Zombie novel brings new career to life

Roughly 18 months ago, Ryan Brown sat down in a restaurant in Manhattan to eat lunch with Scott Peach, an old friend from his days at Arlington's Lamar High School. Now, it wasn't a full-on, soul-baring heart-to-heart conversation -- but close.

The acting gig was going only OK for Brown. He had had a role on Guiding Light. And, with a wife and daughter to support, he was doing some modeling to pay the bills. But Brown was realizing that he probably wasn't going to be the next Daniel Craig.

"He was getting trapped in his acting," remembers Peach, who is the head football coach at Arlington High School. "He has a great look, but he couldn't get that breakout role. He looks like Val Kilmer."

"But Val is getting those jobs," Brown told Peach.

So Brown decided it was time to try something else: the family business. The Arlington native and son of mega-successful novelist Sandra Brown now has his first published novel -- Play Dead (Gallery, $24.99), about a zombie high-school football team -- to his credit.

And he's taking a different sort of stage these days -- at book readings, like the one he's doing Saturday at the Barnes & Noble on University Drive in Fort Worth.

"I never thought I'd be doing this, but I really enjoy it," he says.

Making connections

Did having bestselling author Sandra Brown as a mother help Ryan get into the business?

"No," says Ryan Brown. "I really didn't go through any channels through my mother. I got a literary agent on my own, and the agent sent it to what was Pocket, which was bought out. We were just fortunate. But it was nothing through my mother."

Brown, 35, is not a guy who left high school and immediately wanted to raid his mother's Rolodex to get a book deal.

In high school, Brown worked behind the camera shooting video of the Vikings football practices and games for coach Eddy Peach, his staff and the booster club.

"I watched a lot of football," Brown remembers.

At the time, he fashioned himself as a future director.

During his sophomore year, along with Scott Peach and about 10 or so other friends, Brown directed a five-minute, gangster-themed movie filmed throughout Arlington. Two years later, he directed a play, Once Upon a Mattress, where he played the king and Peach played the prince. Even as an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma, Brown's choice was directing and his goal was the silver screen, not a computer screen.

Directing was eventually trumped by acting, and then necessity pushed him toward writing.

"The thing I was brought up around was that you have good days and bad days with [writing]," Brown remembers. "I remember Mom in her office sometimes saying, 'I just can't get this right.'... It didn't sway me. I know from watching her how difficult it was."

Touchdown of the dead

Brown's decision to write a book had more to do with time. He had a lot of it, more than he wanted. And he had an idea.

The explosion of steroids in baseball, plus his teenage-born enthusiasm for zombies, gave him the idea of a monster versus monster-style football game. One set of monsters is a group of roid-ridden high-school football players; they play against a team of actual zombies.

"I was in a dry period in acting, and I decided to give it a try," says Brown, who lives in Manhattan. "I worked on this for a couple of years, and as I was doing this, I realized it was something I really was passionate about."

Play Dead tells the story of the players of a small Texas high-school football team who become zombies. But these zombies are the "good guys."

"This book has elements of horror, but it's more of a satire," Brown says. "I like the horror book that scares me, or makes me laugh. Like [the movie] Shaun of the Dead."

Where this will take him he can't guess. He has been told that Play Dead has screen-rights potential -- but having been in the acting game he knows that those types of things take forever, and zero is guaranteed.

He is working on another book, and he hasn't completely given up the idea of acting.

"I made a living at acting for a while, and I haven't shut the door on it," he says. "But I really enjoy this process, and I really enjoy what I'm doing right now. This has taken prominence."