Timothy W. Long, author of the AMONG THE LIVING zombie series and other books, is an awesome guy. A fellow Permuted Press author, he’s funny, hardworking and ambitious, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with at horror cons. I was happy to interview him for the blog.
Craig: What have you contributed to the genre? What’s your best known work? Tell us about it!
Tim: I’ve written 4 zombie novels and I’ve tried very hard to make each one unique. AMONG THE LIVING is my biggest seller. The book revolves around the first couple of days of a zombie outbreak in Seattle and focuses on characters and character development over the zombies in the book. One of the main characters, Kate, is a young woman who was abused growing up. Now she is a serial killer that lures men to hotel rooms before dispatching them. When zombies invade she is allowed to get away with murder and she loves it. The other characters in the book are almost as entertaining. One is a drug dealer that would rather barricade his house and smoke pot while ignoring the threat right outside his door. This lifestyle does NOT last long. This was my first book and still my favorite. The sequel, AMONG THE DEAD, was recently released and I am following it up with a third and final book called AMONG THE ASHES.
Craig: As writer, do you prefer fast or slow zombies, and living or undead? Building on these basic themes, what do you consider to be your own trademark or unique innovation as an author?
Tim: I’ve done both and enjoyed writing about both. I appreciate the simplicity of the slow shamblers, the mass of undead closing in and the horror knowing that there is nothing that can be done to prevent your demise. On the other hand I also feel like slow zombies can be about at threatening as an elderly person on a bender. If someone has the stamina they can do enough running and climbing to get away.
One of the most horrifying things about the fast zombies, as in 28 Days Later, is just how fast they can chase you down. I do NOT want to run from those guys. I’d be out of breath in 15 seconds, and then eaten in about 30 more.
Craig: What makes zombies so interesting to write about?
Tim: I don’t really write about zombies. I use them as a plot device to tell character based stories. Zombies have been around for ages and they make a great vehicle to explore themes like the collapse of civilization–about how we treat others, be they whole of mind and body, or a shambling corpse-like thing with a sudden bulls eye on their forehead. They are also great for satire because you suddenly have this living corpse to work with as sort of the “straight man” in a comedy routine. I explored this in my book THE ZOMBIE WILSON DIARIES. A man stuck alone on a deserted island with only a walking corpse to fill in as his “Friday”. It’s a riff on Castaway but his volleyball has teeth. I like to say that the book is the most fun you can have with a corpse in a coconut bra.
But there is also a lot of variety in zombies. In my book BEYOND THE BARRIERS, there is an Ex-Special Forces soldier named Erik Tragger that decides to just run to the hills when the zombie apocalypse happens. When he returns to civilization he finds cities ruled by the dead. A loner, he has to come to grips with trusting people again. This book is action packed and features slow zombies. But it also has ghouls, people that have consumed the flesh of zombies and changed. They are smarter than the average Z and they are even able to sort of herd the hordes as well as direct them to do battle. For those that like the lone soldier against the zombie trope, this is the book for them.
Craig: Which writers do you particularly admire, and what did each teach you about the craft or profession of writing?
Tim: I think Jonathan Maberry is one of the greatest guys around. He is always willing to drop what he is doing an help new writers out. I met him at Horrorrealm in 2010 and he passed on what to me has become my favorite piece of writing advice. We writers are here to help each other out – it’s not a competition. I recently had a friend and fellow writer say to me. “Tim, you probably don’t realize how many people you help out in the genre.” I hope he’s right because that’s my goal. Now go buy Maberry’s Dead of Night. This book should be required reading for zombie fans.
As a self-professed fantasy nerd, I have been reading Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time books since 1990 and sadly, finished the last one in January. I have learned more about world building from Jordan than any other writer. He also had a unique way of pulling off character traits and sticking to them over the course of 4 million words.
I’ve been reading Stephen King for over 30 years and with very few exceptions, I’ve read just about everything he has put out. King is the master of creating characters you love or love to hate. He gets in their head and by the end of one of his books you swear they were a long lost friend, assuming they actually survive until the end of the book. I also learned that it’s okay to off main characters.
“kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” – Stephen King
Craig: What’s the last book in the genre that you particularly enjoyed?
Tim: While not strictly a post-apocalyptic novel, the newest David Wong book This Book Has Spiders was a very funny and also very competent zombie book. This is the sequel to John Dies at the End and it was just a terrific read. It had a lot of heart and made me laugh out loud, in public, many times.
Craig: What is your favorite zombie metaphor in fiction or film?
Tim: My favorite is the zombies that I see go to work every day. I take a commuter train to and from work so I see real life zombies on a daily basis. Bleary-eyed folks wait outside staring at the ground and then shuffle onto the train, take out phones, and stare at them without saying a word to anyone around them. I added a scene to my newest book, AMONG THE DEAD, with a zombie attack on the very same train. I tried to imagine how horrifying it would be if some survivors were stuck on the second floor of a moving train while a zombie attack happened below. There would be nowhere to go as the virus spread. Trapped, surrounded by the press of humanity as the biters get closer and closer. Scary!
Craig: What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Tim: Shaun of the Dead. I have seen this movie so many times I can quote lines. Not only is this a very funny movie with great leads in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, it’s also a traditional zombie movie that hits all of the tropes we have come to know in love.
Craig: Which of the following appeals to you most about the genre—zombies, survival horror, apocalypse—and why?
Tim: I like the speculation that comes into play regarding the end of the world. Much like Science Fiction, this genre is all about “what if?” I’m fascinated with survival horror as well because it’s much more realistic (to me) than a ghost story. It seems like we could have an apocalyptic situation on our hands any day, if you believe the media, and it’s a lot of fun to speculate and consider what to do if the world really does go to hell. I seriously doubt it will ever happen but you can say the same thing about warp drives in Star Trek.
Craig: Which is your favorite type of story—apocalyptic (we’re seeing the collapse), or post-apocalyptic (the collapse has already happened)—and why?
Tim: I really like both quite a bit. When I wrote my novel AMONG THE LIVING I set it during the first two days of a zombie outbreak in Seattle. I did this mainly because I couldn’t find books that dealt with this aspect. Most books, and movies, for that matter, cover the outbreak in a short amount of time so they can get on to the juicy bits.
I’m also a big fan of post-apoc due to Stephen King’s The Stand which I have read at least half a dozen times over the year. He does such an amazing job of setting up the entire end of the world and then following the characters on an immense journey across a shattered America. I don’t know that any book or series has ever had the depth and epic feel since.
I’ve also written in a time frame set months after the zombie apocalypse. My book BEYOND THE BARRIERS finds a survivor leaving his mountain hide out after months to find the world greatly changed.
Craig: What is your approach to writing? How do you complete a novel?
Tim: I have a very set schedule for writing and I devote about 2 hours a day to the craft. I’m lucky to have a commute that allows me to compose while I take a train into and out of Seattle every day. When I’m close to finishing a book or hard at work on edits, I can easily spend 4 hours a day and most of my weekends on the final parts of a project.
I mentioned craft because I’m a firm believer that writing is indeed a craft that gets better the more you use it. I don’t talk about or think about writing. I write. There’s no mystical muse that pops up and sprinkles pixie dust on writers to get inspiration flowing. In fact the best writing advice I have ever seen is this: just write!
As far as completing a book, well it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world to write those final words “The End” and then sit back and look at your word count. Seeing a book to completion is a labor of love and it requires a disciplined approach to writing. You have to have the end in mind and constantly work towards that finale.
Craig: What are the key elements to a great story, and how do you approach them?
Tim: Great characters make great stories and that’s what I shoot for when I write. I try very hard to make them realistic and to give them traits that we can all identify with. For instance, in my book Among the Living, one of the main characters is spending the first day of the zombie apocalypse mourning the loss of his young son the year before. I felt that it added gravity to the character and made them sympathetic but not just because they were about to be caught up in a bad situation. I do think it’s important to give characters back stories and to have a goal or path in mind for their journey through the book.
I also think that great action scenes need to unfold like movie scenes. I try very hard to do this by hitting all of the senses when I write. It’s not just about describing the various shades of blood on clothing. I also want the reader to feel like they are there by describing sounds and smells.
I write for me first and if I’m not writing realistic and compelling characters then I feel like I am cheating my self out of a good story.
Craig: What are you working on? What can we expect next from you?
Tim: I’m working on an Urban Fantasy series, my first real break from writing post-apocalyptic fiction in 3 years. I’m also working on the final book in the Among the Living series. Book three, the finale, will bring to close my trilogy that takes place in Seattle. Over the course of some 325k words we will see the first week of a zombie apocalypse in great detail. I think the ending is going to surprise people. As dark as the books have been I have a big surprise in store. Watch for it in 2014.
Craig: Tim, thanks for dropping by!