James Schannep, a Harker Heights High graduate, holds a copy of his zombie thriller, “Infected,” a book where the reader makes choices and can end the book in a variety of different ways.

Working as an Air Force nuclear missile officer in remote Montana, James Schannep had plenty of time to think about a zombie apocalypse.

“I was the guy under the ground waiting for the order from the president,” said Schannep, 28, a 2002 Harker Heights High School graduate and Army brat.

Thankfully, the order to deploy nuclear missiles never came. Schannep, an Air Force Academy alum, got out of the Air Force in 2011 and started writing “Infected” last year.

“I originally wrote this as a screenplay,” he said, adding in 2008 he brought the script to a screenwriting expo in Hollywood while on leave from the Air Force.

The experts liked the story, but said it would be a hard sell as a movie because it didn’t have a previous book title or other familiarity to back it up, Schannep said.

So he wrote “Infected” as a book. It’s written in the second person, in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure, a line of books that sold millions of copies from the 1970s to 1990s. Known as a gamebook, it gives the reader a variety of decisions to make. Those decisions lead to different directions in the story, and ultimately, different endings.

“There’s over 50 endings,” Schannep said. The book can take as little as five minutes to read “or you can take several weeks banging your head trying to survive.”

And that’s essentially what the premise of the book is: “Can you survive the zombie apocalypse?” Schannep said.

A zombie fan

Schannep, who attended Reeces Creek Elementary and Nolan Middle School in Killeen, said he became a fan of zombies after watching a lot of movies about the undead creatures.

He occasionally dresses up as a zombie, and became a real fan after watching the remake of “Dawn of the Living Dead.”

Other movies like “Shawn of the Dead” have helped fuel a nationwide zombie craze in recent years, Schannep said, adding people like to talk about their zombie attack plans, which can test a person’s strength — no matter who they are — and brings out the “primeval survival part of humanity.”

Modern zombie tales have a good dose of comedy, action, suspense and horror, Schannep said, adding he wrote the book for other zombie fans, and he had some help from a couple of colleagues at the Air Force Academy.

Nikki Jansen designed the cover, which depicts a female being devoured by zombies sitting in the shape of a human skull. And Mike Beeson helped Schannep put together a zombie-attack video on YouTube promoting the book.

Back in Heights

Most of Schannep’s family still lives in Harker Heights, and he was back home the past couple of weeks visiting family and attending a wedding.

The Harker Heights High School alum played football, golf, was editor of the school newspaper and participated in other activities.

“I was in the theater there, and I helped start the Court Jester’s Club,” an improv comedy troupe, he said.

He lives in Santa Maria, Calif., with his wife who is in the Air Force.

While “Infected” is modeled after the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular with 10- to 12-year-olds, Schannep said his book is geared for the 17-and-up crowd.

“It’s darker in tone,” he said. “If it were a movie, it would be rated R.” There is violence, curse words and “If you choose so, there could possibly be sex.”

Book signing

Schannep will sell copies of “Infected” at Clear Creek Main Exchange at Fort Hood today through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

He said some family and friends will dress up as zombies.

The e-edition of the book sells for $3.99 and the paperback sells for $12.99. The paperback is available at Hastings and both editions are available on Amazon.com. Schannep self-published the book, and said he sold 400 to 500 copies from September to December.

In the e-edition, the pages that readers are referenced to are hyperlinked, giving rise to Schannep’s term “Click Your Poison,” the series title given to the gamebooks.

He is already working on a Click Your Poison 2, a murder mystery where the reader plays the part of the investigator. Schannep said it should be finished sometime this summer, and it won’t involve zombies.

Contact Jacob Brooks at jbrooks@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468

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