Montreal-Based Author Launches New Cat-Based Zombie Apocalypse Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Novel
You’re walking through a bookstore, looking for something new and interesting to read.
Suddenly, the warm red-orange cover of one specific book, cover emblazoned with illustrations of feral housecats and hordes of zombies, catches your eye. You read the title aloud— You Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse!
Sounds interesting—do you flip through it or put in back on the shelf?
This Thursday at Drawn and Quarterly, you might find yourself in this very situation. That’s when Montreal-based author Sherwin Tjia is launching his latest book, the aforementioned You Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse!.
The title very loudly speaks for itself. The book tells the story of Holden Catfield, an ordinary house cat who tries to navigate through an extraordinary undead Armageddon.
The twist? The novel is written in the choose-your-own-adventure style, putting Holden’s choices and fate in the hands of the reader—you don’t simply read Holden’s story, you become him.
“Personally, I’m not sure what I would do if I were [a cat] in an actual zombie apocalypse,” Tjia admitted. “I’m like one of those pushover inactive indoor cats—I’d be an early casualty.”
In choose-your-own-adventure books, the reader is typically experiencing the story from the protagonist’s perspective, and reads until the action comes to a peak, at which point they’re given a series of choices.
You want to go into the haunted house? Turn to page 15. To try your cellphone again, turn to page 71. Whatever choice the reader makes changes the entire course of the story—the books are written with multiple endings, for excellent re-reading pleasure.
Tjia enjoyed that type of book as a child, and it was his fond memories of the format that lead him to write and illustrate the series.
“I think, when you’re a kid, and you don’t get to choose many things for yourself, these books, as limited as they are, [feel] empowering,” he said.
You Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse! is the sequel to Tjia’s other undertaking in the choose-your-own-adventure novel genre. His first was You Are a Cat!, which chronicled the life and times of Holden as he ambled about on adventures in his suburban, feline life.
“In the first book, Holden spent a lot of time in his house and neighbourhood. In the sequel I wanted to up the ante, increase the stakes and the scope of the book,” said Tjia.
“In most books or movies about a zombie invasion, everyone just grabs a shotgun and survives, but it’s different if you’re a cat. You’re pretty vulnerable, and yet you’re small, you’re fast and you can climb trees. You’re not without options.”
Tjia wrote all the text for the book and drew its many vivid illustrations, which spread with black and white, graphic novel-esque eloquence across the pages. Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario he found no satisfaction in living in the suburbs, and turned to reading, writing and drawing for fun.
“I drew before I could read, and that was my first love. Writing is hard work for me, but drawing and inking images is sheer pleasure,” he said.
The challenges in making a novel of this calibre were various and numerous. Tjia, from the very inception of the idea, was determined not to have his kitty turn commando, and stay in character for the entirety of the book.
“In most books or movies about a zombie invasion, everyone just grabs a shotgun and survives, but it’s different if you’re a cat. You’re pretty vulnerable, and yet you’re small, you’re fast and you can climb trees. You’re not without options.” —Sherwin Tjia, author of You Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse!
“In most books about animals, they talk. When I was considering making this book, I googled ‘cat’ [and] ‘zombie apocalypse’ and I found all kinds of pictures of cats with shotguns,” Tjia said. “[But] Holden never fires a fucking gun. He’s a cat. He has the options a cat would have.”
That’s not to say that the only thing Holden does throughout the novel is lay on his owner’s keyboard when she’s trying to work, or sleep in the sunny spot on the carpet all day while an undead insurrection rages on outside.
“One particular challenge is that you want to give the reader lots of meaningful choices. But during a zombie outbreak, you’re caught in a lot of life and death situations, which means fight or flight,” said Tjia. “But I didn’t want the whole book to be about running away or towards things.
“It’s a balancing act, maintaining the realness of a cat, while introducing situations that would be interesting to the human who is reading the book,” he continued.
Besides keeping it real, Tjia also had heavy logistics to work out when it came to the actual assembly of the book.
“It’s a long process because you have to plot the whole thing out first, figure out the choices and make sure that the links all work,” he said. “You also want things to build to a satisfying conclusion, no matter what choices the reader makes. But it is the zombie apocalypse, so there are a lot of sudden endings.”
This process is something he plans to illuminate in a Powerpoint presentation at Thursday’s launch. The presentation will also feature material that ended up being cut from the finished novel, a Q&A session and book signings.
In the future, Tjia hopes to write a series prequel, aptly titled You Are a Kitten!, which would be Holden Catfield’s coming of age story. Until then, readers can explore the fur-ocious cat-tastrophe of the zombie a-paw-calypse over and over again from the eyes of Holden.
You Are a Cat in the Zombie Apocalypse! Book Launch // Nov. 21 // Drawn and Quarterly (211 Bernard St.) // 7 p.m. // Free admission