It’s no surprise to fans that Jack Wallen is about to release the next novel in the I Zombie series, titled Cry Zombie Cry, in the next month. Mr. Wallen was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss with Playwithdeath.com the latest in his beloved zombie series, as well as his journey from actor to author. With a Master’s of Fine Arts in acting, Mr. Wallen has a strong sense of what it takes to drive character development and give storytelling the dramatic “punch” required to lure in an audience. Some may not know that Mr. Wallen spent the first twenty years of his career as an actor, primarily working stage and Broadway shows. Part of the Colorado Shakespeare festival as well as spending a large portion of time as a resident actor in children’s theatre, Mr. Wallen honed his sense of storytelling in the space of the theatrical spotlight. Though he greatly enjoyed his time as an actor, he came to a realization that acting had a limited lifespan, and so he searched for another outlet to provide the world with the art that swirled around in his mind. Thinking about several short stories he had written in graduate school, Mr. Wallen knew instantly that this outlet would be found in writing.
During his transition from actor to author, Mr. Wallen dipped his toes into several other employment positions as varied and diverse as hair styling, PC technical support, and even writing for several major computing publications. It was in these positions that Mr. Wallen recognized that his compulsion to create was being repressed, and he felt as though he were “a cog in a very large and very ugly machine.” As Mr. Wallen woke up one morning shortly after, a thought clung to his mind: what would it look like to become a zombie? What would it sound like? Taste like? Feel like? It was these initial questions that pushed Mr. Wallen headfirst into the creation of the I Zombie I novel. Without knowing it, Mr. Wallen unleashed something new to the indie writing world, and fans began to gravitate towards Mr. Wallen’s open and honest attitude within his writing. As said by Mr. Wallen himself, “If I can’t be honest with the characters I’m writing, I might as well give up.” It was this honesty that pushed Mr. Wallen into the next of the I Zombie series, My Zombie My.
Jack Wallen Knows How to Give Storytelling a Dramatic Punch
Despite his love for the I Zombie series, Mr. Wallen did not expect that love to be reciprocated by fans tenfold. Mr. Wallen originally had intended on making the I Zombie series into a trilogy, but fan reaction and support kept the series going strong, and Mr. Wallen realized that the I Zombie universe had so much more to tell. Knowing where he wants the series to end, Mr. Wallen has had great pleasure in writing the journey in between. Drawing inspiration from George Romero and his quintessential hordes of the undead as well as his favorite author Clive Barker, Mr. Wallen tells the zombie story not from a position of fear and uncertainty, but one of hope. It was always Mr. Wallen’s intention to provide his audience with the answers to all of the “why” questions in the I Zombie universe. Instead of keeping the reader closed off to the truth behind the start of the apocalypse or an understanding of why zombies seek to consume the brains of their victims, Mr. Wallen wanted to empower both the reader and the protagonists of his stories with clear and sometimes deeply saddening answers to why things happen the way they do. This clarity resonates with Mr. Wallen’s open and honest stance with writing, and it is exactly this sort of clear communication between author and reader that has given the I Zombie series a horde of voracious fans, anxious to devour more.
Mr. Wallen has a deep appreciation and rich relationship with his fans, and discussed in particular a woman named Jacki who touched him with a heartfelt story of how she managed to endure cancer and its resulting treatments by escaping into the twisted reality of the I Zombie books. Mr. Wallen’s always had a desire to give back to his fans in fun and unique ways, and so many of his novels have characters representing fans and other indie artists. In particular, Mr. Wallen has a strong relationship with the metal band Unsun, and has written many lyrics for their songs. But instead of keeping the relationship as one of mutual friendship, Mr. Wallen has upped the ante by directly transposing Unsun into his novels, inspiring the Double Tap Suicide band that roams the wastelands of the I Zombie series. Speaking of his relationship with loyal readers, Mr. Wallen has said, “I really love my fans. They are one of the reasons why I do this. They’re loyal. They stick with you through bad and good.” Despite the amount of influence his fans have exercised on the evolution and growth of the I Zombie series, Mr. Wallen additionally finds that he has his own messages to tell as well.
Wallen Challenges Misogynistic Stereotypes, Empowering Female Characters
Knowing that the media industry places low value on the female protagonist, Mr. Wallen wanted to break free of this stereotype with his character Bethany Nitshimi. Mr. Wallen envisioned a character that was more than eye candy, more than just the “other half” of a relationship, and through this desire to empower women, Bethany’s character was born. She’s a survivor, and proves that women can be just as resilient as men in times of crisis. Additionally, Mr. Wallen always wrote his stories with the purpose of providing hope and faith for both his characters and fans alike. Instead of solely focusing on the destruction caused by the zombie hordes, Mr. Wallen chooses to tell a tale of people surviving, of them having lives and problems just the same as you or I. It is through these day-to-day interactions, sprawled between juicy bits of zombie madness, that Mr. Wallen intends to captivate his audience. He seeks to show the reader that life goes on. It must go on. In the spirit of openness and honesty, Mr. Wallen was willing to share a few details about his upcoming novel in the I Zombie series, Cry Zombie Cry, as well as some of his future projects.
As mentioned earlier, Mr. Wallen already has his end-game in mind. But to keep things interesting, Mr. Wallen writes each night with a single thought in mind: How can I f*** with these characters? Mr. Wallen knows from his days spent in the theatre that it is adversity and challenge that drives character and plot development, and such is the case with Cry Zombie Cry. Mr. Wallen stated, “I’m throwing the kitchen sink at Bethany. Not just physical hurdles either. The Zero Day Collective has found ways to f*** with her. They’ve found a way to get at her.” In addition, Mr. Wallen is excited about his collaborations with the band Unsun. He intends on releasing his latest novel in conjunction with the release of their newest album, and stated that they even have a song in the compilation entitled Cry Zombie Cry. But it doesn’t end there. Mr. Wallen has high hopes for expanding the I Zombies universe past the main novels. Without giving too much away, Mr. Wallen alluded to a future ten book series entitled The Book of Jacob. Mr. Wallen continues to challenge writing stereotypes with the empowerment of his characters, message of hope, and willingness to avoid “staying safe” with his writing to keep it honest. These are the qualities that have gained him the fan-given title of “Zombie King”, and will continue to propel this indie author into the future.