Other Wordly Action: Inside the Mind of Michael Thomas Ford
Posted by inkpopbecki on August 20, 2010
With the upcoming release of Mockingjay, the third book in the Hunger Game series, we have definitely been talking a lot about dystopias lately. Author Michael Thomas Ford has written a remarkable book set in the dystopic future of 2032. Z features a zombie fighting hero who finds he must use his action fighting skills for good. Check out more about Z at HarperTeen. Michael sat down with us for a little while to discuss Z as well us to give us a few pointers on writing action sequences. Want to try your hand at writing action? Join this week’s Writing Challenge.
What was the inspiration for Z?
Unfortunately, the inspiration for Z was a friend who was addicted to drugs. Over the years I watched this guy turn from a funny, smart person people liked to be around into an angry, violent person determined to hurt himself and everyone around him. Also, I was inspired by the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly by how these wars have been turned into video games and how the people who play these games come to see war as a fantasy and often have no real understanding of how truly horrible what’s happening in those places is.
I have always loved the zombie movies of George Romero — particularly his “Dead Trilogy” — and the way those movies are actually commentaries on popular culture. For instance, Night of the Living Dead was about racism, and Dawn of the Dead is about the dangers of a society based on greed. I thought I might be able to do the same thing in a novel, and that’s how the various ideas that influenced Z came together in a story.
Making zombies three-dimensional characters seems like a pretty difficult task. What was your strategy?
When people think about drug addicts, they tend to think of them as abstract concepts. But when you personally know someone who is changed by drug addiction, you know that there is a real human being beneath the addiction and the bad behavior that accompanies it. Similarly, in times of war it’s easy to think of the people killing and being killed as “the enemy” or “them” instead of as people who have hopes and dreams and fears that might be very similar to ours.
The zombies in the novel used to be humans — still are humans — but humans who have been twisted and made unrecognizable. That’s why it’s so easy for the players of the game to kill them. In order for the true horror of what they’re doing to become apparent, they have to recognize the humanity in the zombies. And in order for that to happen, I had to let the zombies retain some of who they used to be before they were changed. For each one I imagined who she or he was before becoming a zombie and let part of that person remain.
What is the most challenging part of writing an action sequence and what advice would you give to young writers who are attempting to write this sort of high caliber action for the first time?
For me the most challenging part of writing action sequences is keeping them simple. It’s tempting to want to describe every single thing that every character does, because you want the reader to see and experience the action the way it is in your mind. But including too much detail creates the reverse effect of slowing everything down.
How did you dream up the future world of 2032 that Josh lives in? How does this world differ from our current world? How is it similar?
When I was 13 the movie Blade Runner came out. It was rated R, and my mother wouldn’t take me to see it, so a friend and I bought tickets to another movie and then snuck in to the theater where Blade Runner was playing. The movie was a vision of what the world might look
like in 2019 (which at that time was 37 years in the future), and its imagery was very stark and haunting. What I was most struck by was how the world in the film combined future technology with elements of the past, as if society had simultaneously gone forward andbackward. I had that in mind while building the world in which Josh lives. So you have a world in which people ride hoverbuses and readelectronic comic books but also eat in traditional Asian noodle shops and play among the ruins of an amusement park. It’s a world where many of the things familiar to us today have become or are becoming obsolete, and hopefully that makes readers think about what the world might be like 22 years from now.
Now it’s your turn! Join the Z Writing Challenge and see if you can writing an action sequence of your own!