Former Georgetown News-Graphic copy editor Daniel Kelley grew up watching his father, Brent Kelley, publish more than 20 nonfiction books. Through this, he became mesmerized by writing, which inspired him to try his hand at it.
Kelley’s second book, “Life After Life,” was released earlier this month. The book is the next installment in a trilogy that follows a group of people struggling to survive the second zombie apocalypse in their lifetime. The first novel in the trilogy, “After Life,” was published last year.
“It’s about the second zombie apocalypse,” he said. “In 2010, it nearly wiped out the world, but then the zombies stopped and no one knows why. If they just stopped for nothing, we don’t know if they can come back. Then, 20 years later, it does in 2030.
“The first book tells of the world and the zombies returning. It’s essentially real time, except for a few flashbacks. It takes place in a day-and-a-half or two days. It ends with them finding a place to hideout, but not one that they can stay in permanently. Now, they have a way to end the zombies. They know how to do it and nobody else did, so they take it upon themselves to be the ones to save the world.”
But this isn’t the first book he’s written. In fact, inspired by his father and a book fair, he wrote a book back in second grade.
“When I was in second grade, I went to a book fair in Frankfort, and there was this kid there doing a signing,” Kelley said. “I didn’t know children could write books. So, I tried to write one on my dad’s typewriter, and it was so bad.”
Kelley’s father passed away in 2016. But he remembers that when he was a child, his dad would take him to Barnes and Noble, where Kelley said he couldn’t resist searching for his father’s name.
“Dad wrote a bunch of books growing up, and we had dozens of copies, but every time we’d go to a bookstore, I’d find one of his books and say ‘wow, look how cool this is,’” he said.
While studying journalism at the University of Kentucky, Kelley tried his hand at writing a zombie television series, years before the wildly successful AMC series “The Walking Dead” would hit TV screens.
“Some time in college, I decided I liked zombies, and I started writing a zombie TV show. I realized in pretty short order that I don’t know how to write a TV show, and I don’t know anybody who could book it on the air. So I put it in book format.”
While he didn’t set out to be a zombie writer, Kelley said he was inspired by the idea after watching the 2004 horror/comedy “Shaun of the Dead.”
“It was honestly when I saw ‘Shaun of the Dead’ when it came out in theaters,” he said. “Zombies are pretty standard fair. I saw a good movie and thought ‘wow, there’s more to do.’ The main villain of a zombie story isn’t the zombie. It’s just the mechanism. It’s about the people who are surviving.”
He also took inspiration from several fiction books when creating this expansive world in his novels, which he said was the most challenging part.
“I’ve read a lot of things, but if I had to say one, it would be, as far as overall fiction goes, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ I’ve read that several times. I grew up reading R.L. Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ books, so I had an idea of how to build suspense a little bit. It wasn’t so much reading zombie fiction and applying it to my zombie fiction. It was reading and picking up bits and pieces of style that applied to me.”
Eventually, Kelley found a publisher through Three Furies Press who wanted to publish his zombie manuscript, which was originally intended to be a singular novel. The first book hit shelves Nov. 5, 2020.
“It’s cool to have something out there,” he said. “It was actually on the shelves at Barnes and Noble in Lexington. It’s on the shelf directly next to Stephen King, because Kelley and King are so close alphabetically. It’s just surreal.”
The publisher decided to make a trilogy out of the endeavor, which led to the release of the second novel, “Life After Life,” on May 13, 2021. Kelley said the third and final installment of his zombie trilogy is due for release next year, titled “Life After.”
“The third book moves past the zombies,” he said. “It’s the hardest one to write because it’s not just how can I set it up for zombies and shooting. It’s the next five years about how we rebuild the world of people who have survived a zombie apocalypse twice. It’s about rebuilding.”
But that’s not all Kelley has in store for next year. He is also planning to have his first manuscript, which he wrote during his time at UK, published.
“This is the first book I ever wrote,” he said. “It started as a short story I wrote in college. It’s borderline autobiographical. There are definitely some stories I plucked out from my own life and tweaked to my work. It was the first manuscript I finished.”
When he initially proposed the manuscript during a meeting, he was told to throw it out entirely because it was his first. However, Kelley couldn’t let go of the passion he felt for the project.
“I wanted to make this one a book,” he said. “I’ve been polishing, tweaking and finding someone who’s interested in it. I never set myself out to be a famous writer, but I don’t want to just be known as the zombie writer. I don’t want to typecast myself.”
The story is based in central Kentucky and will also be published by Three Furies Press under the working title “Or Consequences.”
“It is the story of a group of Kentucky high schoolers over the course of four days,” he said. It’s a random string and the things that happen. There’s a big party on Friday and a few controversies that happen on Monday that either change or don’t change their lives over the course of a few days.”
Currently, Kelley is working on these next two novels, parenting his three children and serving as editor of FTN Network, a three-site network that covers fantasy sports and sports gambling. His advice to other hopeful authors like himself a few years ago is fairly simple: just do it.
“The only thing that you can really say is if you wanna do it, try to do it,” he said. “It’s so hard to find one-size-fits-all advice. I try to write a little every day, and I fail a lot of that time. Trying to write when (my three kids) are there is a joke. If it’s something you want to do, do it. Don’t get discouraged on the days you can’t. Get to it when you get to it, if it’s something you want to get to.”
Both of Kelley’s current novels can be found at local bookstores or on Amazon. Digital copies are available on the Kindle or the Kindle app.
Kyle Woosley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.