Men Who Read Romance: Joe Alfano aka Zombie Joe

Hi friends! Back to our new for 2013 feature on dudes who read romance! So whoo! And of course, I have always featured women in the community  – in fact Ms. Jenn aka Squenn’s post was this past Saturday! So let’s see what Joe had to say. 😀

Bio: Joe Alfano always said that a nickname is something you cannot choose, it is given to you. By someone else. Always. Fast forward nearly 35 years and a friend not only starts calling him Zombie Joe, but introduces him this way. To comic book artists. Which has lead to more people knowing him by Zombie Joe than his given name. And yes, his parents are so happy they spent all that time mulling over what to name him when he was born.

Zombie Joe is a writer, reader, gamer and now a book reviewer on the Wicked Lil Pixie team. And by gamer we aren’t talking the “pew pew” gamer, but the full on Dungeons and Dragons geek gamer. Tread lightly on the gamer jokes though, as he is also a hunter who has the ability to hit a moving target at 60 yards. Just sayin’.

Though fairly new to the romance genre, he has been an avid reader and storyteller all his life. But that is more for the questions found below…

1. What’s the first romance that you ever read?
First romance? Fully it would be Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead. Though I did read the first couple of chapters of the Sleeping Beauty trilogy (the first book), and then handed them off to my wife. I didn’t (and still don’t) consider Anita Blake paranormal romance – even with the cuddle piles that hit around book seven or so.

2. How did you get started reading romance?
Two different authors suggested it. Alex Bledsoe (who is local to my area) suggested joining a monthly writing group that (at the time) was associated with RWA. Sitting in with them lead to being given a few romance books and meeting up with some of the local authors who wrote paranormal romance as well as urban fantasy, such as Lori Devoti. My initial push came from Mark Henry who came at me with the suggestion that while I may not be writing romance stories in nature, that reading and learning from romance novels will help strengthen the romantic themes in my stories. Both of them were incredibly spot-on with their advice.

3. Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite romance novel?
Favorite author? Favorite romance novel? Are you trying to get me hurt? Some of the authors I know are proven marksmen! Besides, that’s like choosing your favorite child… or favorite grandchild. It simply isn’t done!

If you see me talking in a snarky manner to them on Twitter or Facebook, odds are they are a favorite of mine. This includes all of the League of Reluctant Adults. Not included in the snarkfest is Steven Barnes. From my early days of adult novel reading, his are the stories that stuck with me the strongest. To the point of looking for a replacement copy of The Kundalini Equation.

Favorite Romance Novel. Did I mention at least one of the romance authors I know practices Mixed Martial Arts? You’re killin’ me, smalls! I’ll throw out some examples…

Burning Alive (first in the Sentinel Wars series) by Shannon K Butcher had one of the best opening lines ever. “The man who would watch me burn alive took his coffee black.” That is a story in and of itself!

Tarnished by Karina Cooper, while not really a romance had a really strong romantic element to it. And the character really struck me as being Victorian and an empowered woman at the same time. Both sides of the coin at the same time, as it were.

Recently (thanks to the Barbara Vey Reader’s Luncheon) I have been on Angie Fox’s Accidental Demon Slayer series. This series strikes me as a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Stephanie Plum series. Who wouldn’t love a Grandma Mazzer who rode a Harley and cast spells? Seriously. Which shows another of my greatest draws towards a book – humor. (Which psst, the first in the series is free on kindle right now! If you click on the cover below it’ll link you. In fact, did you know all the covers always also double as links? :D) If it is truly funny, I’d read a phone book transcribed by e.e. cummings.

4. What would you like to see more of in romances? (What are your most and least favorite sub-genres?)
I like the amount of humorous romances that I have been hitting. I fully believe humor to be one of the sexiest traits a person can have. Additionally, I love seeing that humor and snark taking front seat in a lot of the paranormal novels out there. I loves me some monster. Which leads towards horror. I don’t think horror and romance are incompatible. In fact I think there might be a market there. Take Megan Hart’s Ressurected serial for instance. Horror, but with some strong romantic elements as well.

Least favorite? Historicals, Inspirationals… anything with the “Surprise Baby” plot in it. Contemporary isn’t my normal, but I have been know to read one here and there (see aforementioned humor statement).

5. What is something you hate (or dislike strongly) in romances?
Listed above. The “surprise baby” plot. Anything dealing with weak characters. I find strong women attractive, so therefore do not respond to weak women in books. I don’t mean she has to be able to bench press her body weight or be able to beat up an ogre-like linebacker. For instance, my Nonna was a short, stocky Italian grandmother – and you didn’t cross her. Seriously, I’ve seen “made men” (you know, the gentlemen with the thin, red ties) quake at the thought of crossing “The Nonna.” Like I said, strong women.

6. Do you browse the romance section at bookstores? If you saw another guy there, would you offer recommendations, or ask for any?
Hell yes, I do. I walk boldly down the erotica section, romance, YA… any damn aisle I feel like. Then again, I am a gamer. There is little in this world that can embarrass me.

Though not really embarrassing, I would only offer recommendations to another man if they ask for them. It’s like coming across a deer in the field. You make to many quick movements and they’ll bolt. I don’t want to scare them out of the section. I have had a male friend ask for some titles for a gift exchange at a family function. He was hooked up with some top-notch smut. (The author’s words, not mine.)

At the same time, while picking up a Shiloh Walker book on release day at Borders (dating this story a bunch), the bookseller who reminded me this was a romance novel gave me the oddest look when I said I knew that. Like I had just asked him if he liked flannel jammies and long walks on the beach.

7. How involved are you in the romance community?
I attend that monthly meeting in my home town of primarily romance writers. The group is about 75% romance at this point, but the sub-genres blur the lines. I attend Romantic Times and Authors After Dark when I can afford the travel and the vacation time. And I do full reviews on Wicked Lil Pixie and submit book blurbs to Barbara Vey for her Publisher’s Weekly blog Beyond Her Book. And the more I talk about it the more tired I feel. Who needs sleep when there are more books to read, right?

8. Do your friends/family know you read romance novels?
Indeed. I don’t hide it. Some of our older friends are a bit stuck in that old fashioned “guy mode” though. They still don’t understand that I do the cooking and baking in the house. One of them still insists that the cupcakes we bring to events are baked by my wife. Though to be fair, she decorates them. I suck at piping. So while I don’t hide it from them, they tend not to bring it up around me. Most of my family and friends are fine with it.

9. What other genres do you enjoy reading, if any, and what are some of your hobbies aside from reading?
My main wheelhouse is Urban Fantasy, Horror and Spec Fiction. This is definitely what I write, though my wife has me starting on a murder mystery – we’ll see if any monsters show up in that one. As that is what I mostly write, it is also what I mostly read. I flavor it with paranormal romance as well as epic fantasy from time to time.

In addition to reading, writing and reviewing, I am chair of a science fiction convention in Wisconsin as well as part of the committee running an Italian heritage festival in Madison (run through the Italian Workman’s Club). I also run a Dungeons and Dragons game night for friends at my condo once a week. Most week include my cupcake experiments that I bake with my wife. Many of those are book themed cupcakes like the Iron Druid, the Trampire and the Hornicorn. (Bonus points if you can guess all three of the series represented there.)

In my free time I favor psychotic breaks (clearly as I have no free time). The workload listed above (as well as an old spinal injury) has lead me to put deer hunting on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

(Did I mention that long-winded answers were a trait in the English department I learned under in college? The half page “welcome to the department” letter I was given on acceptance to the program was a page and three quarters. Thanks Dr. Folsom.)

Thanks so much for visiting with us, Joe, and for kindly answering my questions! Does anyone want to ask Joe anything? Cuz this could be fun. 😉

2 thoughts on “Men Who Read Romance: Joe Alfano aka Zombie Joe

  1. Tina B

    Hello, Zombie Joe. 🙂
    Great, fun interview! You sound like quite a busy man.
    Thank you for sharing some of your recommendations. I loved Richelle Mead’s Succubus series.
    Since you do cupcake experimenting, do they usually turn out edible? I love baking, but am not brave enough to try to make up my own recipe. Lol.


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