June 27, 2013

Chris Philbrook: The Journey of Character

Philbrook is the author and creator of 
which is a zombie fiction web phenomenon 
as well as a successful series of books. 

Characters in zombie fiction?

Are frequently crap. I hate to say it, but it's true. I wonder how much of it is us authors wanting to write stories about straight up badasses?

Or, alternately, are zombie fiction characters always badasses because we need badassed characters with a certain skill set to survive the post-apocalyptic scenarios we put them in?
Of course there are the zombie fiction characters out there that are the non badassed type. A great example is Jon Maberry's Rot & Ruin character Benny Imura. He's just a scared teenager. Of course his older brother Tom-

Is a straight up badass.
You can't win.
Incidentally, I love Jon's work. If you haven't read it, do so immediately. It would be considered a win.

Sometimes zombie fiction characters exist solely to offer knowledge or a perspective to a story. I know I've written a few of those types. Need someone to fix a broken engine? Write yourself a mechanic. Engine's fixed, the knowledge imparted, and you want the story to seem really scary and brutally realistic?

Kill the mechanic off.

BOOM. You too can be a frigging BOSS zombie fiction writer.
The pay sucks, and there's a LOT of us, just so we're clear. But hop in, the water's warm, and very few us bite!
Back to the character thing. Some of the characters we write exist to be victims, let's be honest. Our very own zombie fiction red shirts. We give you just enough character development for readers to get attached, and then BOOM! We kill them off because the story needs to be scary. Flex that author muscle. 

It's kind of fun killing off characters, I won't lie.

Someone once asked me in the Adrian's Undead Diary premium forums if I have trouble killing off characters. The honest answer is no, I don't, but that's not the full answer. I've killed off many characters in AUD that I genuinely liked writing that readers liked or even loved. The hate mail I could show you would either make you laugh, or run screaming to your gun cabinet.

But the real duty of the writer is not to simply the characters, and our enjoyment when we write them. Our duty is to the story.

And sometimes, we need to sit down, drink our alcoholic beverage of choice to excess, and realize that the story we are trying to write will be better if we kill off a certain character, even if we never intended to in the first place.

I mean hell, what if we kill someone off and we do a crap job of it? What if we just slightly miss the tone of an important death scene, and don't do a major character justice?

You, the reader will be super pissed at us, the writers… But you know what, you gotta break eggs to make omelets, and in this genre, you gotta kill characters to make a good zombie story.

I have a certain level of acceptance towards these pre-generated character archetypes. They're useful, they're predictable, and folks honestly really like reading about badasses. We want to read about people who can do the things we can't. Hell, how many of us picked up a book about the dude who was unhappily employed, overweight, and spends too much time on Facebook?

Well I wrote a book that kind of started like that, but in the end, my main character became the badass that everyone wanted to read about.

Moral of the story folks, is that the stories we read are journeys. Journeys fundamentally no different than the ones we take in our everyday lives. Not everyone who starts a journey with us gets to end it with us, and we are virtually guaranteed to be at least a little different when we reach our destination.

The characters we love in the stories we read should be no different.

--Chris Philbrook

Chris Philbrook is the creator and author of Adrian's Undead Diary.  

Chris has several years of experience working in game development and editing as well as writing fiction for several major game design companies.  

June 20, 2013

Moral Dilemmas in the Zombie Apocalypse

Daniel J. Williams

What are the top five moral dilemmas in the zombie apocalypse?

In the zombie apocalypse, everything eventually comes down to pure survival. Avoiding being ripped apart by the living-dead is only part of the ugly equation.

The number one dilemma in the zombie apocalypse revolves around food. 

As horrifying as that seems, dealing with hunger on a daily basis is still the number one concern; being weak and light-headed leads to poor decision-making. Poor decision-making leads to death. This basic human need is directly responsible for some of the most serious moral dilemmas in the apocalypse. Without food, there is no survival.
So, food is scarce, there are already too many mouths to feed, and strangers desperate for help appear. Helping strangers is not as simple as it looks.

The number two moral dilemma deals with strangers.

People you come across may already possess the pure survivalist’s creed: Shoot first and ask questions later. You’re really not sure who you can trust. In fact, you’re downright paranoid.

You may also run into truly good people, who only want to help and share what you’ve got. You don’t have enough for them and your own to guarantee survival.

You must take care of your own first. To allow yourself to have compassion creates a larger burden for yourself and the rest of your party.

In order to survive, you must become hard.

 The number three dilemma deals with vulnerable members of the community.

With limited resources, vulnerable members of a community or group quickly become liabilities. Injuries, especially those brought on by infected individuals, place the whole group or community at risk. Liabilities must be dealt with as the environment dictates.

One must become heartless to survive.

The number four dilemma is dealing with dangerous members of a group.

Dangerous members of a group create a special type of dilemma. Power struggles and serious disagreements over survival techniques tear a community apart and pit one against another. People who became hard and ruthless due to necessity now stand off against each other.

One must shoot first in order to survive.

Ammunition is a highly-valued commodity. Run short, and you're most likely zombie bait or the unfortunate victim of marauders or militias. As things unravel, you need to take what others have in order to survive. Remember those truly good people who were desperate for help? What if your loves ones were starving? Those truly good people might save your community if used as a food source.

One must kill in order to survive. One may need to eat the dead in order to survive.

The number five dilemma is the moral code itself.

The rules of society are gone. Every man fights to protect whatever he acquires. If there is an area safe and large enough to sustain a small community, then that community must fight to protect its land and resources; with deadly force without hesitation. One wrong move, one bad decision, and the end is the same for everyone.

Those who cannot take care of themselves are doomed. Whatever you learned in Sunday school are lessons for a lost civilization. If God ever existed, he’s abandoned the planet now. The only thing that reigns on this doomed scorch of earth is anarchy and damnation.

There is no God in the zombie apocalypse.

Without God, morals are simply rules for the weak. Morals are for those who become zombie bait and victims of marauders or militias. In the zombie apocalypse, only the strong survive.

In the end, when everything crumbles, there are no real moral dilemmas. In order to survive in the zombie apocalypse, all may eventually feast on the dead.

Daniel J.  Williams 

is the author of the  
Mace of the Apocalypse series 

June 12, 2013

Great Opening Sentences: Feed, By Mira Grant

The Newsflesh Trilogy: Feed, Deadline, and Blackout

by Mira Grant

Feed has one of my favorite opening sentences:
"Our story opens where countless others have ended in the last twenty six years: with an idiot-- in this case, my brother Shaun--deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens."
Who can resist that kind of opening? I couldn't. I had to know who Shaun was, why he was poking zombies, and why he hadn't been one of those other idiots who managed to get themselves killed.

Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun Mason live in a world ruled by ratings and RSS feeds. And zombies. Lots of zombies. So many zombies that they've become an accepted danger of ordinary life.

In Mira Grant's zombie-ridden world no one dies of cancer anymore. No one even gets the common cold. Both of those things were wiped out when the Kellis-Amberlee virus was accidentally "created."

The Kellis virus was a boon to humanity. The Amberlee virus promised to be the same. While each virus was independently useful, the combination caused devastating mutations in almost every human being.

Some of the the mutations don't result in flesh-eating, decayed, shambling human figures. They simply take root in the reproductive organs or retinas of their hosts.

Georgia Mason is one of those affected by what Grant explains as Retinal Kellis-Amberlee. Georgia suffers from impaired vision and excruciating headaches. But that doesn't stop her from being the toughest female character I can remember reading in a long, long time.

What is one of your favorite opening sentences in a zombie story? Share it here, and tell us why.

June 5, 2013

When Zombies Rule The Land – Take To The Water

C. M. Drysdale

 Taking To The Water
There’s a sign outside a marina somewhere in America that proclaims: ‘Zombies Can’t Swim, Get A Boat!’ While some might see this as just another advertising gimmick, it’s actually pretty sound advice.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d argue that one of the safest places you could be is on a boat. Why?

It’s quite simple: boats are the pinnacle of mobile, self-contained living spaces. Many have their own water-makers, their own communication equipment, tanks capable of holding enough fuel to allow you to cross whole oceans and the ability to make their own electricity using either a generator, a wind turbine or solar panels (and often all three). On top of this, the sea is crammed full of tasty food just waiting to be caught.

Perfect, isn’t it? Well, not quite.

Zombies and Water

While it is almost universally accepted that zombies (regardless of whether they are the dead risen or living humans infected a disease) can’t swim, this doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t survive in water.

Traditional dead zombies won’t slow down just because they get a bit of water in their lungs, and they may even be capable of walking along the seabed. Even if they’re not, they can float around like the bloated corpses they are. While living infected will drown, they too are capable of floating around, especially if they find something buoyant to cling to. Either way, just because you’re at sea, it doesn’t mean that you won’t run into the occasional zombie.

However, boats have steep, slippery sides and climbing up them isn’t easy. This means there’s little risk of zombies getting aboard, unless, that is, you leave something dangling over the side for them to climb up, like an anchor chain. This means that whenever you drop anchor, you need to always have someone on watch, just in case.

The Zombie-Proof Boat

Your choice of boat will be critical to your long-term survival. Specifically, you’ll want one that doesn’t rely on hard-to-get fossil fuels. While a nuclear-powered submarine would fit the bill here, you’re not going to find one of them tied up at your local marina.

Instead, think sailboat; that way you’ll be able to move around powered by nothing more than the wind. While there’s a myriad of different types of sailboats out there to choose from, I’d recommend something in the range of 35 to 50 feet in length. These are big enough to handle even the roughest seas but small enough that they can be operated by a skeleton crew, and, at a pinch, by a single person.

Personally, I’d recommend a catamaran. They’ve got plenty of space, they’re fast and with a shallow draft they can go places other sailboats can’t.

Seafaring Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse

Sailing isn’t intuitive. It’s something you have to learn. If you want to survive a zombie apocalypse on a sailboat you’ll need to learn those skills now.

This involves learning not just how to sail the boat itself but also how to navigate by the stars, how to maintain all the equipment, how to repair sails and how to read the weather
so you don’t get caught out by approaching storms.

You’ll need to know how to catch fish, too, and how to tell poisonous ones from ones that are safe to eat. However, there’s plenty of courses you can take to learn these valuable skills.

For Those in Peril on the Sea

There are three main problems you’re likely to face when trying to survive at sea.

The first is avoiding scurvy. The only way to do this is to find food rich in vitamin C and this may force you to make the occasional forays ashore despite the dangers that lurk there.

The second is the weather. The sea can be a daunting and dangerous place when the winds pick up, and you will always need to be ready to run for shelter whenever a storm approaches.

Finally, there’s the issue of other survivors. Piracy has always been a problem at sea, and it’s likely that, come the zombie apocalypse, this will only get worse. This means you’ll need to avoid other vessels unless you’re certain they’re harmless.

The last thing you want is to end up being marooned on some desert island as someone else sails off in your boat.

Actually, maybe it would be worse if the island weren't deserted ...

C. M. Drysdale is the author of For Those in Peril on the Sea, a zombie novel about a group of survivors who choose the sea when land is no longer safe.

June 3, 2013

Brady's New Leaf, By Paul Loh

This is Paul Loh's response to the Zombie Fiction Writing Challenge. Paul Loh is the author of The Greater Number. He's found a way to tie his vignette into that book by referencing an important event from that story.


Brady's New Leaf

Brady Schullerman was an Army brat. Well. Army, yes. Brat, not so much. He was raised in a strict household in which Father's words were law. He had been born in Marble Cliffs, Arizona. As a child, he'd attended Wolf Cub Elementary, but those weren't happy memories.
His father had taught him his alphabet. Afternoons after school writing letters hundreds of times each under intense scrutiny wasn't fun. He'd learned the meaning of the word, 'lousy' as a description for his handwriting.
Brady also had difficulty conveying his thoughts verbally. He knew what he wanted to say, but it rarely came out that way. He was socially awkward as a result. His parents had brought him to speech therapy when he was five, but it did him no good. The problem was deeper than they had the patience to explore. He was left with an undiagnosed learning disorder which still haunts him.

As if that wasn't bad enough, he had an older brother named Charlie who'd been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. When Brady was five and Charlie was eight, the family had gone to Marble Cliffs Lake for a picnic one Sunday. The Marble Cliffs Chinese Baptist Church was also having a picnic at the lake. Brady and Charlie finished eating and went down to the water to play.
Before he had gotten the tumor, Charlie had always been the smart one in the family, but over several months, Charlie's tumor had gradually diminished his reasoning capabilities. He picked up a twig from the ground and tied a piece of string to it. He told Brady that he was going to go fishing in the lake and catch 600 sharks.
Some of the other boys overheard this and started to make fun of Charlie. Brady was too much of a coward to stick up for his brother.

A little while later, after having had no luck with fishing, Charlie and Brady went back to their mother. Charlie was getting one of his headaches, brought on by the tumor and started to cry.
Fishing with his brother was one of the last happy memories Brady had of his brother.
Five months later, the tumor had grown so large that it shut down Charlie's motor functions and he lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. He died at eight years old. Brady's parents secretly resented Brady for having been the one who remained living. Although they never actually said it, he knew it to be true.

Not too long after that, daddy's job moved them out of Marble Cliffs when Brady was in the 1st grade. He had no friends to lose and made none at any stop along an arduous nearly decade-long string of Army bases. He lived in Fort Dix, Fort Huachuca, Fort Benning and Fort Bliss. Now, he had ended up here of all places.

At fourteen, Brady was finally reaching puberty. Daddy always called him a late bloomer. Adolescence was fairly kind to him in that he became quite a good looking young man. This resulted in some long-awaited attention from the girls.
To Brady, it was time to turn over a new leaf. No longer would he be the isolated underdog. The only problem was his severe lack of self-confidence. Perhaps if he'd been a brat from time to time, he would have gotten a taste of what it feels like to believe in something and stand up for it. Instead, he was a ready-made doormat.
To compensate, he began to be a bully, though he could only be characterized as a secondary bully. He wasn't creative enough to come up with his own insults, so he often repeated the insults of other bullies.

At his new school, Brady found himself echoing the insults of local bully, Gabe. Gabe already had a couple toadies in Tristan and Garrett, but the more the merrier. Ninth grade seemed to be turning out well for Brady. He had the beginnings of a social life now with his new group he hung around with.
Then the universe threw him a curve ball by dropping this whole zombie apocalypse thing in his lap. He and a bunch of students had been trapped in the school when this all started. He had no idea if mommy and daddy were alive or dead. All he knew was that Gabe had a new target for his curses now....the zombies.

Paul Loh is the author of the zombie works The Greater Number and The Nocent. Both are available on Amazon.

Read his blog entries on GoodReads.
In an interesting interview, Loh discusses his early experience with the zombie genre.