|Michelle is a graphic designer, writer, and zombie lover.|
"The heart wants what the heart wants, even if it is writing zombie novels."
When Michelle Kilmer walked up to me in late May 2012, she looked unwell. Okay, she looked dead. Most likely because she was dressed up as a zombie. This is not a problem when you’re at a horror convention in Seattle, WA. It is not a problem at all. She was walking around the con with her twin sister, Becky. Excitement shown in their eyes even though their skin was pale and bloody. What I remember most about Michelle was that she was eager to talk about publishing her book, When the Dead. She'd made her own postcards advertising the book and website, but had not made the plunge into self-publishing. She wasn't sure if it was for her. Being a self-published author, I was completely sold on the idea for her. We talked and she walked away to pursue other macabre activities including pitching the book to a larger publishing house.
Fast forward to September, I see a post on Facebook advertising that Michelle will be promoting her book at the Tacoma Zompocalypse and Emergency Preparedness Expo. We start talking online and meet up at the event. She's now a confident self-pubbed zombie shambling around promoting her book. I was happy for her and started conversing with her about the writer's life. We also shared some common history since we've both lost our fathers, love zombies, and believe in working hard toward our goals.
As I started to work on Evil Girlfriend Media, she became a champion for the idea and offered her unique style of graphic design to the company. I couldn't resist her enthusiasm and confidence toward the project. Her design work is edgy with a touch of femininity that is difficult to find. She was able to take my love of retro classic design and balance it with my even bigger love of creepy cute.
This interview is about her, a passionate hard worker with the ability to not only create her own unique ideas but also tap into the brains of others to help them make their own visions come true.
Here's some of our interview:
Katie: Michelle how did you start working in graphic design? What are some of the challenges?
Michelle: I took two years of yearbook at a nice high school and was one of the editors my senior year. My time in that class got me interested in layout and I became familiar with design programs and concepts. After graduation I was hired for some freelance work here and there. I didn’t have the guts to go into business until I met my now husband in 2005. He had studied graphic design at the Art Institute and was also interested in pursuing it as a career. Together, we made it happen.
I think the most challenging thing about design is that it is subjective. You can fix a car or deliver a package in your job and as long as you do it how you are supposed to, no one complains. Good design or the “right” design is mostly up to opinion. There are basic rules that we should all follow regarding fonts, layout, clean coding, etc., but what I think is beautiful and will sell a company’s product or service isn’t necessarily what the client thinks. It is about finding the balance. You have to find something that not only works for their needs but that you can still be proud of having your name attached to.
One other challenge is that there is always a company doing something far more amazing. We know we aren’t the best but we do actively teach ourselves the stuff that will get us close. It is a constant effort.
Katie: How long did it take you to write When the Dead? What made you decide to self-publish? What has the experience been like? Do you plan to continue to self-publish?
Michelle: When the Dead took me six years to write. I started writing because I had ideas that I hadn’t seen yet in the genre that I wanted to explore. Originally it was a story about two teenage girls who were knowledgeable about zombies. It was in a fictitious place and they had a list of rules in case of a zombie apocalypse. I was stuck with it. It was difficult to write about a place that I had to make up entirely. I started writing new scenes with new characters and then, in 2009, Zombieland came out and I completely ditched the old idea because Zombieland had rules just like it. Looking back I should be thankful because focusing on the new story (which by that time I had changed to take place in Northgate), allowed me to focus on building characters instead of an entire world. Finally, I changed my narration style and the book exploded with possibilities.
I have always wanted to self-publish. I’m an emotional person and I wasn’t looking forward to submitting my manuscript and getting rejected time after time. My progress in finishing the edits and formatting for e-book slowed because my father passed away in early May of 2012. It was extremely difficult to write about people dying. I sent it to one publisher because they seemed interested in reading it, but even when they rejected it, I didn’t lose determination. It lit a fire under me, so to speak. I finally released the e-book in late August and then set out on the journey to format for print. The paperback came out in late November.
I have been doing all right for little marketing and I like knowing that every sale I make is in some way related to my own efforts. But it is difficult to get noticed as a self-published author. Overall, the experience has been great because I not only wrote the book but I designed the cover, formatted it and even built the website to help market it.
I definitely plan on continuing to self-publish. Though I'm hoping that one of my story ideas will be picked up by a small publishing house.
Katie: What do you do to help KilmerHansen continue to grow as a business as well as what you do to continue writing?
Michelle: These days I am full time at KILMERHANSEN. To keep us growing, I’ve joined a local business-networking group, I’m learning responsive design and I continue to give the best customer service I can. As for writing, it seems like now that I’ve done it all once it has become a little bit easier. I have found my voice and the ideas keep coming. Finding the time to write is the hardest thing though.
Katie: Zombie writers all have their love affair story with the genre, what's yours?
|Twins putting on the gore.|
Michelle: Zombies have been part of my life for a long time but more generally, horror. My sisters and I got in trouble as kids for telling the babysitter we could watch Pet Sematary. I had horrible nightmares but I would still want to watch scary stuff and my twin and I would often have horror movie marathons. In 2005 I had just moved back to the West Coast and Halloween was coming up. My twin and I shredded our bridesmaid dresses from our older sister’s wedding and did our first zombie makeup. It was amazing and very freeing in a way. Every Halloween from then on we have been zombies of some kind. In 2007 we attended our first official zombie walk in Fremont. I think after that it really became a bigger thing to us. Getting dressed up in "full gore" is twin time for me. Becky and I have greatly improved our makeup skills and dress up as often as we can. And of course we see every zombie movie that comes out. I also love to see the ideas that other writers bring to the genre.
I’m still afraid of the dark, have nightmares, and watch horror movies through my fingers.
Katie: Where will you be next and what are your plans for writing?
Michelle: Next, I will be publishing a short story collection that follows a plague as it spreads through a city. My twin is working with me on this project, contributing chapters of gruesomeness. I also have a talented artist on board who is providing cover art and chapter illustrations. Our goal is to have the collection in print and available to sell along with When the Dead at Crypticon Seattle this May. I have a couple of other ideas in the works, including a short follow-up to When the Dead (kind of a companion book), a prequel to When the Dead and an unrelated novel that is top secret but has amazing potential. I’m really excited for this next year!
An Evil Girlfriend