How a fan fiction writer joined the Zombies, Run! 2 writing team

This is a guest post by Naomi Alderman, lead writer on Zombies, Run! 

The launch of Zombies, Run! 2 is just around the corner, which seems a great time to announce a new member of the writing time: Andrea, better known on Tumblr as thischarmingand has joined us for the writing of Season 2. Yes, Andrea writes Zombies, Run! fanfic. Yes, that’s how we found her and fell in love with her work. No, I don’t really understand why more shows/games/zombie-based-fitness apps don’t do this.

I’ve been a fan fiction enthusiast for a long time. In the (fairly) distant past, I wrote fanfic myself, and last year I made a documentary about fanfic for BBC Radio 4. Unlike some authors, I’ve always felt fanfic was a massive compliment rather than someone trying to steal my characters.

Since we launched last February, there’s been a steady stream of Zombies, Run! fan fiction. Jack and Eugene – the gorgeous creations of Matt Wieteska, the Zombies, Run! sound director – are firm favourites, and Runner 8, Maxine and cough Runner Five/Sam slash fiction crop up often. On long nights making the game, the love for Zombies, Run! on Tumblr has kept me motivated.

Last summer, Matt and I were chatting about the various fanfic writers out there. “There’s one whose work is incredible,” said I. “Yup,” said Matt, “thischarmingand.” I’d especially loved this piece – in which Andrea’s grasp of the characters’ voices was so pitch-perfect I felt like I’d written it myself. Except I’m not that funny.

Adrian and I agreed that Season 2 would be more than twice as long as Season 1 so it was clear that I needed more writers. And that someone who knew and loved the game and was incidentally able to write all the characters with perfect voices. I spent a couple of weeks wondering if I was allowed to offer Andrea a job, until I realised that, duh, I’m the lead writer and I get to decide what’s allowed.

So we emailed Andrea – known around the office as Fandrea, to distinguish her from friend-of-Six-to-Start-and-Naomi-Alderman Andrea Phillips. And after we managed to convince her that it wasn’t a practical joke, we got writing.

One question that occurred early on – would we have to stop Andrea from writing fanfic if we told her all the juicy plot developments in Season 2? In the end, we decided that we’d erect a Wall of Silence – and as long as Andrea was writing side missions not main-arc missions she could happily write away without knowing much about the tragic/hilarious/romantic/running-based Season 2 plot.  This approach seems to have worked surprisingly well – it’s brought a different feel to Andrea’s missions, which makes them a nice mix with the main storyline.

I asked Andrea herself to answer a few questions about the process, so we could hear how it went from her perspective.

  • How did you first hear about ZR?

My best friend, who was a much earlier Tumblr adopter than I was, heard about the game when the original Kickstarter was getting passed around that site but had already been funded. She bought the game when it came out and pretty much immediately and started bugging me to buy Zombies, Run! so we could commiserate about it.

I ended up pulling the trigger on it when I moved cities last summer for work (long, boring story) and started roller skating on outdoor trails more often. Listening to music while skating wasn’t cutting it, especially since my music player at the time only held about a gig of stuff and was no longer syncing with my computer. Trust me when I say that an exercise playlist made up of, like, three upbeat David Bowie
songs gets old fast.

  • What was your first piece of fanfic and what made you decide to write it?

Aaah, I went and looked it up and it’s kind of embarrassing how quickly I wrote fic. Within a week of starting the game, I knew I needed to write about the Radio Boyfriends (Jack and Eugene, to those of you who don’t hang out on Tumblr.) So that’s what the first one was about: wanderin’ around in the zombie wilds pre-Abel and talking about music. Typical Jack and Eugene stuff.

I really don’t know what it is about Radio Mode that grabbed me immediately. Maybe the banter? I’m a sucker for snappy dialogue. Oh, and that I’m obsessed with epic road trip stories, and those two are the perfect opportunity to write one of those (or, like 12. I’m probably up to 12 now).

Mostly, I just wanted to read more about these characters so, so badly, and no one was writing what I wanted. So, be the change you want to see, right?

  • Definitely. That’s part of why I write in general – to make the stuff I wish existed. What was it like getting that “we’d like you to write for the game” email?

Well, “write for the game Tumblr ask” you mean. Which freaked me right out, when I pulled it up on my phone over a lunch break one day at work. I’m not even that used to getting Tumblr asks, period, never mind offers of writing work from the creator of one of my favourite games.

I was so surprised, actually, that I accidentally threw my phone at the guy sitting at the desk in front of me. (Luckily, he was an intern, so he was too scared of everyone to get mad.) Then I went outside and fell down in the parking lot several times while hissing “eeeeeee.” So. That probably says everything you need to know.

  • Hee. I have to say, it was a pretty exciting moment getting in touch with you. I imagined how I’d have felt if Joss Whedon emailed me to say he wanted me to write for Buffy. And then I couldn’t imagine that anymore because my head was going to explode. So, other than falling down in parking lots, what’s been the best part of the writing-for-the-game process and what the most challenging?

I have a shortlist of things I cannot believe I got to do while writing for the game, but they’re all spoilers. Let’s just say the creative freedom you allowed me, as a random person you found on the internet, was phenomenal. Also, I really liked it that you laughed at nearly all of my jokes. Thanks for that, Naomi.

The most challenging thing is probably best summed up by something you said to me a month or two ago, which was that in an audio-based game “no one can see you point.” Also, god, Runner Five. Why have you got to be running all the time? Why can’t the game sometimes be Zombies, Sit Down and Take a Break for a Minute?

  • Yes, I’ve often thought that myself. I am constantly annoyed with myself for not having come up with some idea early on which would involve Runner Five not running from time to time…  And is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I’d like to say that Zombies, Run has about the best fandom I’ve ever wandered into. Your fans are a group of funny, creative, awesome people and one of the best things about buying this game was getting to internet-meet a bunch of them. Much as I love the game, without them I can’t imagine I would have gotten so crazily invested or written nearly as much fic. So this whole gig is probably their faults, at least a little.

  • And that being the case, we thank our fans too!

In all, there are ten Fandrea-written missions in Season 2 – they have her trademark wit and exciting plotlines, they fit into the Zombies, Run! universe like a (n undead) hand in a (biohazard) glove and I’m incredibly proud of them. I’m proud of the whole thing, actually. I think you’re going to love it. Oh, and Sam says hi. In a shy way. Because he can’t tell you how he really feels.