Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween Giveaway and a FREE Book


Hi there, Esteemed Reader. As promised, the blog will get a little flaky from here to the holidays as I've got some deadlines to meet and my son is due to be born in December. Lots of changes are headed my way and rather than abandoning the blog as I've done in the past, I'm just going to slow it way down. I've got some fabulous literary agent interviews lined up for you and a couple wonderful writer interviews as well, but after I post those, I'm going to stop soliciting interviews for a time as I'm not sure when I'll return to regular posting. From now through to the new year, posting will be sparse.

I love this blog, but through the holidays I'm going to focus on preparing The And Then Story (actual title and cover to be revealed soon) for publication next year as well as finishing my new MG book. Oh, and that whole new baby thing:) I'll also be doing some guest posts and interviews elsewhere in the coming months and I'll be posting the links here. After years of helping writers promote their books, I've got some book promotion of my own to do.

The upside is publishers often send me books I'm not sure what to do with, so I'm going to give them to you. I've got two activity books: My Monster Bubble Writer by Linda Scott (perfect for the season) and The Super Book For Super-Heroes by Jason Ford. To win one of them, leave a comment on this post between now and Monday, November 4th. On Monday, I'll announce the winners and mail out the books.

Only two Esteemed Readers can win one of those books as I only have one copy of each, but you all win a copy of my book All Together Now: A Zombie Story, which will be available for free download all day tomorrow. After Halloween, the price returns to normal, and if you want me to tell you a scary story, you'll have to pay me:)

Here's some details about the books:

My Monster Bubblewriter Book is an activity book to inspire and encourage creativity with both words and drawing. It teaches children how to create cool hand lettering, using their imaginations to create crazy alphabets—from monster-inspired scripts to patchwork letters.

Along the way, members of the Bubblewriter Gang appear to show their own special monster alphabets and offer tips and hints throughout the book, including how to invent monster characters. It is monstrously good fun!

The Super Book for Super Heroes is a compendium of ideas, drawing, coloring, and activities that allows you to create your own crusaders for justice who do battle with super villains, unravelling their crazed schemes for taking over the world.

You will learn to draw villains such as the Mad Scientist, Bog Creature, and Evil Robot, while also creating superheroes, their sidekicks, secret hideouts, outfits, and super gadgets. And there are superpowers to discover – such as invisibility, super strength, speed, flight, heat vision, teleportation, and X-ray vision.

Fifteen-year-old Ricky Genero is writing a journal of the zombie apocalypse. His high school has burned to the ground, his friends are all either dead or shambling corpses roaming the earth in search of human flesh, and his best friend died saving his six-year-old brother Chuck from a zombie horde. When Chuck is bitten and infected with the zombie virus, Ricky must travel among the walking dead in search of a cure.

WARNING: This YOUNG ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. All Together Now: A Zombie Story is a gruesome, repugnant tale featuring horrific acts of violence sure to warp young minds.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Lara Perkins

Lara Perkins is an Associate Agent and Digital Manager at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She has been with the agency for over three years, working closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list.

Lara is a fan of smart and raw young adult fiction, character-driven middle grade fiction with a totally original, hilarious voice, and so-adorable-she-can't-stand-it picture books, preferably with some age-appropriate emotional heft. She's a sucker for a great mystery and is passionate about stories that teach her new things or open up new worlds. More than anything, she has a soft spot for the wonderfully weird, the idiosyncratic, and the entirely unexpected.

Recent deals, together with Laura Rennert, include Matthew Ward's middle grade novel, THE FANTASTIC FAMILY WHIPPLE, sold in a two book, six-figure deal to Razorbill, and P.J. Hoover's young adult novel, SOLSTICE, forthcoming with Tor Teen in June 2013.

Lara has a B.A. in English and Art History from Amherst College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, where she studied Victorian Brit Lit. In her pre-publishing life, she trained to be an architect, before deciding that books, not bricks, are her true passion. She spent over a year at the B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles before coming to Andrea Brown Literary.

And now Lara Perkins faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Three is a cruelly small number, which I'm sure everyone says! But here are three books that I return to a lot:
George Eliot's Middlemarch
Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game (my favorite book as a kid, tied with E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.)

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Movies: Hot Fuzz, Fritz Lang's M, and Lost in Translation. With an honorable mention for Vertigo

TV shows: Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Friday Night Lights. But after a hard day, I turn to Psych, which is total silliness...wonderful total silliness.  

(I'm pretending no one noticed that I snuck an extra title into each category.)


Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

I'm looking for an exceptionally talented writer, of course, which to me means a combination of a great ear for language, a honed sense of story and tension, a fearlessness both in writing towards pain/conflict and in revising, and an intelligent and compassionate curiosity about other people that's reflected on the page. Beyond that, my ideal client is dedicated, savvy, and a good communicator.  

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

For MG, I'm looking for compelling, unexpected mysteries like The Westing Game or When You Reach Me, stories set in clever, fascinating alternate worlds centered on lovable and unforgettable characters like The Golden Compass or The Graveyard Book, and voice-driven stories that hit home in their depiction of ending/changing friendships or family shifts, like Wonder or The One and Only Ivan

For YA, I'd be thrilled to find a heart-breaking, but at times very funny, voice-driven contemporary work, like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or The Fault in Our Stars. I love a bittersweet romance when it's solidly grounded in reality between believable, memorable characters, like Eleanor & Park. I'd love to find a character-driven fantasy with striking world-building, like The Scorpio Races or Seraphina. I’m definitely on the hunt for a page-turning psychological mystery. I love unreliable narrators, and I'd be delighted to find a Tana French-style mystery for teens. 

For picture books, I’m a big fan of quirky, deadpan, wry picture books, like This is Not My Hat or This Moose Belongs to Me. A lovable, intriguing, relatable main character is usually central for me in picture books, too. I’d also love to find an author/illustrator who uses unexpected materials or textures. Two of my very favorite picture books are Blackout and Me Want Pet, so I’m also drawn to books that take a small but universal experience of childhood and draw out something beautiful or hilarious in that experience.


Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I feel like I have the best job in the world, so a favorite thing is hard to pick. I love the process of discovering a new favorite author or illustrator, someone whose work I'm truly passionate about, and then advocating for them and helping shepherd their work out into the world. For a bookworm, what could be better?

A least favorite thing is tricky for the same reason, but I do wish I had the time to give detailed feedback on every query I receive. It's just not feasible, but I always wish it were. 


Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read widely in your category. Every great writer is also a great reader.  

Support other writers. It's fun and good karma. 

Start a new project or turn to another WIP when you send something out on submission. It will help distract you while you're waiting and help keep this one submission in perspective. 

Remember that patience and perseverance are as important as talent or skill. 

The writing always comes first, so stay connected with what you love about writing, whatever that is for you. 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

George Eliot (Marian Evans). She defied convention and expectations in so many ways, not least because she didn't start writing fiction until she was in her late 30s. Her work is imbued with so much philosophy and astute political thought, but it's also psychologically insightful and deeply compassionate. She communicates many different types of intelligence on the page;  I'd love to meet the person behind that literary brain.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

7 Questions For: Author S. L. Lipson

S.L. Lipson, in her own words:

My first "publication" was a hand-stapled, primitive graphic novel, co-written with two boy buddies in fifth grade, about an elephant with a camel's hump filled with a lemonade-like drink called "humphantajuice"--a big hit at school! Since then, I've published many articles, poems, and three books for kids, most recently THE SECRET IN THE WOOD, an ebook about two kids coping with the stress of moving while trying to figure out how to help a trapped tree fairy get unstuck from the wood panel of a bedroom wall.

I have worked in publishing as a magazine and manuscript editor, a children's encyclopedia article writer, and an associate literary agent. I now spend my nonwriting hours teaching writing to my favorite kind of people: kids! Since 1997, I have taught private and group writing workshops; school-site, enrichment writing workshops; and summer writing camps and lessons. I sometimes teach teachers, too, and help them with their classroom writing programs.

Communication with words is my favorite way of connecting with other people, and the reason I'm equally passionate about writing and teaching! Thank you for reading my books and leaving me your comments--I love to hear from my readers and know that we've connected!  

Click here to read my review of The Secret in the Wood.

And now S. L. Lipson faces the 7 Questions: 

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

The  only way I can answer this is to reframe the words  “favorite books” to the “books that most influenced me as a writer.” I hope that’s okay. I think those books would include:
The Giving Tree
Charlotte’s Web
Catcher in the Rye
To Kill a Mockingbird
(I know that’s 4, but I’m using the same excuse I give to my private writing students when they ask if I can tutor them in math, too: I stink at math!)

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I write for 5-6 hours a day, but my pages aren’t always part of a book manuscript; mostly I’m dividing my time between blog posts, lesson materials, critiques, pithy phrases for my social media followers, poems that nag me to put them on paper, songs, and--when I’m really focused, and my dogs are behaving--one of the many novels-in-progress that call me to my keyboard. I read for 5-6 hours a day, too; and again, that time is divided between books (mainly novels), news articles, blogs and emails, and the writings by my students.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

My agent suddenly quit his agency, leaving me without representation, and after waiting so long to find him, I was very discouraged. My dear friends, Jennifer and Bob, had experience with self-publishing Bob’s first book (he’s now a best-selling business book author), and they suggested that I stop waiting for other people to launch my career and launch it myself by self-publishing Knock on Wood. I never expected that the path to publication would branch off into the path of teaching writing as much as I do today! And then that teaching path led to my second published book, Writing Success Through Poetry, a text for students and teachers of writing.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I believe that writing ability is not innate, nor is it taught. Writing ability is an evolutionary process, catalyzed by a love of reading, fostered by an environment that encourages creative thinking and experimentation, and shaped—but not created—by teachers who empower, enlighten, and enrich the evolving writer.  I was not born a writer, but have become one. Writers, like our manuscripts, are works-in-progress.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about writing is hearing from people who have been moved by my words and then quote them back at me! Obviously, the people I’m referring to are often kids; however, once I had the extraordinary pleasure of hearing from one of my favorite YA authors, Jay Asher, who called me with glowing feedback about the opening pages of my YA-novel-in-progress and read my own words aloud to me on the phone, saying, “I loved this line especially…oh, AND this one, too….” That definitely epitomizes my favorite thing about writing!
My least favorite thing is receiving form-letter rejections after months of waiting for a reply from an agent or editor, without any indication that anyone in the office even read my work.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

As my tree fairy character, Althea, would say, “Honor the trees who gave their lives for the paper on which your words travel; honor their strength with your strongest word choices, their beauty with your richest imagery, and their deep roots with your most memorable phrases.” And if you write only on computers and publish only online and on ereaders…well, in that case, honor the energy of the natural world that makes the virtual world possible!

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

E.B. White. He is one of my role models as a children’s author, and wrote about writing, as I do; plus, I will forever call all spiders “Charlotte” because of him. We would NOT eat any bacon at our lunch, either.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book of the Week: THE SECRET IN THE WOOD by S. L. Lipson

First Paragraph(s): Tears welled up in Sara’s big, green eyes as she gazed out her bedroom window at the tall pine tree grove. The trees—her trees—waved their branches to and fro, slowly, sadly. It looked as if they were waving goodbye. Home just wasn’t the same now that she was moving. 

She imagined the branches reaching out toward her. The soft pine needles stroked her coppery-red hair off her forehead, like a mother soothing her. The wind whistled through the branches, “Shh, shh, shh, t’sokay, t’sokay....”

In some ways, those two opening paragraphs tell the story of The Secret in the Wood. Not too many ways, of course, or S. L. Lipson wouldn't have written the full book:) But if you're looking for tips on writing a great opening, you could do worse than to take a page out of this book.

The first sentence presents immediate conflict because Sara's in tears. I'll wager readers will at least make it to the end of the page to find out why she's crying and by then most will be hooked. More, the well-written description of Sara's imagining branches reaching out to her will assure readers that we're in the hands of a capable word smith who's not going to let us down. Finally, the image of trees soothing a girl is pretty much a micro version of the full story, setting the tone, even if there are some important details yet to come.

Meet 10-year-old Sara Connor. She's one day going to give birth to the leader of the human resistance during "the rise of the machines." But for now she's in love with her room and terrified to lose it. And something strange and magical is hiding in her wooden wall. No, not a cyborge sent from the future to terminate her. Instead, a relatively even-tempered tree fairy:

Suddenly, she detected a slight movement on the wall. A bug? 
No, it wasn’t a movement on the wood, but rather, within the wood. Weird! A rippling movement—kind of like when she’d throw pebbles into puddles. A pattern of rings formed within the knot. It looked like a tiny, lovely woman’s face. The woman’s long-lashed eyes seemed to blink at her. 
Nah! Sara told herself. I must’ve just blinked my own eyes. That's it. Of course... 
But those long-lashed eyes grew rounder. They stared directly at Sara.

As is usually the case in middle grade land, the imaginary being that our child protagonist encounters is a proxy for her own id. Sara's got some issues to work out and like Elliott hashing out his parent's divorce with his alien pal, Sara's going to accept the changing nature of her life through the help of a tree fairy named Althea. Specifically, Sara has to accept she and her mother have to move from their home now that her father has died:

Mom had been very picky about everything being in its place when home-buyers visited. “Clutter makes rooms seem smaller, Sara,” was Mom’s favorite line these days. Secretly Sara imagined herself dumping all of her drawers onto the counters and floors. She would rather make the house look as small as possible to discourage anyone from buying it. But she knew a sale was important to Mom. With Dad gone, Mom couldn’t afford to keep this house anymore. “Oh Daddy,” Sara whispered to herself, looking in the bathroom mirror, “this was our house.” Sighing deeply, she moved the hand lotion, her bag of hairbands, and her toothpaste into the cupboard under the sink. 

If you don't feel for Sara, Esteemed Reader, you have no heart:) I liked Sara straight away and you will too. Soon she meets the boy who's going to be living in her room. Of course, she hates him, but before the novel's end she and Johnathan are working together along with Althea to a conclusion likely to warm your heart.

Of particular note is the way Althea's back-story mirrors Sara's own, making her the perfect proxy for this situation and this story:

 “No, you couldn’t. No one does.” She hugged her knees to her chest. 
“Then call me ‘No One’, because I truly do know. You see, I didn’t merely fall asleep and then suddenly awaken to find myself on the wall of your room. Actually, the last thing I recall was being in my tree, within my cozy grove, among my fairy friends. All of us were happy in our trees, all of us happy to be part of Moriah’s fairy kingdom.” Althea frowned and shut her eyes. “And the last voice I heard was King Moriah’s, shouting, ‘Flee, fairies, flee! The lumberjacks are here! Our homes are no longer ours! Remember what I told you and don’t look back! Flee...’ His voice was drowned out by a horrible whirring sound and a crash of wood. I’ll never forget it.” The lady’s face shook, shuddered, and then she continued, “Everyone fled for greener groves, I suppose. Everyone, that is, except me.”
“You mean you stayed while they were cutting down your forest? You stayed with your tree, alone?”
“Yes, Sara. I couldn’t bear to leave my comfortable home. I was, well, stubborn, I suppose. And foolish, for now I have no tree, only a slice of one nailed to a human family’s wall.” 

Originally, The Secret in the Wood was published as Knock on Wood, a print book sold with a set of magic sight glasses. When worn, the glasses revealed hidden details in the illustrations. In the ebook, The Secret in the Wood, readers need only tap their device to reveal the hidden details in each picture, which I quite enjoyed. At the end of the book is sheet music for "Dance of the Trees" as well as a link to S. L. Lipson's website to hear a recording of it. 

These types of innovations make me excited as an ebook reader and as an ebook writer. Gimmicks are rarely welcome, but hidden objects within an illustration are fun and appropriate to this book, which is very much about shifting one's perspective. I also pay extra to watch movies in 3D. It's fun and I'm looking forward to see what sorts of enhancements ebook writers continue to come up with. 
As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from The Secret in the Wood:

The girl in the glass looked fuzzy, like an old painting, her freckles hardly visible.

Magic had definitely arrived! 

“Friends can be found, but not recognized until a sharing of emotions takes place. Then we say we’ve made a new friend, when in fact, the friend had already been given to us. We are all like specks of dust, swirling around each other, bumping into each other, settling down together—all at the whim of a heavenly breeze.”
Althea chuckled like a brook on a summer day.
Time flies when you’re in fairyland!

“I know you told me that ‘amoré’ means ‘love’ in Italian. But what does it mean here—” she pointed at the song sheet—“when they say ‘when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amoré’? Why would love be like getting hit in the eye? And how could the moon hit your eye anyway?” 

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn't happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Linda Epstein

Linda Epstein joined The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in 2011. Before that she read manuscripts and queries at Folio Literary Management, was Submissions Manager at the McVeigh Agency, and interned at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency and Meryl Zegarek Public Relations. She was also a Community Relations Manager at Barnes and Noble. Linda co-edits The New York Bookwoman, newsletter of the New York chapter of the Women's National Book Association. She's a frequent speaker at conferences all over the country but as a native New Yorker her breath is still taken away every time she sees the New York City skyline.

The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency is a New York City-based full-service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer’s Digest. The agency represents children’s literature for all ages – picture books and middle-grade and young adult novels – but also represents high-quality adult fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of genres. The categories we are most enthusiastic about agenting are literary and commercial fiction; mysteries, thrillers, celebrity biographies; humor; psychology and self-help; parenting; health and fitness; women’s issues; men’s issues; pop culture; film and television; social issues and contemporary affairs.

Follow Linda on Twitter @LindaEpstein and subscribe to her blog, The Blabbermouth Blog

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.
And now Linda Epstein faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I couldn't possibly pick three favorite books! I've had different favorites for different reasons at different times of my life. I'll give you my top kid lit picks for right now though. For picture books I adore the book WESLANDIA by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick, 1999). I love it because when my son was a little boy we read it a gazillion times and talked about it and imagined and dreamed and then read it again and again. 

Last year I was blown away by the middle grade book THE PECULIAR by Stefan Bachmann (Greenwillow, 2012). So interesting, quirky, imaginative, dark yet not depressing. It was so well done! 

And for YA I believe it's required by law for me to state my adoration of OPENLY STRAIGHT (Arthur A. Levine, 2013) by my client Bill Konigsberg. Besides being a fabulous and funny book to read, I'm so proud to have had a part in its publication. And of course I'm a huge Harry Potter fan because... well, you know... it's Harry Potter!    

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows? 

Oh my. Again, I've had different television favorites at different times of my life. Some television shows I'm fond of right now are Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and Orange is the New Black. I'm afraid True Blood jumped the vampire fairy shark this past season. And of course then there's Sherlock, Call the Midwife, and Downton Abbey. Oh! There's also always Battlestar Gallactica and every single Star Trek series. (Sorry, I just can't pick.)

Movies? Well of course the Harry Potter movies and the first three Star Wars movies. The Princess Bride and Young Frankenstein are standards in my family. And then in recent years I really liked Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (but what writer wouldn't?!). And Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I used to really like those Merchant-Ivory Howard's End/Room with a View kind of movies. And there are quite a few RomComs that are favorites (Something About Mary and Along Came Polly come to mind). Yeah, I can't really choose.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Of course being a terrific writer! But after that: smart, prolific, collaborative and patient. Having a good sense of humor doesn't hurt either.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I like to receive queries for manuscripts that make me throw everything else aside, where I tap my foot waiting for the full manuscript to come in and then stay up all night reading it, and then I'm sad when it's over and it sells quickly for a bucket full of money!

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite thing about being an agent is getting that email with an offer! There's almost nothing better than that, except perhaps calling my client and telling them about it! 

My least favorite thing is not being able to sell a manuscript that I love and that I think is terrific. It's so disheartening because I know other people would like reading them (I can even imagine the lively book group discussions).

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

My one bit of wisdom is not to aspire to being a writer, just write. Writing is creating art and I believe writers should remember they're artists. Aspiring to getting published is a different thing though. Publishing is business. I think remembering that those are separate things when sitting down in front of a blank screen or piece of paper is the healthiest thing one can do to keep writing and keep honing one's craft.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

I'd like to have lunch with Kurt Vonnegut. I could probably write a book explaining the reasons why he would be my choice

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Afterword for ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY Part Three: Thoughts On God

WARNING: This Young ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. It is a gruesome, repugnant tale sure to warp young minds. Seriously.

The following is a three-part Afterword for All Together Now: A Zombie Story (you could probably read the actual book in less time). I'm going to keep it mostly spoiler-free, but I am going to discuss writing, theme, and some of the choices I made. If you haven't read the book, this might be more interesting after you have. You can get the first 14 chapters free here.

My own religious views don't matter. As I've said, this story doesn't belong to me anymore, it's yours. It's impolite to discuss religion and politics, but if an author is going to be polite, why bother:) Even so, I wouldn't discuss religion at all if it weren't so prominently featured in All Together Now: A Zombie Story.

Perhaps you'll find it interesting to know that I very much believe in God (or perhaps you checked out during the first part of this ridiculously extended afterword and don't care). The older I get, the more I believe in something greater in the universe beyond ourselves. I've read Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and Christopher Hitchens, and they're all very smart guys. Hitchens, in particular, wrote and spoke in a manner that makes me long for such an apt capability in my own work (not likely).

I'm aware of many of the arguments against the existence of God and they're intelligent and well thought-out and make sense to me. I'd feel smarter endorsing them. But I've had brushes in this short life of mine with the divine, things that could to others be written off as coincidence, superstition, and an unsoundness of mind (common in writers). I was taught from infancy there was a God to see, so I went looking, and I've seen evidence of Her existence and felt His presence. To me, the atheist view that the world is spiritually flat and there is nothing beyond the tangible doesn't hold water. Of course, I also believe in UFO's, so you're welcome to disagree:)

I don't have any special knowledge of the afterlife. It will either be a surprise or there won't be a me to know there isn't one, and I sure can't tell you with any certainty whether God's name is Jesus or Mohamed or Walter or George or Madame Rosita (please let it be that). I'm wary of folks who make such claims.

I've always loved the story of the elephant as a metaphor for the world's religions: 7 blind men from 7 villages are gathered in secret to learn about a great beast. Each man is allowed to feel a different part of the elephant, then they're sent back to their villages to tell of what they felt. The 7 men tell the people 7 very different stories about the same beast, and they're all telling a different version of the same truth. The moral of the story: if you want to know what an elephant looks like, don't send a blind guy. Google it:)

I set my zombie apocalypse in a small Indiana town because I was once a teenager in a small Indiana town. Zombies are a lie, so I tried to tell the truth of the setting by writing what I know. And I'm telling you dead people rising doesn't happen in a small Indiana town without involving a church or two and a Wal-Mart. 

I grew up in the church and I appreciate it. The folks who brought me up were kind and friendly and they kept me from turning out to be a total jerk. I have fond memories of mountain backpacking with Christians, spelunking, going to church camp, and eating homemade meals at my minister's table. He and his wife are awesome. If I have one fear in publishing this book it's that old Sunday school teachers of mine will read it and think I don't appreciate the hard work they put into raising me. I love them and I'll forever be grateful for their kindness and decency. 

But I remember reading Pet Semmetary on a long bus ride home from a missions trip and being told to put it away and instead read the Bible. Later, I was again told to put down a nonfiction book of science and instead focus on a book of magical fairy tales. I was forced to sing songs programming me to think and act in a way deemed acceptable by others, and told horrific tales of hell way scarier than anything I've written to frighten me into submission.

And I got off light. I had friends who were treated in unspeakable ways in the name of God. My family donates to Indiana Youth Group, an organization that provides shelter to LGBT kids who've been kicked out of their homes, usually for religious reasons. Religion is capable of turning parents against their own children in the name of interpreting the will of God, and any social tool with that kind of power should be approached with caution and skepticism. 

I've said this novel is about my own fears and I likely wouldn't have written it if it weren't. I've published this book now for two reasons: 

1. I'm about to be a father and later I may lack the nerve to publish the daycare center stuff:) Thinking of how I might raise a child to adulthood has had me rethinking the manner in which I was raised. 

2. I'm afraid I'm nearly completely conformed and zombified.

Teenage Rob was certain I'd have set the world on fire by now with my storytelling, but it hasn't happened. After graduation, I had to get a job. It sucked, so I went to college and got a better job. I met the most wonderful woman in the world and we're having a child and would you look at that: I'm a conformed adult. 

I work hard every day doing something I enjoy, but it's not what I most want to do. I have to feed my family and that dictates much of how I behave and very little of my life is about choice. I'm doing what I have to do, which is how conformed adults roll (I have people I love and that makes it worth doing).

But this book is in the world. It exists and can be read. As Ricky says:

     When I finish this chapter, I'm going to post this journal online so it can never be destroyed. No matter what happens to me, my story is intact and waiting to be read. I'm in these pages and can never be destroyed.

This concludes the longest, most indulgent afterword a book ever had:)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

An Afterword for ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY Part Two: What's It All About?

WARNING: This Young ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. It is a gruesome, repugnant tale sure to warp young minds. Seriously.

The following is a three-part Afterword for All Together Now: A Zombie Story (you could probably read the actual book in less time). I'm going to keep it mostly spoiler-free, but I am going to discuss writing, theme, and some of the choices I made. If you haven't read the book, this might be more interesting after you have. You can get the first 14 chapters free here.

Halfway through writing All Together Now: A Zombie Story, I realized the book was very much about my own fears (of course) and that was when I decided to publish it no matter what. Allow me to elaborate:

Something that's always struck me about zombies is that they are unique among the most famous monsters. If a vampire bites you, but doesn't kill you, you become a vampire. Oh no! You'll have to live forever with super powers and a sexy, enchanting charisma. Oh the humanity! If a werewolf bites you, you become a mostly unstoppable super-powered human able to hulk out. True, you may be sad and whiny afterward and walk away from the camera hitchhiking as sad music plays, but you'll mostly be okay.

If a zombie bites you, you lose yourself. There is nothing desirable about becoming a walking corpse, no longer in control of your own thoughts or actions because you're dead. When a zombie bites you, you become like every other zombie, indistinguishable from the horde. And more likely than not, you're pretty gross:

     "Mr. Goodwin?" I said. "Are you—"
     All right was how I meant to finish, but when I turned to face him, I saw he was the furthest from all right any of us will ever be.
     He was dead.
     Had to be.
     The bearded right side of his face was the same as ever, but the left half ended in ragged patches of skin and hair where the flesh from his cheek to his ear had been torn away along with a good chunk of forehead and scalp.
     There were spongy layers of skin covering his skull, but I could see parts of it as well as the bottom curve of his eyeball which must've rolled back in its socket. It was milky white from beginning to end.
     I swore and leapt to my feet.
     Mr. Goodwin's mouth opened and I could see what was left of his facial muscles working.

Identifying that a fear of zombies is in part a fear of conformity is hardly ground-breaking stuff. But I haven't seen it presented elsewhere in quite the same way I've done it. Some of you may remember me bugging Courtney Summers to write This Is Not A Test after I flipped for her incredible YA novel Cracked Up To Be. When I learned she loved zombies, I immediately saw the potential of a teenage zombie novel and she'd be the perfect YA writer to tackle it, not a middle grade ninja like me.

Thankfully, Courtney had her own unique take on zombies that's very different from and likely better than my own. Her book is mostly about people and their emotional landscapes, mine is mostly about zombies and their landscapes being strewn with blood and guts. But the idea of a teenage zombie novel haunted me until I had to write this book.

After all, who has more reason to fear conformity than a teenager? Adults have mostly made their peace with the compromise we all have to make. But toward the end of high school, many teens begin to realize that the years they've spent in the education system have socialized them. The purpose of school is to mold and build young minds, to transform unruly children to civilized adults capable of interacting in our society. To prepare them to get up for an 8-hour day and do what someone else tells them (in the words of Pink Floyd, "hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!").

To join a group is to conform. Being a part of society usually means food and security in exchange for behaving in certain ways, unless of course the townsfolk accuse you of being a witch, the Nazi party creates propaganda against you, or the wealthy decide to enslave or imprison you, etc.

Teenagers are invincible and never going to become their parents. But underneath their boasts is a fear resulting from the knowledge that the larger political body of adults surrounding them, like a horde of zombies, will eventually assimilate them. Conformity is as inevitable as adulthood.

Teens will have to work jobs, they will have to stand in line at the BMV, they will have to attend social functions, they will have to pay taxes, they will have to obey the law or face the consequences, some of them will go to war, and on, and on, and on. They will become something like their parents, and in America, where social mobility is at an all time low, they will probably work similar jobs and live in similar homes as their parents. They'll have children of their own and raise them to be the next generation of the same.

As much as I could without getting in the way of the story (I hope), I've tried to reinforce this theme throughout All Together Now: A Zombie Story. In my view, the teenage years involve being smart enough to realize one is being socialized, but usually not clever enough to stop the process (at least, I wasn't).  Not all high schools say the pledge of allegiance in the morning anymore, but you can bet the students in my book do:)

A theme inevitably emerges in a novel, whatever the author's intentions, and I believe it's best when done deliberately and as minimally as possible. You know you've gone too far if John Galt gives a 60-page speech (never pass up an opportunity to stick it to Ayn Rand). Too much of a good thing leads to preaching rather than storytelling, which is what the reader is paying you to do. So I tried to keep passages like this one to a minimum:

     When we reached the intersection of Kirkman Avenue and Harrington Street, I turned left, but not before I saw the courthouse. Its exterior was limestone and mostly still standing, though chunks of it had fallen to the lawn.
     But its inside was burned out, leaving a husk of what had been: a building that should be ashes but somehow still stood.

Ending a book with a metaphoric house collapsing is all good and well for Annie Prouxl, but I'm just not that deep or that precious. My protagonist has a clear cut goal: Ricky Genero has to get his zombie brother to Kirkman's soda plant where he's been told the CDC is developing a cure. Many of the events of the story are geared toward motivating Ricky to make something right in a world where so much has gone wrong until the reader (hopefully) believes Ricky will stop at nothing to find the cure for his little brother. As the population has become living dead, literally everyone is trying to kill Ricky and stop him from accomplishing his goal. Zombie stories write themselves:)

I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. I know there's an anti-social streak in zombie readers (and writers) and part of the reason we love zombie stories is the inherent promise of grotesque violence. If a zombie story is to aspire to meaning and thematic concern, it first has to deliver on the promise of blunt entertainment. If the reader isn't emotionally invested in Ricky and his journey, they're never going to care enough to ponder what the story "means." So before I can concern myself with anything else, I have to fork over the goods and do my best to deliver on the promise of the premise:

     A dead girl lurched from the side of the bleachers, blocking our path to the exit. A flap of skin had been peeled back from above her right eye to the top of her skull. The flesh of her stomach and side from her armpit to her jeans had been ripped away. She moaned and reached for us.
     Ben gave her a wide berth, but he couldn't reach the exit door without touching her.
     The snarling behind us grew louder, closer.
     "Please move," I said.
     The girl cocked her head and stepped toward me, her lips drawing back to expose her teeth, and I knew she didn't understand. She was beyond understanding
     "Move," I said, flinching.
     I glanced back at the approaching corpses and did what I had to. I swung my bat into the girl's face as hard as I could.
     She fell over with a screeching thump on the glazed hardwood floor.
     "I'm sorry."
     The left side of her face was now mangled and bleeding where I'd struck her, but the girl started to stand again anyway.
     "I'm so sorry." My hands were trembling so badly it's a wonder I didn't drop my bat.

I've said my piece and probably too much, so that's where we'll leave it. Except, I can't write an afterword for this book and not address religion. Was there ever an instrument of propaganda and social conformity more powerful than the church? Religion is more dangerous than a loaded gun and more impacting than a nuclear blast.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Afterword for ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY Part One: How and Why I Wrote It

WARNING: This Young ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. It is a gruesome, repugnant tale sure to warp young minds. Seriously.

The following is a three-part Afterword for All Together Now: A Zombie Story (you could probably read the actual book in less time). I'm going to keep it mostly spoiler-free, but I am going to discuss writing, theme, and some of the choices I made. If you haven't read the book, this might be more interesting after you have. You can get the first 14 chapters free here.

This isn't an explanation for or defense of my novel. I believe a story either stands on its own or it doesn't, and no amount of supplemental material changes that. But I do run this blog about writing in which I discuss technique and I'm never going to have as firm a grip on why something was done in a story as when I'm discussing my own work.

That being said, my interpretation is probably not the most valid or reliable. Whatever you think the book is about is absolutely right. This story was mine for a time and I loved it dearly, but now it's out in the world and it belongs to you, Esteemed Reader.

Let's start at the beginning

Before I created this blog about children's literature, I wanted to be Stephen King (still do). For the four years of this blog I've read and wrote mostly middle grade books, trying to bury my dark side. But all the while it was festering and growing ravenous until I apparently could not contain it. How else am I to explain the existence of this mean-spirited book on a shelf of my otherwise good-natured stories about adventures with robots and talking animals (all soon to be available)?

If you read this blog regularly, Esteemed Reader, you know I love zombies. Other than Batman, a zombie apocalypse is my favorite thing to read about. For years, I toyed with the idea of writing a middle grade zombie book, which is why soda is the cause of my zombie apocalypse (my very own!). 

Ordinarily, I wouldn't waste time with an explanation for the zombie apocalypse unless the zombies were realistic--infected humans rather than walking corpses. As my zombies are supernatural, there isn't a truly convincing explanation I can offer for them, so why bother? 

Because the crux of my tale revolves around a possible cure for zombie-ism. In order for my heroes to speculate there might be a cure for zombies, they have to know the cause. If zombies simply rise up from the grave and attack, no one would suspect a cure-able disorder.

I figure soda is poison marketed to children by insidious profiteers who are traitors among us (not to take an extreme position). Children and especially teenagers drink soda, they become obese, jittery, overly-emotional, violent, and so on. For me, it's a short trip from that to child zombie. As I'm still paying for dental bills resulting from the soda that was marketed to me and made available at my school, I have an ax to grind with big soda. 

I didn't take my story idea serious until I came up with the perfect zombies-don't-suck-you-suck ending. This is my brother's shorthand for the big scene at the end of most zombie stories where the storyteller creates a metaphor for why human society is actually worse than zombies--see Night of the Living Dead

For example, at the end of 28 Days Later, when Jim has killed a bunch of people for the "right reasons" and he's coated in blood and Selena has a gun pointed at him, uncertain whether Jim is a violent infected or still human because she can't see a difference, one can almost hear director Danny Boyle shouting, "Human beings are violent jerks, infected or not. Zombies don't suck. You suck!"

Having my ending in mind dictated my theme and style. I don't care that a protagonist writing a journal of the zombie apocalypse is more than a bit played out, so are zombies, and readers haven't yet seen my protagonist write a journal of my zombie apocalypse. A first-person account keeps an epic tale contained and frees me from the obligation to relay how the apocalypse is effecting all the people who aren't this one kid.

So I decided to tell the story of 11-year-old Ricky traveling amongst the dead in search of a cure for his six-year-old zombie brother Chuck. It would be a somewhat grim story, I thought, but still appropriate for young readers as my zombies would be only playfully scary.

But my dark side saw his chance to come out and play. I was writing horror, after all. Three chapters in Mr. Hyde shoved Dr. Jekyll aside and wrote this:

     I heard muffled thumping. There were two corpses pounding on the windshield from inside the truck.
     "They're out of food," Levi said.
     When I looked where he was pointing I felt faint and my vision clouded with black spots. If this had happened a week ago, I would've thrown up. But I've seen a lot since then.
     At first I could see only the zombies lying on the roof of the truck's cab, Mommy and Daddy. Both of them had the dark rimmed, all-white eyes of the dead, sunken because the pale grey skin surrounding them had gone lax and hung off their skulls like dough.
     Mommy was wearing a blue summer dress, stained maroon all down the front. Daddy had broken his neck and his head lolled on his shoulder. An unnatural bulge protruded beneath his jaw and stretched the skin there to near bursting.
     Then I saw what Levi meant by "food."
     Hanging upside down behind Mommy and Daddy was a car seat. It was still strapped in, despite the seat belt straps on either side having been gnawed through.
     The soft grey lining of the car seat was stained red and black and covered in flecks of skin and hair.

I remember staring at the page, stunned. Where were my kid-friendly middle-grade zombies? I highlighted the passage and my finger hovered over 'delete.' Then I remembered reading Beautiful by Amy Reed and The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Those wild ladies got away with everything in young adult and I wasn't even writing about sex (for shame!). I was writing about graphic violence (understandable and perfectly acceptable), so my book would totally pass if I made it about teenagers. Ricky became 15-years-old instead of 11, problem solved.

Then this happened: 

     When Levi ran out of names to call the dead girl, he stomped her head.
     His aim was off. Instead of crushing her skull, he broke her jaw.
     Her lips slid crooked. Still she made no noise and when she flopped over I saw why: her throat had been torn out and probably her voice box as well.
     Levi raised his leg and her one hand seized his ankle.
     Her fingers stayed clasped as Levi stomped her twice more, but released on the third stomp when her face caved in like a rotten jack-o'-lantern.
     Her arm dropped and lay still.
     Levi spit on her and put his cigarette out in the mashed all-white goo of her eye socket.
     When his eyes met mine, he looked embarrassed as though I'd caught him behind the counter with a dirty magazine. "I hate those things."

After that, I abandoned all pretense of playing nice, as evidenced by a later scene at a daycare center. I decided to just go for it and when I went too far (and I did) my writer's group, my agent, and my wife would remind me there was a good chance my mother might read this book.

In this way, writing All Together Now: A Zombie Story freed me in a way nothing else could. What had started as a just-for-fun-between-projects exercise became an obsession. For years I'd been writing for the market, thinking of what editors and publishers might respond to, but now I was writing a story for no other reason than I wanted it to exist.

I focused on character and action and for a time, that was all. In order for readers to care about Ricky and Chuck being chased by zombies, they have to care about Ricky and Chuck. I spent a lot of time thinking of who they were and decided to make them products of a broken home so they'd have their own issues and conflicts that could fill a novel even if the zombie apocalypse didn't break out.

A trend I've noticed since writing this blog is that the majority of authors of MG and YA are female. I don't think it's coincidence that in most of the divorce stories I've read, the cause of the divorce is more frequently the father. Sometimes the child protagonist comes to realize their mother was right all along and her ex-husband really is a jerk. As wonderful as my own mother is, I promised myself if I ever wrote about a broken family, I'd strike a blow for the men and tip the scales back a bit. So I let Mom have it:)

As I was putting all that together, I had a sudden revelation about what had happened to Chuck to make him a zombie. The scene of Chuck's death and rebirth came to me whole and intact. In a flash, I understood what my novel was about and why I had to write it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book of the Week: ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY by Robert Kent
WARNING: This weeks' Young ADULT novel is mean and nasty and intended for a mature audience. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers. It is a gruesome, repugnant tale sure to warp young minds. Seriously.

First Paragraph(s): I'M NOT A BAD WRITER, but I'm amazing with a baseball bat, which is why I'm still alive to write this.
     I get mostly A's in English, or at least I did before the school burned down. Two summers ago my short story "Raccoon Avenger" was published in the Harrington Herald.
     I just wanted you to know this story isn't going to suck.
     It might suck.
     I'm not exactly writing it under ideal circumstances. We don't dare turn on a flashlight. I'm writing this by moonlight on the floor so they won't see me through the windows.

That's right, Esteemed Reader. I picked my own book as the Book of the Week. Make sure you come back next week when I'll be giving myself the most handsome blogger award:) 

Obviously, I'm not actually going to review my own book, but that's okay. As I (almost) never comment on a book's shortcomings, I don't really review books here anyway. I talk about writing and advertise authors. Usually I tell you about a book's story and fumble around guessing why the author made some of the choices they did. 

Well, this week I don't have to guess. This is the one book about which I can tell you exactly why the author made the choices he did (unknowable subconscious motivations aside). I can even tell you the author started every writing session on this book listening to Johnny Cash sing "I See a Darkness" because it helped, ya know, see the darkness:) I can't tell you if the author made the right choices or if the book works--that's not for me to say. But obviously, I love this book. It's a story I crafted with you in mind, Esteemed Reader, because I thought you'd like it.

Actually, you might not like it. I have no doubt there will be readers who find this book offensive and disturbing, and hopefully, it is. My worst nightmare is someone reading my entire story and having no reaction. I want your heart. I want the reader to laugh, cry, hate me, be mortified, be offended--anything but passive indifference. I want your heart:

     Levi and I flanked him.
     I had my lucky baseball bat, but Levi carried an axe, so I let him take the first swing, and the second, both aimed at the thing's legs. The blows were intended to disarm (disleg?) rather than kill.
     The zombie crumpled to his knees, his white eyes never leaving my face, his craven moan never changing pitch, his one remaining arm stretched toward me.
     Levi hacked at that arm and I swung my metal bat straight into the zombie's forehead, like hitting a baseball off a batting tee.
     Though the bottom half of his one arm now hung by the thin membrane of skin Levi hadn't severed, the zombie still had both biceps raised toward me.
     I brought the bat down again. When I raised it, it was covered in the same blackish red that sprayed from his head in a fine mist.
     The zombie convulsed.
     I swung the bat one last time and when it connected, the thing's skull made a loud cracking sound like an ice-weighted branch snapping. The impact traveled up the bat and stung my hands.
     The zombie went limp and silent.
     Levi wiped his axe on his purple "New Life Christian Church" T-shirt, then dropped it to his side and kept walking.
     I should've kept walking, but I didn't.
     Maybe it was the clothes the zombie was wearing: brown slacks, a blue and black striped polo shirt, and black dress shoes, as though he'd been at a church supper. Maybe it was the wedding band on his left hand.
     I knelt beside the corpse and rooted in his pocket until I found his wallet.
     According to his license, this man had been Gary Boyer. He had four credit cards, a gym membership, and a photo from his human days. He was standing with a woman, two small children, and Donald Duck in front of that giant golf ball in Epcot.
     "Are you coming?" Michelle asked as she passed.
     I couldn't speak just then, so I dropped the wallet and got to my feet.

Fifteen-year-old Ricky Genero is writing a journal of the zombie apocalypse. His high school has burned to the ground,  most everyone he's ever known is either dead or a shambling corpse roaming the earth in search of human flesh, and his best friend died saving his six-year-old brother Chuck from a zombie horde. When Chuck is bitten and infected with the zombie virus, Ricky must travel among the walking dead in search of a cure.

Originally, the title of the book was simply A Zombie Story. Don't try to church it up, Kent, I told myself. I wanted a straightforward tale about zombies that would be the book I wanted to read if someone else had written it. As a long-time zombie fan, I wanted standard-issue, slow-moving dead people that follow all the traditional tropes of the genre, and I wanted to take them seriously.

Also, for me there's no sneaky calling them "infected," "frenzied," "walkers,"  "unconsecrated," or any of those other fancy words authors use when they're pretending to discuss something more highbrow than zombies. I'm not re-inventing the wheel here and no one's going to give me an award for originality, but I do feel I was able to work within genre to bring readers some fresh ideas about zombies I haven't read elsewhere. For Ricky, zombies are in the world for the first time, but for the reader, I'm painting fresh blood on an old corpse:)

There's a theme that emerges in the tale and a metaphor for social life and plenty of symbolism and satire, and that stuff is all good and well, but I did my best to keep it contained and to keep it light instead of heavy. I wrote that stuff for the second read, assuming anyone bothers. Your first time through, Esteemed Reader, I don't want your brain. I want your heart. That other stuff is meant to haunt the reader later when the book is done and it's time to try and sleep--it's philosophical horror:)

The book is meant to be a fast, fun read. For this reason, the chapters of All Together Now: A Zombie Story are short as is the book (around 200-250 pages, depending on format) and the pace is mostly frantic:

     At least this will be a short book. There are only 300 pages in this journal and there's a good chance I won't live long enough to fill them all. So if this story should just stop somewhere in the middle, you'll know I didn't make it.
     Or maybe I lost this journal. Let's hope it's that.

First and foremost, I want to show Esteemed Reader a good time. There is no shortage of people being chased and killed and most of the book is devoted to scenes like this one:

     "They'll pass," I whispered. "We wait."
     But they didn't sound like they were passing. I could hear their steps on the cement outside as they shambled past the gas pumps.
     I wanted to lift my head to the glass, peek out just enough to see what they were up to, but I kept my cheek pressed to the cold tile floor.
     They moaned in unison, the sound of each harmonizing with the moans of the others so I couldn't tell if the moans were coming from three zombies, or five, or ten. All I knew for sure is they were on the other side of the door.
     At first I thought it was the sound of a gun, but then it happened again, just above me.
     "Sh—" Michelle slapped a hand to Levi's mouth before he could say more.
     A corpse's palm smacked against the window glass, fell away, and smacked again.
     A second hand smacked the glass, closer to the entrance. Then a third hand started on the other side of the door, so all three hands were smacking in unison.
     Michelle bit the fingers on her left hand, but in her right hand our one gun was trained on the glass.
     I tightened my grip on my bat.
     WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!!
     The glass wavered, rippling with each smack, but didn't break.
     WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!! WHAM!!!

All Together Now: A Zombie Story contains some sexual content, references to drug use, and a whole bunch of zombie violence (some of it set in a daycare center).  There's absolutely no swearing (in a book about fear of conformity, the language conforms), but I wouldn't let my kid read it. If you take nothing else away from this "review," know that this is a story for adults and teenagers who've already seen worse on television.

Obviously, I have more to say about this book. We haven't even touched on the creepy Christians that show up late in the story. For me, religious satire fits perfectly in a tale about the dead rising and I couldn't imagine a zombie apocalypse set in a small Indiana town not involving a church. As Ricky tells us: 

     You can't throw a stone in Indiana without hitting a church. We'd only just left Levi's church yesterday.
     "We still going to Kirkman's?"
     I nodded. There were at least four churches I knew of between Ernie's and the Kirkman Soda plant. We were traveling in God's country.

All the same, I think we better call it a review.  If you're curious, you can also read the first 14 chapters free here.  If you're looking for a scary story this Halloween and you read this blog, why not give me a shot at terrifying you?

If you'd like to hear me ramble more about the merits of my own book (why wouldn't you?), I'll be posting an over-long and supremely smug Afterword later this week in which I'll discuss the process of writing the book and some of the techniques I employed in agonizing detail (as some of the most popular posts on this blog are me rambling about editing, I'm going to give the people more of what they seem to want). I'll even chat a bit about religion and how I love religious people and God, but am wary of overzealous dogma. 

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from my own book (stomach rolls over in disgust) All Together Now: A Zombie Story:

     The corpse gnawed (spoiler)'s right arm, loose white flesh spreading out on either side of his mouth like the skin of fried chicken.

     Not far from them was Maggie Evans. She was smiling at me in a way I knew meant if I'd gone to her she might've let me get to first base. She had eyes as green and lush as a rainforest.
     I saw one of them sucked from its socket and eaten in the back of the chemistry lab not too long ago. The creamy pale skin of her face with just the perfect scattering of freckles was torn away by the teeth of Mary Beth Kerr, her best friend.

     Ben raised his bat and brought it down on a kid no older than four.
     "Don't kill them!" Dad cried, but by then Ben was braining his second toddler. (somewhere my Mom is proud--MGN)

     I stopped to look into the nursery.
     A little girl lay in the center of the room, whimpering. Her head was bent at an unnatural angle. I couldn't see how she was still alive, but she was crying—not snarls and moans, but human crying.
     Something important was obviously broken as she wasn't moving her arms or legs beyond a twitch. If she could've got up, she would've.
     There were two babies dressed in shirts and diapers on her chest, protruding like growths, their faces buried in the bloody meat of her arm. I doubt they had teeth, but they were licking at her blood and feasting on her in some way.
     Their moans were quiet and content.
     They looked up at me, their eyes bright white, seemed to decide they weren't big enough to bring me down, and went back to the meal they had.
     At the girl's foot was a teddy bear as big as she was, and behind it a rocking chair beside a crib. A small, dead hand curled over the top of the crib, not strong enough to pull whatever was attached to those tiny digits into a standing position. (Am I nervous about becoming a father? Why do you ask? --MGN)

     When I finish this chapter, I'm going to post this journal online so it can never be destroyed. No matter what happens to me, my story is intact and waiting to be read. I'm in these pages and can never be destroyed.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn't happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.