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Ask the Author (Almost) Anything: Tom Leveen, author of Sick

Teenscape Department, Central Library,
Part of the logo of Los Angeles Teen Book Fest

Tom Leveen will be at Teen Book Fest on Saturday, October 12 on the Other Worlds panel in Teen'Scape at 2pm. He will be signing copies of Sick at 3pm in Meeting Room B.

The picture of Author Tom LeveenTom Leveen’s latest book, Sick, is quite a departure from his other books. His debut novel, Party, is a complex story about the events of one wild party, told from the perspective of 11 different characters. In Zero, an aspiring artist struggles to find her muse after her college plans fall through and her best friend ditches her, and in Manicpixiedreamgirl a young writer is torn between his girlfriend and the manic pixie dream girl he’s been obsessed with since freshman year.

And then there's Sick.

Sick is still about teens. It’s still about art and theatre and high school and finding your way in the world. But it’s also about zombies. When a pandemic breaks out in Brian’s high school, he survives the initial wave of infection, but finds himself trapped with a group of his classmates in the school’s drama department. Together, the group of misfits, cheerleaders, jocks, and theatre geeks have to plot a daring rescue mission.

Book cover of SICK by Tom LeveenWe asked Tom to tell us more about Sick and how he wrote it (it JUST came out in stores on October 1). Here’s what he had to say:

1. Your other books have all been realistic stories. Why did you decide to write a gory horror story?

Well, "decide" might be a bit misleading. My friends and I have talked about zombies for years, getting into these unironic, serious debates about things like "zombie migration patterns" and whatnot. Then we had a long conversation about high school, and who would have lived or died in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I somehow melded those ideas in with a short story I'd never completed - which is much the same way Party got written - and Sick was the result. Also, I appreciate your use of "gory horror story" as opposed to "supernatural" - I think in many ways, Sick still falls within my usual genre, which is always about teens facing new and challenging experiences. Sick just brings a literal life-or-death aspect to it. But the novel still relies heavily on the relationships, not the monsters.

2. In Sick, some of the initial zombie outbreak survivors are theatre kids. What special skills do theatre people have that would help them survive the zombie apocalypse?

So many! First, they are used to working as a team, and following a clear hierarchy. That's how theatre operates. It gives these students a leg up on the monsters because there's a clearly defined chain of command - at least until Brian and Chad get involved, which is part of the fun of the plot. Theatre Kids also generally are a creative, thoughtful, and intelligent group of people. It's not easy to memorize an entire script, or know how to hang and focus lights, or build a set. Theatres have been compared to construction sites, and that's apt - it's really not all that safe backstage once you think about it. But Theatre Kids understand that, and they're smart and careful. Add all those traits to a building full of potential weapons and barriers, and it makes total sense that the drama gang stands a better shot at making it through an outbreak.

3. What book were you forced to read in school that you were surprised you enjoyed?

Catcher in the Rye. It was one of the few assigned books that I got through. I loved it! I guess that's not earth-shattering, an edgy YA author liking Catcher. But, well, there it is. I'm a phony...

4. What are one or two books that inspired you when you were a teen?

As a teen I was inspired by Stephen King. This is early King, mind you - particularly his short stories in Night Shift and Skeleton Crew. In fact, Sick is at least partially inspired by the novella "The Mist." Very formative for me. Also I'd have to say Shakespeare. Yes, really. I spent four summers in actor training at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and saw some of the most amazing theatre of my life up there. Shakespeare gets plot, he gets character, he gets humor and gravitas. It's not the poetry that makes him great (although that's a part of it), it's the storytelling. Don't kick me for the comparison, but the fact is, both King and Shakespeare are phenomenal storytellers. Sorry, that's just a truth. Their sales and longevity speak to it. So while I eventually developed what I hope is my own style and voice, those writers (there are more, you asked for two!) informed my sense of storytelling.

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To learn more about Tom, visit http://tomleveen.com/


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