I had the opportunity to sit down with a very special fan of Undead Reckoning for an author interview. He had some interesting questions, and a valid complaint about an abundance of fire axes...
Author Interview with Zack Lynn by Julien Jacklin
March 16th, 2017
Julien: So what inspired you create Undead Reckoning?
Zack: I think it was probably when I was watching The Walking Dead with my older son. The Walking Dead is a very similar sort of - people land themselves in a post-apocalyptic zombie universe and have to make their way out of situations. I was into boating at the time, and it occurred to me that one of the best ways to survive a zombie apocalypse would be by boat: you could just get the heck away from shore, and get the heck away from people, and that seemed like a really good approach to solving that problem. But of course there are logistical problems: you can't store everything you need on a boat. So that's what interested me in pursuing the idea, and I thought what better way to pursue the idea than through a piece of fiction.
Julien: What inspired the characters of your book?
Zack: Well, the characters are modeled after sort of stylistic versions of my wife and kids, and the character of Shaun is taken from an amalgam of various friends and other people I've known over the years. There was a person that I knew in high school named Kari, that I think was - sort of modeled that person. The "biker dude" was just a threatening character. And yeah, I think I just sort of winged it with some of the other characters. Dieter and Dominik - this might be interesting - were actually intended to be a comic relief pair and I named them because of Tweedledee and Tweedledum. I wanted names that were like "Dee" and "Dom", so I came up with "Dieter" and "Dominik". But they ended up being less about comic relief and more sort of tension builders and people that the main characters could play off of.
Julien: How did you react when you thought of having Dieter and Dominik be more intense characters than you originally planned?
Zack: I think that was an organic process. I didn't... The way I wrote this book was very ad-hoc. I did not have a plan going into it, and I told myself that I would not edit back, unless I really had to. I mean obviously any writer writes a story and then goes through and edits it afterwards, and I did that for things like continuity and for grammar and spelling, obviously, and other items like that. But that was more of a mechanical nature, the actual story itself stayed true to the way I wrote it.
Because I didn't have a plan going forward, and I didn't want to edit back, I essentially would put my characters into situations, and any time I would sit down and write, I would resolve the situation that I had put them in last, or work towards that resolution, and then setup another resolution [conflict].
My overall-arching goal was to have it [be] very similar to radio serials that I would listen to as a kid, which were already outdated at the time (laughs) that I was listening to them, but those in turn were modeled after much earlier radio serials, that - you know, western radio serials and such - but the idea was that each chapter would be sort of a self-contained part of the story that tried to resolve a previously set up issue and then setup a cliffhanger - a little mini-cliffhanger - at the end.
So... That doesn't really answer your question, but essentially when I came up with the idea of Tweedledee and Tweedledum I had them be on board the ferry, and I kind of ended that episode with them not having really done much. As I - in the intervening week or two weeks between that and the next chapter being written - I sort of toyed with the ideas in my head of where I wanted to take them. I quickly realized that I was going to have them be sort of this dichotomy of - they are sort of low men on the totem pole when it comes to the running of the boat - of the ship, the ferry - but at the same time, they are radically different personalities. One is more honourable - modeled after a Norse Viking - and the other is kind of a slimy, smarmy guy from - who you can imagine wearing a mullet and being in any movie as a stereotypical southerner [redneck]. So that's kind of the actual progression that happened there, and as time went by as I was writing, they became more and more their essential characters.
Julien: I have a question from a friend of mine: how did the zombie apocalypse in your book start?
Zack: That's intentionally not covered. Who knows, maybe some day I'll do a prequel. But I really wanted to pick up after it was under way. But you can imagine any of the sort of canonical/stereotypical ways that a zombie apocalypse began. My thought is that it was probably some kind of a pandemic, but I didn't really resolve that. I decided to move beyond that, because a lot of books - books and movies - actually start with the first occurrences of "zombieness", and the then spread of the disease, and transmission, and all that, and I felt that that had been really well-covered. What I was more interested in is the survival aspect. The post-apocalyptic survival, rather than the apocalypse itself.
Julien: In your book you give - you hint towards that maybe the zombies do have a thought process or contain some of the previous person's life. You can answer this however you want, but I personally would like to know if that's true, or if, as you say in the book, they really did become the walking bodies that we see them.
Zack: I wanted... (pause) So, I'll answer your question, but I'm going to walk around it first. Which is that I introduced those concepts more to introduce the struggle that the characters would go through with respect to their own feelings of guilt in this surreal slaughtering of - what amounts to - fellow human beings, or at least creatures that were once fellow human beings. That's quite a pill to swallow: to have to deal with that kind of a guilt. I didn't want to just gloss over that, and make it all blood and guts, and that they're just vermin to put down, because there is an underlying struggle to that, that any time you find yourself in a situation - or one finds oneself in a situation - where one has to choose between killing another creature, or failing to survive, that is a moral dilemna. I wanted a way to approach that moral dilemna.
Zack: Oh, but... So, to answer your question: do I think that there is anything left of the original human? I doubt it. I think that in the process of transitioning from death to undeath, that that humanity is wiped out and anything that remains is essentially a viral symbiote that takes over the body - a viral parasite that takes over the body.
Julien: I have a question that I think most of our readers would like to know: why did you have to kill off Kathy?
Zack: (laughs, pauses, laughs) I think you have to... (Pauses) I think for her to have survived would have been... (Pauses) For everyone to continue surviving all the time - they all just, you know, the party just grows bigger and bigger and everyone just keeps on surviving - that to me felt really phony. So I had no problem killing off Dieter, sorry, Dominik, cuz he's kind of a slimy jerk. But I also knew that I had to balance that with the loss of a character that was actually endearing and actually had positive character qualities and was someone that the audience - or the readers - don't really want to have die.
And so I toyed around with actually killing off, you know, Shaun, or Kari, or even Dominik - I couldn't bring myself to kill off these characters. And Dominik, to me, seemed like a lesser character - sort of a side-character - so killing him off would not have really achieved the goal that I wanted, which was to shock the audience. The reader needs to experience that this is not all just a rosy little stroll through the park, and that everyone survives. There have to be some consequences. There have to be some things that don't go their way. That's sort of, you know, what I wanted to do.
And then once I decided then, of course, that Kathy was, well, not going to survive, then I had to figure out the best way for her to go. So a "turning" seemed like the appropriate way to approach that.
Julien: I have a question from a classmate in class #19, and she asks: How come there are too many convenient fire axes?
Zack: (laughs, a lot) Uh... Yeah... (laughs) There's this concept of "Deus ex machina", which is sort of like a convenient - well it really means "God out of the machine", or "divine intervention" - but what it really sort of captures is the idea that sometimes you can take literary license and write a solution into a problem. You have to remember that when I wrote this, again, I was not planning things out, I was - every single chapter was sort of its own little stand-alone entity. So there are times when I needed to come up with some way for them to cut a rope, or smash a door in, or these things, and fire axes provided that avenue. Now - that having been said - axes and knives do appear on fishing vessels. A fire axe would be appropriate on a ferry. So sometimes there actually are fire axes. Now I think I also use the fire axe at the marina? And yeah, maybe that wasn't so appropriate; I don't know whether there are typically fire axes at fuel docks or not. But yeah... In retrospect - on re-read - there are, I think, three scenarios where there's a fire axe that's convenient, and that's probably at least one too many. (laughs)
Julien: What are you plans for the future? What are your plans for a sequel? Make a sequel!
Zack: (laughs, pauses) Yes. I would like to. The truth is: it's a lot of work, and I think... One of my big problems is I setup - at the end - I setup for them to go to Hawaii. But at the same time... Actually, when the book ended, they were actually sailing off into the sunset, towards Hawaii. And then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, you know, I really kind of want them to go to Southern California, and hang out on Catalina Island for a little while. Also, sailing from Southern California over to Hawaii is much easier than sailing from Seattle over to Hawaii, so it might make more sense for them to take this little triangular route.
So I sort of thought about that, and I also thought, you know, there's a few things I want to do: there's a navy over in Hawaii that has sort of gone rogue, and I want there to be conflict between them and the natives, on the island of Kaui, and between our heroes as well. And I wanted there to be some sort of pirate concern as well. All in all, I have a lot of ideas, I just haven't decided whether I'm actually going to go through with it.
To be honest, it's a lot of work, and not a lot of reward, other than, well, my fans. Which is - really is a huge amount of reward, when I think about it that way.
Julien: How do you feel on this companion book being made of your book?
Zack: I am very flattered that anyone would consider writing a companion book on my book. And I think it would be - it's an honour that you've chosen to do this!
Julien: So Mr. Lynn...
Zack: You can call me Zack.
Julien: Zack, I'm going to be showcasing this tomorrow on the 17th of March, and I'm going to add a section where people can write a comment or a question that they'd like to ask you. Would you be OK with that?
Zack: Absolutely! I'd love to do that!
Julien: Thank you.
Julien: Thank you, Zack, for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm a really huge fan.
Zack: The pleasure was all mine; absolutely all mine! Thank you very much!
[end of interview]