John O’Brien isn’t just an author; he’s been in both the Air Force and Special Operations as well as working as an EMT and a firefighter, so when someone like that sits down to write a zombie novel, you can be sure you’re getting an informed, authoritative voice. John was kind enough to grant us an interview and share his perspective on the undead, dish on his life experiences, and talk about the writing process.
Bryan Way: At what point did you decide to focus your creative energies toward writing?
John O’Brien: I have always had survival scenarios running through my head and while reading one evening, the light bulb came on – why don’t I write the stories? After that, it was putting the different scenarios together and sitting at the keyboard. It took some time to find my voice and style of writing and Chaos, the first book, shows that. However, I think I’ve found my style and it becomes easier with each succeeding book.
With regards to the infected ones in the books – the night runners – I had to have creatures to make the situation more interesting. Otherwise, it would be a book about gardening and setting up shop. I like the idea of fast, agile creatures so I came up with the night runners. I wanted for the main protagonists to be a match on any one-on-one encounter.
BW: Between the Air Force, Special Operations, and being an EMT/Firefighter, you’ve seen your fair share of action. What about your experience informs your writing process? Do you have any stories that have made their way into your writing one way or another?
JO: I draw upon my experiences and thought upon scenarios to set the stage for the book. There are a couple of scenes in the book which I’ve taken from real life experiences. I try to keep to the philosophy of ‘write what you know’.
BW: Are there any books, short stories, films, or television shows that serve as inspiration for you? If so, how do you incorporate that inspiration into your work?
JO: I’m a big fan of the late Robert Jordan. I think that’s where the detail comes from. I also like the Dark Tower series from Stephen King. I like any story or movie where the creatures are fast and agile. That aspect changes the way the story is told. In my opinion, slower creatures that don’t rest result in a more nomadic type of survival story. If any survivors try and build a fortress, they will eventually become surrounded.
BW: Where do your characters come from? Do they come to you spontaneously, or do you derive them from some source of inspiration that you can tabulate?
JO: The characters are derived spontaneously. Although, with that said, I think that any characters written about come from parts within each of us. Many of the central characters in the series were initially meant as place holders but came to forefront because of something they said or did. The story writes itself. I find myself often surprised by who shows up and the turn of events. I hold the philosophy that, once it’s on the page, it stays, and I have to write around it.
BW: The first book in the New World series, Chaos, takes place after the apocalypse. Did you create a backstory for this apocalypse beforehand, or do you flesh it out as you proceed through further novels?
JO: I had the back story in mind when I wrote Chaos. Some of the story line has progressed as I thought about it through the days. An idea will come to me and I think of ways to incorporate it. It’s difficult sometimes coming up with new scenarios and not rehash the same thing over and over. But that’s what makes it fun. And sometimes the story occurs as I write it. I’ll look at what I wrote sometimes and say, “What? How am I going to work around that?” I can remember a few instances where I tried to stop what was happening but the story continued and I gave up trying to alter it.
BW: The ‘zombies’ from the New World series aren’t like any other. Can you describe them for the uninitiated? Did any specific representation in another medium serve as an influence?
JO: The night runners are a ferocious and unrelenting new species. They have a pack-like mentality and hunt the streets at night searching for prey. Sunlight is their one weakness. I had to give them that as way for the remnants of humankind to survive. If they were 24/7, there’s no way anyone could live for long. Another aspect is that the genetic mutations have given the night runners better hearing, smell, and the ability to see in the dark. They communicate with a form of telepathy whereby they exchange images as a way to converse with each other. In addition, they are faster and more agile with a cunning nature.
I liken them to a cross between the creatures in I Am Legend and 28 Weeks Later. Although the night runners have the ability to evolve as time goes on.
BW: The latest in the New World series, Conspiracy, was released in November of this year. Do you intend to continue the series? How far ahead do you develop your plot-lines? Is each book intended to be taken on its own, or are you building toward a climax?
JO: The series will continue as the story hasn’t been completely told at this point. The eighth book only takes the group of survivors about five months down the road of the post-apocalypse. I have the entire plot line formulated in a larger sense and what is going to happen. Sometimes, a particular book will just take off in one direction and I have to put the main story into a succeeding book.
Each book continues from where the last one left off so they are not intended to be as stand-alone books. And yes, the series is building toward a resolution of sorts.
BW: Fan appreciation is a gigantic part of any independent author’s livelihood. What kind of rapport do you have with your fans?
JO: I appreciate the fans very much and interact with them on a daily basis. I enjoy this rapport and feel like they are extended family. The daily messages and reviews truly make my day. And, as cliché as it may sound, I have the best fans and readers. I would like to say thank you to each and every one. Your support and kind words mean so much! Thank you!
BW: Are there any other stories, apart from the New World series, that you can see yourself fleshing out in the future?
JO: I have ideas for further series but am focusing on this current series. I have to write that way as I tend to immerse myself in the story and characters. I just can’t write any other way. The characters are a big part of me and I’ll be sad when the story ends – yes, eventually it will have to come to an end.
BW: Thanks so much for taking part in this interview!
JO: Thank you so much for having me!
John began writing just a couple of years ago after reading several great books within the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre. The story had been running through his head for many years and it begged to be written and shared. The books contain some of the knowledge and experience he picked up in his years in the military, along with life lessons.
Since that time, he John has transitioned from the corporate world to write on the series full-time. The series, A New World, is his first foray into the writing world. He has published eight books to date with several more in the series planned.
John currently lives in the tranquility of the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys time outdoors.
A New World Series