Survival Instinct: Talking with Kristal Stittle about Zombies
Let's talk about survival. I'm not talking about surviving the work day, or surviving waiting in line during Black Friday for that new tablet that you've been wanting. I'm talking about zombies. I'm talking about the scary stuff. I'm talking about Kristal Stittle.
Kristal is the author of Survival Instinct and Adaptive Instinct, two adrenaline-charged thrill rides about a zombie virus that takes over, well...everything. You know how it is. Once one zombie bites someone, it's curtains for the rest of humanity. I'm currently reading her first novel (which is available for just 2.99 on Kindle), and I'm looking forward to seeing how the survival instincts of Kristal's characters keep them alive during this end of the world adventure.
Kristal was kind enough to visit with Writing Belle today and answer some of the deep, burning questions that I love asking writers of zombie lore. Enjoy!
I'm currently reading your zombie novel, Survival Instinct, and it's pretty scary! What got you started on writing scary stuff?
I think it was a combination of things. I was always scared of a lot of stuff growing up. I had an overactive imagination and a simple horror movie could keep me awake for a week. I was always thinking about worst-case scenarios, and the creatures in the dark. I don't know how it happened, but one day I discovered I was no longer afraid. I found myself digging into the books and films I previously couldn't stand, fascinated by the stories and characters. When it finally came to writing my own stuff, I went with what I knew.
Tell me a little about what you've published.
Well, Survival Instinct and Adaptive Instinct are currently my only novels and what I'm most proud of. I've also had quite a few short stories published, ranging from the terrifying to the bizarre. They were a lot of fun to write, especially the tiny one-hundred word drabbles, some of which I jotted down in seconds. I find short stories are a great place to explore ideas that aren't quite formed enough to warrant a whole book. I also like to explore characters from my Instinct novels with them; people you only get glimpses of in the main stories or who are elsewhere in the world. Apocalypses give you a lot of room to play in.
I love post-apocalyptic, survival scenarios, which is probably why zombie stories appeal to me. How did you build the story for Survival Instinct and Adaptive Instinct, its sequel?
This is a tough question for me to answer, because I'm not sure. I'm not the kind of writer who sits down and structures out the world and chapters beforehand. The initial spark came to me one summer when I read the book Hater by David Moody. I had been writing some fanfiction at the time, but reading about how he had originally self-published made me want to write my own stuff. So, with zombies on the brain, the characters of Survival Instinct came to me one day while I was sitting in traffic. I then sat at my laptop and began writing. The characters basically took it from there. For me, it was like watching a film in my head and writing it down as it happened. Most of the time even I don't know what's going to happen next. Sometimes writing like that can get frustrating. With Adaptive Instinct I had originally set it further along the timeline. I wrote two full chapters before I became far too interested in what happened to some new characters who weren't in Survival. I wanted to know what happened to them during that earlier time, so I scrapped the whole thing and started again. That novel definitely went a few places I didn't expect it to.
Have you ever watched The Walking Dead? If so, how do you feel about the show?
I am a big fan of The Walking Dead! I've even met a few of the cast members at Toronto's yearly Fan Expo, and gave some of them a copy of my book. It's funny, actually, some of the parallels that have happened between the show and my work. I first started writing Survival Instinct before I even knew about Robert Kirkman's zombies. My brother mentioned the comics to me when he learned I was writing about the undead, but I didn't look into them. Then, when I was about two chapters into my first draft, I heard about the show the night before it aired and decided to check it out. I've been hooked ever since. My first novel has been titled Survival Instinct since I began putting words to paper, but as I was trying to get it published, The Walking Dead announced it was coming out with a console game of the same name. I thought it was hilarious. The game and my book were released right around the same time as well. I'll admit the show has caused the zombie market to get rather flooded, which makes it harder for me to get visibility, but it's also brought a lot more viewers to the genre. I know quite a few people who gave my book a chance simply because they watch and love The Walking Dead.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you become interested in writing in general?
Outside of my three years at college I've lived in the same house in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) my whole life. My parents got me reading at a young age and I've never stopped. I love escaping into a good book, movie, or TV show. I was one of those awkward kids who never really knew how to fit in, so I found ways to play within my head. That's not to say I didn't have friends. When everyone else was moving on to more 'grown up' things, my friends and I were still coming up with fantasy stories to tell one another at two in the morning. When I was in high school, I started to write one of those stories down, and I still have it somewhere although it's pretty terrible, haha. Afterwards, I went off to Humber College to learn about computer animation and 3D modeling. My dream at the time had been to make 3D models for video games. I continued to write off and on during that time, but I didn't finish anything unless it was for a school project. After college, I got an unpaid internship at a tiny place doing what I wanted to do. I was able to set my own hours, and kept writing while continuing to practice my modeling skills. The year after, I was hired as a quality control tester at Ubisoft's brand new Toronto studio. Suddenly I had a full time job, a long commute, and not much free time. I had to decide whether I wanted to keep trying to be a modeler or keep writing, because I had no time to do both. Writing won in the end. Things may have turned out a lot differently if I hadn't already been writing Survival Instinct before I got that job.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
I'm currently working on many things at the moment. The third Instinct book I'm hoping to have published before the end of the year, but I also have a sci-fi novel that's about to make the rounds to publishers, trying to find the right home. I also have another novel that's just started going through edits, as well as two novellas. I'm pretty secretive about what I'm writing; I don't even really like to give out titles before the work is ready, which seems to be frustrating for the people who ask me about it, haha. I'm also really bad at knowing what category my work falls into. I'm glad that with the Instinct books I can just say "zombies" and people understand. Oh, and I also have another short story that should be coming out in an anthology really soon. Busy, busy, busy.
Do you have any advice for authors of horror or adventure novels?
Hmm, advice... for all writers I say start writing and don't stop until you finish. I've heard about too many projects that were never started or never completed. Start, and then finish. For horror authors, I say write what scares you because odds are it'll scare other people. Also, knowing what fear feels like really helps. I think that can be applied to adventure writers too. Go on adventures, then use that experience. Don't be afraid to branch out, either. Not just in your writing, but with the books you read, and movies and TV shows you watch. You would be surprised by what other genres might be able to add to your work.
Thank you so much for your time, Kristal! Good luck in all of your writing endeavors!
Thanks for having me, and good luck with yours!
About the Author
Kristal Stittle was born and raised in Toronto where she still lives with her cat. She was trained in 3D animation and enjoys painting, but her true passion is writing. Although currently focused on writing horror novels and shorts, she also dabbles in children's stories, an odd bit of poetry, and scripts for both film and TV.