Author I.S. Belle reveals the top five influences on her debut LGBT horror/paranormal YA novel, Zombabe.
Zombabe is a LGBT found family horror/paranormal YA about a group of friends putting down an ancient evil inextricably linked to their sleepy town of Bulldeen, Maine. Does all of that bring anything to mind? It should. Here are five works that inspired me, from mild inspiration to most potent influence:
5. Stranger Things
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a band of teens stop a monster from ravaging their small town with help from their friend who has strange, unknowable powers.
Stranger Things has a lot of Zombabe’s greatest hits: Creepy hometown mystery! Found family! An ensemble of queer teens (I know there’s only two canonically queer teens in the Stranger Things crew, but I hold out hope for a couple more in season 5. Give Will a boyfriend, goddamnit, that boy deserves something nice after all he’s been through).
Not to mention the distant time period. Stranger Things is set in the 80s, Zombabe in the early 2000s – which, I’ll remind everyone, was two decades ago. I know.
4. The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater
“[She] was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.”
I, like many of us, was a Raven Cycle teen. I fell in love with the vague, mysterious plot (seriously, what the hell HAPPENED in those books), the gorgeous prose, the small town plagued with paranormal happenings – but mostly I fell for the friend group. Those strange, magic teenagers living in old warehouses and trailer parks and a small house with a million aunts.
These friends are obsessed with each other. They think the world of their friends throughout all the amazing and stupid shit they get up to. They bicker – OK, sometimes it dissolves into screaming arguments – but at the end of the day they’re glued together through all their paranormal shenanigans. Waxing poetic about each other the whole way.
3. Santa Clarita Diet
The family that slays together stays together. Santa Clarita Diet is a delightful horror-comedy about a husband and wife whose mundane suburban lives are thrown into chaos when the wife becomes a zombie. Cue a stressed but supportive husband, smoothies chunky with body parts, and an industrial freezer to store corpses.
‘Til death do they part – and then some.
This real-estate duo murder people every week, but the beating heart of the show is the deeply affectionate relationship between husband and wife. They’re in love, sure, but they’re also best friends. Partners in crime. They banter while driving to the PTA meeting and while they stash a body in the trunk of their car.
The romance in Zombabe is between a boy and the best friend he resurrected. Underneath their romance is a solid base of friendship: not only do they love each other, they also like each other. They trust each other. They support each other, they have fun, they’re each other’s first priority and they know it.
They kill for each other. Then they get lunch – after they wash the blood off, of course.
2. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Jennifer’s Body is about cheerleader Jennifer Check devouring teenage boys after coming back Wrong from a failed human sacrifice, while her best friend, Anita “Needy” Lesnicky, tries to snap her the hell out of it.
What queer teenage girl growing up in the 2010s didn’t get deeply into the masterpiece that is Jennifer’s Body? “I don’t know why I like it so much”, I kept saying, staring at the screen as Jennifer and Needy’s strange, sapphic, twisted friendship turned into obsession and death. “I just do.”
The movie ends tragically, of course. Needy stabs Jennifer in the heart, killing her and stopping her murder spree. She gets carted away to a mental institution. Then – and this is important – she escapes using powers Jennifer accidentally gave her, and murders the men who made Jennifer into a monster, implying that Needy is now part monster, too.
When I first watched it I took it at face value – a toxic friendship that tore itself apart in the most disastrous way possible. But in later viewings, I found myself thinking … wouldn’t it have been nice if they ran away together? Maybe Needy could’ve leaned into her monstrosity earlier: helped out with Jennifer’s killings while they found some way to cure her that didn’t involve a knife to the heart? What if they made their love into something kinder, shining through all the horror around them?
I thought about this a lot while writing the book. Zombabe’s dedication reads: “To everybody who wanted Jennifer and Needy to ride off into the sunset at the end of the movie.”
1. It by Stephen King
And here’s the kicker. The one that kickstarted that first draft. It Chapter Two came out in 2019. I wasn’t interested until I found out they were making Richie Tozier gay in this adaptation. You know me – if it’s gay, I’ll take a squiz. So I cautiously stuck a toe in the water and found myself sucked into a whirlpool, devouring the second and first movie, then the book and the 1990 miniseries in less than two weeks. Sometimes we choose the rabbit hole, sometimes it chooses us.
IT is about a group of friends putting down an ancient evil inextricably linked to their sleepy town of Derry, Maine. Sounds familiar, right? I was immediately struck by the claustrophobic doom of Derry; the clown’s shapeshifting into whatever its prey feared most. The adults are useless, the villains are lethal, and nobody is coming to save the kids of Derry.
And through all that horror – that damn friend group. They’ve grown up together, they’ve pulled each other through hell. They love each other so much it makes me cry. They vowed to come back to Derry if IT ever returned, and – despite everyone being scared out of their wits – they do. Of course they do. They made a promise.
In Zombabe, devotion to your friends is a given. Your friend gets resurrected and needs human flesh to survive? Cool, let’s start killing local bigots. We need to find a way to end this spooky shit that’s plagued our town for generations? Let’s do it. There’s romance in Zombabe, sure, but it never overtakes the friendship radiating through the core of the story.
Zombabe is the first book in a trilogy. Unlike Stephen King’s magnum opus, you can count on two things when you reach the final page: one, the friends stick together. Two, the gay guys get a happy ending.