A chat with the author of Chaos Theory, Rich Restucci

chaos-theoryIf you haven’t found it already, ‘Book Reviews N’ Stuff is a public Facebook group  started by R.R. Haywood as an offshoot of his The Living Army  closed page. It’s a great place to read honest reviews on a variety of books in a wide range of genres. If you’re an author, it’s also a place where you can go to request reviews. Just be prepared for the reviewers to be honest. They are not about sugar coating and since they aren’t being paid for their efforts, their reading time is precious to them. If they didn’t like your book, they will tell you and anyone following the page, what they really think.

One of the intrepid reviewers, Lyndsey McDermott, had this to say about Rich Restucci’s book, Chaos Theory:   The zompoc genre is very easy to do badly and it can be hard for an author to stand out amongst the crowd. The author manages to keep the action going, our interest held and aforementioned gripes aside, [Chaos Theory] was a good read which has the potential to be far better. It ends on a suitable cliffhanger leaving the reader eager for the sequel.

Lyndsey has a lot more to say about the book. You can read the entire review here. After reading Chaos Theory myself, I had a few questions for the author.  In his bio, Rich Restucci describes himself as “a practicing chemist and writer. His stories have been published in Dead Worlds 7 and Feast or Famine. He enjoys drinking beer, stocking up on weapons and supplies, and reading/writing anything zombie related. Rich resides with his family in Pembroke, Massachusetts.”

Me: In the acknowledgements of your book, you thank people for encouraging you to publish. Did you write this story without the intention to publish? Has the experience of publishing this series been what you expected?

 Rich: This book was written with the intent of publishing each chapter, one at a time, to a website in blog format. The website is zombiefiend.com. I did that for a while and the readers seemed to enjoy it. Several of the readers and many of my online friends told me I should self-publish it, which I researched. I compiled the blog posts and ended up going with Severed Press, who had already published my first novel, Run. Severed was excited to get a second story line from me, and their excitement got me excited. Insofar as my expectations, I really didn’t have any. I was hoping the book would be well received, and it seems to have been. I don’t think of myself as a professional writer, more of a hobbyist, so when the book began to sell, I was very happy.

Me: What was your motivation for writing in the first place? Have you always been a writer or did the genre motivate you to give it a try?

 Rich: I’ve been asked this question before, and I will try to answer the same way. What people want to hear is that it was my 9th grade English teacher, or the gentle old neighbor who I grew up next to who spurred me on. It wasn’t. I just decided one day hangingthat I wanted to write.  I’ve always been a voracious reader. I tend to stay inside one genre for a while, then bounce to another when I feel I’ve read enough. I started reading zombie stories on a fantastic website called homepageofthedead.com (HPoTD) back in about 2009. Some of those stories were exceptional, and some were outright crap. I had enjoyed writing when I was younger, and I felt I could do just as well as some of the zombie stories I was reading, so I gave it a try, published to HPoTD, and to my absolute utter surprise, people rated the story quite well. That was motivation to keep going. For Chaos Theory there was another drive.  I generally dislike journal format stories. I wanted to see if I could write in journal style specifically because I didn’t like it. I wanted to see if others would enjoy it, and they seemed to. Now I love it. There’s no omniscience, and my main character can only tell you what his experiences are. What I truly enjoy is leaving people hanging. There are several places in Chaos Theory where the main character doesn’t understand what is happening or why. The story never tells you because quite frankly, the main character never finds out. If he doesn’t know then how can he write about it? This REALLY pisses readers off, but that is part of the allure of the book.

Me: You have three books out in the Zombie Theories series. Do you have plans for more in this series?

Rich: Oh, most certainly I will continue. If I ended it here, my wife and kids would kill me. I think my family are my biggest fans. One of the driving factors of writing this story is character growth. My main character is a total dumbass when he begins his journey. Smarmy, arrogant, and rude, this guy is both full of himself and terrified at the same time. He’s written as a criminal, but that does not mean he knows how to use weapons or tactics, and he must learn both as he progresses. In the beginning, he makes dumb decisions and has no idea what he’s doing.  He’s alive for three reasons: He’s immune to the plague, he’s lucky, and Ship. I will clarify what Ship means in another question you have below. Being a former criminal doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy either, but it does give him a rather unique skill set which will become evident as the books progress. There are hints as to why he was in prison throughout the three books, but he doesn’t write the reason in his journal. This also pisses readers off. You’ll have to wait to find out why he was in jail. You will also have to wait to find out his name – which I haven’t given to you yet. Also a source of frustration for the readers.  I love it, probably because I’m a jerk.

Me: You are writing the Run series at the same time. Does that get confusing? Do the two story lines cross-over?

Rich: Not necessarily confusing, but I did make some continuity errors between the two. Before I plunge into those, I will answer the second part of the question; Yes, there is a cross-over. The intent is to meld the storylines together. They are set in the same world, and the third installment of each story share a character or two. Run was my first published novel, and I was very proud of it. I wrote half of it with a pen in a notebook when I was about 17 years old, then searched for the notebook a few years ago. I found it in my parent’s garage, tweaked it some, and published. I didn’t begin writing Chaos Theory until I was in my forties, so you can imagine there are differences in the writing style.

One of the continuity errors I spoke about above was the timeline. The beginning of wifethe plague is in the summer in Run, but begins in November in Chaos Theory. Oops. James Cameron can fix that when he makes the movie. When I first began writing Chaos Theory, I had no intentions of a cross-over, but then I started reading reviews of Run, and the readers (most of them) loved the character Billy. My wife made the offhanded comment that she would like to see Billy and Ship (a character in Chaos Theory) together, and my love for her was reaffirmed. She’s a damn genius, and although I will steal whatever recognition I can for mixing these two stories, at the end of the day, it was my wife who gave me the idea. There are other continuity errors, but I will let you find those.

Me: One character that plays a large (very large) role in the story is unable to talk. Ship was born without vocal cords. What was the motivation for creating a role for someone with such an unusual character trait?

 Rich: I would like to think I created a unique character in Ship. Generally, when you have a giant guy, capable of crushing your head with his bare hands, he’s either uneducated, or just plain dumb. Conversely, when you have a genius, who has mastered the multi-sciences of particle physics, chemistry, engineering, and computers, this guy is a skinny nerd-like creature. I took the two and put them together, then took his intelligence to such a level that he realized that society and people in general are just straight up assholes. Ship had the knowhow and wherewithal to isolate himself from society but keep up with current events and stay connected. When our main character (MC) meets (more like gets his ass saved by) Ship, the MC realizes that this guy is an important asset worth keeping around. Then Ship finds out that the MC is immune to the plague, and thinks the same thing. The bromance comes later, with a mutual respect and friendship. In keeping with the uniqueness, I decided to make Ship mute for a few reasons. The first is that Ship’s constant berating of the MC for being dumb, or at the very least not smart, is friggin’ hilarious. Rather the way the MC takes it is funny. Ship is a gigantic genius, but not being able to speak is usually the only way the arrogant, rude MC can pick back at him. I didn’t write it to be mean or insulting to those who can’t speak, and nobody has yet come after me for this, although I’m sure it’s coming. What with today’s recreational outrage mounting across the globe, there’s no way somebody reads this interview and doesn’t immediately think: “Restucci is insensitive to this condition!” Sorry if you’re offended, it wasn’t my intent. Ship’s handicap isn’t a detriment to him.

The more important reason for making Ship mute is that he can’t alert the MC to danger without either being in the MC’s direct view, or touching him. He also can’t call for help. It makes for some tense situations when the living dead are on top of them and they’re trying not to be eaten.

Me: If there’s one thing that is common in the zombie genre, it’s that people will do almost anything to survive. Your main character does this with a dry and biting (get it? Biting?) wit. Do you think that’s a necessary part of making it through the horror?

Rich: I think humor has its place. Probably not in an apocalypse, but this was one of the driving points of writing this story. I think I’m funny, and so do some others. I think a lot of people just think I’m an idiot, but I can live with that. Many people might think it’s easy to tell a scary tale infused with humor. It can be, but it can also be extremely difficult. Many times, I have had to re-write a scene because the terror came off as light-hearted or vice versa. I would try to make light of the apocalypse if I were going through it, but I don’t think most others would. Maybe this is why the books have done so well. Well for a hobbyist anyway.

Me: The first book starts out well into the zombie apocalypse, skipping over the usual learning curve about the living dead and right into the action. A side effect is that we don’t know much about your main character. We only start to learn bits about him as the story goes on, but even at the end of the first book, he still seems to have a lot of secrets. It’s a device that seems to work. What was your thinking behind making him so mysterious?

 Rich: I appreciate the fact that you think this works. That is exactly what I was shooting for. I wrote this character how I think most survivors would react to a plague of these proportions. This is a good guy, who needs to learn how to survive just like everyone else. He wasn’t part of SEAL Team Six, or an alphabet agency superman. He’s you and me, and he makes mistakes. Part of the reason he’s alive is that he’s smart and can adapt. He does meet some real operators, (badasses) both good and evil, and he deals with them, in my eyes, as properly as he can.

I purposely didn’t pre-develop the character, and this aggravates some readers. I wanted to let the story develop him, and with that comes a bit of mystery, but think this is what keeps readers turning the pages. Readers crave character development, but what better way to mature a character than with the story? The plague, his friends, and his enemies define him. These elements are what I used to grow the MC from an incapable dumbass at the beginning of the first book, to a budding badass in the third. His evolution is the point of the book. Oh, and the zombies, they’re important too.

Me: What do you think your chances are of surviving a zombie apocalypse?

outrage-1Rich: Zero point zero percent in my current situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m way more prepared than most for this type of scenario, but I also have to face facts. I live in south eastern Massachusetts. Where I live, we are packed in like sardines, even though I’m not in the city. (I’m still a redneck). The major urban centers are thirty-five miles from me, but there are several of them. A huge population compacted into a relatively small area spells doom during this type of scenario.  Throw in the fact that I have people to protect and I’m screwed.

Now, if you want to speak about an ideal initial situation, that changes things. If I and my family were home together when the dead came calling, we could hold out for a bit. If it were bad guys coming for us or our stuff during this event, God help them. I’m one of those people who can hold their own, and I’m prepared for a few things. I have skill sets that most people don’t, and I’m not afraid to resort to violence if I must. I have a background in weapons, and I’m constantly training hand to hand with an actual badass (my Kenpo teacher). I’m no operator, but I know how to blow shit up, and I have plenty of guns and ammo. Two of my three kids are still living at home, and they also can shoot the wings off a fly at 100 meters. An exaggeration, but not by much. Oh, and if you mess with my wife? Well let’s just say you shouldn’t.

My farming skills aren’t the best, but I can scrounge better than most and I will eat things that you would consider vile.

I just read those paragraphs I wrote above and now you’re thinking I’m full of myself. I’m not. 0.0 percent, remember? All the skills in the world don’t mean shit when faced with something that your brain might not process. If I were to see a dead man walking, I hope I could function, but that is some next-level, brain melting stuff and frankly, my sanity might just check out.  If the TSHTF and it’s not zombies or viral, I will live. If you try to take my stuff or hurt my loved ones, you won’t.

Me: In the event TSHTF (an acronym I am going to steal and use shamelessly from now on), and the zombie apocalypse broke out, what would be your weapon of choice?

Rich: In a zombie apocalypse? The Death Star. Short of that, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. Short of that, whatever was handy.  As I stated above, I have plenty of guns and ammo, but ammo runs out. Knives and clubs don’t run out of ammo, but you need to get close to use them. One of the things I take poetic license with is the repeated destruction of the undead with knives in my books. I’ve never stabbed through a skull like they used to do every thirty seconds when there were actually zombies on The Walking Dead. I bet it’s damn difficult to do without getting bitten, scratched, or at least some infected zombie goo on you. That’s if your blade will penetrate the cranium.

runMe: I like the Death Star idea, although, considering how these things go, there would probably be an outbreak on board. On a whole other topic, many authors shy away from developing characters that are not of their race. In your series, Run, you did that with what some reviewers thought of as varying success. Now that you’ve seen some of the reaction, would you make different choices?

Rich: The reviews my books have received have been overwhelmingly positive. I realize I can’t please everyone, and no matter what I write, someone will think it sucks or take offense. Of course there have also been some disparaging reviews for both Run and Chaos Theory, but there were allegations of racism for Run which cut me deeply. One of the villains in Run is an educated black man who gets a hold of some of his former gang members, creates a cabal, and tries to conquer everything.  On top of that, I was sitting in a sandwich shop some years ago, and there was a news cast on the TV about a gang war in Los Angeles. The police had two rival gang members handcuffed but close together. The gang members were shouting at each other in a vernacular I would later identify as Ebonics. I put some of this language in my book. Holy shit what a mistake. I even thought I should take it out before it went to publication, but stupidly left it in.  I didn’t account for the outrage some socially conscious Americans might exhibit when they read the story. I’m not surprised anymore that several of the reviewers equated me writing a black man as evil with me being a racist. That black guy in the story was evil, I don’t think all black men are evil.  I could have just as easily written the character as another race. I didn’t even consider the repercussions, and I probably should have, especially with what has been happening in the US in the past few years. I’m not sorry I wrote it the way I did, I was just surprised people attach what they read in a book about zombies as doctrine. I can suspend their disbelief about the living dead, but having someone not of my race be one of the villains makes me a racist. This character isn’t even the worst of the villains.

The main character in Chaos Theory calls people fat, dumb, redneck or ugly. He’s rude and he swears a lot. That’s him, not me. He’s a character in a book. Deal with it. If you don’t think it’s funny, move on. I’m ok with that. For Pete’s sake, don’t get offended. It’s fiction.  I had a review of Chaos Theory on Amazon where the reviewer accused me of hating rednecks. That’s laughable, as I’m a redneck if such a stereotype even exists.

Me: You’re right. The overwhelming number of reviews of both of your books are positive. Still, does the negative tone of some of them, especially those for Run, make you think twice about the inclusiveness of your characters?

Rich: Good lord yes! I certainly should have been more in tune to some people’s feelings, but at the end of the day, this is fiction. Having an evil black gang-banger may be stereotypical but it doesn’t mean there aren’t black gangers. I’m comfortable in my knowledge that not all black people are bad people trying to hurt me. This isn’t how I feel, or any type of doctrine on what others should feel.  I wasn’t trying to perpetuate hate or violence toward anyone. One reviewer called the book, “Hate filled drivel”. I wrote those characters based off of something I had seen on TV when I was young. I used some poor dialogue in the book. < 10 lines, and I was crucified for it. One reviewer actually asked me if I knew that people don’t really talk like that. Yes, reviewer, I figured that out all by myself. So my bad guy can’t be a stereotype? Why not? I guess because in some people’s minds, I am hurting one race or class. I disagree. As stated before, this is fiction. You are supposed to hate this antagonist. Not because he’s black, but because he’s a bad guy. He’s also extremely intelligent, and his father happens to be white. His father is the true evil.

Case in point: Anyone who is currently involved in The Walking Dead television show knows the character Ezekiel. He is a black man who runs an enclave of survivors called The Kingdom. Ezekiel refers to himself as the King, speaks in feudal English, and has a pet tiger.  So using the reviewer’s logic, of course all black people talk like that, call themselves the king, and have pet tigers. (I want a pet tiger. I would call him Stripes.) My point is, believing this is patently ridiculous.  As ridiculous as calling me a racist for having a black gang-banger in my story.

But I get it. There are some people out there who don’t want me to write that kind of thing.  I live in America, and we are proud of our multi-race country, at least I am. I don’t consider color, creed, or sex for my friends or enemies. If a black/white guy is a jerk, he’s a jerk. If black/white guy is my friend, he’s my friend. I couldn’t care less what color he/she is. Those reviewers were injured by my comments I guess. I’m sorry they were hurt, but I am not sorry for my characters. After seeing the few negative reviews, I won’t use dialogue like that again, but I will certainly continue to place characters into whatever roles I see fit. I’m not a racist, but I can’t stop people from thinking I am unless I bend to their will, which is something I will never do.

Thanks Rich! I appreciate you taking time to indulging me with all of my questions. Readers and fans can look forward to a review of the second book in the Zombie Theories series, Conspiracy Theory to run on the Book Reviews N’ Stuff, Facebook page sometime in March.  In the meantime, look for Rich Restucci on Facebook. Of course all of his books can be found on Amazon or wherever books are sold. Rich also has a few stories published in the fiction section of homepageofthedead.com. Read his work, then go have a chat with Rich yourself. I’m told you can find him most days, stopping by the chatroom at zombiefiend.com, so stop by and have a chin wag. You’ll have to sign up, but it’s free and won’t take much of your time. 

And finally, Rich says, “for a video of my ugly mug, you can watch me make an ass of myself on Drinking with Jason #16.” Which sounds like it might be well worth the visit. 

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