Science fiction novelist Zachry Wheeler is a web applications developer and self-professed nerd who also writes nonfiction articles for BrewChief.com and HerringtonPost.com. You’ll find him on his website ZachryWheeler.com and at SFF conferences throughout the Southwestern United States (see his website’s Events page). Transient, published in 2016, is his debut novel.
You tell potential readers that Transient takes “the widely abused trope of a young adult vampire romance … and shove[s] it face-first through the meat grinder of post-apocalyptic science fiction … Consider it the anti-Twilight.” What sparked the initial story idea for the book?
I have always enjoyed vampires as classic monsters, but it irritates me when lore is treated as a subplot or afterthought. At best, it’s explained away as mysticism. At worst, it’s laughably cheesy (cough cough, sparkly chest). One day I asked myself, what if vampires were real? As in scientifically feasible. Before long, I had a pseudo research paper full of medical science and logistics. The story sprung from there.
The main character is Jonas who “lives underground, works at night, and drinks his daily blood rations, just like any normal eternal.” Why did you choose to set Jonas’ story in Seattle?
I chose downtown Seattle as the primary setting for two reasons. One, I was living there when I wrote the first draft, so I could give it proper treatment. Two, Seattle at night gives off a delightful noir vibe that was ideal for the story (especially after a light rain). The grayness of the cityscape perfectly complemented the grayness of the characters.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
I would say the creation of a believable sociopolitical environment. It’s easy to take the current political climate and dump it into a story. It becomes believable because it’s familiar. However, that becomes tricky when the fundamental rules of life change. I needed to answer an intriguing question: if immortals controlled the world, how would they organize themselves? I knew right away that a capitalistic democracy wouldn’t work (if you don’t die, sustainability becomes a real problem). After a great deal of historical research and analysis, I settled on a totalitarian version of global socialism.
You credit beer, and the thousand articles you wrote for BrewChief.com, for teaching you how to write (see Part 1 of the interview). Tell us more about how Transient came together.
I rewrote Transient stem to stern at least five times. I put it through more rounds of editing than I care to admit. But, every second was worth it. I view the effort as writing tuition. If craft beer taught me the basics, then fixing Transient was my final exam. Publishing it was the culmination of a long and arduous journey. I’m immensely proud of it.
Do you have other creative outlets besides writing?
I always have what I like to call my “creative delusion.” Right now it’s science fiction novels, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon. At one point it was music. I fronted several rock bands and spent a decade in the music industry. I wrote and released four albums, two of which enjoyed national radio attention and spotlights on MTV. I also work as an extra at Albuquerque Studios, mostly to get out of the house. What started off as an amusing hobby has turned into active side work. I even scored a recurring role on Better Call Saul. Click here for a sticky post about my ongoing shenanigans as an extra. Also, here are the band websites for anyone interested: Mayhematic.com and Sydewynder.com.
You have years of experience as a web applications developer. How has this experience benefitted your fiction writing? Is there anything you’ve had to overcome because of your logical brain?
I’m an introvert (as I assume most writers are). Web applications development requires a great deal of mental stamina, a high tolerance for solitary environments, and the motivation to work from home. Needless to say, the transition to writing was pretty easy. The biggest challenge for my logical brain is to not see sentences as code. I stare at code all day and it has to be meticulously organized to read well and understand. When writing fiction, I will sometimes use a subpar word just to make the formatting look more pleasing. It’s a hardwired habit that gets in the way from time to time.
What’s on your to-read pile?
This may be a stunning admission, but I’m still trying to catch up on the classics of science fiction. I haven’t finished Asimov’s Foundation series (beyond the trilogy). I still have yet to read any Philip K. Dick, and Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke) has been lingering on my Kindle for months. Those are at the top of the pile.
If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
Firefly. Everything about that show hits my happy spots. I love the writing, the setting, the ensemble, the humor, the pacing, the structure, everything. It was utter perfection and it still grates on my psyche that it was cancelled after one season.
What writing project are you working on now?
My young adult science fiction novel Max and the Multiverse (2017) was just released, and I’m working on the sequel.
(A bit of trivia: While working as an extra on the movie Soldado, the sequel to Sicario starring Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, Zack was filmed in a scene reading Max and the Multiverse. He doesn’t know if it made the final cut, but it’s pretty awesome either way.)
To learn more about Zack and his writing, go to Part 1 of this interview.