Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Joseph Zuko, Author of The Infected: Karen's First Day (Book Two)

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Today we are interviewing Joseph Zuko about his horror/thriller zombie novel "The Infected: Karen's First Day (Book Two)."

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been a zombie fan since 1997. It was the year I bought my first Playstation and the game Resident Evil 2. I co-own a zombie themed T-shirt company. We print on top of the line American Apparel shirts that feel great. www.facebook.com/zombiecamp17  

I’m married to a wonderful woman that’s the love of my life and have two beautiful little girls. The three of them are who the main characters of this book are based on. As a form of cardio and to prepare for the up coming zombie apocalypse I do a mixed martial art class three times a week called Krav Maga and I just got my orange/green belt last month. I also am doing a Spartan Race in August that  I’m training for. I did it last year and it was a blast. Two hours of pain and torture to run, but it was a blast.

Describe the plot of “The Infected: Karen’s First Day” in a few sentences.

This is the second book of the series. In book one we followed Karen’s husband Jim across the zombie infested city of Portland. This book is the same day but from his wife’s point of view. She is a normal stay-at-home mom that has to keep both of her children out of the hungry mouths of the infected. She is strong, very smart and has an unbelievable drive to stay alive.  

Who do you think would most appreciate this book?
This book is for anyone that likes action, scares, thrills, near misses, a little dark humor, a lot of heart and a ton of fun. I’ve had men and women from all walks of life message me and tell me how much fun the book was, that they can’t wait for the next installment.

What inspired you to write a series about regular people coping with a zombie apocalypse?

I live in Vancouver, WA but I work in Portland, OR and there is the Columbia river that separates the two states. For years now I have feared being at work and something horrible happening. The roads are blocked, the bridges are down and I would have to walk/run all the way home to my girls. It was and still is a nightmare for me. Last August 2014 I started reading Mark Tufo’s "Zombie Fallout" and T.W. Brown’s "The Dead" series. As I read their books and looked up who the authors were I discovered that, Mark mostly, had written books that stared a kind of version of themselves in it and I though, “I could do that.” That’s when I started writing my nightmare scenario down and used my family and friends as the template for my characters.
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Author Joseph Zuko.

Tell us about the protagonist, stay-at-home mom Karen.
She is a fun and happy person. Karen is the woman next door. A person that you can look at and say I’m like that or I know someone very close to that. She’s also very smart and even when the world is falling apart all around her she keeps her head. Karen’s got babies to take care of she doesn’t have the luxury to go crazy and be able to survive this nightmare. She doesn’t know how to fight, she doesn’t run marathons and she is not equipped to live in this new world, but Karen is highly adaptable and tough as hell, like how most mom’s have to be to survive their children.

Is Karen a person who always has a kick-butt approach to problems or does she unexpectedly rise to the occasion in the face of adversity?
She’s never had to kick butt before in her life. This is all new to her, but she’s driven to keep the little one’s Valerie and Robin safe. The new infected world that she has to adapt to is fast and punishing. You don’t get a second chance or a do over. She has to rise to the occasion quickly. Karen has to make hard decisions and hope they pan out for her. I don’t like making it easy for the human characters in my books.

The other female characters in this book are also strong and capable. Did you set out to write the characters this way or did they evolve into this as you wrote?

I knew that I needed to make Karen strong because I made the world so brutal in the first book that if she wasn’t strong she would be a goner by page fifty. When I wrote book one I really had no idea what I was doing and thought I was writing for a male dominated audience. I’m a guy and I just didn’t know what to expect. After I put the book out most of the people, not all, but a lot of ladies would leave comments or contact me through social media. It surprised me how much women readers of the world liked it. I also knew that book two was going to be about Karen so I just made sure she was as strong and smart as Jim. I live in a house with three women I know first hand how funny, crafty and tough they are. I also knew that I needed to diversify and add more characters so at the last few pages of book one I added a new family that lives upstairs from Jim and Karen. Cliff and Tina is their names and they are also based on friends of ours. I hate stereo types in books and movies so I tried very hard to make sure from the beginning that these men and women feel real and that they do things that real people would do in those horrible situations.  

What made you decide to set the book in the Portland metro area?
I live here and felt it would be easier to just write what I know so that I wouldn’t get bogged down with any writers block. These being my first books I was terrified by the length of a novel and didn’t want any reasons to not finish the book. I was also born and raised in Portland. I’m one of the few true blood natives. I love the city. I now live in Vancouver only because it is closer to the rest of my family.

Does Karen have a preferred weapon for killing zombies?

A Ruger nine millimeter. Karen and Jim bought it years ago and she had only fired it once prior to the first day of the zombie apocalypse. 

Are there any authors who have influenced your writing style?
Blake Crouch was a big one. During the writing of Karen’s First Day I read four of his books.
Run which is absolutely amazing and really inspired me to step up my writing game. Then I finished off his Wayward Pines trilogy.

Tell us about your creative process, from initial idea to published manuscript.
I know this sounds weird but when I start a chapter I only have the vaguest idea of what might happen next. I think that it adds to the felling of chaos in my books. I will write myself into a corner at the cliffhanger ending of a chapter and then the next day when I go to work on the next chapter somehow the answers have appeared to me. I also try and think of it as a job and like any job you have to produce a certain amount of something or else you are fired. I shoot for a thousand words a day. If I go over great. If I don’t hit it I try not to beat myself up and get the rest of the words the next day. 

A lot of people talk about muses or angels telling them what to write or using them as a vessel to deliver the final product. It often feels like that. I will sit down at the computer with a sliver of an idea and eight hours later words are on the page and I’m generally happy with how they come out. I also have a great team of editors and they really push me to make each book better than the last.

How do you feel about the increasing popularity of ebooks?
Love it! Last year I knew that Kindle tablets were popular, but I didn’t know the extent of it and had no clue I could put my own books up on Amazon. It was mind blowing. I thought you had to be a big shot writer with a publisher in your corner. Nope. Anyone with a working computer and internet connection can be a writer and that’s very exciting. The online consumers get a chance to find a book at a very low cost and makes it more appealing to take a chance on an unknown writer. Especially one that puts the name “Zombie” on his front cover.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, how’d you deal with it?
After the launch of book one and people’s responses were so scary. They would tell me how much they loved it and couldn’t wait for the next one. I’d never experienced anything like that before and I was terrified I’d let them down with my sophomore effort. There would be days I’d question everything I was doing and didn’t know if I could trust my muse/angel. My wife would see me struggling on the next chapter and she would say, “Knock it off and write it.” So that’s what I did.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?

I would love to keep up the pace of putting four books out a year. I don’t know how easy that is to maintain but I’m going to try. Ten years is such a long time. I can only really focus on this year, when it’s over I’ll worry about the next.

Is there any aspect of writing you don't like?
It can be very lonely. I love hanging out with my characters but they are always so close to death that it can be difficult to stay in touch with them. Readers will be with these guys for five to seven hours. I’m with them twenty to thirty hours a week. It’s tough to see my wife and kids go out and have fun and I’m stuck trying to get my word quota done for the day.

Do you have more books planned for the series?

At this point I plan to do as many as I can. I don’t want to get locked into it, but if readers want to know what happens next and then what happens next after that, I could see it being hard to stop. I would hate to repeat myself and I really hate the idea of it getting boring so as long as I have something interesting and exciting to write I’ll keep dipping into the Infected World.

Do you have any projects planned for outside the series?

I have another book planned for this winter that will be a stand alone book called "Sweet Home." It’s the story of a snowy mountain town on New Years Eve and a few homicidal maniacs escape from a maximum security transfer and desend onto this sleepy mountain town. Only the strong will make it to the next year.

Is there anything else you'd like potential readers to know about your book?
It’s meant to be fun and entertain. It is a story about the beginning of a zombie apocalypse and how the humans try and adapt to this new world. Some have compared it to The Walking Dead and I take that as a compliment. I would say that both books are what they are from the very first page. If you get two chapters in and love it then you will love the rest of the book.

Book blurb for "The Infected: Karen's First Day (Book Two)":

Raising kids is tough. Keeping them alive as the zombie apocalypse begins is tougher. But that's exactly what stay-at-home mom Karen needs to do: fight fiercely to keep her young daughters safe as her husband Jim battles his way across the city, so they can escape the carnage together. On the worst day of her life, Karen finds that she will do anything to protect her family, and that the line between life and death has teeth.

More Information
Buy "The Infected: Karen's First Day" on Amazon

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