[Five things learned writing about the apocalypse?! Crap! No one told me it the apocalypse was here!! Ahhhh!--PJW]
[I met the incomparable Jack Wallen at IMAGINARIUM 2014 in Louisville Kentucky. We sat on a few panels together discussing things zomboid and apocalyptic. He is a very cool character with a lot to say relevant to the real world and the fictional world within the genre he so much enjoys delving and writing. Without further adieu… --PJW]
I’ve been writing apocalyptic fiction for some time now, enough to have eight books in one particular series. What does that mean…outside of spending a lot of time playing around in a rather bleak landscape? It means I’ve learned a thing or twelve about and from my genre of course—and the apocalypse that drives it. So I thought I’d share some words with fellow zpoc [Zpoc = zombie apocalypse—PJW] author Peter Welmerink.
Enough with the intro. Let’s make with the sexy!
1. The zombie is the perfect metaphor for modern day life.
Whether your mind has been made mush by your job in corporate America, by the never ending commercial push by companies wanting to SELL SELL SELL, or the never-ending monotony that can be the day-in-day-out of life: the plight of the zombie apocalypse—and the horde of monsters driving it – aligns perfect with that level of misery. The opening of “Shaun of the Dead” hits home this point to perfection. Oddly enough, people crave this validation—that their lives have been made forfeit by business, suits, and meetings. When you write something that connects to readers on that level, a very special transaction has taken place.
2. You’ve got to break up the horror with a taste of humor.
One of the built-in issues with the genre is you’re not only dealing with forcing a struggle upon the human condition, you’re also creating end of the world scenarios. For a reader to dive into a long series of apocalyptic fiction there’s a need for a bit of humor to survive the ride. That doesn’t mean you have to channel your inner stand-up comedian, but you do need to break up the horror with bits and pieces of humor. If you hammer the reader over the head with a barrage of suffering, angst, and terror; it’ll exhaust them. With that in mind, I tend to inject humor when it feels like I’m about to reach the point of too much AHHHHH!!! Not only does it give the reader a break, it also switches up the rhythm of the prose. For me, rhythm is very important.
3. We’d never survive the apocalypse.
This especially goes for Americans. We’re a very soft people. When the temperature rises about 80 or drops below 40, we’re uncomfortable. The mantra of our young is FWP--First World Problems. That is what we suffer. When/if the apocalypse actually happens, the majority of Americans will still be too concerned with taking selfies to notice the ashes and rubble around them. There are, of course, US citizens who will have an easier time with survival—those prepared to survive. This of course is not to say we’re weak. What we may lack in survivability, we make up for in drive, passion, and invention.
But the more I write apocalyptic fiction, the more I realize just how challenging survival will actually be. No phones, no lights, no motor cars … oh wait, wrong metaphor.
4. Women have been shafted in the genre.
One of the reasons I chose to have a female protagonist (from the second book in my series onward) is because women are not given a fair shake in the genre. You can turn to The Walking Dead to see a perfect example of this. In that world, women are relegated to relationship or mental fodder. Any time a strong woman appears, they are sent packing.
I read a lot of apocalyptic fiction before I started writing it and found woman were horribly represented. So I decided to change that with Bethany Nitshimi. Women play man crucial roles in the makeup of the human race—as many as (if not more than) men. Imagine the human race surviving without women. Not gonna happen.
5. Readers want more and more and more.
When I first wrote I Zombie I, it was going to be a one-off story. When it was all said and done, I realized I had a lot more story to tell. So I decided to make it a trilogy. After I published the third book (Die Zombie Die), I found people (and myself) desperately wanting the story to continue. So I pulled all references to “trilogy” and picked the story up where it left off.
Fans of the apocalyptic genre want more and more. They don’t want one-off stories, they don’t want short-lived stories. What they want is something to latch onto and have it take them for a very long ride.
For any author considering dipping their toes into the zpoc genre, take these two things into consideration:
- Be passionate about the genre, or be gone
- Be prepared for the long haul
My I Zombie series currently has eight entries. Two of those entries are spin-off novellas, both of which will be series. I have found my readers want to see the story from every possible angle and get to know the world as deeply as possible. To that end, I have decided the story will inform me when it’s over. When it does conclude, I already have another series ready—one that is based on the current series.
It’s all about depth, breadth, and longevity.
[I can’t agree more with Mr. Wallen on his sentiments in those last couple paragraphs. I cannot see NOT writing within a genre you love, because if you don’t absolutely love it, how will a reader love what you write or the story you have to tell. Also, I swear (a bit too much sometimes) the more I write in my current zpoc-themed fictional world, the more interesting characters and scenarios scream at me to write down their story. The world is our oyster, though a black, sooty, burned up one. LOL—PJW]
Links to Jack Wallen's work and other wanderings: