Exclusive Interview: “Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead” Author C.L. Werner


With Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer C.L. Werner is concluding his series of medieval fantasy novels inspired by the zombie board game Zombicide: Black Plague.

In the following email interview, Werner discusses what inspired and influenced this supernaturally scary story, as well as why it’s the end of this saga.

C.L. Werner Zombicide Black Plague City Of The Undead

As we discussed in the interview we did about Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead, Zombicide is a survival board game set during a zombie apocalypse, and Zombicide: Black Plague is a fantasy spin-off set in a medieval fantasy realm. What then is Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead about?

In City Of The Undead, the heroes think they’ve found a way to contain the zombie outbreak.

That’s not playing too wide with what happens in the book. Gets tough trying to give away too much since it could be counted as spoilers for the previous novel.

And when does it take place in relation to Age Of The Undead, which is the first book in this series, and Isle Of The Undead, which is the second?

City Of The Undead takes place immediately after the events of Isle Of The Undead. A matter of a few days, in fact. If you’ve read Isle, you’ll see that it picks up from the epilogue in that book.

In relation to Age Of The Undead, we’re several months out from the conclusion of that story. The Black Plague has had plenty of time to spread and bring destruction to a wide swathe of the kingdom. The situation with the zombie outbreak has only escalated as time goes on and things are increasingly desperate for the living survivors.

When in the process of writing Age Of The Undead and Isle Of The Undead did you come up with the idea for Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead?

The general idea for a third novel was always in mind while I was writing Isle Of The Undead, but the precise details weren’t entirely solidified beyond two aspects that I wanted to include with regards to a couple of undead threats that I wanted to use.

At one point in the development of the story, it was going to take place in Wolfsburg, for example, before the setting of Zanice with its canals was suggested. That opened up so many ideas for a unique atmosphere and some great ways to make the zombie encounters different from what was in the previous books that I immediately jumped onto it. Don’t worry though, I still had to bring some wolfz into the story, so there’s a bit of Wolfsburg-esque material in there.

Like those previous books, Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead is a horror-infused epic fantasy story. But are there any other genres at work in this story?

I think City Of The Undead leans a bit more into the apocalyptic theme than the previous books. Maybe it’s the larger scope of the devastation on display. Zanice was an important port city, far bigger than Singerva in the first novel. That lends itself even more to a feeling of urban desolation and emptiness. You get these tantalizing glimpses of what Zanice was and then have that contrasted against what it has become.

Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on City Of The Undead but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Isle Of The Undead or Age Of The Undead?

With this more apocalyptic feel, I think I kept trying to invoke Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, at least as far as the general feel of that story. As far as an influence, that was a story I always had in mind. I even listened to the soundtrack of Omega Man [the 1971 movie based on I Am Legend] when I was writing the novel.

Speaking of movies, was Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead influenced by any movies? Or, while we’re on the subject, any TV shows or games? Other than Zombicide: Black Plague, of course.

I actually drew from all three Zombicide games while writing City Of The Undead, even playing around with some elements from the upcoming White Death game (which I hope will be nice treats for players who read the book).

There’s also a few bits of crossover with CMON’s other big fantasy game, Massive Darkness. Since there are crossover materials between both games, I felt that a bit of crossover in the novels was fitting. If you take a good look at the cover art, you’ll even see some of that on display.

Another influence, at least for a key sequence (which may constitute SPOILER territory) was the movie The Valley Of Gwangi. Though I did my own thing with it, the setting of a cathedral was certainly inspired by that movie.

Now, my understanding is that City Of The Undead is not just the third Zombicide: Black Plague novel of yours, it’s also going to be the last. Or at least the last one with these characters. How come?

I think there’s always a temptation to take things beyond their logical stopping point. One thing that I’ve learned (to my cost) is to try to keep a story within its limits. I’ve always regretted the loose ends I left with my Witch Hunter novels for Warhammer, and I didn’t want to do that with my Zombicide: Black Plague stories. A trilogy is a reasonable stopping point. If there’s sufficient demand, then you can look at further books, but they should really tell a different story and feel like their own thing.

C.L. Werner Zombicide Black Plague City Of The Undead

Did you know it would be the last one going in, and thus have a chance to give this story a proper ending?

I didn’t know it was the last one, but from the outset I wanted to have a final conclusion for several of the characters in the narrative. That kind of naturally led to this being a finish to the trilogy. The story arc with these characters just felt right to peak with City.

So, do you think Age, Isle, and City form a proper trilogy, one that should be read back-to-back, or is Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead just the third book of three?

I think a reader will get something extra by watching the progression of characters like Helchen and Gogol, but I’ve tried very hard to make each book stand on its own feet. I don’t think a reader will get lost picking up any book in the series, though obviously there would be a few spoilers in play for previous books when you read them out of order.

And you kind of answered this already, but is this the end for you writing Zombicide novels, or are you going to start something new within this realm?

I’m as much a fan of Zombicide as anybody, so I’d never turn my nose up at returning to this world and writing something new. As of now, there’s nothing on the schedule, but if enough readers want it, maybe it’ll happen.

Though if CMON ever does a dieselpunk / WWII setting for a Zombicide game I’ll likely get blocked by my editor for nagging about doing a story for it.

In the aforementioned interview we did about Isle Of The Dead, you said that novel, “…would probably work pretty good as a scenario or a campaign” for Zombicide: Black Plague. Have you talked to anyone at CMON [who publish the board game] or Guillotine Games [the designers] about making that happen?

I can’t say that I’ve really broached the subject with anyone at CMON or Guillotine Games. They’ve been extremely busy getting Zombicide: White Death developed and ready to go, along with all their other projects (I see their Masters Of The Universe game is getting ready for another run as I type this). It just seemed audacious of me to take up more of their valuable time when they already have so much on their plates. I started to tinker around with some ideas of my own, but nothing that looked professional enough to send their way. Game design and fiction are two different disciplines and you need somebody to reign in your writers when they get too fiddly with the rules.

Hollywood loves zombies. Do you think Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead and the other books could work as a bunch of movies or a TV show?

I think these stories would work better as separate movies. If done as a TV series, likely a 12 episode run would be best. There’s a tendency these days to stretch things well past the length they’d work best at. I always pay attention to pacing, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s something I obsess over and it’s the single biggest thing that slows down the writing process for me.

It’s also what makes it so hard for me to enjoy a lot of movies and TV shows. They either feel drawn out, or, by contrast, they feel rushed. Nothing happening is bad, but so is having events race past without giving you time to measure their impact. I’d go back to something like Jurassic Park and contrast the pacing of that film with that of the recent Jurassic World: Dominion. Even though the latter has a longer run-time, it still has too much story for the narrative to properly breathe. That’s something you always need to bear in mind when adapting a story for the screen is the manner in which the story is best told.

The sheer variety of zombies on display over the course of these novels certainly makes it ripe for grisly visuals, and I think there’s enough action to appeal to an audience. The characters are wonderfully varied and have backgrounds and personalities that lend themselves to good drama. I could see a good screenwriter really expanding on them were the novels adapted into a TV series.

If someone wanted to adapt these novels into a series of movies or a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Helchen, Alaric, and the other main characters?

To be honest, I usually “cast” my characters in my head as I’m writing. I find that helps immensely with dialog and mannerisms when I do that. Consistency, as it were. The hard part about that is I watch mostly older films and most of my cast are either deceased or retired. So your question makes it tough since the people I have in mind aren’t available. For instance, I always envisioned Martine Beswick [Thunderball] as Helchen Anders and it’s hard for me to picture anyone else after having that chiseled into my brain.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead?

If someone is a fan of fantasy and really wants that apocalypse feel, I think this is your novel, even more than its predecessors. The deserted vibe of Zanice gets to be pretty creepy in its own right after a while.

Plus, you’ve got an insane amount of different zombies in this book. Really pulled out all the stops there. Zombie archers, zombie orcs, zombie rats, zombie crows, zombie wolves, zombie y…but I don’t want to spoil everything. Just trust me, if it can become a zombie, it’s probably lurking in this book.

C.L. Werner Zombicide Black Plague City Of The Undead

Lastly, if someone enjoys Zombicide: Black Plague: City Of The Undead, and they’ve already read Age Of The Undead and Isle Of The Undead, what fantasy zombie novel that someone else wrote would you suggest they read next?

I obviously can’t speak from a position of authority since there’s a lot of stuff out there that I haven’t read. But I’d be negligent not to mention Zombieslayer by Nathan Long, part of the Gotrek & Felix series for Warhammer. The living-impaired show up in a lot of Warhammer novels, but Nathan has a smooth style and that series is just a blast to read.

More in the range of historical fantasy, but readers might find the Tomes Of The Dead range from Abaddon Books could be a good place to start. Each of the novels in that range is independent and takes place in a different setting, but many of them would appeal to a fantasy fan. The Devil’s Plague by Mark Beyon, for instance, is set during the English Civil War, while Rebecca Levene’s Anno Mortis is set during the reign of Gaius Caesar — better known as the infamous Caligula. I think a stumbling block for readers in North America is that the series didn’t get good distribution in the U.S. at least. I know I only ever saw Toby Venables’ Viking Dead in a bookstore around here, so online shopping might be the only option for some people.



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