In his debut novel Welcome To Deadland (hardcover, digital), writer Zac Tyler Linville sets a coming of age story in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. But while his story is infested with the infected, in talking to Linville about his book — which was co-published by The Nerdist and Inkshares after winning their first publishing contest — it’s clear, as he puts it, that Deadland is “a book with zombies, not a book about zombies.”
I always like to start with the basics. So, what is Welcome To Deadland about?
When I set out to write it, I had read several post-apocalyptic stories that were set years, or decades, after the event that caused the destruction of the world as we know it, and the characters were raised to be hardened to the conditions surrounding them. Welcome To Deadland alternates between before and after chapters to tell the stories of who people were before the outbreak, what parts of themselves they were discovering and coming to terms with, and how a life-altering event turns all of that on its head. How does a junkie survive when he has to be responsible for a child, and his fix isn’t just a phone call away? College students are told they have to act a certain way, focus on academics, and perform to expectations. But when the world ends, are they prepared for what comes next? Welcome to Deadland examines human behavior when it’s easy to no longer follow the rules, and follows the characters as they’re forced to decide what’s important and what they’re willing, or not willing, to compromise to see the next day.
You could’ve set a coming of age story against the backdrop of any kind of apocalyptic catastrophe. Why did you decide to set Welcome To Deadland during a zombie apocalypse as opposed to a religious one or an alien invasion or a Matrix-slash-Terminator technology-run-amok one?
The main reason is that I was initially inspired by my years working as a theme park employee during college. When I was working, there would be huge crowds of people that I would have to move against to get to work, or I would confront me if something in their vacation didn’t meet their expectations. Often, they were exhausted by the heat, hunger, physical exertion, or slightly inebriated, and would be angry, annoyed, or incomprehensible. I began thinking of the crowds as zombie hordes, and that led to me thinking of what I would do if there was a world devastating event while I was at work or even at my apartment and couldn’t reach my family. To help some of the slower days go by, I planned escape routes, the best places to set up shelter, and thought of how I would set defenses and traps against zombie invaders. Any other type of catastrophe, such as aliens or one that was technology based, never occurred to me, because they weren’t a reflection of what I was encountering daily.
Along similar lines, why did you decide to have your zombies be of the biological variety, as opposed to the occult kind? Or the unknown origin kind?
I didn’t want the infection to be of unknown origins because I didn’t want to avoid the question of how they came to be. Lost promised to answer all of the viewers’ questions, to make everything come together in a comprehensive manner, and when they failed to deliver on that promise, it created a lot of discord. I didn’t want that to be my story, I wanted to make sure as many loose ends came together as possible, including the origins of the infection. There are hints in Welcome To Deadland, a few puzzle pieces that can be connected, that lead to where it all started, and that it was intentional.
As for the biological versus occult question, that will be addressed, but the answer isn’t something I can currently disclose. I know the answer, but it reveals too much, too soon.
Ah, gotcha. So, what zombie movies, TV shows, or other depictions influenced how the zombies would behave in Welcome To Deadland?
28 Days Later would be the main influence. The infected aren’t reanimated dead. In 28 Days Later, they refer to their disease as the “Rage” virus. Those who contract it are hungry for flesh, and are focused on their next meal.
There are other aspects to how the infected behave and react in Welcome To Deadland, or how the infection spreads, that I wouldn’t be able to exactly pinpoint what influenced them. Some elements of zombie-lore have become ingrained into pop culture that everyone has an unspoken agreement as to how they should be portrayed. I put my own spin on mine, but I upheld some of the standard beliefs as well.
Turning more to your writing style, what authors or specific books do you think were the biggest influences on Welcome To Deadland?
If I were to name books or authors that were influences on Welcome To Deadland they would probably be in a different manner than people are expecting. I have nothing but the utmost respect for J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins, I’m a huge, huge, fan of both the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series. I’ve read all of the books in both series more times than I’ve kept track of. Though both had elements I wanted to avoid. I didn’t want to tell a “chosen one” story, because it’s already been told, and told so well, and also because there’s an element of danger that is removed. I told a friend to read The Hunger Games, and halfway through it she said, “I’m enjoying this, but it’s hard to be as anxious or excited as I should be because I know there are two more books, so I know Katniss has to win.”
Those books also influenced me because they told me I needed to write with shifting Point-Of-View chapters and protagonists a la Game Of Thrones. If three people are telling the story, it gets to continue if one person’s story ends through death or infection. Which leads to another way in which Game Of Thrones was an influence, because those books showed me not to be afraid to take risks and let bad things happen to good people.
Scott Kenemore, who wrote Zombie, Ohio, said Welcome To Deadland would appeal to fans of Max Brooks [the author of World War Z], Joe McKinney [Dead City], and Jonathan Maberry [Kill Switch], and it’s also been compared to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and The Walking Dead. Do you think these are apt comparisons?
I found Station Eleven to be such a beautiful book. I didn’t read it until after my manuscript had been turned in and I was awaiting edits, but when I started reading it I could understand the comparisons and think it’s an apt one.
The Walking Dead makes clear sense as well. I describe Welcome To Deadland as, “a book with zombies, not a book about zombies.” And I think that’s something that can be said about The Walking Dead. The zombies are always there, they’re a clear and present danger, but they’re not the most pressing danger at all times, and they’re not the most compelling aspect of the story.
World War Z and Welcome to Deadland have similarities in that both books examining attempts to rebuild civilization after the outbreak and decimation of humanity. But the book handle that similar theme differently. World War Z is a much more global and militarized aspect at rebuilding and spans a larger timeframe, whereas Welcome To Deadland is a smaller scale, more intimate, and a shorter time frame.
I think readers who enjoy the works of Brooks, McKinney, and Maberry, as well as Kenemore, would all enjoy Welcome To Deadland because the tones are similar, the violence and fighting for survival are in all of the works, but the stories are handled differently and provide new aspects of thematic ideas.
What about the movie Zombieland? Cuz that’s the first thing I thought of.
I think it’s natural for people to immediately think of Zombieland in comparison, it has a theme park and zombies, when they hear about Welcome to Deadland and the premise. People have accidentally referred to my book as, Welcome To Zombieland. But beyond those two elements, the stories really don’t share much. Zombieland is a fantastic and fun movie, and I didn’t want to be too serious with Welcome To Deadland, so I included humor and lighthearted moments, but I wanted to challenge how people on how they perceive those who are different than themselves, and I wanted to address serious issues.
You kind of already hinted at this, but I’ll ask anyway: Is Welcome To Deadland a stand-alone novel, or are you planning to write a sequel or series of books?
Welcome To Deadland is the first in an intended trilogy. I have an outline for where the series goes, and I do know the ending to it all. I’m currently 25% through my initial draft of the manuscript for the second book, which picks up exactly where Welcome To Deadland ends. Welcome To Deadland tells a complete story in one sense, but there are doors left open at the end.
Has there been any talk of turning Welcome To Deadland into a movie, TV show, or video game?
One of the perks with being invited to join the Nerdist Collection is their first look deal at derivative rights and adaptations. But I can’t go into the details too much about what is going on behind the scenes, there’s a lot of time and negotiation that goes into making a deal and everything is still early.
Since Nerdist is owned by Legendary Entertainment, does that mean Legendary have first crack at it?
Yes, Legendary Entertainment has a first look and right of refusal deal, due to their ownership of Nerdist.
If it was up to you, who would you cast in the movie, TV show, or game of Welcome To Deadland, and why them?
I haven’t thought too hard on who I would cast. My current focus is on promoting the book and working on the sequel.
That said, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t day dreamed about when and if the time comes who I’d love to see in the movie. Idris Elba is a phenomenal actor; I’d be more than blessed to see him take on the role of Todd. Meryl Streep as Mag would be spectacular. Streep is always the right casting choice. Viola Davis’ acting abilities blow my mind, she’s hands down one of the most talented women on screen, and there is a role in my follow up book that I’ve written while visualizing her.
As for the main three — Asher, Rico and Wendy — I think it’s important to allow the readers to visualize these characters for themselves rather than have their perceptions influenced by any actors I might name.
Finally, if someone really enjoys Welcome To Deadland, what would you recommend they read next and why?
The books by the authors listed above — Kenemore, Maberry, Brooks, and McKinney — automatically come to mind. They’re tremendous authors, and their stories and works should be consumed and appreciated as well. Station Eleven is a beautiful book. But I’m currently in the midst of reading The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, and it’s another great spin on zombie-lore and has a film adaptation being released soon.