A motivating conversation with Zachary Tyler Linville

Writing a first novel is a long and difficult road, but it is a road that can be so rewarding to new writers in the end. Upcoming writer Zachary Tyler Linville is embarking on his first novel road and what a journey it has been so far.

Growing up, Linville has always been a fan of books and movies. As he neared his college years, friends and family suggested that he write the stories he was telling or coming up with from all the books he read. Linville, however, thought of himself as more of a reader than a writer and wanted to work in movies as a director and that is when he found the University of Central Florida and the film degree they offered there. And yet, even working through his film degree, he could not avoid writing for one of the requirements for the major was a short script class. “I would tell people that I wanted to direct or produce so I’ll hire a screenwriter and say, ‘This is the story I want, you write it’,” Linville said. In the class, students were required to bring in three to five page screenplays on a weekly basis (three pages would equal three minutes on the screen) and the more pages Linville wrote, the more he began to really enjoy writing them. It came very easily to him and the Professor of the class encouraged him to take more classes in screenwriting. After taking an adaptation writing class in the summer, he was invited to take a two semester feature writing class, which only ten students were able to take, and, by the end of the year, he would have a 90 to 120 page complete screenplay. “Just spending a year in that classroom was where I one hundred percent fell in love with screenwriting and I was, like, I don’t even want to direct anymore. Someone else can direct, but I want to write the story,” Linville said. By the end of that course, Linville had completed a 117 page screenplay.

After college, Linville came across a screenwriting contest where the winner would sit down with producers and production companies to have his or her screenplay turned into a film. A previous winner was the screenwriter for Snow White and the Huntsman. Believing it was worth a shot, Linville submitted the 117 page screenplay he had completed in college to the contest. He admitted he had forgotten all about it until he received an email saying he was a semi-finalist. This was mindboggling and extremely encouraging, for he was one the 100 semi-finalists out of 11,000 applicants. He unfortunately did not make it to the final three, but the fact that he made it so far in the contest was a great way of letting him know that he could tell a story that was interesting. There are many other screenwriting contests he could have entered, but to enter is not cheap. “With a screenplay, you’re looking for someone who’s willing to invest millions of dollars to make your story come to life that could potentially go to the box office and bomb. With someone unknown, they’re much more leery about shelling out millions of dollars,” Linville said. “With a book, it’s significantly cheaper to print a book and to place an initial small order and, if it takes off, you can print more and if it doesn’t take off, you’re out a couple thousand dollars compared to 20 million dollars.” Due to the expense, Linville decided to take a break from screenwriting and try his hand on a book. He thought it would be tricky, seeing books like Harry Potter at 800 to 900 pages per book and wondered, how can someone write that much? And yet, he decided to at least try, for he believed to write a book was his best bet in starting a writing career for himself.

The idea for the book was not difficult, for he had already begun to formulate the story while he was still in college. He had worked for an amusement park and there was a very large attraction opening. No one was prepared for how well the attraction would do and Linville, along with his coworkers, wound up working from opening to closing every day. With only about three to four hours of sleep a night, he and his coworkers would joke about being zombies for it made the situation of 300,000 people per day crammed in the park more entertaining. He began to think, “I can get through this 14 hour day, which is my sixth day in a row working, if I just, not mentally tuned out of my job, but mentally tuned out of the situation and turn it into something new, make it more entertaining for myself,” Linville said. “So I thought: if there was a zombie outbreak and I was stuck here and there were 300,000 people that were suddenly zombies, what would my survival plan be?” The idea for Welcome to Deadland was born.

Linville wrote the prologue in 2012 more as an exercise while working on a screenplay and looking for a job. The first two chapters soon followed. Afterwards, life became busy and he forgot about it until 2014. He came back to the story, sat down, and really focused on writing it, completely cutting out the first two chapters and starting fresh. After a year of writing, researching, and editing, Welcome to Deadland was complete. This draft was complete earlier this year, finishing at 140,000 words. “For me, it was a huge accomplishment just to finish it,” Linville said. While researching, he read that many upcoming writers check out at 90,000 words, so he made it his goal to reach past that. “I remember looking down at my work one time and seeing 60,000 words and I wasn’t even halfway through the story I had outlined,” Linville said.

What is Welcome to Deadland about? Linville described it as Lost meets The Walking Dead; however, it is not about zombies, per say. The story is formatted like Lost, for it is told in flashbacks and then the present time and the story itself is like The Walking Dead, for the characters are just trying to survive an infectious outbreak. “I don’t ever use the word ‘zombie’ in the book,” Linville said. “It’s more along the lines of a disease that takes over the body and all emotions other than rage and hunger check out, but they’re not necessarily zombies. Their bodies are just shutting down and decaying.” Linville refers to his creations as “infected.” From the title and how the infected act, a reader could easily be mistaken and call them zombies, but subtle hints and clues scattered throughout the beginning chapters of the book tell otherwise. “You don’t want to go into a book with a list of explanations,” Linville said. He wants the readers to keep reading until they reach that “ah-ha” moment and everything begins to make sense.

There are three protagonists in the story: two college students, Asher and Wendy, and teenager Rico. Asher plays a large role in Welcome to Deadland and was one of the easiest characters for Linville to write, for he used a lot of elements of his own personality and college experiences for Asher’s past. Rico, however, was difficult for he is a Hispanic high school student living in Miami, Florida. Linville did not want to cross any lines that may offend readers while still making sure to add diversity to the book. “I wanted to make sure that other audiences had characters to relate to,” Linville said. An inspiration for Linville while writing his characters was when one of his friends was reading The Hunger Games. His friend was enjoying the book, but he knew that Katniss was going to win for there were still two other books. For Linville, the format of doing three alternating character’s points of view was to not have a single main character. “I want the reader to know that nobody is safe. You don’t have to guarantee one character’s safety because there are other narrators to carry the story along,” Linville said.

What is fascinating about Linville’s book is that is has not even been published yet, but interested readers can go to Inkshares.com and read a few chapters from Welcome to Deadland. Inkshares is currently running a contest where writers can post their books and the top five writers will have their stories published by Nerdist.com. To make their way up the leaderboard, writers need to have their books preordered by readers and the more preorders a writer has, the higher up on the board they ascend. The contest itself is not based on preorder numbers, but on reader numbers because that shows what the public wants to read. Linville found out about the contest from a link a friend of his tagged him in on Facebook. The contest started on August 15th, Linville uploaded Welcome to Deadland on the 18th, and he took first place on the 19th. The contest goes until September 30th and Linville has not lost his lead. “I have not gone to bed in any position but number one,” Linville said. “I wake up several times throughout the night to check my email and check the leaderboard and think, ‘What can I do to keep reaching out to people? How do I make sure I’m reaching new audiences?’” What is nice about Inkshares is that it gives the writers freedom to upload however much of their stories they wish for their readers to see. Linville said that some writers have eight or nine chapters up, some have half of the story up, and one even posted his entire book up for 48 hours. “We are given a lot of control, which is great, because I generally don’t let anyone read anything I’ve written until it’s complete,” Linville said. “I had to strategically think, what should I upload and when should I upload?”

The competition has been very friendly between Linville and the other writers. They have preordered each other’s books and they stay in touch through social media to encourage one another. “Everyone wants to win, but everyone knows that, one way or another, we’re contributing to the literary world,” Linville said. In just a couple of short weeks, the contest will be over and the pressure is on now more than ever. Linville hopes to have Welcome to Deadland published, for it is the first in a trilogy, and he is eager to share more of his stories with audiences everywhere.


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