TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
V.M.: I probably shouldn't admit to this. Last December while I was writing THE RETURN MAN, I'd watch Christmas specials every night with my daughter, and a song from an old Rankin Bass show lodged in my head: "Put One Foot in Front of the Other," sung by cute claymation characters. Somehow its lyrics became my anthem for writing a novel. It's about taking things a little bit at a time, how small steps help us cross vast distances and achieve seemingly Herculean tasks. At night as I'd sit down at my desk to write, feeling overwhelmed by the hundreds of pages ahead of me, I'd sing this song. If you're looking for some quirky inspiration, search it on YouTube.
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
V.M.: My list of favorites is so long that you might wonder if I understand what the word "favorite" means, since I seem to include everyone. I'll give you a shortened version: Ray Bradbury, John Banville, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Paul Auster, Shirley Jackson, William Styron, Jack Ketchum. In terms of influence, I think I've absorbed a healthy dose of Jack Ketchum into my story-telling, with a few dashes of Bentley Little, David Morrell and Ray Bradbury, too.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
V.M.: I consider myself more of a plotter. For me, writing a novel is like a long road trip. Before I begin, I unfold the map and plan out my major stops along the way --- all the important plot points and decisions awaiting the characters. But what happens between Points A, B and C isn't really predetermined. I try to just let those smaller moments, like character thoughts and reactions, occur organically. Unexpected ideas inevitably pop up like hitchhikers, and sometimes I pull over to pick them up. Or at least slow down for a closer look before I speed away terrified.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
For me, it's the constant challenge to my self-esteem, the temptation to judge myself too harshly and compare myself unfairly to other (better) writers. Did I mention I'm an insecure mess?
TQ: Describe The Return Man in 140 characters or less.
V.M.: Post-apocalypse. Is your wife/husband a zombie? Hire Marco to end their misery. Oh no! Gov’t sends Marco on suicide mission. Wu! Corpses!
TQ: What inspired you to write The Return Man?
V.M.: THE RETURN MAN began with idle daydreaming about what it would be like to survive a zombie apocalypse --- but what if my family didn't? How would that feel, knowing that my wife or child was out there somewhere as a tortured zombie? That emotional twist interested me, and I wanted to write a zombie story that I hadn't seen before.
As a long-time zombie fan, I have very defined tastes when it comes to what I enjoy in zombie stories (and what I don't). So while I wanted to be different, I also wanted to adhere to the classic zombie mythos, avoiding the pitfalls of avant-garde zombie novels that inadvertently squelch the basic enjoyment of good ol' zombie horror.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Return Man?
V.M.: Most of my research focused on the Arizona setting --- the landscape, the animals and plants, the general vibe of being in the desert. The science was a big part, too. I debated all sorts of diseases and pathogens before choosing my "culprit" for the zombie outbreak, and then I read articles in science journals for clues to possible treatments. The most surprising amount of research was actually needed for the Sunset Limited train that plays heavily in the story. I searched train aficionado websites, digging for information and routes, trying to get the details right.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
V.M.: I enjoyed the character Wu --- ostensibly the "bad guy" but really more of a sympathetic foil to the main character Marco. The chapters told from Wu's viewpoint were the most fun to write; I liked exploring his side of the story, understanding him as a man. But he was also the hardest, since he comes from a foreign culture; entering his mind required a greater shift in thinking, as well as greater attention to details of life in China. (More research!)
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Return Man?
V.M.: My favorite scene comes near the end, and I can't think of a way to comment on it without spoilers! So... my second favorite scene comes in the middle, a quiet moment in a church between Marco and Wu, in which we gain some insight into each man's personal theology.
TQ: What's next?
V.M.: Another novel, I hope! I'm just breaking ground on a new idea, a supernatural/dark fantasy set in the spooky backwoods of Vermont. No bloody zombies, but there will definitely be maple syrup.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
V.M.: And thank you very much for having me! I hope everyone enjoys THE RETURN MAN, and I'd love to hear from you. Visit TheReturnMan.com and feel free to send me a note any time!
About The Return Man
The Return Man
Orbit, April 1, 2012
Premium Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
The outbreak tore the US in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness, known by survivors as the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you.
About V. M. Zito
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