A “self-aware” zombie is how agent Joe Regal describes the nameless narrator of Isaac Marion's originally self-published novel and now soon-to-be-feature-film, Warm Bodies, that was just sold to Atria. R, as Marion's lovelorn protagonist is known, is a sweet zombie who falls for a woman who should have been his lunch and then protects her from his flesh-eating brethren. Marion, who's 28 and lives in Seattle, developed a small following publishing short stories on his blog, www.burningbuilding.com. One of those stores, “I Am a Zombie Filled With Love,” was the germ of what became Warm Bodies, which Marion released in a small printing in 2009 (and also made a trailer for, which he posted on his Web site).
Marion, who Regal said skipped college to hone his craft and “study the writers he loves,” printed a little over 200 copies of his book. One of those copies found its way into the hands of a freelance editor, who in turn showed the book to producer Bruna Papandrea, who placed the film with Summit Entertainment. Now director Jonathan Levine, who made the coming-of-age indie (and Sundance hit) The Wackness, is attached as the director.
Because of the book's unusual portrait of a thinking, feeling zombie who just happens to be trapped by the claustrophobic realities of his undead status (namely a rotting body and the inability to do more than grunt), a number of scouts were buzzing about the manuscript at last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Regal, who said he received the manuscript right before he left for Frankfurt, wound up selling the book—he got it shortly after it started circulating in Hollywood—at auction to Atria. And, although reports indicate the studio is pitching the feature as Twilight meets Shaun of the Dead, Regal thinks the work is more of a literary hybrid, and that the narrator is Holden Caulfield-esque.
Certainly, reading just the first few pages of Warm Bodies, it's clear Marion is amplifying the feeling of being a disaffected adolescent through the zombie trope. That's the aspect that drew Regal in; he said the book doesn't “shy away from the horror stuff,” but, ultimately, it's a “touchingly romantic” story.
Now, with strong foreign sales—Regal reports the book has sold in 11 countries—Atria has decided to publish Warm Bodies as a fall hardcover instead of, as initially planned, a summer paperback original. As for Marion, Regal said the young author has another novel in the wings that is an “offbeat love story” set in Antarctica involving romantic obsession.