Megan and Jorge Lacera have a thing for scary shows and classic horror movies. They also have a son who has to go to bed before they can watch them.
“From a kid’s point of view,” says Jorge, “shows like The Walking Dead or Stranger Things seem exciting and attractive. But they are not made for young children.”
“Our son is 6, but he really likes creepy things—in a safe way,” adds Megan. “He would talk about being a zombie; he dressed up as a vampire. We realized that there's not much stuff for him that's not totally violent. So we wanted to do something that fed his interest in the genre.”
That “something” is the couple’s recently released, Kirkus-starred children’s book, Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies. The Laceras’ entertaining debut is about a young zombie named Mo who adores vegetarian cuisine. “For us, the zombie thing was always a means to an end,” says Jorge. “Zombies are fun; we can make a lot of really funny jokes, we can introduce the basic idea of goofy/scary stuff to our son or to other kids. But really what became obvious as the story developed was how Mo became an analogy for a lot of other things that we wanted to talk about.”
As they were writing the book, the couple started discussing their own childhoods and how kids sometimes feel different from their families.
“My parents are amazing dancers, and they love having big parties and having all of our family over,” says Jorge. “It was really wonderful, but I loved being by myself in my room, with a book or a video game, and that always put me at odds with my family. They’d say, ‘C'mon Jorgie, come dance!’ And I'd be like, ‘I don't...really...want to.’ ”
Megan also found that she was wired a little differently from the others in her family. “My dad's a business guy and my mom's a nurse,” she says. “They're wonderful and super loving, but they—and my sister—are very practical people. I'm the creative one who’s a little more of a daydreamer. I have goals and visions of things that I want to do, and sometimes that means quitting a job I don't like. In my family you don't just quit a job if you don't like it.”
Staying true to their natural inclinations has served the Laceras well. They met while working at American Greetings—he as an artist and she, a writer. After marrying and working on everything from video games to Bibles, the duo decided it was time to tell their own stories. But for them, part of storytelling is listening to their characters and letting them help drive the narrative.
“We asked ourselves ‘What's the hardest thing for Mo to do?’ ” says Jorge. “He really doesn’t like not being able to talk about” being a vegetarian zombie. At first Mo tries to trick his parents with gazpacho disguised as “blood bile bisque.” But as the story unfolds, he eventually comes out as a vegetarian to his shocked parents, which turns the narrative toward themes like authenticity, compromise, tolerance, and love.
“I think that a lot of times the truest rebels are people who can no longer live a certain way,” says Megan. “When society, friends, family, or the world at large is trying to push you to do something you don’t want to do, it becomes untenable. If you accept who you are, that may lead you to be a rebel, whether you want to be or not.”
Laura Jenkins is a writer and photojournalist living in the Texas Hill Country.