• Featured Novel: 'The Tilian Virus' by Tom Calen

    Author Tom Calen says that he wanted to write a story where the main protagonists where "everymen" types, and see how they deal with the post-apocalyptic problems in his horror/thriller series The Pandemic Sequence. The first book The Tilian Virus, unleashes the outbreak of a virus that revert people to predatory instincts at the core of existence. Mike Allard, a history teacher from a rural Tennessee town, leads a band of survivors to an unknown end.

    Interview with Tom Calen

    Would you consider those who are infected by the Tillian Virus "zombies"? How is it different from a typical "zombie" virus?

    Oh no, the third-rail of zombie discussions! I have witnessed surprisingly heated debates arguing what constitutes a zombie. Thankfully, I don't think my version is ambiguous.

    Based on the classical definition, Tils (those infected with the Tilian Virus) are not zombies. They are not undead, not reanimated, thus not zombies.

    The Tilian Virus is different from other "zombie" viruses in that it targets specific blood types. Like the Swine flu and the Avian flu, the Tilian Virus originates from the animal kingdom, in this case snakes. The virus affects the most primitive section of the human brain, commonly known as the Reptilian brain, thus the name Tilian. And, as is teased in the cover copy, the Tils are not immutable.

    Did you base any of your "everyman" characters from people you've known?

    With the exception of the dog, no character in the series is derived completely from one person. Instead, each character is a composite of several real-life people. At least that's how they started out. Through the course of writing, the characters developed their own personalities, and thus drifted further from the models on which they were originally based.

    Do you think it was important to give them a sense of individuality?

    Certainly, I needed to start with a rough idea of who each character was, which mostly consisted of his or her backstory. But as any writer will tell you, the characters quickly took on their own individuality--often in directions I had not foreseen.

    Why do you think Gazelle (the dog) is a fan-favorite?

    As much as I was surprised by the feedback regarding Gazelle, I do understand where it comes from. Animal lovers tend to bond with animals faster than they bond with humans. I'm the kind of person who watches Braveheart and cringes more at the horse deaths than the soldier deaths.

    I think part of it also has to do with Gazelle being the only unchanging innocent in the story. She's not susceptible to the despair and pessimism we see in other characters. Yet at the same time, she is similar to the human characters in that she's not what one would consider ideally equipped for the end of the world. Gazelle is not a German Shepard, Golden, or Lab. She's a twenty pound, furry terrier mutt with a pronounced underbite. That said, I dare any of the big dogs to take on a Til like she does!

    What's the most challenging part of writing "The Pandemic Sequence"?

    The most challenging part of writing this book, and the series as a whole, was trusting that I was doing the right thing. By that I mean the process itself. I had not read On Writing until midway through writing the third book in the series. Thus, I had no idea if my writing process was correct, or if there was such a thing as a "correct writing process."

    Another area of worry was getting the book "out there". The series was originally self-published. Once the writing was done, the task of publicizing the work was in many ways a full-time job. Thankfully, I've since been picked up by Permuted Press. They bought the series and signed me for the first three books of my next series, Scars of Tomorrow. The first book, Torrance, is coming out later this year. Signing with Permuted has allowed me to get back to focusing on the writing rather than the marketing.

    Name some authors who have influenced your writing style.

    The first author who had me salivating for his next book was the late Robert Jordan. I was in a book store in late 1989/early 1990 buying a few books. At the checkout counter, the clerk told me about a free sample of Jordan's Eye of the World, the first book in The Wheel of Time series. The sample consisted of the first 15-16 chapters, and I was immediately hooked.

    In time, I discovered the amazing worlds created by George R. R. Martin and Frank Herbert. Of course, the biggest influence is Stephen King. I came to his work late, sometime in my mid-20s. A few months ago, I decided to re-read his books in the order of their publication. It's been interesting seeing how his writing developed of the decades. His non-fiction book, On Writing, sits next to my computer (along with Strunk & White's Elements of Style). I didn't start writing my own novels until my mid-30s, and On Writing has given me confidence in my writing process, which is quite similar to King's own. I've yet to meet Mr. King, but in many ways I consider him my literary Yoda.

    You've mentioned that you've read King's "On Writing". What do you think is the most helpful advice that King makes when it comes to writing fiction?

    What's great about On Writing is that it is a memoir, not a "how-to" guide. King states early on that On Writing reflects what worked for him and what he offers is by no means the definitive method. So, it wasn't really advice that I got from the book, but rather a confirmation that my writing method was not unique, and therefore not "wrong."

    In high school and college, we are told to "outline, outline, outline," and that was always a struggle for me. When I start a story, I work more from a concept (e.g. a high school teacher protecting his students from a deadly virus) and only keep the faintest idea in mind of where I want the story to go.

    The word is becoming somewhat cliche, but "organic" is the best way to describe it. As my characters develop their own distinct personalities, they drive the direction of the story. And again, it's not always the direction I had expected. Only one of the plot points I had in mind when I started the series actually made it to the page. The others were rejected because they didn't fit with the personalities the characters had developed along the way.

    I've heard other authors mention plotting out every detail of a story before writing. It wasn't until reading King's On Writing that I found a writer who also works from an idea and lets the story flow from that point. -

    Book Review of "Tilian Virus"

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