Saturday, October 17, 2015

Harbinger of the Undead Rain [Interview]

The Undead Rain series by Shaun Harbinger continues with the third book, Lightning, and the fourth book, Wildfire, is slated for a November release. Four friends are hiking in Wales, when news of a zombie outbreak finally reaches them, but they are somewhat in denial until a couple of soldiers from the SAS confirm their worst fears, so the group finds their way onto a boat.

Unfortunately, in Storm (Book 2), Alex gets the bright idea to go ashore to look for his family, even though he doesn't have a clue where they might be. Naturally, everything goes wrong for him as soon as his feet hit the ground, and he is separated from his boat. Luckily, he meets another group: Sam, Tanya and Jax.

The third book, Lightning, picks up immediately where Storm leaves off. Alex, the narrator of the series, is still searching for his brother Joe and their parents, but he finds himself on a mission to raid a government research lab for a vaccine that can reverse the hybrid mutation.

The author, Shaun Harbinger, gets it. You can't just throw in undead and gore and expect to call it a zombie story. Harbinger includes all the elements of classic horror: suspense, mystery and one horrifying surprise after another. Using this traditional formula, Harbinger provides thrilling terror without the need for graphic violence on every page.

As a result, I decided to invite Harbinger to the Lair...

Q. Why a series about zombies? Did you feel you had something original to expand the genre?
A. I’ve been a zombie fan for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” but I must have been at an impressionable age because its influence has stuck with me all this time. The story of a group of people thrown together and forced to survive has always appealed to me.

I didn’t set out to expand the genre. I just wanted to write an entertaining series in a genre I loved. I hopefully threw in a few original ideas, though. There’s a documentary that Alex, the main character, mentions about how viruses control their hosts. That’s an actual documentary that I saw a long time ago. I wondered how that virus behavior might translate to a zombie apocalypse. So I have the rain thing, where the virus makes the zombies seeks shelter from the rain in an attempt to slow the rotting process.

Another thing I do differently from a lot of works in the genre is to have a hero who is the antithesis of a prepper. Alex is an out of shape geek whose life before the apocalypse consisted of working in a crappy job and spending his weekends gaming. That was good for me because it meant I could use him to reference the pop culture. A lot of zombie stories seem to take place in an alternate universe where nobody has ever heard of zombies before. For example, in The Walking Dead, there’s a big reveal that everyone is infected and becomes a zombie after they die. In the real world, that wouldn’t surprise anyone. They’d just say, “Yeah, that’s what happens in every Romero movie.”

I wanted my series to take place in this reality, where everyone has seen zombie movies, read zombie books, and heard of zombies. And then the zombie apocalypse happens.

Q. Who or what has influenced your writing, and what do you hope to accomplish with this series?

A. I’ve always been an avid reader. I was reading horror books at an early age, particularly the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert, and Graham Masterton. I remember reading Ramsey Campbell’s “Dark Companions” short story collection as a kid and being scared witless by it.

I also used to read a lot of sci fi and fantasy and the men’s adventure series that were popular at the time. I was kind of nerdy as a kid and I read a lot. Nothing much has changed there.

But I think I’m mostly influenced by the horror writers. For me, their books were always the most interesting. Their stories stuck in my mind in a way that the others didn’t. And the movie “Night of the Living Dead’ is a big influence, as well as some others like the old Hammer films.

My goal with the Undead Rain series is simply to entertain readers. When I get a review that says, “I really enjoyed this book” or someone emails me to tell me they can’t wait for the next book in the series, then I’m happy.

The books are in the Top 100 horror and post-apocalyptic charts on Amazon and I’m currently in the Top 100 horror authors, which is amazing. It has far surpassed my hopes with regards to reaching a large number of readers.

Q. Is there anything you find particularly challenging with the undead genre?

A. I think the genre has an inherent problem for writers in that there is no specific villain. The bad guys are a mass of rotting dead people. There’s no specificity there. There’s no, “We must foil Doctor X’s plan for world domination” type thing. When the bad guys are thousands of monsters roaming the country, and not a specific person in a specific place, the focus of the story can be hazy.

A lot of writers have come up with ingenious ways to combat that problem.

In the case of the Undead Rain series, everything starts out vague. Because it’s written in first person, we only know what Alex knows about the zombie apocalypse. At first, it’s all about survival. By the time we get to “Lightning”, a specific villain rears his ugly head. So as well as the hordes of zombies, we have a bad guy that we can visualize. Then, as the book develops, that concept goes even further and something happens that has a terrible effect on Alex and his friends in “Wildfire”.

Another challenge with the undead genre is that you have to come up with a believable reason for characters to do the things that drive the story. In reality, most people in a zombie apocalypse would find a safe place and stay there, avoiding trouble as much as possible. That doesn’t work for an action story, so there has to be something that pushes the characters outside their safety zone in a believable manner.

In “Storm”, Alex has to travel inland on a dangerous mission to a radio station with Sam, Tanya, and Jax. In reality, that would be a crazy thing to do, but in the story, Alex has to do it because it’s his only chance of getting back to Lucy and the boat.

It’s a case of having to motivate the characters but also keeping that motivation believable.

Q. Can we expect to see more of Alex?

A. This series is a quadrilogy. The first three books (“Rain”, “Storm”, and “Lightning”) are available right now. The fourth book (“Wildfire”) will be released on November 23rd.

After that, there might be more of Alex in the future. I like him as a character. He’s grown a lot during this series and I may take that further.

Q. Are you working on any other projects? What else can fans of this series look forward to?

A. I’ve planned a spin-off series. I can’t say too much about it at the moment but one of the main characters is someone who has already been mentioned in the Undead Rain series.

As well as the spin-off series, I have ideas for other horror novels that I’d like to explore. There’s a “family moves from the city to a house in the country and all is not as it seems” idea that I’ve planned out in my notebook. That description sounds generic but hopefully I can make the story fresh and entertaining.

I’ve also been thinking about writing an occult detective series. I’ve sketched out a few characters for that.

There’s definitely more to come in the future!

If you haven't begun this series, now is the perfect time. Each book picks up immediately after the previous one, so the storyline is seamless. Start now, and you should be ready for the fourth book!
As always,

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