Sean Schubert: On Writing About the Living Dead

Sean Schubert offered some very interesting thoughts about writing when we conversed a few weeks ago.


The Zombie Apocalypse as Disaster Scenario

I’ve always considered these kinds of stories, whether in film or text, as examples of disaster stories not unlike natural disaster, sinking ships, crashing planes, or any other situation in which people seem to find themselves in a no win scenario. Whether watching, reading, or writing, I find it fascinating in to see how the characters respond and how they interact with one another and their changing environment. It’s the people to which I am drawn.

In disasters, people...survivors make choices which ultimately impact their hold on their humanity. Some are more willing to sacrifice pieces of themselves to continue to draw breath at whatever the cost. Until we find ourselves in similar positions, we will never know how we would act or what we would be willing to sacrifice. I don’t suspect that makes me terribly different from other authors/film makers from the genre, but that is what likely drives much of the art surrounding the stories of the undead.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teams

I do, however, like to focus on ordinary people rather than the specially trained special ops characters or other larger than life heroes. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy reading about those kinds of heroes too, but the stories I craft tend to pay more attention to the common man...there are, after all, a hell of a lot more of those than there are the others. It’s the common man’s response to the disaster stimuli that I find so interesting. It’s those characters who don’t realize that they too possess all that is needed to survive an apocalypse, but often their survival is dependent upon cooperation with other people.

I think that perspective is likely tied to my lifelong history of playing team sports. I’ve played soccer for close to 40 years and have learned that in order to win, every player has to lean on others regardless of skill. My characters are the same way. Each brings something different to their group which helps them all stay alive for at least one day more. In the apocalypse, time, after all, is measured by the moment.

Alaskans and the Living Dead

Alaska poses its own set of challenges separate from the unfolding zombie plague. The cold, the wildlife, the environment, and the distance all challenge its residents; the addition of zombies to the mix just ups the ante. I try to introduce the elements without being too heavy handed about it. Alaskans typically take things as they come with regard to those environmental challenges, so the growing cold, the gathering darkness, and even zombies are, after certain adjustments, taken in stride. It’s just part of the survival mentality of the Last Frontier.

Evolution of The Alaskan Undead

The Alaskan Undead Apocalypse is an evolving storyline. The saga, so far, involves three complete books with a fourth in process right now. The original plan was for a trilogy, but more story continued to emerge. The ongoing apocalypse’s evolution continues to drive the characters the same way as it does my writing.

In school, I was taught to map and frame a story. I was instructed how to create character arcs and the like. However, I’ve found that allowing the stories to reveal themselves to me as I write is much more natural. When I have tried to map and craft the story, it has felt contrived and unrealistic. Instead, I allow the characters to have their own direction and to make mistakes and drive my writing rather than the other way around. There is no master plan of which to speak. I did try and do a map for a story in Containment, but I found that my characters didn’t always cooperate with my plan, so I’ve all but given up on doing anything of the sort. I have some vague ideas and some vision for scenes and a general direction, but I try not to get bogged down in the details before I arrive there in my writing.