Bestselling zombie author Shawn Chesser didn’t just wake up and jump on the undead bandwagon after seeing an episode of The Walking Dead. According to the prolific writer himself he’s been a zombie fanatic for decades, with a love of George Romero that extends all the way to his shambling, slow moving zombies. Shawn is genuine, modest, straightforward, and sincere, all traits that bleed into the pages of his work, which might help explain in part why his wildly popular series STZA – short for Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse – has catapulted him into the top ten of Amazon horror writers in recent months – right next to his idols Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy. The riveting series includes TRUDGE, SOLDIER ON, IN HARM’S WAY, A POUND OF FLESH, ALLEGIANCE, MORTAL, WARPATH, GHOSTS and mostly recently FRAYED – which released in published July of this year and almost instantly became a bestseller on Amazon. The Northwest native graciously took the time to answer a few questions for The Escapist.
DS: Hi Shawn. Thanks for taking the time to give us this interview. Let’s start with an easy one. Can you tell us where you are from and how long you’ve lived there?
SC: I’m from Portland, Oregon. I’ve lived here for 42 of my 47 years, so I guess that qualifies me as a local.
DS: How did you get into writing?
SC: In the early eighties I clacked away a little on my late stepfather’s Brother word processor. Nothing came of that and life got in the way until I decided to write my first novel … on my iPhone. I wrote ‘Trudge: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’ mainly for myself as kind of a discipline exercise. Just a few years sober, in 2010; I tapped out scenes on the phone’s yellow notepad while my boy played indoor soccer. At the end of each session I would email what I’d written to myself, then, once I got home, I would copy and paste the day’s work into an MS Works document. Slowly but surely I pieced together a story. However, it wasn’t until a friend at work read it and proclaimed it “pretty good” that I thought about self-publishing it on Smashwords. The rest is history … I guess.
DS: What was the first book you read as a kid?
SC: I’m old enough to have cut my teeth on the ‘See Spot Run’ books, but I think the first stories that really got me excited about reading was ‘Stuart Little’ by E.B. White. Something about an adventurous little mouse called to me.
DS: How did you get into writing about zombies?
SC: I remember my mom allowing me to watch Romero’s Night of the Living Dead when I turned twelve. That black and white classic spawned my love of the genre. Finally, as I mentioned above, after reading just about everything about Zs I could get my hands on, I decided to spin my own little yarn.
DS: Your latest release ‘Frayed: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’ the 9th book in the bestselling series, is burning up Amazon. Tell readers a little more about the series and what’s in store in Frayed.
SC: My STZA series combines a healthy dose of military action featuring stealth helicopters and exotic weaponry with an ongoing and intertwined story arc about a group of civilian preppers who are also struggling to survive the zombie apocalypse.
Here’s a Frayed blurb:
Since that last normal Saturday in July, the Omega virus has indiscriminately delivered destruction and death to all four points of the compass-the latter having recently been visited upon former Delta Force soldier Cade Grayson and the small group of civilian survivors making their home in the subterranean compound near Eden, Utah.
In the three weeks since mounting a brash rescue mission to a zombie-infested Los Angeles and returning home to find lives of loved ones hanging in the balance, Cade has occupied himself with runs outside the wire to procure supplies necessary to ride out what the Farmer’s Almanac predicts will be a long, cold winter.
As Cade and his team seize an unforeseen opportunity provided by the plummeting temperatures, he quickly realizes they are in a race against time-and nature’s fickle whims. And as they all labor to make the most of this gift horse, little does he know, even as Old Man Winter covers the valley with the first snow of the season, the infamous Mister Murphy is about to hurl a wicked curveball his way. Because like the fabled butterfly effect-a single action from the past is about to set in motion a chain of events that could at once spell doom for Eden as a sanctuary and scatter the entire group into the wind.
Come along and see if our tenacious little group will Survive the Zombie Apocalypse for one more precious day.
DS: How many books are you planning in this series?
SC: I’m having a blast writing them, that’s for sure. I have three more banging around in my head at the moment. In a perfect world I find a way to keep the story fresh and engaging enough so that the series keeps rolling right along.
DS: Do you have any plans to write outside the zombie genre?
SC: I want to write some kind of societal collapse story. It’ll probably be man-caused, either an EMP or nuclear attack … something along those lines.
DS: Have you ever been in the military?
SC: No I haven’t. I do, however, have a number of readers with military backgrounds from all branches. They are invaluable in keeping me on my toes when it comes to the technical stuff in my books. Be it weapons; communications devices, the lingo, or vehicles, these men and women supply me with information I wouldn’t get from a web search or foray into Wikipedia.
DS: What were you doing for a living before you became a full-time writer?
SC: (Covers mouth and whispers) I was a waiter in a pretty nice dinner house. White jacket, bow tie, celebrities … the works.
DS: When did you first know you’d made it as a writer?
SC: Shortly after publishing my third book, I guess. Wish I was the journaling type, and then I’d know for certain. That was about four years ago and coincided with a growing readership that through social media began asking for the next STZA installment, usually only days following the previous release. My wife believed in me enough to let me turn in those dinner jackets. Finally quitting the company I’d been with for two decades was very surreal. Liberating, but definitely surreal.
DS: What inspired you to write your first book?
SC: The need to see if I could actually finish something I started.
DS: How would you describe your writing style?
SC: Minimalist, but evolving. I have to admit that I still cringe when I read some of my early writing as the prose is pretty bare bones.
DS: How did you come up with the title for your latest release?
SC: Frayed is one word that describes best my little band of survivors after having survived several months of the zombie apocalypse.
DS: If there is one thing in your work that you hope readers will pick up on, what is it?
SC: That the words on the page were derived from the movie constantly running in my mind. I would hope the readers live as vicariously through the actions of my characters as I get to.
DS: What books or authors do you feel have influenced you the most as a writer?
SC: As far as post-apocalyptic fiction goes a couple of books really started my imagination spinning. The first was “Lucifer’s Hammer,” by Larry Niven, a story about a comet strike on earth and the bleak aftermath mankind struggles through. Stephen King’s “The Stand,” is still an all-time favorite of mine. The moment Charles Campion escaped the bio lab and brought the sickness with him and shared it with humanity, I couldn’t put the book down. In a couple of instances I have thrown nods to The Stand in my series. Another book I really devoured was J.L. Bourne’s “Day by Day Armageddon.” The way that story was written, in diary form, really kept me turning the pages. Not to mention the military slant which is right up my alley!
DS: What advice do you have for people looking to survive the zombie apocalypse?
SC: In the words of my protagonist Cade Grayson: Stay frosty and watch your six!
DS: What advice do you have for new writers looking to emulate your success?
- Be accessible and engage your readers as much as possible. Be sincere in your interactions with them and you’ll gain many new friends.
- NEVER engage a reviewer in a war of words. You will lose, in more ways than you may know.
- Remember that other writers aren’t your competition; they’re a wealth of information who more than likely would be willing to share what worked/works for them if asked nicely via a private message.
- Know there are plenty of readers to go around and most of them are voracious in their consumption of the written word, especially when it comes to books about the zompoc.
- Lastly, remember that this writing thing is a marathon, not a sprint.
DS: What are you reading now?
SC: Just finished Stephen King’s ‘Desperation’. Eager to crack Lee Child’s ‘Make Me’. I just got the latter today. I’m pretty damn excited to see what Reacher is up to.
DS: What’s next for you?
SC: I’m currently writing ‘Drawl: Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’ which is a prequel telling how one of my favorite characters, Duncan Winters, survived the Omega outbreak prior to making his appearance in ‘Trudge’.
DS: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
SC: I have two: Stephen King for his command of the English language and stellar ability to weave pop culture-new and old-into his stories. And Lee Child whose crisp writing style I can’t get enough of. Hell, his boy Jack Reacher is my favorite modern character in fiction, hands down.
DS: What made you decide to skip traditional publishing and do it yourself?
SC: The publisher’s minions would never have read past the first paragraph of Trudge had I submitted it. I think I committed the cardinal sin of mentioning the weather straight out of the gate. So, in a nutshell, I really had no choice.
DS: Have you ever been approached by a big 5 publisher about buying your work? If you were, would you take the offer?
SC: Not the big 5, but I’ve been courted twice by a big name in PA publishing. I turned them down. However, my series is being translated into German for distribution in that market. A year ago I sold the German language rights for my first 6 books to Luzifer-Verlag. ‘Trudge: STZA’ is slated for an October release. The new cover they designed for that market is really cool!
DS: Who designed your covers?
SC: Jason Swarr of Straight 8 Custom Photography does them all. He does work for national magazines RECOIL and OFF GRID. Look for ‘Red Bloods’ which is a kickass comic series he produces in house.
DS: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
SC: I’m a full time dad: equal parts Sherpa, chauffeur, punching bag, and sports equipment manager.
DS: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
SC: The Walking Dead and its spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. I’m a sucker for Million Dollar Listings, Silicon Valley, Graveyard Carz, and anything else that happens to be playing on the Velocity Channel.
DS: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done for a living instead?
SC: Helicopter pilot, but there’s a long story behind why I’m not. It’s on my bucket list, though.
DS: Any final thoughts to leave with our readers?
SC: I’d like to thank each and every one who has given an indie scribbler’s book a look. We work very hard at what we do. We’re passionate about our craft and really enjoy shooting the breeze with readers. Try friending an indie on Facebook and find out for yourself.