Paul Zachos can thank COVID-19 for his horror novel, “The Dark South.”
“I started writing it in 2020 just to keep myself busy during the pandemic,” he said.
He can thank “The Dark South” for his master’s degree in creative writing.
“I didn’t expect to use it for the thesis, but it just kind of went from there,” he said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m already in a novel and I’m enjoying it.’”
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the main character, Luke, must make his way through rural Georgia. On his journey, Luke encounters fellow survivors, some helpful, some very hurtful.
The novel doesn’t have any supernatural elements, said Zachos, who grew up in Douglasville, Georgia, where he attended Woodward Academy. The horror arises from the merciless, cruel and inhumane things people will do to each other to survive when societal rules are no longer intact.
”I wanted to do dark takes on Southern stereotypes. How dark can I take them and how far can I explore some of these?” Zachos said.
He acknowledged that the TV series “The Walking Dead,” about a zombie apocalypse, is an inspiration.
His main faculty advisor on the novel was Tom Balazs, associate professor of English. Among other courses, he teaches creative writing and horror writing.
Balazs said “The Dark South” was “pretty well developed” when he started advising Zachos on it. Rather than the novel’s overall plot, he gave more attention to improving word usage and style and structural aspects of sentences and paragraphs.
“I gave him some advice on some scenes that I thought maybe some characters needed to be fleshed out a bit, but most of my work with him was just line editing, working to tighten the sentences,” Balazs said.
Zachos didn’t need a lot of help, anyway.
“He definitely had a strong idea of where he wanted to go,” Balazs said. “He was very focused, and he had a clear mission on what he wanted to do.”
As a student, Zachos took the writing seriously and didn’t waste time, Balazs said.
“He was very responsive and hardworking and quick on turnaround when I would throw him some extra books to read or ask for another revision of this or that. He was very quick to get on it.”
Zachos said needs to write about two chapters to finish the book, then he’ll start the final editing and rewriting phase. From there, he hopes to find an agent and start pitching the book to publishers.
He graduated from Jacksonville State University in Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, which doesn’t seem to connect very snugly with a creative writing master’s degree.
He’s written short stories “for most of my life,” he said, but they’re usually 10 to 15 manuscript pages, not even in the same ZIP code as a novel.
“You can’t have the complete idea in your head all at once. It’s just evolved so much over time. Like I said, I started writing it in 2020, and I feel like I’m a completely different person now than I was when I started.”
His enjoyment of writing mostly came from video games, specifically, the narrative plots that drive the action in some games, he said. He originally majored in computer science because he wanted to get into video game design, he said.
“I think I’d probably still enjoy that,” he said.
His future in writing—and career in general—are still up in the air after he receives a master’s degree, he said.
“I don’t really know what I’m going to do after this. I don’t know what I’ll do with writing.
“I’m thinking about some marketing and stuff like that. I’ve had a little bit of experience in that. I have a computer science degree as well, so I have some options as to what I can do. Just anything that can keep me in Chattanooga.”