Spotlight: Peter Welmerink’s Transport
See below for a book synopsis, author bio, and interview between L. Andrew Cooper and Peter Welmerink. For Cooper’s review of Transport, see the featured post on the main page.
Transport: The HURON, a 72-ton heavy transport vehicle and an army of four, tracked, racked and ready to roll, to serve and protect the walled metropolis of Grand Rapids—both her living and her undead. Captain Jacob Billet and his crew patrol the byways, ready for trouble.
William Lettner, the North Shore Coalition High Commissioner, has enemies from the mainland to the lakeshore and needs covert transport home after his helicopter is shot down en route to Grand Rapids. He has no love for a city that gives unliving civilians the right to survive. Lettner’s venomous outbursts assault Billet and his crew along every mile they are assigned to travel with him through the treacherous landscape separating Lettner from his allies.
Along their path, the HURON and her crew face domesticated zombies and the feral undead; marauders holding strategic chokepoints hostage; barricaded villages fighting for survival; and a group of geneticists who’ve lost control of one of their monstrous experiments. The crew has to stay strong and trust one another to finish the mission and bring their precious “cargo” home, even as the obnoxious freight begins to horrify them more than the abominations they fight.
Traveling through West Michigan has never been so dangerous.
About the Author: Peter Welmerink was born and raised on the west side of pre-apocalyptic Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes fantasy, military sci-fi, and otherwise wanders wherever he finds action and adventure. He has published work in ye olde wood pulp print and electronic-online publications. He co-authored the Viking berserker novel BEDLAM UNLEASHED with Steven Shrewsbury. TRANSPORT is his first solo novel venture. He is married with a small barbarian tribe of three boys.
An Interview with Peter Welmerink
June 25, 2014
L. Andrew Cooper [LAC]: Transport is my first encounter with you and your work. Before I got to your bio and credits at the end, I had decided I was reading what I would call “zombie fantasy” rather than straight-up zombie horror—and then I saw that your background is in fantasy and adventure. For your first long-form solo work, what motivated your decision to leave the typical trappings of “fantasy” and “military sci-fi” and draw on our contemporary fascination with zombies and post-apocalyptic imagery?
Peter Welmerink [PW]: First and foremost, I wanted to write some form of adventure in Grand Rapids, Michigan. One, because I know the IRL city and surrounding countryside, and, two, because all the post-apoc stories I have seen and/or read seemed always on the east shore or the west shore of these great United States. I felt we needed something Midwest.
I am always fascinated and challenged with the WHAT IF scenario, so when it came down to it, my mind started churning on WHAT IF Grand Rapids and West Michigan, with military elements, with zombies. Or maybe it was too much time playing CLUE as a kid.
I had written a Grand Rapids, pseudo-military themed, post-apoc short story (Final Rights) a year before sitting down and writing TRANSPORT (Book One). It was interesting to imagine, fun to write, was published, and got some decent reviews. It led me to keep writing on that theme, just scaled it up, pulled it back 50 years to Grand Rapids 2025, fleshed out more of a military influence… and sprinkled some zomb flesh on it for added excitement.
As I have written more “fantasy” than “military sci-fi” in the past, I can say once the HURON is done rolling across Michigan and the Midwest, I will probably re-gear with long sword and chain-mail, and step back onto the Epic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery bus.
Either way, you could say, I like HEAVY METAL. (Yes, I do have wine to go with that cheese.) [I like Heavy Metal as well… a comment about it in a recent review merely referred to its iconic heroine’s superhuman ability to walk while being impossibly top-heavy. – LAC]
Oh, and Zombie Fantasy. I think you just created a new sub-genre.
LAC: Speaking of your work’s fantasy elements, particularly for a work so slim, Transport does a lot of what many authors and fans call “world building:” you devote many pages to introducing different types of creatures as well as a multifaceted political system in a world redrawn, and—doing something common in fantasy but relatively rare (with noteworthy exceptions) in horror—you even include a glossary of the terms you create. Of course, you do leave plenty of room for (literally) explosive, gory action. What do you think this kind of overt world-building adds to your readers’ experience? And assuming Transport is only the beginning—is the world now built so that you can run with it, or do you see the writing continuing to build, adding more creatures, more politics, more weapons, and so on?
PW: There will be definitely more poop (technical term) coming about in regards to Grand Rapids politicos in TRANSPORT Book Two and Book Three. It will not drown the adventurous spirit of the series, but things will heat up in and around the big city of GR. Billet, his crew and the HURON will get plopped in the middle of a septic situation and have to wade (quite literally in Book Two) out of it.
World-building for readers helps them touch and feel things more within the folds of the story. I want to at least see some expansive vista to wrap my head around when reading. It doesn’t have to be “the street was made of skulls where each frontal plate, bleach-white, was lined with an X by a black Sharpie,” but the senses do have to be brought into play. If you can “touch” the people, the place, the inside and outside environs and sense their functions, so much more the enjoyment when your characters and story roll through them.
After Book One, I think the reader can understand what is going on with the creatures, people, some of the politics of this post-apoc setting. In the next books, more of the politics and weapons come out (Fully-loaded Abrams tank versus the HURON anybody?) but they won’t detract from the central characters and their story. I am just slapping a bit more meat on the TRANSPORT World skeleton. It makes the zombies happy. I do not want to piss off the zombies. Zombies are our friends, remember.
LAC: The structure of your novel comes close to a picaresque, or to speak an English known to people other than English professors, Transport is, appropriately, a road story, with major episodes occurring as stops along the road. Deep down, then, maybe this story isn’t about a convoy on a transport mission that pits them against zombies as well as an awesome mutant I’ll tease readers with but won’t spoil—maybe it’s about four wounded people on a road trip, working out their issues. Why did you go with a narrative structured by the road, and how close am I getting to what you see as the story’s emotional truth?
PW: I guess I can say I have always seen TRANSPORT as a “journey” story. The lead characters have to move from point A to point B, etc., both externally and internally, with several stops, planned or not, in between. Thus the whole machine that is the TRANSPORT series moves in that direction. To take a journey is to adventure, to see what’s out there, to absorb more of the world and the experiences offered… and to run across a dangerous mutant.
Without giving too much away, my main focus is on Captain Billet. He may initially not stand out like his wily crew members, or all the craziness happening around him, but there is definitely something brewing inside him. He carries a heavy yoke of responsibility, not only with his job, but with watching out for his crew. He “gives a shit” about what is going on around him, but doesn’t let on too much about what is going on within him. (Hmmm, I am often told I am like that.) You see glimpses in Book One, but it won’t really start popping out until Books Two and Three.
I will say Billet harbors a deep guilt and emotional scarring that doesn’t seem to want to heal relating to the loss of his wife and son, even with the occurrence being five years from the time stamp of events in Book One.
LAC: Touchy-feely time over. In my as-yet-unwritten review, I will most likely use the term “hard-boiled” to describe your style. Your characters may be working out issues, but men and women alike tend to do it with brawn, bullets, and general badass-ery, as you communicate in glorious sentences such as “”He ignored the spray of gore as the head flopped over like an unhinged soup can lid.” What were your influences for developing this style, and why does this style match these characters?
Thanks for pegging a style, my style, of writing. Someone else asked me what my “writing style” is, and I was like, hell, I don’t know, it’s just how I write. It’s Peter Welmerink-style. (Raises arms out in front of self, crosses arms, then waves one arm in air and pretends to gallop like riding an invisible horse.)
Influences? Probably too much purple prose read as a kid. All that Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, etc. And more current and not so purple prosey: David Drake’s Red Liners, anything Steven Shrewsbury, C.L. Werner, Tim Marquitz.
Influences? All the old time military action movies (Tora Tora Tora, Midway, Kelly’s Heroes) and the “newer” ones (Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers). Hard-boiled and hard core. Real or Hollywood-ized military action.
Also all those Sgt. Rock and GI Combat comics as a kid.
Influences: true-to-life stories of our Armed Forces men and women, local police force, etc.
The style matches the characters because they are set in a hard world. They need to walk through life (and death) with a stiff upper lip, weapons drawn, eyes wide open, gotta-survive hard-core, hard-boiled mentality.
The characters in TRANSPORT need to have a hard-shell exterior, but also, I hope, I have “drawn them” as comparatively human, not action heroes that can’t be harmed or are too tough for feelings, caring. They aren’t very touchy-feely folk, and if they get slapped, they are going to slap back. Hard.
Hard-boiled Welmerink fiction. I will humbly accept that moniker.
LAC: So tell me—why does post-apocalyptic Grand Rapids seem to have things figured out better, at least morally, than the rest of the country? 😉
PW: You mean why do, in post-apoc Grand Rapids, they realize they need to address the issues at home, including tending to their poor, down-trodden and rotting-out-of-their-skin civilians versus sending their military away to some other zombie-infested country to get gnawed on and shot at? Simple answer: because that’s how the real and fictional Grand Rapids Michigan rolls, baby! We take care of people, build our city, and try to show the world Grand Rapids is THE place.
In all seriousness, recently (June 14), saw a local Grand Rapidian throw a yard sale fundraiser for a local, very inner neighborhood, very non-profit mission store. The small, neighborhood, 50+ year old building in which the mission store is housed needed funds for some TLC to spruce the place up.
The WestSide Apostolate fundraiser met the target goal of $500 and then some, including a TRANSPORT-related $110 donation.
Because that’s how IRL and fictional Grand Rapidians roll!
Er, I’m Oscar–Mike, out of here.
Thank you very much for the review and interview.
Click the pic to get the book!