If you are a writer, unless you’ve been living with wolves, chances are you have heard of Amanda Hocking, the twenty-something Minnesota author of young adult fantasies who spun the publishing industry in an unexpected direction.
One year ago this month, after a string of rejections from agents and editors, Hocking uploaded two novels in Kindle format. She thought $43 for her first two weeks of sales was “pretty good.” By the start of this year, she was selling half a million eb00ks a month, and in March she signed a reported $2 million dollar contract with St. Martin’s Press.
Amanda Hocking’s story has been told in the New York Times, the Wall Street journal, and on dozens if not hundreds of blogs, but one key question is seldom directly addressed: are her books any good? I just finished my first Hocking novel, and the short answer is, yes, it was lively, original, and I liked it a lot.
Hollowland starts with a bang and the action does not let up. How is this for an opening sentence?
“This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.”
These are not your old-school, reanimated corpse type zombies. No stiff, slow, shambling, mumbling, B-Grade movie zombies. A mutation of the rabies virus has infected most of the population, causing them to become really angry, really psychotic, and ravenously hungry. After her quarantine station near Las Vegas is breached by a coordinated zombie attack, 19 year old, Remy, and her friend, Harlow, set off across the desert, determined to find Remy’s brother. Their first traveling companion is an African lion – animals are immune to this kind of rabies, and all the big cats from Circus Circus are loose. That night they meet a rock star whose fame doesn’t mean so much in a post-apocalyptic world. They pick up an SUV and a couple of refugees from a fundamentalist cult, whose leader has the habit of “cleansing” his female followers in his bedroom. And so it goes.
It says a lot about Remy that she names the lion, Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien movies That is the mojo you need when the zombies are winning. Remy also has a charming irreverence, the kind of simple, eyes-open, speak-your-mind nature that you see in Amanda Hocking’s online interviews.
I can really see, though I have not found the words to express it, why the literary establishment would not cut Hocking a break. There’s a hint of piety about the stories and characters you see in the YA fantasy section of Barnes&Noble. The word “homogenized,” comes to mind. And “processed food.” And “inbred.”
This story was fresh, a little bit raw, a bit unpolished, but shaped by a writer whose imagination has not, and hopefully will not, be poured into the grooves shaped by others. Hocking reminds me of Stephen King and not for the obvious horror licks that they share. Both authors seem to gravitate to horror not just for its own sake, but to explore what ordinary people will do in impossible situations.
Hollowland is a available in both self-published text version, and Kindle format for $0.99, and in case anyone does not know, a Kindle device (though I love mine) is not required to read a book in that format. Amazon has free Kindle apps for pc, mac, iPads and smart-phones.