Not too long ago, Matt Youngmark hit upon the idea of mixing gamebooks with zombies and launched a promising new series in the form of Chooseomatic Books. I talked to him about his inspiration and what's coming next. For more information on his work, see the official website. I can be contacted at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.
Demian Katz: Your inspiration for starting this project is well documented in your press materials, but for people who haven't already read those, do you mind sharing a little background on the genesis of Chooseomatic Books?
Matt Youngmark: I was reading one of my favorite web comics, and the main character decided to write a choose-your-own-adventure because he was a terrible writer, and it was the only way he could just tell his readers what they were supposed to be feeling instead of setting an atmosphere and all that hard stuff. Which sounded like areally good idea to me. I generally have about a three-week window on any creative project before I get bored and move onto something else, and it sounded like the kind of thing I could do in a few weeks. Fourteen months later, Zombocalypse Now was born. (You can see the comic that started it all here)
DK: What was your relationship with gamebooks prior to undertaking this project? Were they a childhood obsession, or were you aware of them in a more casual way? Either way, do you have any particular favorites that stuck with you or inspired your writing?
MY: My brothers and I read a ton of the original CYOA series in grade school, and I think what I enjoyed most about them was the sense that literally ANYTHING could happen next. I loved the fact that if you made a stupid decision, the book would actually KILL you. You didn't get that a lot in most young adult literature. I guess that's why when I did my own book, fully 94% of the endings involve hideous gruesome death. Plus, you know, it's zombies. How many happy endings could there be? I mostly stuck with the CYOA series -- Cave of Time, Space and Beyond, and all of those. I think my favorite was War with the Evil Power Master. Because anyone who calls himself The Evil Power Master isn't messing around. That's a dude who knows what he stands for.
DK: How many zombie movies did you watch during the course of writing the first book? Any particular favorites?
MY: Actually, I think the only zombie movie I'd ever seen prior to writing ZN was Shaun of the Dead. It's like one of my favorite movies of all time, though. Whenever I'm flipping through the channels and see it, I'm stuck there. I have to watch it the rest of the way through.
DK: That's certainly a good choice if you have to watch just one, but I could easily have mistaken you for a connoisseur! Inspirations aside, in the development of the story, what came first? The zombies, or the stuffed animals? Or did the whole thing drop into your brain fully formed?
MY: I wrote down a list of book ideas, and decided to go with zombies for the first one because the idea just seemed like so much fun, The stuffed animal thing actually had two purposes: First, to give it a gimmick, since otherwise I was just doing another zom com and we already have Shaun of the Dead. Also, I thought that if I made the main character a stuffed rabbit, I could illustrate it and maintain gender neutrality. If you pay close attention, even in the opening blind date sequence, both you and your date could technically be either male or female. I worked really hard at that. Although when all was said and done, I don't think I really pulled it off. Both in the art and the writing, that stuffed rabbit is clearly a dude.
DK: How are you finding the experience of producing and promoting this book? Stressful, joyful, or a bit of both? Any advice for others who would follow in your footsteps?
MY: Producing the book was all about sticking with it, and finding ways to get myself re-invested in the project again every time I blew it off for a couple of weeks (or months). It helped that I was commuting between Tacoma and Seattle on a train for a good portion of the year that I wrote it, and my laptop didn't get internet on the train, so I had two hours a day with nothing to do but write. Promoting the book is proving to actually be pretty fun. All you have to do is say "Choose Your Own Adventure book about zombies," and people get all excited. I guess the only real piece of advice I have for anyone writing a gamebook or any kind of book, really, is to write for yourself. Write exactly the book you would want to read, and then just hope there are a lot of other people with similar tastes.
DK: Independently produced gamebooks have a tendency to suffer from lack of editorial input. To be honest, many large-publisher releases have the same problem. You seem to have avoided the pitfalls here. Did you work with an editor, or are you just exceptionally detail-oriented?
MY: Oh, there were flow charts. As a matter of fact, the very first thing I did was to make a spreadsheet and calculate how many choices I could have and how far in all the endings had to be before the book spiraled out of control. I worked as an editor of a weekly newspaper for a lot of years, so hopefully that experience helped me maintain kind of a big-picture outlook on the story. And I had a lot of help with copy editing after the thing was put together.
DK: Your press release drops a couple of enticing titles as future releases. Do you have any solid plans of which one is coming next? Have you committed to a release date?
MY: My original plan was to work on the next two books simultaneously -- Thrusts of Justice is a superhero adventure that's very tightly structured. The first choice you make leads you down the path to become one of three different heroes, and there's an overarching story about an alien invasion. It's very ambitious! Then, to counteract all that, Time Travel Dinosaur is much more stream-of-consciousness. I'm just sort of letting the story go wherever it wants to. It looks like Justice has sort of won out, though, and I'll be completing that one first. Depending on how sales go of Zombocalypse Now, I'm hoping to have it out as soon as April.
DK: I'm definitely looking forward to these. I'll have to encourage my readers to buy the first one in order to move things along. (Hear that, readers? Buy his book!). Good luck, and thanks for taking the time for an interview!
Want to find out more? Matt has also been interviewed at Self-Publishing Review.