Zombies are kind of taking over the world. At least, that's what is happening in S. Johnathan Davis' novel, 900 Miles. For post-apocalyptic junkies like myself, this premise is as fascinating as it is terrifying. Davis is the author of both 900 Miles and 900 Minutes, bestselling zombie novels that feature two regular guys duking it out against the brain-eating undead. Sound fun? Well, let's put it this way: if zombies do come around in the near future, Davis will definitely be prepared.
Zombies. I have interviewed quite a few post-apocalyptic authors over the years and zombies are often an integral part of disaster stories (though definitely not always!). What drew you to zombies?
It’s funny, I’ve been a fan on this genre since I was a kid. My brother and I used to stay up late to catch any kind of zombie movie we could get our hands on. We’d watch some of the greats like Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead… and then some of the not so greats. But loved them all the same.
I know there is a ton of “modern” zombie material. Books, Movies, video games… they’re all great. However, in the end I guess my love for the zombie is really kind of a nostalgia thing for me. I’ve simply got fond memories of those late nights doing something I probably shouldn’t have been doing…. and enjoying every minute of it.
Tell me about 900 Miles. When did you write it, and when did you release it?
900 Miles seems like it happened really fast. It took me maybe 9 months of on and off writing to get the manuscript complete. The story itself was picked up by Severed Press almost immediately (they were one of the first publishers I queried), and it was published in January of 2013.
I’ll note that I had nooo idea what I was doing. 900 Miles was my first book. I’m sure I made mistakes with the process. However, that’s really what I think makes it something that people relate with. It’s imperfect, like a lot of us.
How did you come up with the character of John (the main protagonist)? What’s your favorite trait of his - and your least favorite trait?
John is a cynic, and I love writing the one-liners that spout out of his head. His points of view on Corporate America create a ton of fun parallels to the collapse of society and the zombie apocalypse. It’s just a fun target to shoot at. However, I think my favorite times writing about John are his interactions with Kyle. Those seem to create the best dialogue, and really give me a chance to bring them both to life.
At the same time, Johns cynicism can come off like he’s complaining about things. Complaining about people, the world, etc. It’s part of him though, so I stay true to it.
As for how did I come up with his character? John’s a normal guy, not a rambo type. He’s thrust into a crazy world under crazy circumstances. I guess I thought a lot about how I’d react in a world gone to hell. That made it easier.
You chose to begin the story in New York. Why?
Funny actually, I was on a plane heading to NY when I came up with the high level concept. Flying over the city, I remember thinking about how screwed I’d be if there was a natural catastrophe. So many people, and I was so far away from home. Later on, when I sat down to write, it just seemed like NY would be the craziest possible place you could be if the dead started to rise…. and I was going for worst-case-scenario.
As for the character of Kyle - John’s companion in the novel - where did the inspiration for his character come from?
I guess I pulled pieces and parts of Kyle out of a bunch of my friends. His loyalty, his humor, his ability to fight - they’re all different traits from people I know. However, in the end, I really wanted this to be a story of friendship. A story where despite the horror, a couple of guys can still sit back and grab a beer in the middle of it all. That’s just cool to me.
I'm wondering if you've seen The Walking Dead. Are you a fan of the show?
Yep, big fan of the show and the graphic novel. Writing zombie fiction, I almost have to watch it. They do so many things across both mediums, and it’s getting harder and harder to write anything in this genre without someone comparing my story to theirs. Best I can do is try to avoid similar plot lines or big obvious similarities.
I’ve actually had to go back and re-write whole sections of my books just to avoid that duplication. As an example, in 900 Minutes, there is a scene that I originally wrote about a “bad-guy” force having a tank outside of a “good-guy” stronghold.
Well, if you’ve seen the set of episodes with the Governor storming the prison in the Walking Dead… you’ll know why I had to re-write my scenes.
What’s your advice to people who are writing post-apocalyptic fiction?
Focus on the story not the gore or the action. There is a place for gore and action, but it’s within a good story. If you can create a compelling world with compelling characters who have some sort of compelling goal. You’ll have a good chance to win with your audience.
Tell me about the sequel to 900 Miles - 900 Minutes.
I think writing about the beginning of the apocalypse is easy. A clearly exciting part of any zombie story. Really, that is what 900 Miles was all about.
Keeping the story going after the initial days or weeks is the trick. For me, the approach to this was really focusing in on the conflict between Man. Now don’t get me wrong, zombies are a huge part of the story. However, the human conflict is what drives the story for 900 miles.
This made it really interesting to write. Very cool opportunity to expand on some characters that were introduced in the first book! I think there is a good evolution in the main characters as well. Sometimes who you are in those first days isn’t who you are a year later.
Any future writing projects planned?
After a bunch of research and brainstorming, I just started writing a new story. It’s going to be apocalyptic fiction… which is really what I love to write. However, this time around, I really want to write something a little more cerebral. Still working through the synopsis, but it will have everything that the fans of my stories have enjoyed :)
As for the 900 Miles series, I’m going to pause for right now. I feel like it ended in a good spot, however I’ve love to revisit it at some point. In my head, I’ve been thinking it would be a lot of fun to explore a story that would be about Tyler - say 20 years in the future. Could create a chance for a whole bunch of cool “future" zombie ideas that I could cook up :)
Thank you for joining us today! Best of luck in all of your writing endeavors!
Ya, this has been great. Thanks for taking the time to do the interview!
About the Author
S. Johnathan Davis has been published by Severed Press, Kings Way Press and Luzifer-Verlag. He is best known for publishing apocalyptic horror.
Davis released his first novel, 900 Miles, in January of 2013. The book debuted at number one on Amazon’s Top New Books list for weeks after the initial launch, and remained in the top 100 in Occult Horror on Amazon for over eight months.
Often found at conventions, blogging online and podcasting on the horror / zombie topics, Davis is also an active member of the Horror Writers Association – a prestigious group of writers and readers dedicated to all that is horror.
Davis resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and two children.