Our next interviewee comes from the land of horror and zombies. Who better to write zombie fiction than a U.S. Army veteran with heavy weapons training? Robert Van Dusen must often think about how he would apply his trade in an apocalypse, and perhaps his writing is an exercise in that. All we know is that when the sh*t hits the fan, we want to be on Robert’s team.
Tell us how your real life weapons experience helps in writing zombie fiction?
I’ve served in the U.S. Army as a Cannon Crewmember where I learned to shoot not just the usual stuff like the M-16 but also heavier crew served weapons like the M2 .50 caliber machine gun and Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. I was also on my artillery crew’s tank killer team, so I got to run around with my section’s AT4 anti-tank rocket. They still taught us how to use claymore mines and bayonet drill back then as well.
Also there was the howitzer itself. It’s really a remarkable thing to stand near a 155mm cannon when it goes off. Unless you’re prepared for it, you might not be aware that things made by man can make such a sound. The muzzle blast will jar the air out of your lungs and move the earth under your feet at the same time. It’ll actually liquefy the wax in your ears and you’ll feel it running down the sides of your head after a couple rounds. I mainly drove my section’s ammo vehicle before I moved up to running the whole ammo section, so I was usually standing right next to the back of the gun with the next shell or what have you.
I put a lot of my experiences in the military to use especially writing my Outbreak series. It’s always struck me as sort of odd in zombie movies and such how the military are either portrayed as Super Awesome Navy SEAL SpecOps Green Beret Ninjas (that would make anything made by Steven Seagal in the last decade or so seem realistic) or incompetent buffoons who want to weaponize the zombies or something like that when they aren’t too busy kicking puppies. I thought it’d be a little different if I could show things from the regular grunts’ perspective. I mean… I hate to break it to you but the vast majority of military personnel are regular human beings that put on our pants one leg at a time like you do. It’s just that some of us then go to work in those pants and drive tanks or fly helicopters or what have you.
Can you tell us about one of your early creative writing assignments that inspired you to continue to write?
I’ve actually had very few formal writing classes. I took one class as an elective when I was in college and that was about it, really. I remember one of the first assignment sort of things the professor had us do. She walked into the room, told us to get out our notebooks, and then said “Write how you feel today!” for the first fifteen minutes of class. I was just out of the Army at the time, so I spent the first ten minutes or so looking from the blank page on the desk in front of me to the pen then to the teacher and back again before I finally raised my hand and said “Ma’am? I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit more direction here.”
Probably the best sort of creative writing ‘assignment’ I’ve had is actually playing Dungeons and Dragons or other tabletop RPGs or, even better, running a game. The thing of it is you’ve got to come up with the plot for the game, every single one of the non-player characters and then know when to chuck parts of it and sort of improvise once the players get involved and decide to go off and do their own thing. Playing also helps because you’ve got to put yourself in your character’s shoes and roleplay how they would act in whatever situations come up in the game. My first book, Outbreak: Boston, actually started as a D20 Modern (think sort of like Dungeons and Dragons but set in modern times) game a friend of mine was running for a few months.
If you were a zombie, how would you like to be killed?
That seems a bit of an odd question but…anyways…
If I were a zombie, then everything that makes me me isn’t there anymore. It’s just a meat suit that looks like me directed by a handful of diseased neurons. Terms such as ‘like’ or ‘want’ have absolutely nothing to do with it, if you follow me.
In the second book of my Outbreak series, Outbreak: Brave New World, I actually wrote a zombie attack on a couple of my characters from a zombie’s point of view and, I have to say, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’ve written scenes from a dog’s point of view as well and the zombie was much, much harder. There was no there there. No personality, no thoughts, no motivations… just a big empty hungry darkness, if that makes any sense.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
Let’s see… I’ve got a lot in the pipe, actually. I’m working on a new novel that isn’t zombie fiction for a change. All I’ll say about it right now is think a mix of The Andy Griffith Show and the early seasons of Law and Order meet Dracula. There’s the third book in my Get Out Alive series as well which I mean to get to as soon as I can. There’s still at least one more book there before I put that particular story arc to bed. Also, in my never ending quest to always be doing stuff, I also have a SubscribeStar that I do monthly content for as well as inking and coloring artwork. I actually did the inks and colors on the cover for An Uncommon Burglar and colored the cover of Get Out Alive. I also record some of my material as audiobooks when the mood strikes me for my BitChute and Rumble channels too.
What’s your favorite zombie movie?
Oh boy, now there’s a tough one. I’ve seen a lot of zombie flicks. I mean a lot of them.
I think probably my favorite, or at least the one I can always sit down and watch at any rate, is something of a controversial choice. I really like the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. What can I say? Even Romero was like ‘Hey yeah, here’s what I probably would have done originally if I had… you know… a budget.’ Tony Todd’s a great actor and, let’s face, it even in HD probably 95% of the legendary Tom Savini’s gore effects in that movie hold up today. And, well, to be honest it’s got sentimental value. It’s one of the first movies I can remember seeing on TNT’s MonsterVision way back in the day hosted by Joe Bob Briggs. Having Joe Bob to watch movies with every Saturday night got me through a lot of rough times when I was a kid.
I’ve seen a couple Indie zombie movies recently that were really good too. Check out The Night Eats The World. Though, fair warning, it’s one of those movies you’re either going to love or hate. It’s a pretty slow burn, so if you go in expecting an Action flick pretending it’s Horror because it’s got zombies (looking at you, Resident Evil movies) instead of wave after wave of vaguely ethnic bad guys for the antagonist to mow down you’re not going to like it very much. Also, have a look at Within The Woods of Undead County. It’s an entertaining movie, and they did the best with what they had as far as the effects went, though it really only shows toward the end when I think the movie’s limited budget starts to run out.
I should offer the caveat that I tend to go easier on movies made by a half dozen randos with a budget of ‘whatever we could raise on Indiegogo plus what we found in the couch cushions’ than I do from Hollywood studios with a budget higher than the GDP of some small nations and a stable top of the line talent on call. Take the above as you will.
Find Robert Van Dusen’s books here.
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