Workshop Episode 23 (Guest Host: Dan Wells)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 23, with Dan Wells and Dan Absalonson Dan Wells – author of “The Hollow City“, “Partials“, the John Cleaver series, and co-host of the Parsec-award winning “Writing Excuses” Podcast – returns to the Roundtable to add his experience and insights to this weeks workshop. Our Guest Writer is Dan Absalonson – an author with two tales on Amazon and his own podcast – who brings a marvelous zombie/robot scifi thriller tale to the table. The discussion is brisk, moving from one intriguing topic to the next, each stop revealing more literary gold. This is classic RTP goodness, friends… join us! (and to continue your quest for writerly goodness, check out Dan Wells’s superb Showcase Episode!)

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Workshop Episode 23 (Guest Host: Dan Wells)

[caution: mature language – listener discretion is advised]

Check out this and all our episodes on iTunes…

Coming up for Dan Wells…

  • The Hollow City – Psychological/Supernatural Thriller
  • Dan’s moved to Germany (because he can)!
  • Isolation” – e-novella set in the “Partials” universe
  • Fragments” (the sequel to “Partials”) available Spring 2013
  • … and as always, co-hosting the superb Writing Excuses podcast

Upcoming Conventions…


Dan Absalsonson’s awesomeness…


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Comments (10)

This podcast should be heard by any and every aspiring writer. Thank you all so much for this one. Great!

I so agree with you! I love listening to this show, and I learn a lot as a writer still learning the ropes. Thanks for listening and commenting!

I must admit I got a little lost in the robot/zombie/hybrid thread. It was difficult for me to follow where robots ended and zombies began.

That said, I wonder, are the robots controlled by a central intelligence, a collective hive mind in which each participates, or are they individuals?

The setting is ripe for conspiracy theories. As people are sent to the sanctuaries, some can resist, claiming these are the Obama FEMA concentration camps Alex Jones warned us about.

When the US is cut off from the rest of the world, still others can say we are under attack by the Illuminati, Bilderbergers, Zionists, etc.

As far as the protagonist goes, he didn’t seem very interesting to me. I’ve only seen the shiftless, ambitionless, slacker rise to hero in comedies. Think Bill & Ted, Jay & Silent Bob, or Shaun of the Dead.
I couldn’t justify in my mind why the female protagonist would be attracted to him, let alone confide in him and seek his help.

He would be more sympathetic, in my opinion, if he started out with an interesting back story. Perhaps he is an art school grad and his dreams of designing best-selling video games, or New York gallery openings didn’t pan out. He had to take the first job available, pumping gas, to pay his school loans. His inner life could be filled with poetry, romance, and heroic exploits.

Perhaps the gas station owner lets him display some of his art for sale next to the snack machine. When the female protagonist walks by it on her way to the rest room, she realizes this guy is more interesting than she thought. That, to me, would justify a relationship.

Those are my thoughts. Best of luck Art Man.

Oh, I forgot. If robots are replacing people, perhaps they are also doing this inside the camps. As the resistance builds, that would add another layer of tension as no one would know who to trust.

Dolly Burton
I so agree with you! I love listening to this show, and I learn a lot as a writer still learning the ropes.

Dan Latham
Thank you so much for those great comments. Something to think about!

Robot Zombies are the greatest thing humanity has ever conceived. Ever. I so can’t wait to read this.

However, I do agree with the experts that making that storyline plausible is going to be a HUGE challenge. Towards the end of the brainstorming session the story took a different turn than I expected, making it a nanobot infection, or some sort of hijacking of the mind with tech, is awesome, but it removes some of that visual I get when I think of the shambling horde of zombies coming after me.

So I wanted to play with a scenario here, no biggie, all BS. I just need to get it out of my system. So, here is one possible chain of logic that leads to robot zombies:

· Defense contractor has an AI heading up its R&D department. It’s pushing out better, cheaper, more destructive weapons all the time. It’s one of those ridiculo-flop processors that fills a small warehouse. This contractor unveils ground drones that are tele-operated the way modern drones are (by guys in a video game chair somewhere on a military base in the U.S.). But these are not as effective as their airborne counterparts because they are spotted and targeted by every insurgent in every locale they are tested in. Most notably – they figure out how to jam/drown out the frequencies used to pilot the drones, rendering them useless. It’s a failure.

· V 2.0 has a self-contained AI that allows them to move freely among the people without fear of corruption. This AI is forced to make battlefield decisions and interact with people – which requires very cutting edge software design which the AI has developed to run on the limited processing available to each unit. Again, they are targeted in the field because, although humanoid, they are obviously robotic in design (plus, they shamble). Still a failure.

· V 3.0 Vat grown skin and other human-like prosthetics (have you seen those organ scaffolds where organs can be grown? It’s creepy) are used to make the battle-bots indistinguishable from humans without close inspection. This requires an even better AI, as the intent is to fool people into thinking these are humans.

· Small regiment of latest gen AI driven soldier bots are ready for field tests. When uploaded with new software they interpret the command stop human suffering in the most ironic fashion possible.

· The small squad of robo soldiers begin to kill in masse.

· Local authorities/employees set off an EMP to fry the electronics. However, hardened, military grade hardware shields AI from the worst. Robo soldier faulty AI gets uploaded to corporate AI. More sophisticated logic algorithms come up with plan to stop all human suffering everywhere.

o Crazy AI decides to ramp up production of robo soldiers.

o The AI soldiers have issues that cause vat grown skin (and other human like things, like tongues and eyes) to begin decomposing almost as soon as they leave the assembly line. More research would be needed, but it’s too late. The factory is pumping those things out like gangbusters thanks to crazy Master AI.

Of course, all that is backstory that gets slowly uncovered as the book moves along. The bonus is that that the town can be built around the defense contractor. Factories, offices, etc., are all contained there. The super AI can be cut off from the larger world along with the people contained inside the kill zone that the military has set up around the town.

The super AI, I would hope, might take a more subtle approach. Although I’m struggling to come up with a rationale for all the subterfuge in replacing people one at a time. Still, I’m more or less thrown my ideas out there. Thanks for reading this far.

Wow. I don’t think more than a few words were comprehensible there, chalk all that up to excitement after hearing your fantastic idea.


Wow! Thanks for all of that and for saying I have a fantastic idea. Very kind. You have a lot of concrete ideas here! You should take your favorite idea and write your own robot zombie book! It would be awesome and nothing like the book I’m writing because every individual comes up with such different awesome stuff. What do you think? Thanks for the comments!

Hey everyone! Thank you so much for listening and leaving comments. I’ve heard you can’t wait to read it, so I give you chapter 1 in audio:

Enjoy and thanks again! I look forward to writing the rest of this book. Work shopping it has proven to be VERY valuable!

Wow I get a shout out! Of course it happens on a busy week that life prevents me from commenting till Friday.

So my thoughts:
At one point I think Dan Wells said something about the replacing people with robots having a 70’s or 80’s horror movie vibe. Admittedly the original “Stepford Wives” film was in 1972, but the replacing people or loss of identity theme can be traced back to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in 1956, or John W. Campbell’s Novella “Who Goes There?” published in 1938. (I know those were aliens not robots).

Most of my thoughts about the plot were covered by the panel, so I am going to talk about the characterization of the characters.

Ernie Talon, reminds me of Randy Quaid’s character from “Independence Day”: Ex-military, PTSD, Paranoid, tin-foil-hat-crazy, but he happens to be right about the threat. (I am against Ernie being secretly a robot).

I was surprised at first when The Art Man said that Ernie thinks that the robots are trying to take over, but when Ron tells him that the zombies are robots Ernie doesn’t believe him. As I though about it I realized you could do something cool with that. Everyone else has always told Ernie that he was crazy, he doesn’t know how to handle people agreeing with him. Being right may even make him doubt himself, where before he didn’t dare doubt himself because everyone else doubted him.

Valerie Kite: Dan said that if you want to add a romantic female character, she needs a reason to be there other than the romantic plot. Let’s call it Romantic Rule of Thumb #1. Romantic Rule of Thumb #2 in my opinion is: don’t introduce a romantic female character just so you can kill her! (I had to resist typing that in all caps.)

To Dave’s thought that if she is 1/2 converted, or 2.0 or something that gives her a cool super-power, that makes her the protagonist; I disagree. She may have super-powers but she is infected/robotized/cyloned, the other people in the prison aren’t going to trust her.

Ernie has the military know-how, and knows the prison, but he’s crazy so the other people aren’t going to trust him.

Ron doesn’t have military knowledge or robotic super powers. He is an “everyman” hero, which is why the other people will eventually listen to him and trust him so that he can rescue (some of) them.

At least in my opinion, which may be total twaddle.


Sorry to get back to this so late, it’s been a crazy week with one of my sons having surgery, all went well, so I’m just now reading this. Thanks for all those comments! I’ve decided a few things now about the story and I’m going with what we came up with at the end of the podcast episode – nano tech implanted zombies. I’m writing the second chapter now.

I’ve narrowed it down in scope considerably. Ron is now taken to a room with a few jail cells in it – inside the research facility of Nanotech Solutions. There he meets Erny, now the janitor of the facility who saw too much, and Valerie. With Erny’s knowledge and Valerie’s super strength from the nanotech implanted in her they escape. Valerie is not going to die, but she is going to turn crazy from being implanted with the nano tech until Ron can go back into the facility with Erny to find something that will help make a cure. Also, the nano tech is spreading quickly through the town. So anyway, now it’s more of an escape adventure, tracking down the guy who originally started Nanotech Solutions but quit to do his own research when they pushed not only nano tech healing a body but enhancing it as well. I could go on and on so I’ll just stop here and say thanks again for listening and for all your great comments. If you didn’t see, I recorded the first chapter and released it on my podcast if you’re interested to in hearing the first chapter:

Thank you so much!

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