I’m very excited to have brand new author VM Zito on the blog today! Vincent is the author of the post apocalyptic novel, The Return Man, and he was kind enough to endure an interrogation, er, interview, from me, and take some time to answer a few questions. Also, the kind folks at Orbit were nice enough to offer one copy of The Return Man to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Vincent, your brand new novel, The Return Man, just came out!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a little about your background and what led to writing a novel?
Hello, and thanks for having me here at My Bookish Ways! It’s hard for me to believe, but I’ve been writing for twenty years — some of which were disciplined and committed to learning the craft, while others I barely wrote a page, and a few of those years I just quit cold turkey, discouraged. But I always came back to it.
Before THE RETURN MAN, I’d never written anything but short fiction. A novel was something I’d always wanted to do. It scared me — so many pages! — but I always say that being afraid is a horrible reason not to do something. (I have a motivational poster in my office, cheesy but comforting: Fear is a sign you are about to do something great.) So in 2008, I felt fearful but ready. A novel just seemed like the natural next step to me as a writer. THE RETURN MAN had been an idea in my head for a long time, and when I wrote the first few pages, it clicked, and I just had this strong immediate sense that it would work.
The Return Man is a dystopian zombie thriller set in the wastelands of America. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
The book is set four years after the zombie outbreak splits the U.S. into two parts. Out west, the Evacuated States are full of the dead, while the eastern Safe States are still zombie-free. But there are so many grieving survivors, people whose friends and family now roam the West as zombies. The hero Henry Marco is a professional corpse tracker that you can hire to find your zombified loved ones and put them out of their misery. When the new government finds out what Marco is doing, they order him on a crazy, suicide mission into the Evacuated States to dispose of a mysterious dead doctor. And they won’t tell him why.
What were some of your biggest influences in writing The Return Man?
I’ve been a zombie fan forever, so movies like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead hugely influenced THE RETURN MAN. But the novel also shares its spirit with other favorites from my boyhood: James Bond and Indiana Jones films, all those mad, fantastic, over-the-top action sequences that are impossible to take quite seriously but you love them anyway. In some ways I even imagined my character Henry Marco as a post-apocalyptic Indiana Jones — not always in control, stumbling through insane danger, but quick-thinking and somehow always able to pull triumph from his ass at the last second.
Why do you think the zombie genre, as well as post apocalyptic novels in general, are so popular right now?
I think there’s an underlying sense of wish fulfillment in post-apocalyptic horror. The economy has hit us hard, and many of us feel powerless; you see it in the headlines, how the 99% feel disenfranchised by the 1% in charge. A zombie apocalypse is a chance to start over, albeit in a horrific way, to turn the current power structure on its head. We imagine ourselves becoming heroes, rising from the bottom. Free from restrictions. Governing ourselves for a change. Of course, the death and destruction would be devastating in reality, but in our fantasies they almost seem like a fair trade. And so we want what we should fear most.
What are some of your favorite authors or novels?
I’m really bad at narrowing down my favorite authors. The list is constantly in flux, but a few of the constants are John Banville, Jack Ketchum, Alan Moore, Bret Easton Ellis, and Ray Bradbury, among many, many others. Same goes with novels, but definitely worth naming are The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Ghosts by John Banville, and Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. Each in its own way taught me about the craft of writing and the art of story-telling.
How about faves featuring zombies?
WORLD WAR Z by Max Brooks. AUTUMN by David Moody. And I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson, although it’s about vampires. I’m a believer in knowing your roots, appreciating where the subgenre comes from, and I AM LEGEND (written in 1954) was the genesis for Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
If the zombies were coming and you had to make a quick getaway, which book would you grab to take with you (you can only take one)?
Hmmm. I’m going to be practical. I’ll grab the SAS Survival Handbook by John Wiseman, since I would need all the help I can get in the wild, zombie-infested post-apocalypse. I don’t even know how to work the grill in my backyard.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
My other passion is trail running, just disappearing for a few hours in the forest and giving my legs a good thrashing up and down the mountain. And, of course, I geek out over video games (Uncharted 3, anyone?) and horror movies.
Do you have any advice that you would give to struggling writers?
Writing workshops are painful but worthwhile (once you figure out whose advice to take and whose to politely disregard). Compare yourself to good writers, then eliminate the differences. Be honest, but don’t be mean to yourself. Keep writing. Once a year, read a really shitty book, just so you can think, “This is awful, and it got published! I can do better.” But most of all, focus on writing something you truly like, which is more important than getting published in the grand scheme of things. And remember, fear is a sign you are about to do something great.
Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us?
There’s not much to report yet. I’m in the early stages of plotting another book; it’s a supernatural tale (no zombies), set in the spooky backwoods of Vermont. Hopefully I’ll be done with it in another year. Until then, I hope you all enjoy THE RETURN MAN, and thank you again for chance to introduce myself!
Author comments are in a darker gray color for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments