Eavesdropping on Zombie Authors Shawn Chesser and Saul Tanpepper
Shawn and Saul shared a booth at the Long Beach Zombie Walk in 2013. Shawn is the author of the Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (STZA) series. Saul penned the GAMELAND series and the newly launched BUNKER 12/FLENSE twin-series. Here, they talk a bit about their books, their audiences, and the future of the genre.
SAUL: One thing that has always intrigued and impressed me with your STZA (Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse) series, Shawn, is the ease with which you write military. It seems to be a great approach, and one that’s obviously connected well with your readers. Where do you go for inspiration?
SHAWN: I think I really got a lot of my factoids and some of the lingo down pat from reading the late Don Pendelton’s work.
SAUL: Pendleton was a prolific military thriller writer.
SHAWN: I started buying the Executioner series books from Armchair Family Bookstore here in Portland back in the early eighties. I was kind of a war buff, Vietnam especially, so I really started digging Mack Bolan. He was a vet with the obligatory special ‘set of skills’ who came back from the war to avenge the death of his family at the hands of . . . I believe the mafia.
SAUL: That theme is just as relevant today as it was when it was written decades ago. Maybe even more so now.
SHAWN: It’s been awhile, but that series really struck a chord with me.
SAUL: You keep your series fresh with the latest military advancements. Is there anyone in particular whose writing focuses on modern conflicts? What other sources do you use?
SHAWN: I also make it a point to read a lot of the personal accounts of war type of books written by veterans. Lone Survivor, No Easy Day and American Sniper, to name a few of them that I’ve read recently. I also have a handful of readers who have ‘been there and done that’ as the saying goes. They beta read for me and offer suggestions on what needs fixing in order to make it all read accurately. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I listen to them. However, once or twice I’ve left something the way I initially wrote it just because I like how it reads in the flow of the story.
SAUL: The needs of the story outweigh the needs of factual accuracy sometimes, to repurpose a well-known phrase. Readers are generally pretty forgiving, as long as you give them a good tale.
SHAWN: I’m not a veteran myself, but I have the utmost respect for those that have served and still lay their lives on the line for our country on a daily basis. I try to honor them by being as accurate in my portrayal of them as possible when writing my stories. I truly value the men and women veterans and active duty, some still deployed, who have reached out to me to offer their help here and there.
SAUL: I’m sure they appreciate being involved, too. It’s been a long three decades since I served, but that sense of pride always stays with you. I know they value the respect you pay them by tapping into their experience. On the other hand, many of your fans have no military experience, so clearly there’s something else drawing people to your books.
SHAWN: I think the fact that I make a concerted effort at representing people from all walks of life, from a dreadlocked African-American firefighter to a strong willed mama grizzly highly protective of her daughter to a sitting President of the United States who happens to be a woman, is the second part of the formula that keeps readers coming back for more STZA. Bottom line, my series doesn’t focus on survival as viewed only through the eyes of my main protagonist, former Delta Force operator Cade Grayson, the reader also gets to see how a wide swath of humanity survives the zombie apocalypse.
SAUL: It’s about creating a large enough and varied enough cast of characters that your readers can find someone to connect with. I’ve also tried to do the same in my work.
SHAWN: You just published the first installment of your new Bunker 12 series. What is it all about and how is it being received by fans of your highly successful Gameland series?
SAUL: My diehard fans have snapped up the first book in series, Contain. Early feedback has been very positive. But maintaining momentum with a new series is always a challenge, at least until it’s proven its worth. To help synergize excitement for it, I’m also releasing a companion series, THE FLENSE, which tells the story of the events leading up to the apocalypse that the survivors of BUNKER 12 are having to deal with. THE FLENSE skews more toward international thriller and conspiracy, whereas BUNKER 12 is action-adventure. Both still incorporate a lot of the modern science and technology that formed the basis of my GAMELAND series.
SHAWN: How does your use of tech differ between GAMELAND and the first installment of BUNKER 12?
SAUL: My GAMELAND zombies are the conventional type — virus-transmitted and with all the typical characteristics, dead and resurrected, ravenous for human flesh — but with the added twist that they coexist with the living who control them via neural implants. The apocalypse occurs when there is a breakdown in control.
My BUNKER 12 zombies are a wholly new concept altogether. The infection is transmitted not by biting but by the slightest touch, and the victims don’t physically die. Under certain circumstances, however, the infected become flesh-eating killers. As the scourge spreads so stealthily in the beginning, the disease nearly decimates humanity before it’s even aware of it. The exact basis for the disease won’t be disclosed until much later in the series, but suffice it to say, tech plays a key role. It’s a very modern twist on what some people are calling an oversaturated market.
SHAWN: I attended the WHC (World Horror Convention) last May and listened to a panel discussing where zombie fiction is headed. According to some of the biggest names in our genre it is here to stay. Gone are the gatekeepers who throttle the output to try and shift the public from seeing Zompoc works on the shelves to, say, ghost stories or whatever their idea the genre du jour should be. Based on my sales, I think they’re correct in their analysis.
SAUL: I couldn’t agree more. The genre is less about the monsters as it is about the human condition, and since that’s always changing, fresh new stories will always be told with the undead as their heart and soul. For me personally, the stories I write reflect my wariness of the pace of development happening in tech right now. I look at quantum computing, neural interfacing, artificial intelligence, and I can see so many ways that it can be used for good. But I can also imagine how easily it can go wrong. I’m a huge proponent of advancement, yet at the same time, I’m very sensitive to its Cyberdyne-like potential. I guess you could say the Skynet’s the limit!
SAUL: Speaking of potential, I’m curious where you see STZA going. How many more books should we expect? What other projects are in the pipeline for you?
SHAWN: I’m nearly finished with book 9, Frayed: STZA, and by no means will it be the last installment in the series. I also have a couple of prequels I’ve been clacking away on, Dread: STZA and Drawl: STZA. I’m also planning a disaster story for release sometime next year.
SAUL: I’m sure your fans are just as excited to hear all that as I am! You better get back to writing then!
SHAWN: I had a great time rappin’ with you, Saul!! I may make Long Beach in September for the Apocacon. Maybe I’ll see you there.
SAUL: Who knows. If not, I’ve been dying for a reason to head north to your neck of the woods. There’s always the Emerald City Comic Con in the spring. And the Portland Zombie Walk…
Please visit Shawn’s and Saul’s Amazon author pages and friend them on Facebook. They promise not to bite.
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The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 30+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!
#SummerofZombie is the hashtag for Twitter, too!