Justin Weinberger on his career and “Zombie Season”

"...One of my favorite parts of writing is when the characters start to make decisions that I wasn’t expecting. I won’t spoil anything specific here, but all three of our point-of-view characters were full of surprises. The world feels lived in, to me, and I’m pretty happy about that...."
Justin

Adventuring from Easton, Pennsylvania to study writing and television production at Syracuse University, Justin Weinberger has crafted a career that spans TV and novels. In addition to working on shows such as The Americans and Boardwalk Empire, he also published a book in 2018 titled Reformed. Weinberger’s latest book is Scholastic’s Zombie Season, which is a property that bridges books and videogames. Wanting to learn more about Weinberger’s background as well as Zombie Season, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.

You can learn more about Weinberger by visiting his homepage.

Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?

Justin Weinberger: Just thinking about this question makes me miss the smell of mass market paperbacks when you’re reading them under the covers past your bedtime. One of the books that reached me at the right time is Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, but I don’t have it on my shelves anymore because I read that book until it fell apart, I think? I also loved A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books were a staple . . . and it led to lots of big fat fantasy stories for sure. I also remember my dad liked sharing some of his books with me, like Jurassic Park, for which I am very grateful. It was a taste of responsibility of course—not cracking the spine was the rule that I had to follow or risk losing access.

Yanes: When did you know you wanted to become a professional creative? Was there a moment this crystallized for you?

Weinberger: So, there was a moment in college during my freshman year, when I was an engineering student at Syracuse University… and I can’t remember any of the classes that I was taking, but what I do remember is taking a stab at writing a novel in my dorm room and helping film student friends make their class projects. There were about a thousand other things that I was trying out as well—but I kinda think that was the moment when writing really became my aspiration, by one path or another.

Yanes: You studied television production and writing at Syracuse University. How do you think your education prepared you to build a writing career?

Weinberger: In college, I took classes in the communications school, the engineering school, the English department, and the music school. I also did work-study as a stagehand, spent a semester abroad, and was deeply committed to my improv comedy troupe. I think all of that was really important for me in building my writing career.

Also? Even though if you asked twenty-year-old Justin what his dream was, he would have said to write books and make television shows . . . I honestly think it’s pretty bananas that it actually happened for me. I’m lucky, and I know it. (I hope I don’t jinx myself.)

Yanes: Being a professional writer in any genre or field requires discipline. So, what is your daily working routine like?

Weinberger: For me, the morning is the best time to write. I’m usually at the computer as early as I can be, before the distractions start to pop up as the day progresses. Also, there’s coffee in the morning.

Yanes: Your latest project is the Scholastic book, Zombie Season. What was the inspiration for this story?

Weinberger: I’ve always loved zombie stories, and I think that’s because they’re a powerful metaphor for conflicts that are both human in nature, and inhuman in scale. In this case, the inspiration for the zombies is human-caused climate change.

 

Yanes: While developing Zombie Season from idea to finished book, were there any characters or subplots that took on a life of their own?

Weinberger: One of my favorite parts of writing is when the characters start to make decisions that I wasn’t expecting. I won’t spoil anything specific here, but all three of our point-of-view characters were full of surprises. The world feels lived in, to me, and I’m pretty happy about that. I love these characters a lot, and I hope that readers have as much fun getting to know Regina, Joule, Oliver, and everyone else from Redwood as I did.

Yanes: You have worked in television and you have written novels. What are some key ways that storytelling differs between these two media?

Weinberger: I am still figuring that out myself, but I definitely believe that working in both storytelling traditions has made me a stronger writer. The most obvious and deeply felt difference for me between writing for television and writing novels is that television is intensely collaborative work, while writing a novel is more solitary. I hope to have the opportunity to continue doing both. They’re each rewarding in complementary ways.

Yanes: On this note, Zombie Season is uniquely connected to its videogame counterpart. How did this relationship between the book and the video game shape your approach to storytelling?

Weinberger: In the case of Zombie Season, the video game has been part of the story from almost the beginning, but really from a writing standpoint I had my hands full with just giving the characters my full attention and telling the story. This leads to one of my other favorite parts of writing: collaborating with people you admire and trust, where we’re all doing our part of the work, and contributing to a story none of us could’ve told alone.

Yanes: When people finish reading Zombie Season, what do you hope they take away from it?

Weinberger: I hope that there are many different things that readers can take away from Zombie Season when they’re finished with the book. But to give you one tiny spoiler, let me just pause for your next question:

Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?

Weinberger: I hope that when people finish Zombie Season, they’ll be looking forward to reading the sequel. Zombie Season #2: Dead in the Water, is due out next year!


 

Remember, you can learn more about Weinberger by visiting his homepage.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter at @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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