Profiles in Science Fiction Romance: Dee J Holmes Talks Zombies and More

Veronica Scott for Amazing Stories Magazine I happen to really enjoy zombie apocalypse science fiction and if there’s a romance involved, all the better. And if the author can find a few fresh twists to put on the classic zombie tropes, I’m definitely on board. With her Pandora Strain series, author Dee J. Holmes met my criteria for a really good read and I was delighted to have a chance to interview her.

ASM.: What was the first scifi romance book you ever read and what did you like about it? 

DJH: I don’t know if this is technically scifi romance, but I remember reading Cats Paw by Joan De Vinge when I was a teenager and having the hugest crush on the MC. He was in a tangled relationship, a tortured psionic, and it hit ALL my angsty romance buttons. Back then, I read any and all scifi with romance and swoon-worthy heroes I could get my hands on. Fast forward to now and I’m spoiled for choice. It’s the BEST.

ASM.: What was the first scifi romance book you wrote, when, give us the 2-3 sentence logline.  

DJH: I wrote Destination Alien Bride in 2020, because I wanted Predator to embrace the romance the property kept teasing and then (imo) failing to deliver on. Like not letting it happen even once? Cruel. Unusual even. I like to think I fixed it…

When a displaced astral warrior reaches Earth, he’s got one mission: hunt down the parasitic race that destroyed his world. Then he finds himself surrounded by mayhem and captivated by a tenacious human reporter who refuses to be fooled by his disguises. Suddenly, the warrior without a future has a mate to lose—and a destination wedding to survive, as it becomes ground zero of an insidious invasion.

ASM.: Which of your SFR books is the bestselling?  

DJH: My bold twist on zombies in Three Days In Undead Shoes, The Pandora Strain: Zombie Road is my bestselling book to date—though The Monstrous Duke and I gave it some competition. Published in December 2021, this book is about a determined dog trainer and her beloved Great Dane surviving a city turned for the undead. But these zombies are different and while most endlessly repeat their final seconds, one is hunting her across the city. Only when she and her dog are cornered by hungry zombies, her stalker becomes her savior—it’s safer to flee, but what if the only way out is together?

ASM.: I loved the Three Days book and the two sequels! None of us can ever pick a favorite book or character but if you had to go live in one of your own books, which would you choose and why?  

DJH: Tough question! I’m so tempted to say The Pandora Strain: Zombie Road because (sorry, hubs) I want a Grey of my own. But I think I have to say The Four Houses. That contemporary fantasy series has a world full of witches, fae, vampires and werewolves—and (eventually) all the wonderful varieties that ensue when magical life refuses to stay in a narrow lane. There’s such history and depth to this world, and I would particularly love to visit the fae city of Rhosenveyl.

ASM.: How do you go about world building? Do you do elaborate planning, keep a big file, use post its, wing it – what method works for you?  

DJH: All of the above? I enjoy melding thoughtful planning with utter chaos.

I have a deep, abiding love of post its. Those all-sticky square ones in bright pink? That’s peak-post it. What can’t I solve with those? I’ll get multiple colors and turn a wall into a giant kanban board while I workshop problems.

I am also intensely, wildly visual when it comes to my stories and I love working with visual inspiration—a moodboard or Pinterest board—to figure out key elements of a world. Annnd sometimes I end up turning to Spotify to find the feeling of the world or space, and then I fill in the details as I draft…or I think I’m doing that, only to realize that this new world demands something else entirely.

Yup. I plot and plan… and then somehow there are ghosts in chapter one.

<looks at upcoming monster mystery>

I’m also a massive RPG fan—table-top and console—so tend to lean into those mechanics when taking a loose, first-draft concept and making it something that feels tangible to a reader. That “feet on the ground” sensation is important to me, and I’m always striving to create something that feels real to my readers.

ASM.: You certainly deploy all the tools and then some. Which character in your books is either most like you or who you’d like to be and why?  

DJH: Oh, without a double I’m most like Jane of Pandora Strain: Zombie Road. I’d do some shady, desperate things for my fur baby. Sometimes I’d rather hang out with a Great Dane than people. And I love my occasionally non-verbal partner.

I guess there’s a solid sprinkling of Rose in me, too. The FMC of my The Four Houses series is a bit of an accident-prone disaster who wrestles with self-doubt…so yeah, I’m in that picture LOL

ASM.: What was your most recent book and what was the story spark or inspiration for that story?  

DJH: My most recent publication was Destination Alien Captive. This series entire series is basically a love letter to Predator and Alien movies. There’s that one scene in The Predator where Olivia Munn is naked in the decontamination chamber and the recently escaped Predator lets her live, and every time I watch this movie I think: “missed opportunity, people!!”

I wanted to play with the idea of a Predator-esque alien (in this case D’tan of my Apex’ir race) being trapped in a lab and being forced to align with the human doctor studying him. An enemies to lovers set up with a fun twist is always a good time.

ASM.: It’s one of my favorite tropes to read as well. Which book was the most fun to write and why? The most challenging and why?  

DJH: The most fun to date is a toss up between the first book in Zombie Road and Belfry, a monster romantasy that I wrote under Dee St. Holm for the first Monsters In Love anthology.

Three Days In Undead Shoes simply demanded to be written in the first few months of the pandemic. Weird as it might sound, writing that book in 2020 was a zombie-filled act of self-care and it helped me cope with pandemic living.

As for Belfry, Isabelle and Talos’ stories—along with this dark, complex fantasy world—just came charging out of me. The tone was delicious and it was so much fun to dive into a different world. It was this intoxicating mix of fairytale romance and horror, and I loved every moment of writing it. (I’ve also that the rights back for, oh, nearly a year and I REALLY need to solo publish it.)

The most challenging book I’ve written so far?

That would be the final book in Zombie Road. Partly because the pressure is ON whenever it’s the last book in a trilogy, and partly because I made a lot of promises in the preceding books—and then I had to make good on those promises. There’s a reason Three Months In Undead Shoes is over 90k! It’s a meaty beast of a book that straddles zompoc, military fiction, action adventure, political thriller, and blistering romance. I wanted to deliver on the promised twists and to make sure that long-awaited sex scene was as legendary as possible.

I knew the story—or at least the broad strokes of it—but I struggled with some of the finer details. I got stuck in my head more than once and played chicken with crippling overwhelm when it came to researching Canadian and American military procedures.

Oh, the joys of self-doubt, huh?

Pushing my creative limits that hard was exhausting and possibly not smart, but I was so invested in these characters—and I knew my readers were, too. They deserved the best possible ending to this trilogy. I’m VERY PLEASED to say the book landed exactly as I wanted. It resolved the trilogy while opening up the broader world—and my readers have loved it.

ASM.: Yes, some of what you set up for the reader in book two as challenges for the couple certainly were tricky to navigate in book three but I for one was very satisfied with how everything resolved. Which of your characters do your readers love to hate? Why?  

DJH: Without a doubt it’s Rachel Hale-Lee in Pandora Strain: Zombie Road. She is a fan-hate favorite. As to why…

<SPOILDERS INCOMING>

I shared this trilogy with my newsletter before publishing each book, and it was great fun to hear what people thought as the story progressed. Nothing got more commentary than this particular character—though other antagonists came very close.

At the start of the third we meet Rachel as Grey’s wife (Grey being our MMC and love interest for Jane in the trilogy). It’s a slow burn trilogy and they finally kiss…only to be torn apart. Rachel has secrets and her own agenda from the start—and she owns her role as antagonist. She pushes buttons, wedges herself between our heroes, and digs ruthlessly for information, so it’s easy to see why readers thought she was the biggest threat in the room. Especially since she’d weaponized her connection to Grey to gain access to the base.

Now, as much as I adore the dark and creepy (not to mention a good twist), I have an abiding commitment to happy endings. So, it all works out in the end and fans have grudgingly come to appreciate Rachel. But wow, she earned some scathing commentaries (which of course delighted me, because that’s the joy of an antagonist).

ASM.: Your own favorite tropes? Least favorite tropes? 

DJH: My favorite tropes include: found family, light in the dark, love beyond boundaries, owning your power and, of course, my precious secret murder princess (I’m looking at you, River Tam). I also delight in torturing the cinnamon rolls and some classic enemies to lovers.

Least favorite? I’m not a huge reader of Billionaires or secret babies (though there are always exceptions!)

ASM.: Do you also write other genres? Which ones? How does writing a book in that genre compare to writing an SFR? 

DJH: I do! I’m a determined, unruly explorer of genre. That said, I feel like a lot of what I’ve written could fall under the broader umbrella of SFR, including romantasy, gothic horror, alt history Regency romance, and litRPG. All of which make sense in the context of me. Then comes the plot twist: I have also dipped my toe into contemporary rom com!

This pen is still being constructed, but the first books are written and it is… both very different to SFR and not really that different at all. Okay, yeah. That’s a weird answer. But what I mean is: it’s easier in that you’re not creating an entirely unique world, species or researching a particular niche of history. It’s also harder because you’re not creating an entirely unique world or species. The story is set in the “real” world, which means the pressure is on to make sure the location and world details in my story follows actual reality—at least mostly.

I mean, it’s set on a reality tv show… so reality is somewhat optional LOL

ASM.: Do you have a ‘writing buddy’ pet?  

DJH: I have a mostly benevolent furry overlord. Her name is Fable, she is the self-proclaimed Greatest Dane, and she tells me that I need to work hard to earn her kibble. She’s got to be well-fed to start the dog revolution, after all. Not to mention that being the star of my newsletter is awfully hard work, I need to properly capture her majestic self.

I have too many pictures of my beastie to pic one, so would you mind if I share one of my Fable illustrations? (I share an illustration and short, funny Fable tale with my newsletter every two weeks and it is the best).

ASM.: What’s next for you? 

DJH: The book I’m working on now is under my Dee St. Holm penname and is a historical monster mystery romance. It’s a bit of a mash up, huh? Also a mouthful *wink* But it’s got sooooo many things that I adore: fantastical alt version of 1820s London, monsters, second chances at true love, ladies with claws and MURDER.

Honestly, the inspiration was: Miss Scarlett and the Duke, but with monsters.

The Harpy and the Gentleman (which I’m probably going to retitle to The Harpy In White) isn’t your average fare, but who doesn’t want to see a brilliant Sherlock analog hook up with a snarky, body-positive harpy and solve crimes (while having steamy sex and defying societal expectations)?

After that, it will be The Pandora Strain, the next book in my zombieverse.

ASM.: I’m certainly eager to have more stories set in your zombieverse. What’s on your To Be Read List?

 DJH: So many books! Context for what comes next: I’m a feral chaos goblin, so I’m normally reading 2-6 books at a time. Some will be history books, one will be a memoir or thought-provoking rumination… and most will be some fabulous SFR.

Right now, I’m reading Etta Pierce’s Convergence (I love that I can picture Garrus, best space boyfriend of all time, as her MMC…) and R. Lee Smith’s The Last Hour Of Gann (why did it take me so long to start this seriously amazing SFR? It’s so good. But I really want to kill the antagonist, so I’m needing to read in chunks to manage my feels lol).

Up next will be The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros, Inheritance by Nora Roberts, and Star Cruise: Star Song by Veronica Scott (I’m such a sucker for a rock star romance, and in space? Gimme.)

ASM.: Give us your short author bio and where you can be found on social media.

Dee is a USA Today Bestselling author obsessed with fantastical realms and unlikely loves. She writes urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and tales of people beating the odds alongside their faithful hounds. She spends a lot of time pondering so-called monsters and their love lives and enjoys creating rich fictional worlds—and always likes to play with zombies. Though werewolves, aliens, witches and vampires are also a lot of fun.

The characters she enjoys don’t sit in some narrow box and do what they’re told. Whether battling supernatural forces or facing fantastical terrain on distant planets, her characters are defying expectations and finding true love.

Above all, she loves crafting exciting tales that pull at your heartstrings—and sometimes pant strings—and sweep you into stories that leave you wanting more.

https://www.djholmes.com/

https://www.instagram.com/dee_j_holmes/

https://www.facebook.com/DJHolmesAuthor

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/dee-j-holmes

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