Exclusive Interview: “Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead” Author C.L. Werner
While we’ve had tons of zombie stories set in modern times (The Walking Dead), as well as in the future (Dead Space), the past remains a largely untapped setting for stories of the undead. Or at least it did until Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult expanded their undead board game Zombicide to include a medieval fantasy realm spin-off version called Black Plague. But for people who prefer to read about the living impaired, instead of playing with them, writer C.L. Werner has you covered. Hopefully with a big sword. In the following email interview, Werner discusses Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead (paperback, Kindle), the sequel to his previous horror-infused epic fantasy tale, Age Of The Undead.
In the interview I did with Tim Waggoner about his novel Zombicide: Invader: Planet Havoc, he explained that the game Zombicide is a survival board game about, obviously, zombies, while Zombicide: Invader is a space-based version of the game. What then is the game Zombicide: Black Plague about?
Zombicide: Black Plague, and its sequel, Zombicide: Green Horde, take place in a medieval fantasy world where the kingdom has suffered a near-apocalyptic outbreak of zombies across its Duchies. Great cities have become undead-infested ruins, armies have been massacred, and it seems no place is truly safe from the scourge that has arisen. Matters are a bit worse, as not only do you have the menace of the zombie hordes prowling the countryside in a relentless (and homicidal) hunt for the living, but this undead plague has itself been instigated and unleashed by evil necromancers, renegade wizards who have devoted themselves to the darkest of all magic. The necromancers, to a degree, can control packs of zombies and direct their undying hunger upon whatever target the death-master decides should be destroyed.
And then what is Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead about, and how is it connected, narratively and chronologically, to both the game and your previous Zombicide: Black Plague novel Age Of The Undead?
Isle Of The Undead is the direct sequel to Age Of The Undead, picking up mere weeks after the events in the first novel. I’ve made a concerted effort, however, to make it so that a readers won’t be lost if Isle is the first book in the series to fall onto their reading pile. It’s a deadly quest in its own right, with a group of more-or-less stalwart heroes (and somewhat more mercenary-minded pirates) journeying to the island stronghold of an elven sorceress in hopes they can find a way to turn back the zombie hordes rampaging across the kingdom.
The novel, like its predecessor, is firmly rooted in the Zombicide: Black Plague board game, so anyone who plays will get a smile seeing some familiar creatures and items pop up, and perhaps a knowing nod when they see something occur that they’ve had to deal with when having their own adventures. It isn’t necessary to have played Zombicide: Black Plague or Green Horde to enjoy the novel, but there’s certainly an extra level of fun to be had by those familiar with the game.
What about to the other Zombicide novels; are there any connections there? Like, does one of the zombies in Isle Of The Undead stay together long enough to bite an astronaut in Josh Reynolds’ Zombicide: Last Resort just before she’s sent into space, where she eventually bites someone in Cath Lauria’s Zombicide: Invader: Terror World?
That’s actually a very exciting notion. I like the idea quite a bit. I’m not sure if it would work since the modern Zombicide is set on our own world while Zombicide: Black Plague is set in an entirely different world…however, when magic is in play, you can never truly say never. I know as a player of the game, the crossovers always make for some real excitement and add just that dash of additional uncertainty. CMON has done crossovers in the game between, for example, Zombicide: Black Plague and Massive Darkness, so it might be possible. Reading the wrong hoary-old arcane tome at the occult bookstore and whamo, you’ve got a zombified orc wanting to chew your brain as you flee screaming into the subway. Could be a lot of fun.
So when in relation to writing Zombicide: Black Plague: Age Of The Undead did you come up with the idea for Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead, and what inspired this second book’s plot?
I think there was always a hope to do a follow-up. I really like the characters from Age Of The Undead and was looking forward to exploring this apocalyptic world with them again. Alaric, Helchen, Ratbag, and the rest are some of the most entertaining characters I’ve written in quite some time. To play around with that crew and see what they could do in very different situations was very appealing. When you have characters you like, sometimes just doing something new with them is inspiration enough.
That being said, I’d be a colossal liar if I didn’t confess that my biggest motivation to do a sequel, and why the sequel became Isle Of The Undead, was due to wanting to write more about the zombies themselves. The games have a wide variety of different zombie types, and the sheer amount of variety meant I couldn’t fit everything into Age Of The Undead. In particular, there was one monster I desperately wanted to use, but simply couldn’t in the first book. Happily, you’ll be meeting it in this one, along with a lot of other surprises.
Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead is clearly a horror-infused epic fantasy story. But are there any other genres at work in this story as well?
I’d say you have quite a few different flavors at work in Isle Of The Undead. Seasoning, if you will, rather than different genres. There’s a sprinkling of piratical swashbuckling, a dash of dungeon crawl, a hint (or more) of post-apocalypse survival, even a bit of kaiju eiga (or at least what I hope is a sufficiently imposing beast the heroes have to overcome). I think it can be dangerous to try to combine too many genres at once — there’s a risk of losing the focus and especially the tone of a story that way — but it’s always enjoyable to at least drop in elements that contribute to the narrative but at the same time evoke just a little of the feel of a completely different sort of story. I’m reminded of something like Drachenfels where, in this wonderful dark horror-fantasy, you have a character who seems to have just stepped out of an Italian Western.
Obviously, Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead is not your first novel. Are there any writers who had a particularly big influence on Isle but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Age Of The Undead?
Isle Of The Undead is possibly the first time I can think of when I’ve been influenced, to larger extent or not, by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. While Age Of The Undead did explore several of the same themes, the early portions of Isle Of The Undead were trying to evoke a similar feeling of desolation and ruin that Matheson conjures in his story.
I will also confess that a particular sequence of events (or, maybe the persistence of a particular character) owes a big debt to Michael Crichton. I can’t say anything more, or which of Crichton’s novels without giving away some surprises, so I think I’ll have to leave that there.
What about non-literary influences; was Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because putting zombies on an island makes me think of the Dead Island games.
To be honest, there are always scenes from particular movies that inspire the creative process, and there’s inevitably a pedigree of creators who, either consciously or subconsciously, have helped the writing process by blazing the trail first. The aspect of zombies on an island though was more or less dictated by that big fire-breathing chap on the cover-art: I needed an isolated location to feature that character, and an island is about as isolated as you can get. Zombies on an island, however, goes back to the very roots of the folklore. Zombies, of course, are historically associated with Haiti and other islands in the vicinity of Hispaniola. The word “Zombi,” though known in French for a long time, wasn’t known to the English-speaking world until William Seabrook wrote The Magic Island in 1929, a (mostly) nonfiction account of his time in Haiti. He recounts some stories about zombies in his work and even claims to have seen some from a distance. Seabrook’s book introduced zombies to America, and it wasn’t long before Hollywood was cranking out the very first zombie movie, White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. That film, naturally, was set in Haiti. Quite a lot of zombie movies would follow that trend, even the notorious Zombie from director Lucio Fulci in 1979 (which was released in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters and in Italy as Zombi 2, marketing itself as a direct sequel to George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead). Islands have a long history as zombie territory.
There are other aspects in Isle Of The Undead that were inspired by various elements from films. Any time I have a dragon prowling around, there’s bound to be Ray Harryhausen lurking at the back of my mind, and the kaiju Rodan not too far behind. As I was writing, one character became more and more like Robert Newton’s portrayals of buccaneers (most people may be familiar with his Long John Silver, but he did a turn as Blackbeard as well).
Of course, first and foremost, Zombicide: Black Plague had the largest influence on the novel. But I see I’ve anticipated your next question.
Yes, I was going to ask how familiar you were with Zombicide, and the Black Plague edition, before you wrote Age Of The Undead…
I was already very much a player of the fantasy Zombicide games before writing Age Of The Undead. I’d first encountered Zombicide itself at Adeopticon in Illinois several years ago, when CMON was demonstrating the first edition of the core modern game. While I didn’t jump on then, when Zombicide: Black Plague came around, I was certainly interested. The addition of fantasy elements to a zombie apocalypse was just too much to resist. That the game itself is a hell of a lot of fun is only further proof that resistance if futile (as certain folks would say).
For a time, I was able to get the game to the table every few months, but since then my group has scattered to the winds, and I’ve yet to put together a new one. So, for the moment, hordes of plastic zombies are entombed in their boxes waiting for the great day when they can rise again.
So how do you think your familiarity with the game may have influenced both the story you’re telling in Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead and how you’re telling it?
I believe that being familiar with the game most certainly influenced the structure of the combat scenes. Not so much in the way a fight plays out, but rather in what is necessary to take down the different sorts of zombies — and then staying true to those strictures from the game. Somebody who doesn’t play Zombicide might not notice these things, but I like to think that a regular player would.
One thing that’s come up in many of the interviews I’ve done with the authors of Aconyte’s books is that they try to write theirs so even people who don’t play the respective game can understand and enjoy the book. Given that, what will someone get out of Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead if they’ve played either regular Zombicide or Zombicide: Black Plague?
I hope that people who play Zombicide will be able to experience the setting and world in an entirely new way. At least the strategic side of a player’s game will be able to relax since there won’t be any trying to plan out the next move. At the same time, I’m hoping the more emotional brain-matter will be so invested in the characters that there will be plenty of anxiety over how the heroes will overcome their many, many zombified adversaries.
So, do you think Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead could work as an add-on for Zombicide: Black Plague?
Isle Of The Undead would probably work pretty good as a scenario or a campaign. I could see someone working with the tile sets to re-create some of the encounters from the novel. Indeed, maybe the players would have an easier time of completing their quest than Alaric and his comrades do. Then again, they might all end up being barbecued by an angry dragon.
As you said earlier, Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead is the direct sequel to Age Of The Undead. Do you consider these books to be a duology, the first two in a trilogy, the first two in a series of ongoing but connected novels…what?
If readers have enjoyed Age Of The Undead and Isle Of The Undead, then the best thing they can do to get more stories would be to let others know how great these novels are. Leave reviews, tell friends (heck, tell enemies), and spread the word around. Make sure that you’ve made your voice heard and that voice is saying “I want more.” It’s not said often enough, but readers make crucial to the creative process: without an audience, an author could write the greatest story ever and it wouldn’t matter because it would be no more than a bunch of words gathering dust. The readers are who keep a story alive. So do your part, and like a good necromancer, you can keep the zombie plague moving (well, shambling, since zombies aren’t all that fast in most cases).
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead?
If it hasn’t already been made clear: zombies. Lots of zombies. Zombies of all shapes and sizes and nastiness. Anybody who likes reading about desperate heroes trying to stave off hordes of undead, then this is the book for you. I strove to put just about everything into this one that I’d want to read about in a Zombicide: Black Plague novel, so whether from a gaming standpoint or from an undead-fan perspective, this book was written with you in mind.
Finally, if someone enjoys Zombicide: Black Plague: Isle Of The Undead, they’ll probably go read Age Of The Undead, if they haven’t already. But once they’ve done that, which of the other Zombicide novels would you suggest they read next?
It’s very difficult to say precisely which of the other novels would be the best fit. The modern Zombicide stories from Josh Reynolds will, obviously, have a much different feel from the medieval fantasy of Zombicide: Black Plague. At the same time, the sci-fi accouterments of Zombicide: Invader, courtesy of Tim Waggoner and Cath Laura will be a lot more “techie” than my novels are (just don’t tell Ursola I said that, as the dwarf has a lot of explosives and an equally volatile temper). So my suggestion would be to read them all. Having a stack of Zombicide books demanding to be read is not dissimilar to having a horde outside the door trying to claw their way in…