Please welcome Peter Clines to The Qwillery. Ex-Isle, the 5th Ex novel, was published on February 2nd by Broadway Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Peter: I’m not sure. It sounds so cheesy, I know, but I can’t remember a point when I wasn’t telling stories. I know I would set up little dioramas with my Star Wars figures and adjust them day by day as the story progressed. I think I actually wrote out my first story in third grade, on that double-lined yellow paper they give kids to help with sizing letters. I was eleven when I got my first actual rejection letter from Jim Shooter at Marvel Comics. I sent him a really awful X-Men “script” and he sent back a very polite, friendly, personal letter as if I was a pro he’d worked with a few times and not a very stupid kid.
As for why... I don’t know. Why do some kids play baseball or like horses or collect comics? I can’t imagine what it would be like to not tell stories. Pretty much every “real” job I’ve ever had as an adult was about storytelling. I think I just got that chromosome and it turned on at an early age.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Peter: Kind of a hybrid. I think most folks are, really. I lean more toward pantser, and that’s worked out for me so far. I try to have a few rough beats and plot points when I head into something, a pretty good idea of where I want to end up, some basic character ideas, but that’s about it. If I do anything more detailed than that, it tends to cause problems. I have a bad habit of sticking to the outline no matter what, even when I can (and should) be doing something else with the story and characters.
The most challenging thing is probably just self doubt—which is probably the biggest challenge for every writer at every stage of their career. I think it’s called imposter syndrome (but you should probably check with someone better qualified than me about that...). I thought it’d get easier once I was doing this professionally, but the truth is I worry about things even more now. Will people like this? Has this idea been done before? Am I doing anything new with this? Could this be better?
And then all that stuff gets beaten down or addressed and I get back to writing...
TQ: Tell us something about Ex-Isle that is not found in the book description.
Peter: It’s had the... well, interesting luck to share a name with a reality dating show. The book was announced almost a year ago, went up for preorders last May, and I tweeted about it a few times, put some artwork on Tumblr, that sort of thing. And then, halfway through December, a couple people sent me articles to the reality show asking “Did you know about this?” And now it’s just funny watching the hashtag drift back and forth between the reality show and the zombie-superhero book. I’ve even had a few folks from the show like and retweet some of my stuff.
TQ: Which question about Ex-Isle or the Ex series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Peter: What does it have to do with the dating show? Absolutely nothing.
Although, in all honesty, there was a reference to a zombified Carmen Electra in one of the earlier versions of...I think it was Ex-Patriots. The books are set in Los Angeles, and a lot of the guards and scavengers amuse themselves by keeping track of celebrity zombies. I think I cut the reference very early on because it just felt a bit like overkill at that particular moment.
So, yes, I voted Carmen off the island.
TQ: In the Ex-Heroes series so far who has been the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Which character surprised you the most?
Peter: For a while Barry/Zzzap was the easiest because he’s a complete geek like me and most of my friends. But as the series continues, he’s actually become harder and harder to write. I’m always double and triple-checking all his pop culture references and making sure none of them are from things that happened after the zombocalypse. That’s become an overall problem, though.
Captain Freedom is probably the hardest, on many levels. He’s a devoted Army officer. He’s fairly devout, religiously speaking. He’s a black man who grew up in the south. That’s three things I have zero experience in, so I’m always cautious while writing him.
Surprise... I don’t know if anyone’s really surprised me. I mean, it’s all coming out of my head. It’s been nice finding new ways I can make some of them grow. If there are more books, I have some plans for a couple of characters...
TQ: Why zombies AND superheroes? Are they metaphors?
Peter: Why mystery and sci-fi? Why vampires and romance? Why Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudekis? Sometimes two things are great together even though at first glance they seem like they wouldn’t work. Plus, I’m hardly the first person to do it. I think Superman teamed up with the Phantom Stranger to fight zombies back in a mid-late-eighties issue of Action Comics, if memory serves. There’ve been a few things since then and probably a couple before, too. I like the idea of a threat that superheroes and normal humans have to deal with essentially the same way, and that some of the differences could cause tension.
As for metaphors…let’s be honest. I’m not that skilled. I think there are general metaphors we can always find for heroes, zombies, or a zombie apocalypse, but I’ve never intended to put any of that—or anything else—into the books. Ex-Isle might be the most metaphor-heavy book to date, where I really tried to say something in the subtext, and it’s still pretty light.
TQ: Do you have a favorite superhero or superheroes?
Peter: Spider-Man, hands down. I’ve always felt he’s sort of the “purest” version of a superhero out there. I have a huge collection of Spider-Man comics and a fair amount of toys, too. And movies. And theme songs...
Past Spidey, there are a lot of B-heroes I’ve always had a certain fondness for. Machine Man. Blue Devil. Terror, Inc. It’ll never happen, but I’d love the chance to write one of them. As of late, I really find myself liking Ms. Marvel, too. It’s probably my favorite Marvel book right now.
TQ: What's next?
Peter: At the moment I’m finishing up my next book, which is sort of a time travel-horror-road trip thing. It’s been bouncing around in my head for a while, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger as I write. After that... I have a few ideas I’m going to pitch to my editor, including another EX book.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Peter: Thanks you, as always, for thinking I’d be somewhat entertaining or interesting.
Broadway Books, February 2, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
“It is an easy thing to rule by fear.”
It’s been years since the tidal wave of ex-humans washed over the world. Since then, thanks to St George and his fellow heroes, the community known as the Mount has been the last known outpost of safety, sanity, and freedom left to humanity.
But even for the Mount, survival still balances on a razor’s edge—and after a disaster decimates the town’s food supply, the heroes must make a risky gamble to keep its citizens from starving.
And then the news arrives of a strange, man-made island in the middle of the Pacific. An island populated not just by survivors, but by people who seem to be farming, raising children, living—people who, like the heroes, have somehow managed to keep the spark of civilization alive.
Paying this place a visit should be a simple goodwill mission, but as the island reveals itself to be a sinister mirror-image of what the heroes have built at the Mount, the cost of their good intentions becomes dangerously high.
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Broadway Books, February 26, 2013
Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Cerberus. Zzzap. The Mighty Dragon. They were heroes, using their superhuman abilities to make Los Angeles a better place.
Then the plague of living death spread around the globe. Billions died, civilization fell, and the city of angels was left a desolate zombie wasteland.
Now, a year later, the Mighty Dragon and his companions protect a last few thousand survivors in their film-studio-turned-fortress, the Mount. Scarred and traumatized by the horrors they’ve endured, the heroes fight the armies of ravenous ex-humans at their citadel’s gates, lead teams out to scavenge for supplies—and struggle to be the symbols of strength and hope the survivors so desperately need.
But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the city’s ruins. And just a few miles away, another group is slowly amassing power . . . led by an enemy with the most terrifying ability of all.
Broadway Books, April 23, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
It’s been two years since the plague of ex-humans decimated mankind. Two years since the superheroes St. George, Cerberus, Zzzap, and Stealth gathered Los Angeles’s survivors behind the walls of their fortress, the Mount.
Since then, the heroes have been fighting to give the Mount’s citizens hope, and something like a real life. But now supplies are growing scarce, the zombies are pressing in . . . and the heroes are wondering how much longer they can hold out.
Then hope arrives in the form of a surviving US Army battalion–and not just any battalion. The men and women of the Army’s Project Krypton survived the outbreak because they are super-soldiers, created before mankind’s fall to be better, stronger, faster than normal humans–and their secure base in Arizona beckons as a much needed refuge for the beleaguered heroes and their charges.
But a dark secret lies at the heart of Project Krypton, and those behind it wield an awesome and terrifying power.
Broadway Books, July 9, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
“All of us try to cheat death. I was just better prepared to do it than most folks.”
In the years since the wave of living death swept the globe, St George and his fellow heroes haven’t just kept Los Angeles’ last humans alive—they’ve created a real community, a bustling town that’s spreading beyond its original walls and swelling with new refugees.
But now one of the heroes, perhaps the most powerful among them, seems to be losing his mind. The implacable enemy known as Legion has found terrifying new ways of using zombies as pawns in his attacks. And outside the Mount, something ancient and monstrous is hell-bent on revenge.
As Peter Clines weaves these elements together in yet another masterful, shocking climax, St. George, Stealth, Captain Freedom, and the rest of the heroes find that even in a city overrun by millions of ex-humans…
…there’s more than one way to come back from the dead.
Broadway Books, January 14, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
When he’s awake, George Bailey is just an ordinary man. Five days a week he coaxes his old Hyundai to life, curses the Los Angeles traffic, and clocks in at his job as a handyman at the local college.
But when he sleeps, George dreams of something more.
George dreams of flying. He dreams of fighting monsters. He dreams of a man made of pure lightning, an armored robot, a giant in an army uniform, a beautiful woman who moves like a ninja.
Then one day as he’s walking from one fix-it job to the next, a pale girl in a wheelchair tells George of another world, one in which civilization fell to a plague that animates the dead…and in which George is no longer a glorified janitor, but one of humanity’s last heroes.
Her tale sounds like madness, of course. But as George’s dreams and his waking life begin bleeding together, he starts to wonder—which is the real world, and which is just fantasy?
PETER CLINES has published several pieces of short fiction and countless articles on the film and television industries, as well as the novels The Fold, Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots, Ex-Communication, Ex-Purgatory, Ex-Isle, and 14. He lives and writes in southern California.