FTN: Peter, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to Following The Nerd. Could you tell us a little bit about you and your background?
PC: I grew up in Maine, in a little New England vacation town south of the Stephen King fallout zone, so he was kind of a legend growing up. I was a huge comic book geek when I was little and I was always telling stories (usually with Star Wars figures). When I found my mom’s old Smith-Corona typewriter in the back of the closet… it was all over. I spent most of my summers out on the porch with this huge electric behemoth that would punch holes through the paper. I was one of those rare kids who was thrilled when my parents got me a new typewriter—a Brother—for my birthday.
I ended up out in California after college and sort of stumbled from doing concert work to theater work and then into the film industry. I did that for years, dabbled in screenwriting, and then ended up going back to a novel I’d started right after moving out here. I left the film industry and started writing about it for a couple magazines and websites, and I’d been doing that for about two years when I first sold Ex-Heroes.
PC: The Ex-Heroes books are about a world where there were actual superheroes and a zombie apocalypse happened. Some heroes survived, some didn’t, and some of them didn’t but are still walking around anyway. The handful of heroes left have gathered up all the survivors in Los Angeles inside a film studio that’s been converted into a fortress and they’re all trying to figure out how to survive in a world filled with the undead. The first book begins about a year after the collapse of society as the heroes discover there’s another faction of survivors in Los Angeles. The second book, Ex-Patriots, is when the military shows up, as they do in most zombie stories. Ex-Communication ties together a lot of threads from the first two books and brings in some other elements I thought would be interesting.
FTN: And that brings us to Ex-Purgatory. I realise that you won’t want to give too many spoilers but what is this novel about?
PC: This one’s a little different. Essentially, this book follows a George who isn’t a hero, and whose world never had a zombie apocalypse. So when a girl tells him he’s supposed to have superpowers and that most of the world should be dead (or undead) he’s a bit skeptical. And then things get a bit weird…
It’s an idea I’d been playing with and I wasn’t sure I wanted to use it with the Ex-Heroes characters or not. But then I realized where I could go with it, using it like this, and that I could combine it with another thread I’d left dangling.
FTN: So Ex-Purgatory seems to focus pretty heavily on George Bailey, The Mighty Dragon / Saint George. He has always been one of the main characters in the previous books but what made you centre this one predominantly around him?
PC: In an earlier draft I had a lot more of the other characters, but it didn’t feel quite right. The mystery aspect of this one seemed to lend itself much better to a single viewpoint. Also, I liked the idea of showing St. George as a regular guy, and seeing that a lot of who he is isn’t based in his powers. He’s still a decent guy who wants to do the right thing.
FTN: Obviously George is one of your favourite characters, then, but another has to be Stealth. She is a powerful woman without having any overt powers (when compared to Zzzap, George, or some of the others). What made you create her with her powerset?
PC: Stealth is Batman. She’s what you get if someone spends most of their life trying to be the best at everything. We love Superman because he’s everything we could ever dream of being—strong, fast, invulnerable, able to fly. But Batman is everything we could be. I think there’s a great appeal to the idea of an attainable superhero, even if it means dedicating your life to that idea, to achieving those levels of perfection.
FTN: Cheesy question time …who’d win in a fight between George and Stealth?
PC: Stealth. Hands down. St. George might be more powerful, but she’s much more ruthless.
FTN: Speaking of characters there have been plenty of changes in the heroes since book one. You have killed some off and introduced some new ones. Do you find it hard to do this or, as the saying goes, is killing your darlings something that you feel necessary to put out a great story?
PC: I’m not against killing characters, but I think there needs to be a reason for it. It has to advance the plot, advance someone’s character arc, up the stakes. It needs to do something. I hate it when I read a book and there’s a character who plainly serves no purpose except to be “the one who dies,” or if the author kills off other characters randomly.
FTN: Your novels have been compared to The Walking Dead meets The Avengers but which came first for you: a love of horror and zombies, or a love of superheroes?
PC: Superheroes by far. I loved comics as a kid, to the point that my parents worried about me a bit now and then. When I was growing up my bedroom had piles of Amazing Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, Star Wars, Shogun Warriors, ROM, Micronauts… I’m dating myself a bit, aren’t I?
Truth is, though, I was terrified of everything as a kid. I couldn’t watch horror movies. Hell, scary television shows would give me nightmares for weeks. It wasn’t until college that I became fascinated with horror. My friend John sat me down and made me watch Hellraiser and The Omen. It was a lot like that scene in Hot Fuzz, but with horror films instead of buddy cop movies.
FTN: So did you start out with an idea for a post apocalyptic zombie tale first, a ‘standard’ superhero tale, or was it always going to be superheroes in a zombie infested world?
PC: It was kind of a roundabout thing. Back in 2005 one of the Big Two comic publishers announced a zombie-superhero series, and when it came out I was disappointed. I know the angle they took had a lot of fans, but it felt like a wasted opportunity to me. So, like most would-be-writers, I jotted down a bunch of notes about how I would’ve done it and some key things I’d want to see in such a story.
Two years later my girlfriend and I got a place together and I had a real office. I was unpacking a bunch of stuff I’d been lugging around for years and came across some sketchbooks from when I was eleven or twelve. They were filled with superheroes and supervillains I’d made up, characters with names like The Dragon, Cerberus, Cairax, Banzai, The Driver, and so on. While they were definitely the kind of characters made up by a kid, I realized that most of the basic archetypes would fit really well in that superhero-zombie story I’d wanted to see. And that was the start of Ex-Heroes.
FTN: Have you ever thought what you would do if the zombie apocalypse came to pass?
PC: I’d probably die. I’m realistic. Because of my work in the film industry I’m familiar with far more firearms and bladed weapons than the average person, plus I have a knack for improvisation and making X out of Y and Z. I live in Los Angeles so I’ve got a passable earthquake kit. And I still think I wouldn’t last long. The thing is, if the dead ever did start to walk it’d be by some mechanism none of us could hope to understand. But we’ve all been conditioned to go for headshots and destroy the brain, so we’ll waste all our ammo on that and it’ll turn out their weak spot is the spleen or something. And nobody knows where the spleen is in the human body. Nobody. So we’d all die.
FTN: We mentioned The Walking Dead, and The Avengers earlier. Both zombies and superheroes are at their peak of popularity again both on the big and small screens. Do you think that we could see Ex-Heroes on either media some time in the future?
PC: Could we? Well, anything’s possible. Will we? I don’t know. My years in the film industry have given me a lot of insight into the chances most projects have. I’ve had a few meetings with people and there’s been a lot of enthusiasm from some folks, but there are so many steps between interest and a miniseries or movie… well, I’m just going to be happy with the interest and not worry about anything else.
FTN: Cheesy question number two: Stan Lee has a cameo in most Marvel productions so if Ex-Heroes makes it to the screen what sort of cameo would you want to do?
PC: Hah. Realistically, I’d be happy if they let me be a random zombie. If they were feeling really generous… I don’t know. Maybe the zombie Midknight? That’d be a fun, quick little cameo.
FTN: We said earlier that Ex-Purgatory is book four in the series so I was just wondering if you have more books planned/plotted in the series? Is there an end in sight or, for now, is it all open ended for how far you will take the survivors in The Mount on their journey? Can you tell us anything about the next book?
PC: Broadway Paperbacks and I just signed a deal for a fifth book, Ex-Isle, and I’m hoping that will lead into a sixth. I don’t really have an “end” in sight. I’ve never viewed this as a trilogy of trilogies or anything like that, just an ongoing series. As long as some folks are alive, I could see stories in this world going on for years.
Ex-Isle… I’m hesitant to say anything because there are those folks on the internet who will seize any random statement—no matter how out of context it is—analyze the hell out of it, and then render judgment. All months and months before they see the final work. I’d rather hold off saying anything for as long as I can. I will say that, like all the other titles in the series, it can be read two ways, and both of them are kind of relevant.
FTN: Once again, Peter, thank you so much for your time and everyone here at Following The Nerd wishes you the best for Ex-Purgatory.
PC: Many, many thanks to you and your readers for thinking I’d be even slightly interesting. I hope everyone managed to stay awake.
PETER CLINES has published several pieces of short fiction and countless articles on the film and television industry, as well as the recent novel 14, named best sci-fi novel of 2012 by Audible.com and voted one of the best horror novels of 2012 on Goodreads and Bloody Disgusting. He lives in Southern California.