Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A "Foreword" for ALL RIGHT NOW: A SHORT ZOMBIE STORY (Part One) Babies and Zombies

WARNING: This ADULT novella 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 mindsSeriously.

Greetings Esteemed Reader from the past. Not sure when this will post, but I'm writing this the morning of February 18th, 2014. Last week, I revealed the cover for All Right Now and began making my word count public. As of now, I stand at 10,066 of a planned 25,000 words, which is far enough along that I know I'm going to finish and publish the story, but not quite so far along as to be confident in the writing, which is why this morning finds me working on a blog post rather than a chapter (combined with a hectic household, making fiction even more difficult than usual).

Blog posts are simple--the voice is a performed version of me I can rattle off pretty easily after all these years and I don't charge for this blog, so you get what you pay for:) At this point in the story, however, I'm introducing new characters, which requires a great deal more consideration and takes much, much longer. To illustrate, when I consult my word log for last week (every writer should keep one) I see I spent one morning writing 2,729 words of blog post and the next morning writing only 274 words of All Right Now. I spent the same amount of time both mornings here at my computer and had the same new baby distracting me and the same social media networks tempting me.

After writing All Together Now, I spent months editing and revising it, and even longer shopping it around to editors, and then two months preparing the book for publication (including more revision, naturally). All told, ten months elapsed between my typing the final sentence of All Together Now and my writing of the three part afterword, which means everything I said about that book was after the fact and distorted (also more considered). So this time around, I'm writing a "foreword" as I write the book so I can share my process  as it's happening (if that sounds extra obnoxious to you, thanks for stopping by).

Why not? This seems like a fun idea to me. So I'm going to be updating this foreword as I complete the book, though it's intended to be read after you've read the book. Probably most Esteemed Readers will have no interest in this post and that's fine--that's one of the reasons I put these things on my blog rather than in the books themselves. But if you liked the story and you're curious how the author wrote it, this post is here and FILLED WITH SPOILERS.

Seriously, this is going to be SPOILER city. If you have any interest in my writing, and why would you subject yourself to this otherwise, you should definitely read the story first. And then you should read All Together Now and any other books I've published at the time you're reading these words:)

Okay, I warned you. From this sentence forward I'm going to assume you understand that I'm discussing a violent tale about zombies written for teens and adults and that I'm going to spoil the whole thing, including the ending.

The idea for All Right Now came to me over the course of a week. The day before my son was born, if you'd asked me if I had any intention of writing another zombie story, I would've shrugged and said maybe, but probably not. Now that I've written two zombie stories, I have no intention of writing a third, but you never know. If one shambles along that looks nice, I'll probably give it a go, and I'll call it All Done Now to prevent a fourth:) But at this moment, I feel there are more pleasant tales for me to tell and I can really only charge readers for the same story so many times before they catch on:)

Esteemed Readers have been kind enough to request a sequel and some have even commented they were sorry ATN was clearly meant to be one book and not a series. I love that. Part of me thinks its a mistake to write about zombies again as eventually diminishing returns set in and it's always a good idea to leave the stage when the audience wants more rather than sticking around until they get sick of you. But at my core I try to be a reader-pleaser and if Esteemed Reader wants a thing, I have to have a stronger reason than my own self doubt to deny the request.

The birth of my son is one of the few experiences I've had that really did live up to the hype. Here's a passage from the current draft saying as much:

     Richard puts a hand behind his son's head, smoothing the hair there, and his other hand under the boy's bottom, and takes him from the nurse.
     "Hello, Charlie," Richard says, and the boy's lips curl.
     And to think, all these years Richard has been sure love at first sight was something invented by poets to sell the Hallmark cards of yesteryear. Certainly, he's never felt for anyone what he feels now for this child. It takes him at once and will never let go as long as he lives.
     He holds Charlie close and the boy actually spreads his hands against Richard's chest as though to hug him back.
     "He's so beautiful," Deborah says and Richard realizes she's been talking for a while.
     He nods, but he can't take his eyes off their boy. He wonders how he's managed to live his life for so long without knowing this emotion. No father could have ever put such love into adequate words so that he could have understood it before this moment.
     Charlie cries and Richard holds him closer, rubbing his hair with a gentle hand and kissing the boy's forehead.
     "All right now, son," he says. "All right now."

It's now March 6th and I'm  at 12,285 words. I've added plenty of zombies since I wrote that scene and a cop named Officer Josh Prokopy  after a YA Cannibal (my critique group) who hadn't joined in time to be a character in All Together Now. Nothing personal to Josh, but everything the good officer did was simply awful and the things I added after him were even worse--nightmares that rattled in my head now inflicted on Esteemed Reader. I don't know why I write such violent, horrifying things, but I enjoy doing it and Esteemed Reader was pleased last time I did it, so I'm going to do more of it. 

But don't let me fool you. The violence and awfulness is a smoke screen so you won't see my delicate underside and this is very much a story close to my heart. Some authors have a kid and translate the experience into poetry or a children's story. I've expressed my love for my child with a story involving a corpse pulling out the intestines of a new mother and eating them. To each his own, I suppose.

The day my son was born was the most helpless I've ever felt. Sure, I was overwhelmed with love for my boy and surrounded by family, but there was now a little person, my favorite person, completely dependent on me. I had my hands full, so I needed the world to act right because I no longer had time to worry about it acting the way it always does. And in this state of mind it occurred to me that if zombies attacked the hospital, Little Ninja and I were probably screwed.

But maybe not, I thought, and my important, lofty musings on how we might escape a horde of the dead while poor Mrs. Ninja was alone in worrying about parenting in reality was the seed. Later, calming a fussing baby and telling him "you're all right now," was the water to grow the story as all my neurons lit up because if there's a title and now a spiffy cover, they'll eventually be a book. 

One of the reasons I love zombies so much is they're the perfect metaphor. We're all dead, we just haven't seen the ending yet. No matter what we do, sooner or later, it's over, and not just for us, but everyone we love and hate. If you should be reading this at at a distant date where technology has finally allowed immortality (which means you're reading this simply because you've read everything else), screw you you lucky dog:) For people living in my time and place, we're all dead, eventually.

What I like about the zombie apocalypse is it shortens the time frame and puts things in perspective. We're surrounded by the dead and no matter what we do, they'll get us. We're all walking corpses and we're all survivors doing whatever we have to to stay alive, even though we know we're not going to make it. The thing I always wonder when I read a zombie story is why do the survivors fight at all, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Why not find someplace comfy and read a book until inevitability?

But in real life, the fact that I and everyone I know are dead (just a question of timing) doesn't convince me to lay down and let the end simply come. I'm writing this and I'll write other books and I'll worry about the possibility of bad things happening when I know for certain eventually a bad thing will happen (for you too, Esteemed Reader). And now I've brought a child into this mess. A child who may live to a time when technology allows him to live forever (a father can dream), but who will likely face the deaths of those he loves. The first time it happens, provided it's not me, and he hurts in a way he didn't know anything could hurt, I'll have to remember that I brought him into this world knowing we're all dead.

I'll fight for him for the same reason the survivors fight the horde of the dead. In fact, I almost didn't write All Right Now because I didn't want to kill this imaginary man and his baby after they fight against all odds to survive, even though that is the real life ending for all of us.

Last Spoiler Alert! But I couldn't write a story set in the All Together Now universe that ended completely happy and optimistic. So I nearly tossed out the whole thing when it hit me like a bolt that I knew this protagonist. I knew him and his baby. They didn't have names, but Ricky meets them both in the third chapter of All Together Now. I didn't have to kill this poor man and his baby, they're already dead--I can't be blamed!

I've talked about this elsewhere, but there is a bit of magic involved in writing fiction. It could just be my subconscious playing games with me (the mind is a wacky fun-house), but I don't think that explanation quite covers it. As I'm writing ARN, I'm having the experience less of creating a story and more of discovering a story that was always there, I just didn't know it. ARN matches up with ATN almost perfectly because the events of ARN that set up ATN had always happened, it just wasn't necessary for me to know about them when I was writing ATN.

More spooky writing talk to follow in part two as well as a discussion of ufology and Hemingway.

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