The Author – Behind the Scenes

So I’ve recently had a flash fiction go up on the Books of the Dead Press blog. I wanted to share some stories behind that one. Because I’m a writer and I like spinning yarns.

First, you can check out my story here. This blog post will contain spoilers, so go read it. It’ll only take a moment. Then come on back for some exciting(?) info on how that story came to be. While you are there, feel free to check out stories by some of the other Bunnies of the Apocalypse.(I posted to chapter 1, so you can all start from the beginning!) They are Hands, Lester’s Interdimensional Midnight Outcall, Devine Retribution, The Teeth Police and The “V Syndrome” Vaccine. With probably many more to come!

Okay, now that you’re back, let us talk about The Author.

It all stemmed from this one song.

This is not only my favourite Supertramp song, but is also one of my favourites of ANY songs. Roger Hodgson’s haunting vocals in this really just put me in a zone of melancholy, which for some reason is a place I like to be. Very dream like. So I used my inspiration from the song to create a story where everything crumbles for the protagonist, but that’s okay because we’re all going to just drift away in the end. I made that protagonist a zombie.

I always wanted to do a twist on the zombie genre. I really dig the movie Fido in that it brought a cheeky humanity to the “beasts”. Although having them as pets isn’t really humanity, but close enough. I also liked the slow evolution that George Romero takes on his zombies. In Day of the Dead he showed that they retained some basic functions and Land of the Dead showed that they and increase the amount of those functions. To me, nothing would be more terrifying than if zombies started knowing what they were doing.

From that I set out to figure out how to make my zombie better than the rest. What would make the shortest path for him gain back his humanity? Which is what happens in the middle, right before his brains are blown out. He was human again. Which is cruel of me to do to my protagonist, but revel in the fact that his killer gets his dues. Bitter sweet. Robert D. Michaels may not be the first of his kind, people!

The process went a lot like this. Rob didn’t die from a bite, he died from a cardiac arrest in his sleep with no trauma to his psyche. People who die through bites go through fevers, and mental anguish that leaves their brains addled and virtually destroyed. Rob’s brain was pretty much intact.

Rob was very right brained. I wanted to make him do something for a living that would let him look at his feelings, more than logistics. I feel that this might make him stronger mentally and give him the chance at returning to his humanity. I tried artist first, but it seemed sort of hokey. So I made him an author, that way I could give him a paperback book to doodle in to make that connection.

Finally, Rob only died just before the virus, curse or whatever spread through the air. The soil on his grave was still fresh. I know it’s rare for a tombstone to be on a grave that quickly, but I figured the guy was famous and his wife made connections so that his burial could be absolutely perfect.

It’s funny that my explanation about things in this story is bigger than the story itself, but that’s what makes the world of the story that much richer. Also this story was originally bigger than 400 words. It started as a short film idea, but getting that many zombies for a 5 minute short would be either crazy expensive, or crazy cheap looking. So I entertained the idea of animating it(still entertaining, let’s me get all the cool shots I want to get) but I don’t have all the talent needed to pull this off on my own. Another downgrade brought to to being a short story, maybe 11-12 pages. Writing has the lowest barrier to entry for story telling since all you need is words and eyes. Which explains why I do want to take up writing as a hobby.

I never got around to writing it out, but when I saw people posting their flash fictions, I figured I’d give this a shot. I liked this micro format. I’ve written a couple of more of these flash fictions and there is a special art to telling a story in a confined space. Also the idea of choosing which elements live and which get the axe, just to remove 300 words from a story, really excited me. I’m an extremely liberal cutter. Getting to tweak stuff to hide obvious gaps is always a delight.

Well, it does appear that I seem to be rambling, so I’ll close with this. I had a kick ass opening scene where I was showing zombies doing dumb, fun zombie stuff. Zombies at an intersection, all attracted to beeping of the crosswalks used to aid the seeing impaired. Just forever shambling counter clockwise. And another gag with a line of zombies at the supermarket while a zombie grocer just endlessly scans the same item over and over again. One of the guys in the lineup is strapped for time so he lifts up his severed left arm, using his right arm, to check the watch.

Fun stuff like that. Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this little insight as much I do sharing it.

It’s almost here!

Zwain_GuildWars4The creative process is always so funny to me. Everything is always shifting like sand on a beach. An idea is as strong as the biggest sand castle you can build on that beach, and while it may retain its form for some time it, too, will succumb to change. That’s what I love about this whole thing.

At work, we’re given storyboards to convey the beats of a shot. A lot of times designs and storyboarding is done at the same time. They try and communicate between each other but the evolution of art means that in some cases we don’t receive designs that work with what we need to get the story across. So we improvise. It’s strange to call a process that takes months to develop and polish improvisation, but that’s totally what it is. I’ve done it time and time again where the director and I rewrite an entire scene just using whatever props we could find. We are limited, since this is 3D animation and not 2D animation, by what has already been made, but half the fun of animating is creatively using something in a way that it’s not intended to be used.

These past couple of weeks have been like that with the Chronicles of Zwain stuff. I’m making a stew here, and whatever I can get my hand on is going in. Though initially I may have grabbed too big of a pot. My original plan was an epic trilogy of books. Each book the size of a small novel. The more I’ve imagined scenarios, the more I want to condense things so that we can get to those scenarios faster. Because they are just so damned awesome in my head. I don’t want you all to wait for the giant climactic showdown. Also if I went with the 3 books path, I would have to come up with more major players to make each book meaningful enough to stand on its own. At the moment that’s just not in the cards. As three parts of a single book, I can still establish the big main conflict, and keep the other two parts interesting enough to move the story forward.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know how the story is going to once I get in there. I know where I want to steer things, but if Zwain stumbles on something that is worth pursuing, you can bet your britches that I’m going to pursue it. I’ll leave it to the second draft for consistency and balancing.

The more I think about it, the more I get excited about it. I’m having giggle fits to myself right now. For me, that’s how I know I’m on the right track. Giggling to the point of distraction. If it pleases me this much, then it’ll tickle your fancy in some little way.

Or at least that is what I hope!

A Temporary Shelter from the Bunny Apocalypse

So it has just dawned on my that something I wrote is about to be unleashed on the unsuspecting public. When Ksenia put together this flash fiction she asked for a link to our blogs and twitter accounts. I’ve had twitter for a while, mainly as a lurker and occasional smart asser(I prefer to save my smatest of assery for my facebook friends, since they would get my sense of humour better.) That’s all been slowly changing over the course of the last couple of weeks. I’ve been becoming more social media interactive than normal, which is really tough for me because I’m a hand talker, and you can see me gesturing the shit out of this sentence. So while initially I may seem distant, or calm, or reserved, it’s mainly due to me still warming up to everyone.

Change is good and this change is happening at a pace that I can deal with. I’m quite good a rolling with the punches, but tend to wait until the punches are thrown instead of anticipate them. Sure I get the odd glancing blow here and there, but taking a little hit of everything is far better for your foundation than standing your ground and getting pummeled into dust. Wow, this is not what I started this blog post for to begin with. Anyhow, enough with the dilly dallying. I just wanted to thank Ksenia for the opportunity. I’ve read a snippet of the book she’s working on and I’m already hooked. I can’t wait for he to finish up so I can check it out. I’ll probably even have to put my return trip to The Dark Tower on hold for that one even. You should check out her blog at http://www.kseniaanske.com/. She just tells it like it is, no bullshit, and that’s all anyone should strive to be!

Now with the formalities properly dispensed allow me to welcome you all to The Chronicles of Zwain. I fear I might be a little redundant here, but I figured I’d try and give you all the elevator pitch, while in a skyscraper, and the elevator is really old and slow. Zwain and I go way back. We’ve been on countless adventures. At some point I picked 4 of these adventures, and decided I wanted to do a trilogy of books. Book one is a buddy comedy about his first big rock concert, while also revealing to his band mates that he’s from a post apocalyptic future. Book two is a medieval fantasy where Zwain is a wandering minstrel and stumbles onto an adventure to save a land. And finally, book 3 flings Zwain far into theĀ  future to deal with an imminent threat against the Earth. This threat will find itself linked back to Zwain’s origins. The more I’ve been thinking about it, the more it gets dumb in the best possible way. It’s totally turning into something I’d be entertained by, and I hope that you all stick around and are entertained by it as well.

The plan is to release a chapter a day. I haven’t started writing it yet, but it’s been simmering in my head for years and I’ve turned it up to boil in the last 2 weeks. I’m going to be writing 4 hours a day, regardless of how long a chapter is. The hope is that I build up a decent buffer. Then I can spend a little time, do a quick edit on the blog post and get it up in the afternoon. This is largely a first draft, so there is will be inconsistencies. I plan on tightening things up for an actual book release, but I figured that in the meantime you all can enjoy the raw power that is Zwain.

So I apologize for the brevity of the blog, it is quite young and I wanted to keep it as Zwain oriented as possible, but I did want to make a post to welcome and travelers who wished to venture here. The Chronicles of Zwain premieres April 1st, and that is no joke!

~Dustin McKenzie

The Origin of Zwain – Part 2 – Inspiration

Zwain_GuildWars1 Since I created this blog so much earlier than I intended, I was trying to think up blog posts to fatten things up. One good way was to explain the process of how he came to be. After I wrote part one of his origin, I realized that the way the story plays out is pretty much just that.

The juicy bits are how I could justify this single character going from a 70’s/80’s rock band front man, to the post apocalyptic future, to a medieval fantasy in the dark ages, and finally ending up cruising the galaxy in a sci-fi space epic. If I tell you these things here, then I’m ruining key plot beats that I’ll use to string the trilogy together. So I’ll leave part 1 as is, since that explains the thinking behind designing the character, and kind touch upon the various video games that I’ve made Zwain a character in.

Here are the main games that inspired Zwain’s story; Rock Band 2 and 3, Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect Trilogy. Just because I’m pulling inspiration from these games, I am, by no means, planning on plagiarizing the works of the hardworking writers and creators of them. I was originally envisioning this as the ultimate fan fiction, but then a vast majority of people that might enjoy Zwain’s tale would have “been there, done that.” I want to see his story stretch its own legs and go on its own adventures. So I’m going to break down the exact intent of each inspiration I’m going to use from these games.

Rock Band 2 and 3 – He’s in a band. That’s about it, and any character descriptions will be based on how I made him with their character creator, but even then it’s just broad strokes of hair colour, amount of baldness, height and weight, and type of facial hair. I sort of modernized his look in Rock Band 3 to be a vest and jeans, and changed his shades, but I do intend to use the Rock Band 2 Zwain for a least a little bit.

Fallout 3 – This is Zwain’s chronological beginning. It’s a post apocalyptic future where a war completely desolated the landscape. What caused the war is entirely original and will service the main plot in future installments. He did grow up in a fallout shelter community, but it’s not a Vaultec vault, there’s no Overseer, none of the story points from Fallout 3 will be present. There will be a UFO type of space ship, but I don’t plan in it being a flying saucer. Also, the origins of these aliens is original.

Dragon Age: Origins – This is the middle chapter of Zwain’s story. He’s stuck in the medieval past. It’s a fantasy story with goblins and dragons. That’s the extent of its connection with Dragon Age. There is also a secondary connection with Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness in that how he ends up there is a magical portal. It doesn’t happen in the same way as the end of Evil Dead 2, but that was totally the inspiration for it. I have my own explanation for how this happens to be possible.

Mass Effect Trilogy – The final part of the Zwain trilogy. Zwain is whisked away to the future. In this future he fights to help save Earth from invaders. That’s pretty much it. He’s not fighting the Reapers, he’s not curing genophages or settling the score between organics and machines. There will be some planet hopping, and we’ll get to know more about the aliens out to take over Earth, but other than it being a generic sci-fi synopsis, there is no real connection to Mass Effect.

So, I’ve laid it all out there. I want to be as transparent about this as possible. If I find myself wandering too close to the fiction I’m inspired by, I’ll iron those scenes out on my second draft. There’s so much content to these games that I can’t even begin to catalog it all in my mind, so that’s a plus. I’ve planted the seeds, and soon we’ll get to see how things grow.

The Origin of Zwain – Part 1 – The Front Man

Zwain_RB2

Zwain, the leader, the shepherd, the front man!

Since I’m not going to be tackling this story until end of the month, I’d figure I wouldn’t let this blog go dormant for that long. So I’m going to go over the general origin of Zwain and how he came to be, how I started to link him between videogames and how this idea of The Ultimate Fanfiction came to enter my mind!

Way back when, in the ancient times of 2008, I purchased a little known, musical instrument, videogame known as Rock Band 2. I had played the previous game. The game gave you these tools to let you create your own characters. This is nothing new to videogames, of course, but was something I never messed around with much, aside from trying to create shitty versions of myself. So the first Rock Band game rolled in, and I made myself, my roommate made himself, even my buddy Tyler made himself and we would rock out until the cows came home. The thing was, we were a 4 player band and only had 3 dudes to play it. So the singer was usually a random computer player that the game would give us. This all changed in Rack Band 2. That’s when create-a-characters changed for me forever. That’s when Zwain was born.

In Rock Band 2, you were allowed to create and assign created characters to empty slots. So to complete the full package of making my own band, I created a lead singer. A squat, balding man that was chock full enthusiasm and could get the crowd pumping like a geriatric Mick Jagger. So my mind filled with all the cheesy musical references I could remember. Most notably was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I wanted a classic rock star, but from the future. The guys from the future had on some robes that looks ripped out of the 80s. That’s the future I wanted because, let’s face it, the 80s had the coolest looking future. So after I picked his hair and body type, I then went on to the clothes. I tried to emulate the robs that the “future dudes” had in Bill and Ted and the closest was this hair metal superhero looking top, with half a cape. It was perfect. The rest sort of fell into place after that. Usually leather, more likely to say pleather, and navy blue or black in colour. My future was cool. Then I stumbled on some visor shades and he was complete. Geordie La Forge rocked these in the 24th century on Star Trek The Next Generation, and nothing says 80s-future more profoundly than visor shades!

And that was it for a while.