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I find they actually reinforce each other quite well. Writing, acting, performing, teaching, and parenting—at least from my perspective and the way I do them all—is kinda just going with what you are given and making it work. The more I do of one, the stronger I find I am in the rest. “Well, if I figured out what to do with 32 law students that have only a marginal interest in law, and then figured out how to cheer up a very cranky one-year-old, I can probably figure out how these three kids in my head can get out of a locked room filled with zombies.”
I've always been interested in horror movies and scary stories (which is weird, because I am a fraidy cat by nature), but zombies have always jumped out at me as being more interesting than, say, vampires or ghosts or whatnot. I think it's just that anything can be a zombie. Anything. And there are so many interpretations of what they can be. Also, for some reason, I've always viewed zombies as being the more “realistic” of the monsters. They are just dead people, after all. There are tons of those all over the place.
I actually had none of the characters in mind specifically. The idea of the kids all alone came from one scene in another story (basically a whole other novel) I wrote a few years ago. The only characters that made it through from that one to this one are Hannah and Kaitlyn. Everyone else in this story is, for the most part, a different version of myself or people that I grew up with. For example, a LOT of David and Nicole are me and my older sister. A lot of the traits come from students that I have taught in the past.
Keep trying and get your work out there—it's amazing how much feedback you will get, and some of it will actually be positive! I used to send one story out once, and if it was rejected, I kinda gave up on it. But, if you go after what you want with a bit of a plan and some persistence, you'd be surprised with the results. I was!
This is probably the question that I thought the most about, mostly because I like a LOT of fictional characters very much. The answer I finally came to kinda surprised me. It's Captain Hook. He's probably one of the best written characters I have ever read. He's villainized for wanting literally the exact same thing as the story's hero (Peter Pan), but is actually more responsible than Peter! Peter kidnaps kids! Hook, and the rest of the pirates, are just older kids. They are adults that never really grew up. They play make-believe just as much as the Lost Boys—who are they pirating from after all? There are no other adults! I find that Captain Hook is a very misunderstood man who I believe is written to be exactly that, which makes him a super good, interesting character.
The best question I ever got from the Fictional Sydney series was “If you die in real-life, do you wake up in Sydney?” It was a really clever question that really threw me off (because it was so good). I honestly don't remember how I answered it, but I know it wasn't as good as the question.
Oddly, I have never thought about this. But, I would probably pack light (I hate packing, and I tend to forget things anyways) and just look for things as I go. There are lots of places to find food and clothes and water. Plus, with my current level of other survival skills and ability to deal with nature, I doubt I would last very long.
I take breaks that are far too long between writing sometimes, and then once I want to write again, it takes forever to get started because no good ideas are coming to me. So, I do what I always tell my students: just write something. Anything. It could be garbage—and probably will be—but eventually it will turn into something good OR at the very least I will have gotten a garbage idea out of my system.
I don't know if this counts as an answer, but I admire people that try to make things better. Not even like big things. I'm not talking about Gandhi or anything (although I'm sure he was great and pretty admirable). I'm talking about people who just do what they can about something in their community, or something in their family, or even something for a total stranger. Like George Bailey from “It's a Wonderful Life” (another fictional character I love). A bunch of my friends are these people. My wife is one of these people. My parents are these people (sometimes it astounds me how much my dad is one of these people). I'm surrounded by these people, and it's really amazing to see what they can do and have already done.What's next? Do you have another novel in the works?
I actually have a couple of ideas for novels in my head (and even a little bit of them on my computer). One involves wizards and magic; a comedy and is just a really fun idea that I'm mostly just doing for my own amusement. Another is a continuation of the story of the mudmen or at least set in the same time/place. That story has literally hundreds of characters and situations that I would love to flesh out (which should totally be zombie-slang for eating should I ever write a book from the zombie's perspective).