July 22, 2013

PTSD and Zombie Fiction: As If Zombies Weren't Enough




As If Zombies Weren’t Enough


RJ Kennett

Zombie apocalypses, by definition, are supposed to be extraordinarily dangerous affairs for the protagonists. When the dead rise, hungry for the flesh of the living, a common ailment can be life threatening. What if the protagonist has terrible allergies and sneezes constantly? Stealth becomes a challenge. What if they’re paraplegic? A whole new set of survival issues arises based on mobility.

PTSD in the Zombie Apocalypse

In my debut novel, “Central Outbreak Response: Genesis” (or “COR: Genesis” for those of us too lazy to consistently spell out the entire title), the protagonist Max Newsome suffers from PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A veteran of the Iraq War, Max suffers from night terrors, and stress threatens to trigger full blown hallucinations even when he’s awake. I wanted Max to face challenges beyond the “ordinary” problem of flesh-eating zombies or murderously selfish survivors.

One of the other effects of PTSD is often hypervigilance. Veterans I researched described it as “always having your radar on, scanning for threats.” It wasn’t a feature they described as a problem for themselves beyond perhaps overreacting to loud noises, but was sometimes a barrier to communication in relationships. That is to say, they can’t turn it off. So hypervigilance could actually be an advantage in a zombie apocalypse. But how does an author show hypervigilance in play?

Max Newsome: A Hero with PTSD

The book starts with a bang (literally), and devolves quickly into a visceral, immediate life-or-death struggle on a college campus. Hypervigilance helps Max hear gunshots before others do. He is attuned to the sound, and when he hears it, his pulse quickens to show stress levels building. Further applied stress triggers a PTSD episode, which introduces the reader to Max’s experience from the war.

Later, hallucinations of his friend Riggins (who was killed in Iraq) act as a “sixth sense” for Max; cryptic warnings he doesn’t always understand or obey. In another scene, he subconsciously hyperventilates following an hallucination, flooding his muscles with oxygen to prepare for a fight.

PTSD is omnipresent for Max, part of his character makeup rather than a mere story mechanism. He is a tortured soul with a good heart and an iron will.

PTSD and Character Development

It was an interesting challenge, to write intimately of a character with a problem that I don’t have. I’m not a veteran, I’ve never seen combat, and never been in particularly stressful situations beyond public speaking to a few hundred strangers.

As the son of a Korean War veteran, however, I know that PTSD is a very real phenomenon, which haunts many of our service men and women to varying degrees. I wanted to treat it with respect, in a realistic fashion, so I researched a number of veteran’s stories online. I hope I got it right, given some artistic license for storytelling purposes. If I missed, I’m sure there are some veterans willing to set me straight for the second book of the trilogy, and I’d love to hear from them. I can be reached via http://www.rjkennett.com.

RJ Kennett is the author of  Central Outbreak Response: Genesis

The cover was created by Craig Spearing

In Kennett's words:
"I invite everyone interested to read the preview. If you decide to honor my work with your purchase,  it’s cheaper than a cheeseburger, and lasts longer, too!"

July 19, 2013

Zombie Survival Tips From Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen created this video as a public service. Heed the warnings. They may save your life.

Follow Jack Wallen on Twitter for more useful zombie survival tips.


Jack Wallen is the author of the I, Zombie, I series. 

He's also the organizer of the Indie Zombie Authors 
group on Facebook. 

July 18, 2013

A Classic Theme: Redemption in Zombie Fiction


Steven French

Redemption in Zombie Fiction: A Classic Theme

I think the theme of redemption is an easy concept for writers and readers to grasp and the theme works well with a zombie outbreak or apocalypse from the angle of Judgment Day. I think a lot of us, readers and writers both, are haunted by our past in some way. We seek to be absolved of our past perceived transgressions.

Redemption also makes for a great plot device since writers are often told to make our heroes haunted by their past. Writers can use it to show character growth throughout the storyline. We’re supposed to give our characters, particularly our villains, a critical flaw and a redeeming quality. Thus, it is the most logical theme to tackle when presenting character development within the setting of an apocalypse of any kind.

The Classic Purpose of Redemption Stories

The story of a zombie apocalypse is not all that much removed from the Hero's Journey or the Monomyth as proposed by Joseph Campbell.  The zombie outbreak is typically the story about reluctant heroes who must strive to set aside their differences in order to work together to survive the hostile new world in which they now live.

This is another theme we see over and over again in the zombie genre and may have its roots in Romero’s movie Dawn of the Dead. It was the quote of one character, Peter, who said "When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth."

What I want my readers to learn is that the real healing begins with forgiving ourselves first and foremost. Once we have done that, we can set our perceived transgressions to rest, learn from them, improve ourselves, and evolve into the people were always meant to be.

We can change; we need not remain the monsters we once were.

Our past does not define who we are; it is our present that defines us–especially if we have made the necessary changes in our lives to become better and stronger individuals. We can always do something to make our past wrongs right.

Even if you can’t apologize to someone you might have wronged, or if you can’t fix something you did wrong a long time ago, we can still say that we are sorry by not doing that thing–whatever it was–ever again. Lastly, if we can’t pay it back, we can always pay it forward.

Redemption in Independent Zombie Fiction

Admittedly, I totally capitalized on the theme of redemption with reckless abandon in my zombie apocalypse novel, They Feed. I feel the zombie outbreak and following apocalypse also offers the characters a clean slate. What they did before the outbreak matters little–it is what they do after that makes the real difference.

I still capitalized on the aspects and themes concerning the decay of society and rebirth of community through setting aside differences and working together in order to survive the zombie mayhem.

I suppose there was a sense of redemption in character development concerning a few of the characters in my story.

*Warning: Plot Spoilers*
Derek ‘redeemed’ himself when he selflessly decided to leave the group–after having been bitten–in order to avoid risking the other characters lives.

Pamela ‘redeemed’ herself when she attempted to reconcile with Kayla concerning an affair she had with her husband.

Marshall ‘redeemed’ himself by giving up his authority status in order to better work together with Stan.

If any character was beyond redemption, it was Andy. He went ballistic, for lack of a better term, and endangers the lives of the entire group over a personal grudge he had with Marshall.
*End Spoilers*

I used such development to add conflict and tension within the storyline. I also used it to move the plot and show character growth.

Redemption in the Zombie Classics

I think social commentary enriches the literary representations of the zombie apocalypse, and the classic motif of redemption. Also, some of the characters had to die along the way; body count is a must.

Romero often showed us–in his movies–that more often than not, the zombies did little killing themselves. The zombies were no worse an enemy than our own fallibility. He shows us that we are our own worst enemies.

Ultimately it was the pride, greed, and stupidity of the characters that led to them being killed through tragedy or by killing each other.

Taking George’s example, following his lead, and being a Romero loyalist, I too wanted to show such drama unfolding in my own works regarding the zombie apocalypse.

Steve French is the author of  the zombie novel

They Feed (Bloodborne)

He is also the author of three non-fiction works
  • Suspects & Sleuths Murder Mystery Design Guide
  • Zombie Writing 101: How to Write Your Own Zombie Apocalypse Novel
  • Horror Writing 101: How to Write a Horror Novel.