RICK AMORTIS: I’d like to express what an honor and thrill it is to welcome to Hellnotes.com my very special guest at this time author Eric A. Shelman. Delving right into the meat of things how was the initial brainchild for the runaway hit series Dead Hunger initially conceived?
ERIC A. SHELMAN: You know, it was conceived by reading other zombie novels. I was hearing all this buzz on Facebook and I’ve seen a lot of posts about people being into zombies. I’ve never written a zombie novel. Again I’ve written a novel kind of about a serial killer and a witch novel, stuff like that. But I also haven’t written for a decade, over a decade. I was starting to feel like I wasn’t even a writer anymore. So when I saw the zombie stuff I thought alright I’ll read a zombie novel. When I did I thought this is a really popular genre. I can write a zombie novel. I was inspired and decided to just go ahead and do it.
I wanted to come up with some cool character names. I went and looked at the ten most manliest names in the world and I found one was Flex Texaco which is a General. I believe he’s a retired General at this point. And I think Flex is actually a nickname but I didn’t know that at the time. So I decided to name my main character Flex because it was kind of a cool sounding, manly kind of name. I just came up with Sheridan probably just a little bit if Shelman in there, a little Shelman-Sheridan thing going on. And I decided to just go. I hadn’t read a whole ton. I just read the one novel. So I decided to avoid reading or watching anything zombie related and just take what I knew and my little intricacies and idiosyncrasies beyond that.
RA: With the emergence of volume five, The Road to California, and the series’ continuous momentum did you think the series would attain the level of popularity that it has today?
ES: Honestly I’d like it to attain more popularity but I don’t know. You know when you write that first one you don’t really know. I think as a writer you know if your book is any good or not. But I suppose there are some authors that think their books are good and are not. But as a writer, believe me I’ve very critical of my own stuff. So when I wrote the first Dead Hunger I thought it was fun, campy kind of kooky and yes a lot of people thought it was a matter of everything happening a little too easily for my characters. They said the zombies only appeared when it was convenient for them to kill them. But in my mind I wanted my characters to respond to things that they came across in a way that I would respond. Nobody knows what a world overtaken by zombies would be like. And I think as I’ve discussed in the past with a number of people, when there’s not a food source around, zombies don’t necessarily get together and hang out. It’s not like there’s going to be hordes. There’s just going to be wandering, looking, smelling, trying to find some blood or flesh or something. They’re not going to necessarily cluster. So these hordes of zombies walking around together doesn’t necessarily make sense to me. So I created my own brand of zombies that when there’s no food source around they just kind of end up separating. There can be one or two here and five or six there but I don’t necessarily think you’re going to find a hundred of them unless there’s some reason to be together, a concert or something.
I didn’t have any idea if the series would be popular or not. It’s a matter of creating characters I thought you can invest yourself in and trust that they are going to do what you would do.
RA: Where do you think the appeal for zombie related fiction spawns from?
ES: You know I think people love being scared. Zombies are pretty freaking scary because it’s not as though you can talk your way out of anything with a zombie. They’re coming at you, they’re going to eat you unless you can kill them or run. Running is a good option. If there’s more around you may not have that option.
I think the appeal is that there is nothing you can do about them. There is a lot of people out there that believe a zombie apocalypse will actually happen one day, so be it. I think they’re kind of kooky….
….but if that’s what keeps them rolling…you know some people, and I’ve found this to be true, only read zombie apocalypse fiction. I’ve written other books and the same people that have read all my zombie novels and wouldn’t miss a volume won’t even pick up my other books. I ask why? With authors like Stephen King or Dean Koontz they’ll write stories that may be about a girl with telekinesis powers or a dog with rabies or a car that comes to life and possesses a guy. Every aspect of King’s writing or every story he tells people why buy it. I hate to get pigeon holed to a degree into a zombie world. But if you keep buying them, I’ll hang out there if I have to.
RA: The Dead Hunger series for the most part is first person persona chronicles of Flex, Gem, Hemp and most recently Dave Gammon. Describe the advantages of first person story telling and the motive to draft Part IV: Evolution in third person point of view?
ES: The first Dead Hunger was the very first book I’ve written in first person. I think I did it because it just felt right. It felt like it should be told from the guy involved saying ‘hey people I’m going to tell you this. This is what happened, it’s pretty fucked up. But this is what happened and listen in. I’m writing this all down because I want you to know later that best as I can recall this is what went down.’ So I just wanted the best way to approach the story.
Obviously the negative to that would be the fact that Flex can’t be everywhere at once. He doesn’t necessarily hear or be aware of everything like when someone goes for a run for ammo or whatever. That was the hard part for me. I always had people in direct communication with Flex via radio. If they got in trouble I could still tell that part of the story. I push most of my books through with dialogue which you may have noticed. I don’t like narrative. I like to forward the story along with dialogue. I think that keeps people engaged if they’re listening to conversations people are having.
Again if Gem or Charlie goes out for a run or shopping or something like that because they do stuff like that in my books, they live in a world created by apocalypse and don’t let the world change the way in which they live. These people are determined to live their lives in the best way they can. They are going to get weapons, kill zombies and know they don’t necessarily cluster into giant groups.
So first person was a decision I’d made and once I had I had to kind of stick with it.
Now when I got to book four and got into third person, I had to consider I had a lot more characters as the setting progressed to Concord, New Hampshire. I came up with the mayor and a lot of new characters. I felt like there was so much going on in a lot of different places that I couldn’t really cover it in a first person narrative. Plus I didn’t really know who to give it to. I didn’t necessarily think Dave was going to be as an important character in part four as Flex, Gem, Hemp and Charlie were in books one, two and three. But as you know Dave took a big role in book three to assist Charlie when Hemp was out of commission. Although that was very cool I think I kind of always planned on The Road to California as Dave to take over so I didn’t really think it was necessary for him to take over part four.
I decided to go with third person and to be honest I wasn’t really happy especially in the end. It just felt a little detached. I was just used to ‘being’ one of the characters when telling the story. I hope it doesn’t feel that way to other people.
RA: It’s interesting and let me know if you agree too that when a lot of editors, at least what I find when reading works submitted, there seems to be a constant debate between the author and the editor about the need to show more and tell less. Through first person persona the ability to highlight a lot more emotion, keep a lot of the action current and contemporary is more fluent as opposed to third person persona, like you’d said is a little more detached and more of a reporting type of approach.
ES: Yeah, I agree. That’s why I didn’t feel as connected to everybody in part four. I had all the same characters but I was losing touch with them to a degree. I wasn’t one of them or right there in the mind of one of them. I had situations where Gem was off getting into her own trouble and Flex and Hemp getting into their own trouble and things were going on back at Three Sisters Bar. There was a lot going on, but what do I know, I just make it up as I go along.
I’m not one to outline and draft. I’m by the seat of my pants. If I have to get back to Gem or I think Charlie may need to encounter something I have to create a scenario for them. I can’t just have a whole lot of sitting around. So in part four, I had the kids call and say they were in trouble.
It’s really fun being God and seeing the creation of your stories. But I agree with you. I’ve come to love first person, if you can do it right. Some people hate it. Some readers hate it. But I think if you hate it, it’s been done wrong. But just self-evaluating here, I really love the way I’ve done the first persons. I think it works out well if it makes the reader connect.
RA: No question, absolutely. We touched upon this just a little bit, briefly, between parts four and five of Dead Hunger, you’d released another novel titled Shifting Fears, a definite change of pace. How was the overall reception of this tale and were there any concerns of having your endeavors type casted?
ES: That’s true and I think that’s what has happened. I think I’ve expressed it too. I do a lot of Facebook stuff and I promoting there. I’ve addressed them by saying, ‘People if you like my story telling then you’ll love Shifting Fears. If you like the way I develop characters and that sort of thing you’ll love Shifting Fears just as much as any of my zombie books.’ If you’re waiting for book V then why not read Shifting Fears?
Shifting Fears is an idea where this guy restores this car. I don’t know where it came from. It was just a little grain of sand. He restores the car and makes sure everything is factory conditioned, all factory original parts from 1958. He’s in the year 2014. The reason he’s in the year 2014 is because 1958 is the exact same calendar year but fifty five years earlier. So he creates this car and takes it on his inaugural run to a place where it could be 1958. He wanted to feel like it was 1958, a remote canyon, nothing else around and he winds up in Las Vegas starting out in Fullerton, California. First of all he knows he didn’t drive all the way to Vegas but he’s freaking out. He realizes he’s not even himself anymore. He’s somebody else, a killer called the Cowboy and he’s got a couple locked in the trunk of his car. At that point that’s all I knew and had to figure everything else out.
I don’t want to be pigeon holed completely as a zombie author. I’d like to be respected as a zombie author. Obviously I may write other zombie series. In fact I plan on writing other series or spinoffs of characters from the Dead Hunger series. There’s a baby in volume five which may get her own series.
I wanted people to come along but not really. That book hasn’t sold well. If left to their own devices, I don’t think many will buy the book.
RA: It’s a shame because it’s very intriguing in the sense that there are some Sci-fi elements, as well as suspense and action. It really reminds me of what a Twilight Zone episode could have done with it.
ES: Yeah that’s what my mother has said. My mom has taken a while to get into reading some of my stuff. She read Shifting Fears and she loved that book. She was an English major, an English teacher at college level. She’s pretty critical of that sort of stuff. She’s always been very honest with me. She didn’t even want to read the Dead Hunger series. Zombies just isn’t her thing. Once she read Shifting Fears she decided to give the Dead Hunger series a try. She’d also read another novel I’d written Generation Evil, which she liked a lot. It’s kind of nice.
I agree Shifting Fears may be one of my best books. Some people thought it may have been my break through novel and lead to much bigger things for me but again you just have to bide your time in this world and wait for someone to go. They’re all optioned for movies as well including Shifting Fears. That would really make a unique movie and sometimes all it takes is a movie about your book….but how do I know this….
…..I don’t know this. But I would assume once a film has been made on your book, you become well known and all your books sell like crazy.
RA: I would tend to have to agree. As your novels continue to grow in popularity as well as your audiences you’ve been attending more signings and meet and greets. Describe your most unusual fan encounter to date.
ES: I’m not sure if you’d consider this a fan encounter but an interesting story. There’s a bar over here called Moe’s Southwest Grill. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one but it’s a place just down the street from here. They have burritos and Mexican food and its really good. So we go in there and we see this girl and she has all these piercings and has a purple streak in her hair and she’s got these zombie tattoos on her arm. So I said are those zombie tattoos? And she said, ‘Oh yeah I’ve had them done and redone and worked on.’ I found out her name was Megan and asked if she liked to read? She said she did and I told her I wrote zombie novels and gave her my card. I figured if she’s got one on her arm she must like zombies.
I saw her once again and she’d said she went to the local library and couldn’t find it. So I figured she went to the library, maybe couldn’t afford to buy books and so I talked it over with Linda, my wife and we decided we were going to bring her one of each the three novels that were out at the time. So after we brought them in she was just blown away that we brought her this gift. It was around Christmas so we just considered it a Christmas present.
So she was reading and loving them. At the Tampa Bay Comic Con we were sitting there at our table and in walks Megan and her boyfriend. So it was kind of cool she’d saw us there and came up to us to say hi.
But I really do have some rabid fans. I should maybe use the world avid but I’ll use the word rabid. Some of them just love them. Dead Hunger is a series you either love to death or you just think it’s, huh, whatever. Fortunately most people that read it just loves it to death.
I’ve always enjoyed interacting with the fans. If someone is going to go out of their way and comment or have a question about the books on Facebook, I’m going to respond to them. I love talking to the readers. They’re that important to me and not just for the book sales because it’s fun to create and have people enjoy what you do.
RA: Perhaps one of the largest draws to your work is your unprecedented to create characters for a universal audience to be able to relate to. What inspires the characters in which you write and what makes them larger than life?
ES: I think I learned a long time ago that you can make people care about your character with one sentence. By just saying one thing, that thing should be something we can all relate too. My characters tend to be very, very loyal and also dedicated to family and taking care of one another. It also helps to have them avoid doing stupid things.
In book two there’s a point where Gem says, ‘Look, I’ve got to get some artist stuff or I’m going to go freaking nuts just sitting here in this steel mill building and just living each day. I’ve got to do something.’ So her thing was to create. She needed to get those artist supplies. Well, Flex understood that and even though it seemed like a frivolous thing to want they went out on a run to get them. They obviously encounter some zombies while they’re out. At the same time other things are achieved and that’s fine. It kind of justifies going out in the first place.
I think the creation of my characters and how people can relate to them and compare to them is because they seem like real people. They don’t adapt the Slasher movie mentality and say things like, ‘ Don’t go in there…’ and they don’t go in there, they’ll get killed right away, right? People expect that from that sort of movie but I don’t really want them to expect that sort of thing in my books. I want them to think these guys are going to do what I would do if I was in that crazy situation. They should be scared or they’re going to be ballsy. One way or another I think the people will relate to them, so that’s what I try to achieve.
RA: What’s next on the horizon for Eric Shelman?
ES: I’m considering doing a short book. I’ll continue on with the Dead Hunger series. Initially there were only plans to make up to a book six. That may be what I do. I’m not sure. There might be a Dead Hunger Book Five and a Half almost. I want to call this one Dead Hunger: Flex Sheridan in a Dead Run. There’s going to be a point in which Flex’s baby needs something. Whether it’s more poison ivy plants, they’re not growing and maybe he has to go ten miles across the woods to get to it. But there’s going to be a point in which Flex Sheridan needs to make a run. I don’t know who he’s going to take with him because that will be where “In a Dead Run” comes in. He’s going to be out there, just him and somebody else. They’re going to be charging across a forested area just to get to something to save his son. I haven’t figured it all out yet. So I think that’s what going to happen. Again that’s the sort of little grain of sand I start with.
Isis. I won’t say much more about Isis, but she’s introduced at the end of Book Five as kind of a Goddess of Zombies. I can see as she gets older and her powers or whatever they may be start to develop she could be a pretty interesting character to develop in her own series.
I also have some grain of sand type ideas with maybe some creature feature type stories. Believe me, I’m kind of up in the air in terms of what I’m going to write next. That could be partially to do with the lack of response in a book like Shifting Fears. It may just take more time to take off. It’s got twelve reviews and I believe all of which are five star. So what else could be said about that? If that’s not enough to convince someone to read a book about that’s not about zombies by Eric Shelman than I don’t not what else is.
The Dead Hunger series, each volume is being recorded by audio books. The first volume has been released and Shifting Fears has been recorded and released as well. The narrator is great as well.
RA: For fans that are interested in getting their own copy of the Dead Hunger series previous novels you’ve written well, I understand they can go on your website: www.ericshelman.com
ES: That’s right. If you go to the site and select the contact us selection, send me a message including your return email address. You can request signed copies and will save a little ordering direct even with shipping. There’s Amazon of course but I believe they charge extravagant shipping fees.
RA: I thank you very much for your time Eric. It’s always a sincere thrill and pleasure to catch up.