” he said. He retired early four years ago to farm and see what else he could do.
He wrote the music, lyrics, and book for two supernatural musical comedies that have been performed both locally and nationally. “My partner was in theater,” he explained. “I either got involved or sat home alone at night.”
His first production, “In Good Spirits,” revolves around a haunted theater that houses an incompetent troupe of actors. “The ghosts are going to haunt them out and then they decided to help them out,” said Odentz. “The musical that they write is ‘Jaws: The Musical.’”
His second theatrical endeavor, “Piecemeal,” highlights the origins of the body parts used to create Frankenstein’s monster. Odentz said that he had long enjoyed the story of “Frankenstein” and had seen it adapted unsuccessfully in a couple of musicals on Broadway.
“I had to go about it a different way,” he said.
For a long time, he wanted to work on a novel but found himself unable to start one. “When I sat down to write that novel, something else came out,” he recalled.
When he finally got around to beginning a novel, the work went smoothly. “Dead (a Lot),” the first in a projected trilogy, took him four months to write. He quickly found an agent and a publisher.
“I was so scared that I had an agent that I did everything she said,” he told me with a laugh. “She asked whether the book shouldn’t have a sequel. I sat down and wrote the sequel in two months.”
That sequel, “Wicked Dead,” will add grownups to the group of underage survivors who roam through the pages of “Dead (a Lot).”
“You wonder, in this circumstance, who’s better able to manage,” posited Odentz. “I think the kids.”
He is clearly enjoying the success of “Dead (a Lot).” Nevertheless, he maintains that he writes mainly for the joy of the process. “My creative writing is for me,” he said. “If it makes money, awesome. If it doesn’t, I’m happy.”
He is also clearly looking forward to his book’s debut in Franklin County, where much of the zombie action is set. One of the locations in the book just happens to be a bookstore in downtown Greenfield that resembles the World Eye Bookshop.
Odentz will read from “Dead (a Lot)” and sign copies of the book at the World Eye on Saturday, Oct. 26, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Zombies are expected to attend and he and the bookstore are encouraging teenagers and adults to come in costume.
“Wear your zombie finest,” said the author, who will offer a prize to the best-dressed zombie.
Odentz will turn 50 on the date of his appearance at the World Eye. “I didn’t want to do a big party,” he explained. “But it will be cool to do a signing in the bookstore I was writing about.”
Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” (www.merrylion.com) and “Pulling Taffy” (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com.