- Deciding what points of view to cover in a story.
- Character development and where we find inspiration for how our characters behave.
- Lessons learned in traditional publishing and editing.
I got to where I am because I refuse to give up on the dream and continue to have new things to say.
Welcome to the twenty first episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with writer Kevin Mooseles about his writing and zombie apocalypse series, THE RESISTANCE IS DEAD.
Arthur: There is a lot of zombie apocalypse material out there. What was your inspiration for THE RESISTANCE IS DEAD and how did you set out to make it different from the typical zombie apocalypse story?
Kevin: The popularity of zombies really inspired the story. I saw a bumper sticker one day that said “I’d rather be killing zombies!” and thought to myself, “Would you? Really?” That thought led to the idea of treating zombie lore and the emergence of an outbreak as puzzle pieces to an elaborate conspiratorial mystery, which is an angle I haven’t seen used too much. Questions like “How is this possible?”, and “Why is this happening?” don’t get much lime light in traditional zombie stories.
I also wondered how an American President would handle such a crisis, so I wrote that perspective in too.
Arthur: What was your writing process for THE RESISTANCE IS DEAD? Did you have to pitch the idea to your publisher? What was the experience like?
Kevin: I started to get pieces of the story about a year before I actually put pen to paper. I pitched it to my publisher as a short story, and he suggested I do a book instead. Six months later the first book was finished. From crash coursing on story structure and fiction tips to working under deadline, writing the first book was thrilling, exhausting, challenging, and incredibly rewarding.
The more eyes you can get on your work before it goes to print, the better off you’ll be.
Arthur: It’s not often one can say they’re conducting research on zombies to write a book. How much research did you have to do – and how did you do it – to write the book?
Kevin: I wasn’t that big of a zombie fan when I started this process. Seeing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a wonderfully traumatic childhood memory, and I was a horror fan in general, of course, but not a zombie specialist. There was quite a bit of research involved. I am a much bigger zombie fan now, I have to say. I get it now. And I’m also in the camp that believes you need some humor in your zombie stories, otherwise the fun gets sucked out of the whole thing.
I would research organically. I covered the bases first, but then dove deeper into research as the story called for it. I remember Googling “White House Floor Plan” and “Sniper Rifle Silencers” in the same day as research and stopping in my tracks, thinking “I am definitely on some kind of list now.” But that comes with the territory. You have to just move on. It doesn’t hurt to have proof of being a fiction writer available at all times in case you do ever get a knock on your door, though.
Arthur: What are your biggest lessons you learned during the editing process for THE RESISTANCE IS DEAD? Did it have an impact on how you approached the writing of the second book?
Kevin: I love this question. Because the process of publishing the first book was so frantic, we let it go to print without giving it a hard grammar edit. I noticed that midway through writing the second book and stopped everything to fix those problems. I awakened my editorial eye through that experience, and it made me much more precise in finishing and editing the second book.
The more eyes you can get on your work before it goes to print, the better off you’ll be. No matter how good your storytelling is, or your dialogue, or whatever, we all have our blind spots. Fresh eyes help to spot those blind spots.
I saw a bumper sticker one day that said “I’d rather be killing zombies!” and I thought to myself, “Would you? Really?”
Arthur: How did you approach character development? Did you outline the plot before starting the prose?
Kevin: I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer, for the most part. I think stories would rather tell themselves if you can let them. I did have certain major plot points – some of which will be reached in the third book – in mind before I started the story, but other than those landmarks, I tried to let the characters get there in a way that made sense to them. The character, Patrick Mills, is mostly based on me. If I were a zombie geek instead of a general, fan-theorist geek. Another character is based on a friend of mine. President Adam Chambers was inspired by Bernie Sanders. I wrote the first book during the 2016 race, but Chambers isn’t Sanders. He started out in that ballpark, and became his own being. If you have emotional impressions of a character in mind, I’ve found it is much easier for their mannerisms and expression to flow naturally.
Arthur: How did you decide on which point of view you would write from?
Kevin: That one is a challenge for me. I have a number of different groups of characters and points of view interspersed through the series. I might do a first-person story one day, but this one was never meant to be that kind of story. In a perfect world I would have everybody’s point of view represented, but that doesn’t make for good storytelling. It gets to be too much for either the writer or the reader to comfortably keep up with. Who wants that?
You need some humor in your zombie stories, otherwise the fun get sucked out of the whole thing.
Arthur: How are you publicizing your work? Is there a strategy which yields a better return on the marketing investment? Is your publisher helping you?
Kevin: When it came to publicizing the first book, I reached out to a few podcasts, wrote a handful of Escapist articles with links to the website, and my publisher ran a few free promotions. I also spammed Reddit a bit. The Oubreak (Book 1) peaked at #15 in Occult Horror when it was released, then rose to the #1 spot during a promotion the next spring, also during a free giveaway, which is a headache, believe me.
For the second book, I took a more hands-on approach to marketing. I started from scratch, taught myself the basics, then started to put those lessons to practice. I’m an old-fashioned introverted writer, so the need we have to market through social media was something that took me a long time to act on.
I’m now on Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon. I’ve also recently offered an e-copy of my first book for free to anyone who signs up for my email list. I just yesterday finished fine-tuning the sign-up form and welcome email, but I hope more people will come on board as I figure out how to reach them.
Arthur: You’ve written a lot about movies and video games during your time at The Escapist. What video games do you think have the best stories? What makes them stand out among other video games?
Kevin: My favorite series is Fallout, and my favorite game is Fallout 4. There was an Easter Egg hunt in Fallout 4 in 2016 that I was involved in, and I found the egg. It was a terminal in a DIA facility that strongly hinted that Artificial Intelligence caused the nuclear war that took place in that universe. Bethesda never came out to say I found the egg, and I believe it’s because the plot of their next game, Fallout 76, which has only robot and creature non-playable-characters, will focus on an Artificial Intelligence uprising. That’s just my suspicion, of course, but it makes sense. I made a long YouTube video going into detail about the Fallout 4 Easter Egg here.
No matter how good your storytelling is, we all have our blind spots.
Arthur: There is often a bad transformation when bringing a video game to life in a movie. One example I’m thinking of is DOOM (even though I loved the movie when it came out). Why do think there are not many great “video game movies” out there?
Kevin: Half the fun of video games is story participation. Going to the big screen takes that away. Combine that with a low-hanging-fruit cash grab appeal and you have a recipe for disaster. Also, the negative reception for early game movies stigmatized it in the eyes of Hollywood.
Arthur: If you could write the script for the next big video game movie, what game would it be and how would you make sure the movie stayed true to the essence of the video game?
Kevin: LAYERS OF FEAR. I would keep it first-person, like HARDCORE HENRY, and unfold the story very much like the game. I love that game, if you haven’t played it, it is the story of a crazy drunken artist who has destroyed his life and is caught in an unending loop to undo the damage of his past in a house that is very haunted.
I hone my craft by actively reading, by treating the process as a sacred thing I participate in.
Arthur: Tell me about your journey to becoming a writer. When did you start writing and how did you get to where you are today? Are there successes and failures you learned from? How did you (and how do you continue) to hone your writing craft?
Kevin: Writing depressed poetry helped me cope through turbulent teenage years. I wrote my first science fiction story when I was about eleven years old, and started about three stories in my twenties, but didn’t really get the fiction bug until the idea for my current series started to take form. Writing for the Escapist was incredibly valuable in teaching me certain skills, but also building my confidence in the craft. I got to where I am because I refuse to give up on the dream and continue to have new things to say. My successes have been in reception, my failures have been largely based on exposure. I am still learning, so don’t have any nuggets of wisdom in that area.
I hone my craft by actively reading, by treating the writing process as a sacred thing that I participate in, and not necessarily something I have complete control over, and by chipping away at the wall between the stories I tell and the rest of my life. There are certain themes about alcoholism and substance abuse that I wrote into my story which have then become crucial in my own personal journey to get sober. I didn’t consciously intend to do that, but it happened, and I allowed it. Writing stories should be incredibly personal and honest for it to be the most effective. Stephen King said “Always tell the truth in writing.” I couldn’t agree more.