Welcome to Deadland: A Refreshing Take on the Zombie Apocalypse Genre
Last month I was lucky enough to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Zachary Tyler Linville’s debut novel, Welcome to Deadland. Now, while I’ve read all of the Walking Dead comics, I’ve only read a few zombie apocalypse novels, and this one is definitely near the top of that list in terms of being both interesting and featuring good storytelling overall.
Welcome to Deadland is described as “a coming-of-age, coming out tale set against the backdrop of the desolate land that was once Florida, now devastated by a widespread disease threatening the mass extinction of humanity”, and I definitely couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s a lot of humanity in this novel, including so many characters who are easy to identify with. The zombies are there and there are a couple great “fight” scenes, but really, the story is about the characters’ journeys, which is the type of book I can really get behind.
And it seems that a lot of other people felt the same way, considering that Welcome to Deadland won Nerdist’s first ever “Collection Contest“, which is for sci-fi and fantasy writers. The novel premiered at Comic-Con this past weekend, where Zac was interviewed by Nerdist News…and by yours truly! Check out the interview below!
WARNING: Please note that this interview contains *very minor* spoilers for Welcome to Deadland.
Tara: Welcome to Deadland was published by Nerdist…I also noticed [the Inkshares information] too – which came first?
Zac: Actually, they came together. Inkshares is hosting a series of publishing contests with Nerdist and Geek & Sundry. They’re doing six total, and the very first one was last August… [Inkshares] is a crowd-funding platform…they had a contest [for] books with the most amount of unique readers pre-ordering copies to fund the publication. The top five were published and then Nerdist actually chose two to publish under their own label from the five… My book actually became the number one book. The second day of the contest, I took the number one spot, and ran with it for the entire 45 days…The day after the contest Nerdist announced that they were going to choose my book as one of their personal publications.
T: When did it all end?
Z: September 30th, 2015.
T: And when does the book come out [again]?
Z: The official publication date is August 9th. Actually today I’ve had three different pictures [from people who had] been at Barnes & Noble and it is out on display in Barnes & Noble already.
T: Awesome. You said you were doing a launch party at a Barnes & Noble?
Z: Yeah. Sand Lake Road in Orlando on August 6th, 7 o’clock at night.
T: Where are you from originally?
Z: Actually from all over. I grew up as a military child so I moved around a lot. I graduated high school from Beaufort, South Carolina. And then I went to college at University of Central Florida in Orlando. And while I was living in Orlando and going to school I worked at a major theme park. That’s where I started to get the inspiration for the book. So I moved to New York City after that and while I was in New York City I first started piecing together some of the early chapters. And now I’m in Atlanta and I finished writing it in Atlanta.
T: What brought you to Atlanta?
Z: The film industry there. My degree is in screenwriting and that’s a huge focus for me, but it’s really hard to break into screenwriting without some sort of a writing background that will make people take note of you. So I switched over to writing a book. I figured if I could launch off of that I can build from there.
T: To be honest, I think that after reading the novel, which I really enjoyed by the way…I can say that I see the screenwriter in you…it’s something I can see being easily put on television or [in] a movie. What was your inspiration other than working at a theme park and living in Orlando? Did you have other inspirations for this particular story, the characters especially?
Z: [It did] start with a theme park and being surrounded by so many guests, and hot and sweaty…it is like zombies. Everyone has this blank stare on their face as they shove through the crowd. I describe the book as not a book about zombies. It’s a book with zombies. I wanted to tell character stories. If some major devastating event happens, what effect does that have on people? I really wanted to draw inspiration from more diverse backgrounds and tell a story that hasn’t been told yet. I didn’t want to do the ‘Chosen One’. There are so many series right now…I’m a huge Harry Potter fan but it is about the Chosen One, The Boy Who Lived. Hunger Games…I love The Hunger Games, but everything is about The Mockingjay. If you don’t have her you don’t have anyone.
So, I wanted to do this kind of different thing where I took three different perspectives and three completely different characters, [to] see if they could meld together and kind of build off of each other. They came from different backgrounds, and…this world-ending event kind of forces them into working together, to their own detriment or to move forward. I don’t like how with The Hunger Games, you read the first book and [you] know nothing is going happen to [the main characters] because there are three books…That kind of removes the danger element from the story, when you know that the protagonist is going to be fine. At least until the third one.
And having three characters, that gave me more wiggle room, where if something happens to one of them the story doesn’t have to end. So, I wanted to take the Chosen One story and blow it out of the water by saying it is not going to be one person that saves the world – it has to be everyone working together. And right now, where our country is going, everyone is not working together. It’s very divided, and there is so much of ‘my people’ and ‘your people’. I didn’t want to do an ‘us against them’ [story], I wanted to show that you kind of have to mesh to move forward.
T: Which one of the three characters was your favorite to write?
Z: Rico. He is my favorite character out of the three. I have to say that there’s a lot of Asher that comes from personal experience. And I enjoyed writing his story. And I enjoyed writing Wendy’s story. I love all three characters. Especially some of the background characters too. Todd and Tanya, I love them and I can’t wait to explore more of their stories as well. But with Rico, I just loved the idea of taking this seventeen-year-old boy…when you’re seventeen you think you’ve got it all figured out. You think you don’t need your parents’ help. You think you can do it all on your own…I don’t need to rely on my parents and I don’t need to listen to them…but you kind of do. Looking back, when I was seventeen I was like ‘I don’t need to listen to my Mom’ and especially with this book coming out my Mom has told me at least 30 times ‘See! I told you to write a book. I told you to write a book. Can you just tell me I was right?’ And you hate that feeling of having to say ‘Yes, Mom. You were correct’. But looking back at it? ‘Yes, Mom. You were correct’. And I wanted, with Rico, to show that [whether his parents were] doing things right or wrong…now that he’s forced into this parental position with Jayden he kind of sees, ‘Wait a minute! I should’ve listened! Because it’s not about me and what I think, it’s about the duties that come with protecting someone else and having someone else rely on you for everything.’
T: You left the ending open enough. Are you writing more?
Z: Yes! It is planned as trilogy. I have about 35,000 words of the second book written and the second book does have four character perspectives instead of the three of the first book. Two of the characters are characters from the first book, and two of the characters are the characters that were in the first book but finally delving into their backstories and their perspectives.
T: So [fans will] have to read it to figure out who those two characters are…I’m going to be doing that as well. [Zach,] Was there anything else you want to talk about or say?
Z: …for the most part I want people to understand that…what I really set out to do was tell character stories, and I feel that…if you don’t care about the characters, you don’t care about what’s going to happen to them. This is really what this book is about. I wanted people to be challenged to look at other perspectives that they don’t usually see…see the Hispanic boy, see the foreign Japanese girl who’s stuck in a land where she doesn’t understand the language…people that are faced with hardships…and with this book you see them going ‘Wait a minute! I haven’t necessarily thought of it from their point of view!’
T: I think that’s a complaint that a lot of post-apocalyptic zombie stories are getting lately. Even with The Walking Dead…there are times where it’s like ‘Isn’t this show about zombies? Where are the zombies?’…and…the zombies are just the driving force of the background. It is supposed to be about the characters. And you’ve definitely built a lot of that through your book… Do you think there are going to be more zombies in the future or are you going to keep it [going the same way]?
Z: There are going to be more. I mean, they don’t suddenly disappear – they are still a threat. But to me, zombies…aren’t that interesting because they’re not processing how to react and thoughts and all of that. They’re just driven by hunger. They’re the incident that kind of created a world where anything goes, there’s no one policing it. They are there. They are a threat. People talk about how they’re slow and how their strength diminishes…but when you’re fully surrounded by them, one wrong move and you get bit and that’s kind of just that.
They are still there. They are going to grow in numbers. They are going to pose another threat. But the real threat is what humanity is going to do when no one is watching. The question is ‘If you’re invisible for a day, what would you do?’ and [people say] ‘I will sneak in here, I will steal this, and I will go through this’…it’s like if Big Brother’s not watching then all bets are off. And I just wanted to show that some people are going to go out of their way to help those they can because you have to rely on each other. But the zombies are still going to be there as another threat, and other people are going to take advantage of it…like, ‘how can I benefit from this?’ Which is an issue we have today. Everyone wants to benefit from everything…[they’re] kind of…working against it.
Honestly, Zac is a wonderful person and it was so great to talk with him, so if you’re in the Orlando area on August 6th, I highly suggest checking out that release party at the Sand Lake Road Barnes & Noble! Or you can already order Welcome to Deadland on Amazon! Give it a read and let us know what you think in the comments…
Author: Tara Lynne
Tara Lynne is a fandom and geek culture expert, public speaker, and character cosplayer who is best known for her Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica), and Andrea (The Walking Dead) cosplays. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.