Laura A. Hansen was born in a suburb outside of St. Louis, Missouri and has spent most of her life in the Midwest. In her day job she is a cancer biologist, professor, and educator, with several advanced degrees including a Ph.D. in Toxicology. Her cancer research has earned international recognition and taken her around the world, including a recent stay in Copenhagen, Denmark. Dr. Hansen has been a professional writer her whole adult life, although primarily as a scientific and technical writer. Cruise of the Undead, published in 2012, was her first young adult novel and will be followed by other books in the Zombies in Paradise series.
Dr. Hansen is the mother of two boys, who provided the inspiration for Cruise of the Undead. She started writing fiction when she wanted to capture the spirit of her crazy kids in that brief and turbulent time between childhood and adulthood – their tween and teen years. The main characters in Cruise of the Undead draw heavily from the personalities of her sons, and various plot elements were inspired by experiences on happy, but zombie-free, family cruises.
Dr. Hansen lives in the Omaha metro area with her husband, children, dog and cat.
Where did you get the idea for Cruise of the Undead?
I’ve been a writer my whole life, although a science writer rather than a fiction writer. After my father passed away in 2011, I needed to escape from my grief. The idea for Cruise of the Undead came from a brainstorming session with my family. I wanted to write for my kids and I asked them what they wanted to read. One son was dead-set on hamsters, the other would only consider zombies, and the third (OK, he’s really my husband) wanted something set on a cruise ship. I couldn’t quite envision the hamsters, but zombies on a cruise ship proved to be an idea with legs. I’m going to have to work some zombie hamsters into the sequel.
Did any of your inspiration for this book come from real life experiences?
After the initial brainstorming, I thought the four of us could work together on the book. That collaboration lasted only one night. By the next evening, my boys stomped off in different directions and my husband turned back to his office work with a shrug. I dashed off a paragraph about moody teenaged Charlie, my oldest. To my surprise, I captured something of Charlie’s essence on the page. When I read it aloud the next evening, the kids were entranced. I stayed up half the night writing another page. I wrote the book in my spare time, mostly between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Six weeks later, I had a 70,000 page draft of a teenaged adventure onboard a cruise ship of the damned. My kids loved it, although there are certainly parts of it that are so real that they can’t help but cringe. My husband now refers to scenes I invented for the story as if they really happened. Reality has become a little blurred at our house.
Why do you think zombies are such a fascinating subject?
Why is my sometimes charming and always mercurial 15-year-old obsessed with zombies? For Charlie, and for the rest of us too, I suspect, zombies offer the opportunity for a frontier-like survivalism, including the shotguns and axes we don’t typically need in the Omaha suburbs. He’s also deeply afraid of them. I know, because I’ve spotted the hammer under his pillow. (We had a talk about this. He’s promised me he will not accidentally pound any of us.) His fear is understandable. Shambling,
rotting, blood-thirsty corpses ought to be scary. But why the attraction? My theory, developed after delving deep into his psyche to write our family’s saga of life on a cruise ship infested with the undead, is that they offer the chance to cast off adult restrictions. By doing away with all the infected adults surrounding him he symbolically and safely rebels against adult authority, and is free to make his own world.
What traits do you share with your main character?
The main characters are my two sons. It’s my older son’s voice, his personality and his teenage identity crisis that drive the story. The mom I wrote into the book, which I suppose you could say is really me, spends much of the book locked in her cabin with the dad. She does get to have some fun fighting zombies eventually. But truly, if I had to face a zombie outbreak onboard a cruise ship, being locked in a cabin with my husband would be my preference.
Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
Charlie, the hero of the book, is a techie at heart, very much like me. By day, I’m a scientist who does cancer research, but I almost went into engineering. It’s natural for Charlie to troubleshoot whatever situation he finds himself in and come up with creative solutions. That’s a big part of my day job as scientist. Nothing ever works as planned, so figuring out why and what to do next is a daily task. Charlie is much more of a MacGyver type than I am, though. His creativity in figuring out how to survive and succeed is one of my favorite parts of the book, and was very fun to write.What made you decide to self-publish?
My original thought was to write a book for my kids, not necessarily for a wider audience, so self-publishing was always the plan. When I recruited a professional editor to work with me on it, though, he loved the manuscript and pushed me to find a broader audience.
Are there any authors whose writing styles or subject matter inspired your book?
I’ve always loved Elmore Leonard and the way the dialog carries his stories along. There’s more than a bit of this, and a teenage version of his characters’ attitude, in the Cruise of the Undead.
Do you have another project in the works?
Yes, I’ve got a couple of things underway. I’m working on the next two books in the Zombies in Paradise series. The third one is actually coming along faster than the first. In the back of my mind, I’m also incubating a thriller set in Denmark, where I spend much of the last summer.
Favorite all-time authors?
There are so many. Too many. I grew up on Edgar Allan Poe, Jack London, the Brontes, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Steven King. My parents had many volumes of Edgar Allan Poe stories, and other volumes of stories he collected. I spent so much time with them that they must have warped my character in ways I can't even guess at. For true shivery page-turning compulsion, they can't be beat. More recently, I can’t seem to resist starting a Dean Koontz novel. Tom Rob Smith’s books are really good. Among current young adult authors, I’ve enjoyed Mira Grant, Angie Sage, Janet Rowling and Suzanne Collins (of course!). I’m going to stop there or else I never will.
What's your favorite thing to get from Starbucks?
Skinny grande mocha, and I always want the whip cream but usually resist.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A librarian. I remember sitting with my third grade class in the library as the librarian read us “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. It’s the story of a big-game hunter stranded on an island with its aristocratic owner, also a hunter, who has become bored with hunting animals. The aristocrat decides to hunt down the castaway after arming him with only a knife. It’s a terrifying story for seven-year-olds, but I was completely enthralled. I thought the librarian had the coolest job ever!
TV or Movies?
Uh, I’d have to say movies on TV.
Facebook or Twitter?Facebook. One hundred forty characters is too few.
Just when you thought it was safe to sleep again, comes a fresh new page-turner to keep you up all night. Cruise of the Undead will satisfy the zombie hunger that’s taken over the country.
With horror, humor and romance, Laura A. Hansen offers an engaging romp through the zombie-infested South Pacific. In a fast-paced adventure onboard a cruise ship of the damned, a seriously scary comedy of clashing personalities occurs when intense Charlie and his hip hop, extroverted younger brother Jack forge an alliance to defeat a zombie menace. What makes this book different from any other is its fully-fleshed characters and intelligent writing in a family-friendly package, a rare combination in zombie literature. The work is appealing to adults, yet still appropriate for twelve to sixteen year-olds.
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