SPFBO 7 Interview: Phillip Murrell


Hello everyone and welcome to our latest author interview for the 7th annual Self Published Fantasy Blog Off! I’ve been working on reaching out to each of the authors who have landed in our batch of books for the competition to see if they would be interested in being interviewed or contributing a guest article in an attempt to drum up a little extra excitement for their book and (hopefully) get to know them a bit better.

Today, we are joined by the author of Zombie Walkabout, Phillip Murrell!

Thank you so much for joining us for this short Q&A! Before we get going, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I just hit 19 years in the U.S. Army. I recently completed command of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) battalion at Fort Bragg, NC. EOD is like the Army’s bomb squad. It’s an exhilarating job that feeds into my passion for high-adrenaline activities. Over my years, I’ve participated in skydiving, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, rock climbing, and my favorite love, roller coaster riding. When I lived in Colorado, I learned skiing over snowboarding simply because skiing lets you go faster. Like Ricky Bobby said, “I wanna go fast!” 

My wife, Jen, and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage back in April. She’s an army brat, just like me. We met online, but met for the first time in South Korea. I was stationed there, and she agreed to fly out and see me. We now have three children: Tommy (14), Sam (12), and Cammy (10). I grateful they all have the speed bug like I do.

I’ve written stories since grade school. I’ve always loved to think of unique quirks to common SFF tropes (e.g. hunting zombies for fun versus survival or reading about a superhero without knowing the character’s secret identity to add a flair of mystery). When I was on my second of three deployments, I began writing screenplays, which quickly turned to novels. I just love being a storyteller. 

I want to start things off by asking: what is a great book that you’ve read recently and why should we give it a go?

I’m a soldier in the U.S. Army and am currently in the middle of moving my family from North Carolina to Maryland. It’s given me a lot of time for rereads. One of my favorites as a soldier is Starship Troopers. I’m sure you’ve already read it, but if not, give it a go. It, along with The Forever War and Old Man’s War, seem to speak to me as soldier more so than most. If you want a more fantasy selection, I suggest Tales of a Nuisance Man by James Maxstadt. It’s a humorous fantasy novel by an indie author I discovered on Goodreads. I always try to pay it forward to fellow self-published artists.

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing? Do you care to elaborate?

I’m an extreme adrenaline junkie. I love roller coasters, whitewater rafting, skydiving. My profession in the army is as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer, think the army’s bomb squad. The movie The Hurt Locker shows a Hollywood version of the job. I love getting my heart rate up.

Tell us about your road to writing. What made you want to become an author?

I’ve always been a storyteller and a fan of stories in every medium. On my second deployment, I started writing screenplays to show different ideas than the same old same old. It wasn’t long after that I started writing novels too.

Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances, but it can be even more so as a self-published author. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?

I write mostly in the morning. I’m usually done well before lunch, so I still have the day to spend with my family. On days I work, I typically don’t write, so that family time is still available.

Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?

Zombie Walkabout is my sixth of seven novels published. Each book teaches me a little more, as do the books I read by other authors. Specifically, this book has far fewer characters than the superhero series I wrote first. It made it easier for readers to connect with the characters.

Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?

I write in silence when possible. I don’t like music playing. If there’s noise beyond the clicking of keys, it comes from someone else in the house. Thankfully, I can usually dismiss the background noise. It doesn’t take much for me to get into the zone.

Is this your first time entering SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?

This is my second year. I entered my fifth novel, Augury Answered, last year, but was an early cut. Hopefully, I can get a little more traction with Zombie Walkabout.

What made you want to write in the fantasy genre? Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?

I like fantasy and sci-fi because I can do whatever I want. I can make up any rules, including adding omniscient gods, and readers will go with it. It allows me to still keep the lessons and humanity a literary book has, but I also get to add dragons and spaceships.

There are so many roads to releasing a book these days (which is wonderful!). Why did you decide to self-publish?

I didn’t want to have to settle. Succeed or fail, these are my stories exactly as I want to tell them. I can “fail” like that and still be proud of myself. If I have to write with a committee, perhaps a decision I didn’t agree with is ultimately what made readers pass on me. That is a harder pill to swallow. I’m not against traditional publishing, and may try that route in the future, but I think I’ll wait until I’ve retired from the military.

Are there any advantages or disadvantages to self-publishing rather than going the route of the traditional or independent presses?

Like I said above, autonomy. The obvious disadvantage is more time and money from me. Plus, a bunch of minds can improve some areas. I don’t get the same input from professionals.

What is one thing that you love about the current state of fantasy and what is one thing that you wish you saw more of?

I love that it’s becoming more mainstream. More people know about LOTR thanks to Peter Jackson. The downside is a lot of fantasy can easily turn into plot-armored fueled soap operas. I know my interests are a bit on the fringe. As things become more mainstream, they move toward the center to capture the largest audience.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

I write more to tell people a story where the reader has to wonder if the heroes will win versus how they’ll win. I think sad endings can still be great ones, but most people want complete victory. I don’t think I qualify as grimdark (definitely not with Zombie Walkabout), but it is darker than a lot out there.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a plotter. I always write a full treatment for my story before I type a single word into the manuscript. I don’t follow the treatment exactly, and I always go back and make adjustments, but a large percentage of my story will be what I initially planned.

What are your favorite types of characters?

I like characters who feel like actual people. In the real world, we’re all gray. Nobody is completely good nor evil. The nicest person you meet has crop dusted someone. The most evil has comforted a small child. Many heroes these days are only allowed two flaws: substance abuse or promiscuity. The reality is some people are competent jerks. I like characters with flaws I don’t feel comfortable with. I don’t need to like a character to enjoy his or her story. Sometimes, these are even better stories.

How much of yourself do you write into your stories?

I try to pick different elements of myself and give them to numerous characters. One may have my sense of humor, another may like my politics, a third will have my profession. It allows me to write what I know without placing myself into the story as the overpowered savior.

For those who haven’t read Zombie Walkabout, give us the elevator pitch.

Zombie Walkabout is a zom rom com. Australia was wiped out by a zombie plague ten years earlier. Zombies can’t swim, so they couldn’t get off the island. Now, rich tourists travel from all over to safely hunt zombies. It ISN’T Jurassic Park with zombies. Instead, a temporary guide does some soul searching as he notices people taking selfies over the corpses of real people, sometimes children, next to Australian guides who may have known them. It makes you question ethics with (hopefully) a few laughs along the way.

Describe your book in 3 adjectives.

Unique, funny, insightful.

What do you think is the overarching theme?

That no matter the tragedy, someone will find a way to make money off of it.

If you had to do so in just one or two sentences, how would you describe the plot of Zombie Walkabout?

Big game is big business Down Under, especially when the prey is the remnants of the zombie apocalypse.

They say to never judge a book by its cover and maybe that’s true in the philosophical sense, but it certainly happens with books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Zombie Walkabout?

Zombie Walkabout is a theme park. My cover is cutesy, despite the serious nature of the excursion. I took an early scene where a teenager poses with a selfie and a frying pan as she kills zombies. She’s unconcerned because her armor keeps her safe. After all, a healthy human with strong teeth and gums couldn’t even bite through a leather jacket. A corpse couldn’t either, and my tourists wear chainmail armor. The cover shows a caricature version of the event, similar to what she would have bought at a concession stand after her hunt. Extra points go to using my daughter as the model for the cover.

One of my favorite things is highlighting quotes that really resonate with me and sharing them in my reviews. Do you have a favorite quote from Zombie Walkabout that you can share with us?

The only Australians still living there came from every corner of the continent. This means their slang is a mix of all over and across generations (people become real nostalgic when neighbors become zombies). When Sam, my American POV character, is asked to say things like howdy and yous guys, he points out nobody would talk like that. It leads to another character making a similar mashup sentence with American slang that goes like this:

“Howdy, yous guys, I’m chillin’ like a villain with a groovy pop that’s the bees knees, dontcha know.”

What can you tell us about what’s coming up next for you?

I’m a fan of observing politics. People can become very hypocritical rather quickly. I’m working on a YA novel that incorporates politics with a sci-fi flavor.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! I always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?

I hope people like my stories. I started writing so I could talk about some of the weird ideas I had that I couldn’t find in other novels/movies/shows/etc.

About the Author

I am an active duty army Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer. I have been married for fifteen years and have three children who are fourteen, twelve, and ten years old. I have an MBA and a BS degree in Recreation (true story). I love stories in all mediums, including books, comics, movies, and television. I also enjoy high adrenaline activities, such as skydiving, whitewater rafting, and roller coasters.

Zombie Walkabout is the sixth of seven novels I’ve written. I also enjoy writing screenplays and teleplays.

Author Website: https://www.phillipmurrell.com/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Walkabout-Phillip-Murrell-ebook/dp/B0824GD57J/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49005341-zombie-walkabout

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