Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, September 6, 2015

When There Is No More Room in Central Casting, The Dead Will Be On At Eight


Undead Proctologist, coming this fall to TNT!
They're everywhere, if by everywhere you mean movies and TV. And books. And graphic novels.

Zombies have shambled, crawled, and stumbled their way right into Western social consciousness, which has resulted in a spate of scholarly papers penned by bewildered sociologists trying to explain the popularity of walking corpses.

I can solve that mystery right here -- zombies are cheap for studios to create and easy for authors to write. Some latex, some make-up, ragged clothes and a limp -- presto, you're a zombie extra!

Writing zombies is even easier. Here's an example of nuanced zombie dialog:

"Urg," said the zombie. "Urg," replied the zombie horde.

You can put that on a keyboard macro and skip even typing out the whole word.

I'm kidding, of course. I've read some truly excellent zombie books -- World War Z by Max Brooks foremost among them. The book, not the movie, which should really have been titled World War Z The Movie Which Doesn't Make Any Effort Whatsoever to Even Hint at the Contents of the Book We Just Used the Title Ha Ha Ha.

I've read some pretty bad zombie books, too. Reading zombie books is how I spin my mind down and try to relax after working on my own books. Every now and then I'll just buy a slew of zombie ebooks and plow right in.

More than half of them are awful. The kind of awful that generates a stench you can almost smell rising from the display of your ereader. I try to keep going, no matter how bad things are, for at least a quarter of the book. Sometimes I can't even make that.

It appears a formula of sorts is being circulated among certain zombie authors.


1) Introduce Intrepid Hero, who is surrounded by a vast collection of firearms. Introduce each and every weapon, being careful to include Rates of Fire, Muzzle Velocity, and Favored Ammunition, you big sissy.

2) Add four to seven Secondary Characters. Sure, give them names, although descriptions such as 'Dies Screaming After Failing to Clean His Weapon' and 'Clueless Office Work Devoured Alive in Chapter 2' would probably work about as well.

3) Rescue the Love Interest without neglecting to maintain a count of rounds expended and providing graphic descriptions of exploding zombie craniums. Bonus points for spontaneous sex scene in gore-covered gun store.

4) Point Hero, Love Interest, and Band of Expendables toward some distant goal ("If we can make it to Disney's Epcot Center we can hide in that big dome thing!")

5) You need dramatic tension! Cue the Mindless Shambling Hordes. Pare down the Band of Expendables. Remember to include one coward who is bitten but conceals the injury until they turn and interrupt another sex scene in a gore-splattered gun shop.

6) Stop when the Hero and Love Interest, the only survivors of the journey, are thirty miles from Epcot. Because it's sequel time, baby!

I shouldn't laugh too hard. You see, once upon a time, long ago, I wrote my own zombie apocalypse thriller.

My hero was the owner of a gourmet foods grocery store which hadn't had its grand opening when the world falls apart. Marvin rides out the initial rising by locking himself in his half-stocked store. He isn't looted because his signage wasn't up yet and the windows were still covered, so he dines on expensive German sausages and a collection of middling good wines for three weeks.

No roaming the wastes with a steely glare and his trusty Mossberg G-17 tactical automatic shotgun with nuclear flash suppressor and custom 900 round magazine for my guy Marvin. Nope. In his defense, he does bravely manage to pair an inferior Cabernet with a suspect platter of imported Beluga caviar and live to tell the tale.

Marvin isn't alone, though. He lets an injured clerk from another store inside before anyone knew what being bitten means. When the clerk expires, Marvin locks the body in the store's office, and when the teenager reanimates, our hero keeps him there. Marvin even throws food into the office from time to time, and he talks to the zombie out of boredom. After weeks of that, the zombie starts throwing bits of food back to Marvin, and when the zombie does finally escape from the office, he dutifully goes about trying to stock the shelves, showing no interest in biting anyone.

Ultimately, Marvin and domesticated zombie 'Dude' set out across the wasteland -- but only after a fire destroys the strip mall.

Marvin and Dude. Part buddy movie, part road comedy, part apocalypse novel.

It really wasn't all that bad, looking back.

Maybe one day I'll open up a new Word file and start all over with it. I'll need a catchy title, something with the word 'dead' in it -- CLEAN-UP ON AISLE DEAD, maybe. Or DUDE OF THE DEAD. Perhaps even THE CHRONICLES OF MARVIN, BOOK 1: THE ROAD TO NEWARK.

I smell a TV tie-in!