Zurvival Saturday (54) Interview with Author Tristan Vick
For this weeks Zurvival Saturday I have Author Tristan Vick stopping by the blog to grant us with an Interview! Tristan Vick is the author of Bitten: A Resurrection Thriller, Bitten 2: Land of the Rising Dead, and the Scarecrow & Lady Kingston short story series. He has edited two non-fiction collections, Reason Against Blasphemy and Seasons of Freethought which collect famous works from the Golden Age of the Freethought movement. You can learn more about him and his upcoming projects at www.tristanvick.com
Q: For those readers who might not know your work, Can you tell them a bit about the books you write? Oh and for fun do it in ten sentences or less.
A: I would describe myself as a genre-buster. I don’t necessarily believe in genres. Only in stories. Genre is akin to tonality of a piece. So I refuse to confine myself to any one given tone. It would be like becoming monotone. Bland. So I mix every possible genre you can think of into my stories. If words were like musical notes, I bust it open, and let the music flow. Stereophonic!
Q: What is your writing process like? Is it sporadic or do you set yourself daily/weekly writing goals and stick to them?
A: Actually, it depends on how busy life gets. I live and work as a teacher in Japan. I have a full time day job, and on top of this I commute three hours on the train every day to and fro work. In addition to the daily grind, I have a three year old daughter. She’s currently in her “No!” phase, and says “no” to everything. So things can get pretty hectic.
So when things slow down enough that I can catch a breath, I like to write whenever I have a large chunk of free time. Mostly on weekends and holidays. That’s when I get the most work done. But I carry my laptop with me wherever I go, so if I need to get something down during a free hour or a lunch break, and can sneak in a bit of writing here and there. When I get close to a deadline I like to get myself on a proper schedule for at least the last two weeks, and that usually means blocking out the rest of the world and locking myself in my room. I’ll even take a few days off work if I have to. So that’s how I roll.
Q: How long does it generally take you to write a book from start to finish?
A: My first novel Bitten: A Resurrection Thriller took six months for the writing part. Another four months for editing, cover design, digital formatting, book blocking, etc. Bitten 2: Land of the Rising Dead only took four months to write because I was in the swing of things having come of the momentum of the first book (and because I had the time). But the third installment, which I have about 60% done, has taken a full year, and I have a bit more to go on it. So it really depends on the novel and how much time I can get in writing wise.
Q: What type of research goes into creating a series like Bitten?
A: I researched virology quite a lot actually. I am a huge science junkie in my normal life. I read science journals and popular science books on everything from physics to neuroscience to genetics just for fun. I hardly ever read fiction, except for research.
So, to answer your question, I actually had to put down the science books and read about a dozen or so zombie novels to get into the mindset and catch up with the current vernacular, because it’s not an area I knew much about.
Additionally, I had to do a bit of research on firearms, because I am not a gun guy by any means. So I called up a couple of my cousins who are in the military and got their input, then on top of doing a lot of Wiki searches and Google searches to learn about the types of guns, I found a beta reader who was familiar with firearms and knew everything there was to firing a weapon. And before you count me out as totally gun naïve, I grew up in Montana, and so yes, I have shot rifles and handguns before.
But it’s good to know what you’re talking about. So this research helped me write about guns and keep it somewhat believable. Besides, my story isn’t a military war drama, it’s a survival story and the drama is all character driven. So guns really weren’t at the forefront at all. Besides this, my beta reader challenged me to actually use less guns. He said if you can tell the story without having to use any guns, it will be scarier. I agree. It also makes you have to find better, more inventive, ways to get your characters out of sticky situations (just an FYI for anybody thinking of writing a zombie story).
As for the science that goes into my books, I try and keep it tied to real world events. I find current events scarier than just making something up. With the recent reports of the Chinese mixing bird-flu with strands of human influenza, creating deadly influenza hybrids that could kill darn near all of humanity, I find these real-life topics a lot more frightening than anything I could dream up—and this inevitably finds its way into my stories.
Q: Why did you choose Zombies instead of the ever popular Vampire genre to focus on?
A: A couple of things actually. First off, I wanted to challenge myself as a writer. I write an anti-religious blog called the Advocatus Atheist and I have a hundred subscribers and get over 2,000 page views a week and around 4,000 hits a week. I’ve been engaged in the religious debate ever since my deconversion from 30 years of Evangelical Christianity back in 2009. After several years of being caught up in the dialectic, the whole argumentative tone just began to wear on me, and I was looking to stop writing religious criticisms and critiques and begin writing something original for a change. Something fun. Don’t get me wrong, proper criticisms have their own rewards—it’s a great way to vent—but I really wanted to begin creating instead of simply tearing down.
So I did a bit of market research and, well, this brings me to point number two, zombies were the hot thing. Hotter than vampires even, at least in terms of sales and media buzz. So I challenged myself to write my first novel, and move away from non-fiction essay writing and start writing fiction.
Initially, I just wanted to see if I could do it. Because non-fiction and fiction are totally different styles of writing. My degree is in Literary Criticism, but it’s basically an English Lit. degree. Which is not a practical degree. You can’t really use it for much. But one of the benefits was I have been introduced to a lot of good literature, and I had a lot of good writing teachers, and so I wanted to put my training to use—otherwise what is the point of getting a Lit. degree?
At the same time, I really wanted to write something I would never think of writing myself. Horror isn’t something I am familiar with, so I said to myself, try it. Try it and you’ll see. You’ll either crash and burn or succeed. The verdict is still out, but I personally feel that I succeeded. I mean, I stand by my debut novel Bitten. It’s something I’m proud of. More importantly though, it’s something I love doing. So I’m gonna keep doing it—keep writing—and keep pushing my limits--as long as time allows.
Q: How do your zombies differ from those in popular fiction today?
A: They don’t. They are the George A. Romero, classic slow, shambling, undead monsters we have all come to know and love. They are the biohazard styled, decaying corpses, reanimated mysteriously by spooky science. But at the end of the day, any real good zombie story isn’t about the zombies, per se. It’s about the characters. Or at least it should be. If you write sentient zombies, like my friend and author Tonia Brown, for example, then your zombies could also be characters.
But in most cases zombies are just the setting, or the backdrop. They are the things lurking in the shadows waiting to jump out and eat you. One of the things I found out in my research is that over half of the zombie fiction out there is just people killing zombies and zombies killing people and there is really not that much in the way of good storytelling. But then there are those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, which just stand out as brilliant works because they have real engaging plots, good character drama, and a lot of intrigue happening. That’s what I set out to do. Write real engaging stories with characters that were so fascinating that you literally forgot it was a zombie story—and then suddenly—throw a zombie at you! GrahhH!
I found this a more effective strategy for writing genuine scares into the story than simply having non-stop brutality and gore for no good reason whatsoever.
Q: Do you believe the zombie genre is over saturated or do you think it's just a testament to the genres popularity?
A: Oh, it’s definitely over saturated (at least for the time being). But that said, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing of value to find within the genre. Like I said earlier, I don’t believe in genres. Genre is just a convenient way for publishers to label, categorize, and sell specific types of stories to specific audiences. It helps Amazon.com organize and rank book sales, for example. And it’s true, people have different tastes, but really, it’s hard to classify every little thing because everything is so different. Especially when it comes to literature. So it seems to me that genre labeling is more a form of pigeonholing to me, and then chances are your story might get stereotyped because it caters to a specific audience, and so they will just lump it into one of the popular genres. Which means some readers might never hear of your work entirely. I know this was the case with the author Cormac McCarthy for his novel The Road. Which really didn’t fit in any given genre, but was closer to post-apocalyptic than anything else, so that’s the genre it was wedged into.
And, well, the whole labeling game will continue as long as people keep trying to pigeonhole every literary work into some type of genre. Frankly, I find it a little too superfluous.
I believe in good stories and bad stories. Likewise, there are some good zombie stories and far too many bad ones. But the way I see it, because the genre is currently over saturated, we will have a higher percentage of quality stories being churned out. The problem is how much of the mediocrity we have to sift through to find it. But for every ten amazing, excellent, first class zombie stories out there we might expect to find only one or two great vampire stories, for example. The bigger numbers of books being written means there will always be a greater amount of quality stories, and I think that is something worth boasting about.
At the same time, I am weary of all the five star reviews that diehard zombie fans give genre authors (authors who merely want to play in the sandbox of that genre and no other). I have read many of those books and I wouldn’t even throw two stars at them. So the overhype isn’t doing the genre any favors, because if someone writes a crap zombie story and the fans give it five stars, that just compels and motivates them to write another crappy zombie story. I usually read the bad reviews first on other people’s zombie books, to see what people are complaining about, and then I just don’t do that. I try to learn from the mistakes of others so I won’t unwittingly make the exact same mistakes. Because when the oversaturation gets so heavy that it sinks the genre, and it most likely will, the only stories which will have lasting power are the ones which are those which transcend the genre itself.
Q: If you had to choose just one character to be on your Zombie apocalypse survival team, who would they be and why?
A: Zombie Jesus. Because he wouldn’t be affected by the zombies, since he already is one, and if I was so unfortunate to get bit, he could just use his God-powers to cure and resurrect me anyway. Problem solved!
Q: What is your zombie weapon of choice and why?
A: Katana. Unlike a chainsaw, it never runs out of gas. Unlike a gun, it never runs out of ammunition.
The main character of my second novel, Bitten 2: Land of the Rising Dead, is a Japanese high school girl named Saeko Sakaguchi. She’s roughly based off one of my ex-students who is a real life All-Japan Kendo champion. So yeah, I gave my character a sword, as I think it’s the most practical weapon in the zombie apocalypse. (Note: I was unaware of The Walking Dead when I began my novel over two years ago. I started writing just as the first season of TWD aired, and I had no idea that the series had a character with a katana, i.e. Michonne. So that was totally a coincidence.)
Q: Have you hidden any Easter eggs in your books? Personal stuff or jokes known only to a chosen few?
A: Not so much Easter eggs as a lot of references to music, movies, literature, and art. If you’re well read, my stories will seem to have a literary value other zombie stories lack. I’m not saying this to sound all sophisticated or anything, but you’ll be able to find Neil Diamond lyrics, a slew of pop-culture references, and I have also layered in lines of Shakespeare and poetry too. I find it just gives my stories a bit of flavor. In other words, it’s not just people cussing and running from zombies. It’s people cussing and quoting Shakespeare whilst running form zombies. And that’s far cooler than your ordinary cussing.
Q: What is your favorite must have snack while working?
A: I try not to snack while working. But I have been known to drink a Coke now and again while writing.
Q: What advice would you give to other aspiring writers trying to get published?
A: I self-published all of my works so far. So if you really want to write something and see it in print, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to. With print on demand services like CreateSpace, LuLu, and Lightening Source self-publishing has become the easiest and most efficient way to get your stuff out there. But don’t expect to make any money off your writing. Write because it’s a passion. Very few are ever lucky enough to make it a full time profession. Just keep that in mind going in.
I guess the other thing I would add is take your time and don’t rush. Make sure you get all the kinks ironed out first. I made far too many rookie mistakes and always wish I would have taken a lot more time on the first book. Luckily, I went back and re-did the entire thing. I hired a professional cover designer, a professional free-lance editor, a proof reader and a beta (test) reader. I should have done this the first time, because an unprofessional book is not the first impression you want to make—especially if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.
Q: One last question, Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
A: It would be my pleasure! I am currently finishing up Bitten 3: Kingdom of the Living Dead which brings my trilogy to a close. That said, I am going to take a break from zombies for a while after the third book is finished. My next two major projects include a steam punk novel called: The Modern Prometheus: Aberration at Time’s Arbor, and a ribald and raunchy comedy (which I may have the honor of co-authoring with the lovely and talented Tonia Brown) entitled: Prostitutes from Outer Space!
In addition to these works I have just finished plotting out a rather epic space opera called the Daughter of Sol: Prophecy of the Enchiridion. This will be an epic sci-fi adventure series in the vein of the great classic space operas like Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who and Stargate. But I promise it’s not at all derivative. In fact, my story has more in common with Titan A.E. and The Fifth Element than the aforementioned classics. I have spent two years fleshing out the story and characters. It’s the most time I’ve ever spent preparing a story—so I really hope it turns out well.
Finally… finally! I am editing a non-fiction compendium of personal essays by those who have deconverted from religion and have become nonbelievers in one capacity or another. People who were once ardent practitioners of faith, but for whatever reason, left the fold. This book is nearly ready for publication, and I have had the pleasure with working with the philosopher and author Jonathan M.S. Pearce, who is working on it with me. We have stories from a variety of religious deconverts, including two ex-Christian ministers, an ex-Zen Yogi, several cult survivors, an ex-Mormon and so on and so forth.
So my next couple of years include non-stop writing on top of some more non-stop writing. Needless to say I have a lot on my plate. Thanks for taking an interest!
To learn more about Tristan or his books click on the links below!
Goodreads / www.TristanVick.com / @subayaitori / Facebook
Goodreads / www.TristanVick.com / @subayaitori / Facebook
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