Joe and Anna Larson, the cutest couple in the zombie apocalypse

Welcome back to my series of posts introducing you to the characters in my forthcoming zombie apocalypse novel, Sam’s Town! Today I’d like you to meet Joe and Anna Larson, the parents of my main character, Sam. In genre fiction (as opposed to literary fiction), it’s fairly rare to see a relationship between an adult character and his or her parents, and it’s rare in all types of narratives these days to see a positive portrayal of such a relationship. And I’d argue that it’s even less rare, especially in genre fiction, to see a portrayal of a romantic relationship (especially a healthy one) between people over 40–dare I say, even over 30? Well, get ready for this: Joe and Anna are over 50–approaching 60!–and they’re unmistakably in love. Part of the reason their passion is so evident at present is that Anna has recently emerged from a decades-long period of debilitating depression that kept her housebound and unable to fully participate in the relationships that meant so much to her, primarily those with her husband, Joe, and her only child, Sam. If it doesn’t sound too sappy to say it, it’s almost as if she’s falling in love all over again. And even during the bleakest times, Joe has never stopped feeling awe that a woman like Anna would want to be with a guy like him.

Sam is a lot like both of his parents, including in ways that he might not want to admit. His relationships with each of his parents were some of my favorites to explore. They’re not perfect relationships, but they’re kind and well-intentioned and, most of all, loving–and this is something else we don’t see enough of in fiction. I think some writers are called to write about the ugliness of the world around us, including in the way humans treat one another, but I wanted to write an aspirational story. Set in the zombie apocalypse. How’s that for irony? Anyway, I think all my characters have qualities worth emulating, but as the oldest of the bunch, Joe and Anna are perhaps the greatest mentor figures in the story, flawed as they are.

Fun facts about Joe and Anna:

  • Joe is a dentist who ends up as the de facto leader of the apocalypse survivors in Hibbing, Minnesota. I learned of an interesting coincidence after I had already created this storyline: A real-life dentist from Hibbing named Rudy Perpich also took an important leadership role, serving two terms as the governor of Minnesota.
  • It’s said several times in my novel that Sam looks a lot like Joe but has Anna’s eyes. Does this remind you of anyone? It should remind you of Harry Potter. 🙂
  • Frankie, whom you met last week, says Joe Larson is Clemenza’s best customer of all time. Before the zombie apocalypse, he ate there at least once a week.

And here’s a romantic encounter between Joe and Anna:

He turned his head to look her in the face, his eyes searching for hers in the dim light from the bathroom. “Be careful,” he said. “I can’t lose you.”

She reached over and touched his face. “You won’t.”

“I mean it,” he said, and his voice cracked.

“I mean it too,” she said with her eyes locked on his. “You won’t.”

They just looked at each other for what felt like a long time. “I love you so much,” Joe finally broke the silence, “but my neck hurts.” He turned his head back to face the ceiling.

Anna giggled quietly and whispered, “Good night.

Let me know what you think of Hibbing’s “it” couple (okay, maybe not, but they’re my “it” couple) in the comments!

Next week, I’m going to introduce you to the character who is most closely based on me. If you’ve read any of my novel, any guesses who I mean?

meet Frankie Clemenza and his resplendent car

Welcome to the first in my series of posts introducing you to the six main characters in my zombie apocalypse novel, Sam’s Town! Today I want you to meet Frankie Clemenza, an old friend of my main character, Sam. Frankie is a lifelong resident of Hibbing, Minnesota, where most of the story takes place, and although he’s a little self-conscious about the fact that he’s never gone to college, married, or done much traveling outside of Hibbing, he loves his life. Frankie has recently inherited the family restaurant from his aunt and uncle, and he’s opened it up (along with his upstairs apartment) as a safe house for Hibbing zombie apocalypse survivors. As the only true extrovert in my novel, Frankie loves the constant flow of people in and out of the restaurant, even if they’re sweaty and bloody. He also loves giving hugs. And he’s a bit of a klutz. Frankie can come across as “an unambitious goof-off” (his uncle Bobby’s words), but beneath his weight-lifting, pasta-cooking, classic-car-restoring surface, there’s a loyal friend and maybe even a capable leader.

Fun facts about Frankie:

  • Yes, his last name (and thus the name of the restaurant) was inspired by that of Peter Clemenza, one of the capos (and one of Vito Corleone’s oldest friends) in The Godfather. My Clemenzas have no organized crime connections, but because they’re chefs and restaurant owners, I associate them with Peter Clemenza, who once took a break from planning a Mafia war to teach Michael Corleone how to make tomato sauce–and uttered the famous line, “Leave the guns; take the cannoli.”
  • Frankie drives a 1960s Cadillac DeVille (I didn’t specify the year), which saves the day at a crucial point in my novel and which Sam describes as “resplendent.” I loved the idea of him in a chrome-plated “pontoon boat” of a car, but I knew that four-door cars were less common mid-century, so I had to do a little research to make sure that Cadillac came out with a DeVille in the 60s that had rear doors, which I needed for plot reasons. (That’s all I’m telling you right now!)

And now, for your reading enjoyment, here’s a snippet of the scene in which Frankie first appears. Frankie is having his arm bandaged due to an accident in which a gun went off while he was holding it. (Did I mention he’s a bit of a klutz?)

The man in the chair stood up. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, a few years older than Sam. He had the arms of someone who spent a lot of time in the gym and the abs of someone who spent a lot of time around garlic bread. “I just grazed the top of my arm. Could have been a lot worse, as klutzy as I am.”

“Frankie Clemenza!” Sam grinned.

The other man furrowed his brow. “Frankie was a dumb kid. I go by Frank now.”

“Oh, sorry…” Sam took a step backward.

Frank’s serious face split into a smile, and he stepped forward. “Just kidding, man! You can call me whatever you want!” He grabbed Sam in a fierce yet lingering hug. “I missed you, buddy. It’s been way too long. You never come home! But—” he pulled back to look Sam in the face but kept hugging him—“I read your comic every week when it comes out. Every week!”

What do you think of Frankie so far? Would you want a guy like him around during the zombie apocalypse, or is he a bit much to handle? Let me know in the comments!

Next week, we’ll meet Sam’s parents, Joe and Anna Larson, one of whom has been called Clemenza’s best customer of all time…

zombie book releasing soon!

My zombie apocalypse novel, Sam’s Town, is almost here! Thank you all for your patience. Soon I’ll have exciting things to share with you like the fabulous cover art and the all-important release date! I plan to throw a virtual release party, so stay tuned for information about that.

Over the weeks leading up to the novel’s release, I’ll be sharing excerpts centered on each of the novel’s six main characters. (I know–the number of characters makes this book sound like zombie Friends or zombie Saved by the Bell. Tell me in the comments which of those zombified shows you would rather watch.) In the meantime, share this post with your friends who like zombie stuff (especially George Romero’s films and The Walking Dead) or anyone who loves a good story about friendship, family, romance, pop culture, Italian food, and keeping your stuff together when the world is going crazy. I appreciate your support so much!