Interview with JZ Murdock, Author of Death of Heaven
JZ Murdock began writing early in life, after reading Frank Herbert’s seminal novel, Dune and completing his first short story in the 10th grade. I grew up watching Horror movies, perhaps from a bit too young of an age. His first true horror story was “Andrew”, now a novella in Amazon Prime and in the “Anthology of Evil”. His story “Poor Lord Ritchie’s Answer to a Question He Knever Knew” was named Rutger Hauer’s “International Story of the Week” in 2004. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Minor in Creative Writing, and completed a year-long program of script and screenplay writing with The Annex Theatre, in Seattle, WA. He works in Information Technologies world as a technical writer and a web/network administrator. Currently living near Seattle, JZ was born in Tacoma, WA and grew up spending summers with his mother’s family on the east coast. He studied Buddhism and Aikido during his first year of college and serves on Board of Directors for his local Aikido dojo.
Q. I was excited to learn that we have something in common in that both of us have returned to fiction writing after a long sabbatical punctuated with non-fiction writing. What do you think it is about science fiction and horror that makes authors want to come back to it after years away?
A. Interesting. And cool. Well for me, after years of technical non-fiction
writing I felt a strong urge to start actually enjoy writing again. It was something I once loved to do and it had become a bit of drudgery. But I had learned a lot over those years. Attention to detail, getting used to finishing large projects, how to be critical in writing, and how to take a critique that was typically delivered in a rushed business setting with reasonably little concern about my feelings as the writer. Sometimes that was a little hard to take. But after the military and university, it wasn’t really that hard.
When I first interviewed for my first tech writer position, I didn’t even realize that I was being interviewed. It was in a social situation and I thought I was off-handedly being asked if I had ever considered being a tech writer. I replied that I really didn’t know if I wanted to do that, as there is no character development, no tension, and no punch at the ending. I was kidding, but it’s true. It’s all in reverse. In technical writing you take the mystery out up front, in order to eliminate it as quickly as possible since the goal is to move things along as quickly as possible. But once I realized I was being asked about a job and it was not just casual interest, I changed my tune.
Isaac Asimov in his first autobiography, “In Memory, Yet Green”, had written that all the first great Science Fiction writers were military Tech Writers, so tech writing seemed like a good idea. My first published short story by the way was “In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear”. I’m sure there is some correlation there. Anyway, that interview led to my getting my first high tech job. It was at US West Technologies on a high-level internal design team, developing internal applications. We were changing how the company worked and it was an amazing experience.
Fiction, especially Speculative, Science and Horror Fiction, is fun. Or it should be. After all, that’s what it’s really all about. It’s about enjoying the writing and the reader enjoying the resulting story from the other end, and they want it to last as long as it’s enjoyable. I was lucky in that my non-fiction readers seemed to enjoy my manuals and articles. I had published some articles in computer news rags here and there. But it’s nothing like the pleasure you get from fiction. And for me at least, in SF and Horror it’s enhanced. You are attempting to take your reader on a roller coaster of a ride, show them the most intense things, things they had never seen before, things hopefully that they have never imagined; all the while knowing that they are safe.
How the author feels while writing it can move through the page to the reader. Some of my first horror stories were written in the basement of a huge hospital during my free time while working nights on a DEC VAX mainframe. It was spooky to write there alone, and hopefully that comes through to the reader.
Q. “Simon’s Beautiful Thought” was a very thoughtful piece, sort of a science-fiction romance. What inspired you to write the story?
A. I am in several online writers’ groups. One of them set the scope for the next story we were to write as, obsession. So I tried to think of how I could twist that around. I thought I should try my hand at some romance and “Simon” was what fell out onto the page. I don’t really write romances and I thought that I should push myself to see what came out. You see, I’ve adapted two romantic novels to screenplay, one paranormal romance for TL Mitchell (Dark of kNight) and one espionage romance for Kelly Abell (Sealed in Lies). So I thought I should try my hand at it.
The story that came just after “Simon” was “The Fall”. It was really based even more on obsession but also rejection, and it led to L. A. Lewandowski writing an article about it on Indies Unlimited (http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/02/27/gender-bender/). She had asked to read my story, “Poor Lord Ritchie” (in Anthology of Evil), a medieval tale that the actor, Rutger Hauer chose as a winner in a contest he held back in 2004-5. I had mentioned something in a writing group online and she was curious why Rutger picked the story, when I had said that he liked stories that in his opinion, had “heart”. He also said that was how he chose his acting roles. Ms. Lewandowski was sure that the author of that story was a guy. After all, it is a very “guy” kind of story. But then she read another story of mine, “The Fall” and then she was sure the author was a woman. It left her conflicted and she asked me if I minded if she wrote her article on it and not to tell her if I were male, or female. It was a fun situation and I couldn’t have been more pleased to receive such high praise.
Q. Was “Death of Heaven” your first novel length work of fiction? What would you like the readers to know about the book, your vision, and your process in creating it?
A. Yes, “Death of Heaven” is my first finished novel. I’ve made several false starts at the novel length over the years and never could seem to get through to the end. These last few years I have been working on screenplays and then just happened to fall into a situation where I could put out an anthology of short stories. So in December 2011 I put all my short stories together and ended up with a five hundred-page book. That was simply.
So I split it in half. At that point a storyline started to fall into place based upon “Andrew”, a novella and the last story in “Anthology of Evil”. By the way, that is not a book for everybody, although several stories in there have previously been published. Between the two, you can see how my writing is developing between the Anthology and “Death of Heaven”, and certainly whatever comes next.
So, at that point back in December/January, the second book started to form in my mind and I began to build it. Rather than an anthology, it’s a multi-layered tale of detailing how nothing we understand of our life, our species, or our universe for that matter, is quite what we have grown to believe since the beginning of history.
“Death of Heaven” is a story about two childhood friends who experienced a horrific event when they were young and it changed them forever. Then they come back together as adults after they have both had even more life-changing trauma. They find that they have tapped into something, simply unbelievable. Then the book develops through the stories of others as told to one of the two friends, mostly contemporary stories, but also going back into unrecorded history. The reader experiences all of this through the eyes Jimmy as he listens to his friend, James, who is receiving these tales from a super being who we come to find has more to do with our species and our planet than we could have ever imagined.
They then discover that not only do they have to deal with changing their entire concept of everything they’ve ever known, but they also come to find that they need to prepare for some globally horrific events; things that Humankind very well, cannot survive. I would have to say that if you don’t like books where you are constantly kept off balance, I would consider reading something else. Also, if you can’t get past the quotes at the beginning of the book, go find another book to read.
Q. Do you categorize “Death of Heaven” as apocalyptic horror, science fiction, or a little of both?
A. I gave that a lot of thought. Typically, it would be labeled at Science Fiction, yet I call it Speculative Fiction and consider myself a Speculative Fiction writer. It could be Apocalyptic Horror but it encompasses far more than that. Actually, this is typical for a lot of my stories. They can be hard to define clearly as one thing or another. “Andrew”, the base for “Death of Heaven” is a good case in point. Is it a ghost story? Is it Science Fiction? Is it Horror? Apocalyptic Horror? I leave that for the reader to define.
Q. Has your experience in both writing and study of non-fiction subjects aided you in your development as a fiction writer?
A. I believe so. My University degree is in Psychology and I got deep into Phenomenology. How Humans relate to the phenomena in the world around them. Where things happen related to us, within us, around us, and between our minds and our physical brains; what we perceive as reality, or actuality. I am pretty active with my brother and my son in discussions of reality, the physical and Meta universe.
What is a “ghost”? Something we should ignore as nonsense? Spirits of the deceased? Cross overs from parallel universes? Simply natural recordings playing back from within the environment? Are they spiritual (or religious) in nature, or scientific? We tend to find that area very disturbing to consider. Between those two concepts of the spiritual and scientific, lies a vast universe simply ripe for Horror.
Q. Do you think there is something primal in the human psyche that makes stories of the end of all humanity seems more frightening than our individual, personal confrontations with our own mortality? How much do the Judeo-Christian apocalypse and Book of Revelations play into events in your novel?
A. I don’t know if the apocalypse is primal or not. I do think that we consider something like the end of Humankind in a higher level of consideration. We know it’s a horrible thing but in the end we are really just fearful of our own demise. We hope to die comfortably and if there were any way to continue on once we’re done on this plane of existence, wouldn’t it be nice if there were more? Either in “paradise”, on another planet, or through some form of reincarnation?
Q. Is there anything you would like the readers to know about you or your books that we haven’t talked about yet?
A. I’ve always thought of my writings as an acquired taste; something not fully acceptable to the masses. Although I am getting better at writing for a wider audience, I doubt I’ll ever get to the point of a Stephen King and really, I have no intention of trying for that. My first published short story was “In Memory, Yet Crystal Clear” (in, “Anthology of Evil”). My friends told me that it would never sell, although they did like it well enough. And yet, it was the first story I ever sold.
Will there be an “Anthology of Evil II”? Well, I’ve already started compiling one, but most likely not for this year.
I’ve written for a few anthologies now both from Zilyon Publishing: “The Undead Nation Anthology” (“Gumdrop City”, based on a true crime pedophile serial murderer), and “Rhonny Reaper’s Creature Features” (“The Conqueror Worm”, a story detailing the traumatic events in the childhood of the two main characters in “Death of Heaven”). By the way, both of these anthologies give their proceeds respectively, to cancer and diabetes research. I guess, if someone liked my stories there then they might enjoy “Death of Heaven”. I’ve always felt I was a hard core, Science Fiction reader. And so, I wrote “Death of Heaven” for myself, as that type of a fan.
If you liked that book, then you might like delving further into my past writings in “Anthology of Evil”, as you can see my progression as a writer. But if you start with “Anthology of Evil”, you really won’t expect what hits you in “Death of Heaven”.
I should mention that my first zombie story is, “Japheth, Ishvi and The Light”, and is in “Anthology of Evil”. I have now submitted my second zombie story to ZombieFiend.com for their upcoming anthology. It’s a short story called, “Mr. Pakool’s Spice”. They had a couple of requirements for submitting that plot-wise, I had to adhere to. I think it is an interesting story. It follows a widower trying to get his two young children though the winter woods of Oregon, to safety among roving bands of zombies and one particularly spooky character they call, “Mr. Pakool”, because of his strange hat. That character is stalking them with no small degree of ill intent.
I’ve been asked about getting involved in zombie stories, but I grew up watching them. I loved, “Night of the Living Dead”. George Romero and Tom Savini are heroes of mine. I finally got to meet Tom Savini at last year’s ZomBcon in Seattle. What a great day that was. And, “The Walking Dead” on cable is just too much fun; and now Clive Barker is working on a zombie project. So I guess, at least I’m in good company.
To sum up I just want to say that I’m really only getting started. And also, thanks so much, to everyone.
Author’s Web: jzmurdock.com
~ by Sumiko Saulson on August 5, 2012.