Tuesday, July 1, 2014

NINJA STUFF: The Cannibalization of All Right Now

My newest ebook novella, All Right Now: A Short Zombie Story, launched today and is available from now until July 4th for just $.99. Happy Independence Day!!! God bless zombies and God bless America!

Now, here's a post I wrote on the sly two months ago and saved for today:

I'm so tired of zombies, Esteemed Reader. I like zombies, I do. They're fun and when Halloween rolls around, I'm always happy to see them.

I'm also a big fan of the Grinch, but I wouldn't write a book about him (I can't afford the lawsuits) because I don't want to drag Christmas out all year. For a year of writing and revising I'd be listening to Christmas music and thinking Christmas thoughts to keep myself in character (for only a few hours each day, but they add up). By the time I finished my gritty reboot of How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the body count would be higher), the actual Christmas would roll around and I'd snap at the first caroler I saw (you're a mean one, Mr. Ninja).

That's where I'm at with zombies. I started All Together Now in May of 2012 and I'm writing this in May of 2014 (to post in July) having recently completed its companion novella All Right Now. It hasn't been non-stop zombies for two years as I've worked on other things, but with interviews, blog posts, and supplemental material thrown in, I've logged a lot of hours writing about zombies and I'm not done. Whatever I write next, whatever I spend time promoting, I'm likely to be asked about zombies and to write more about zombies. Ahhhhhhh! They're interesting, but they're not that interesting.

The thing is, publication of Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees has been delayed again. It's okay. I'd rather have it done right than done fast, so instead of being a summer release, I'm going to have to push that book to fall, which means switching its spot in my schedule with All Right Now. Three days ago, the YA Cannibals gave me their notes, and the only way to meet my deadline is to do their big revision now rather than in September, which would've given me a nice break from zombies.

After All Together Now, I wrote a popular post about the cannibalization of that story and I thought it might make for a fun post to actually "live revise" the first chapter of All Right Now. If that sounds boring to you, the good news is this is the internet and there are plenty of things to read elsewhere:) For the one or two of you still reading, let's have some fun. I promise not to spoil anything beyond the first chapter

The group gave me several notes for the new story, most of which I'm putting to good use. They also gave me some expectation of reactions when the novella is presented to Esteemed Reader two months from now. The Cannibals were divided. Some were happy with the direction of the new story. Some were disappointed that All Right Now is not a young adult story, nor is it a traditional sequel. If Esteemed Reader is hoping for an extension of All Together Now, there isn't one. I love that book, but I've written it and I wanted to come at All Right Now from a different perspective than a moody teenager writing a journal (as much as I loved Ricky).

It's good I have these reader reactions in advance of publication while I can still cater to them, within reason. In all decisions I remember whose name is going on the book's cover. The cannibals are passionate artists and their insight shapes my vision of my story, but it is my story. Mike Mullin is our marketing expert as no one does more to promote his writing than he, and he's concerned younger readers who like Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees will stumble upon (shamble upon?) my zombie stuff and this will lead to them and possibly their parents being not very happy with me.

It's an odd thing I'm doing, promoting adult horror written in my name tied to a young adult novel which will later this year be listed beside a middle grade story, also written in my name. No doubt, marketing experts would scoff as I'm too all over the place to build a consistent author brand. But, if I write a story I'll take the blame as I also want the credit, so a pen-name doesn't interest me (I barely have time to run one author platform). And life's too short to spend writing in just one genre. I'm a storyteller and I have all kinds of different stories to tell.

And not for nothing, but I am the author of a popular zombie story, so I give myself some (not much) credit for knowing what I'm doing. Also, the scoffing marketing expert might understand my desire to write an adult horror story tied to my existing young adult novel if I showed them this pic of the King and I:



However, in writing as anything else, allowing my ego to drive my decisions is the surest way to fall flat on my face.There's a reason I love the YA Cannibals beyond friendship. They're really smart writers and anytime one of them makes a suggestion, I listen. I need them to save me from me. If two or more cannibals suggest a change to my story, I almost always make it. On the rare occasions I don't, I'm better for having thought through my decision and having my artistic conviction strengthened.

In the case of All Right Now, one thing the cannibals were united in was that Chapter One is confusing and needs revision. I like my chapter as is, naturally, but as the beginning is the most crucial part of any story, I've got to address this concern. My stellar second chapter does me no good if Esteemed Reader doesn't get through chapter one.

Let the live revision begin! What follows is the original draft of the first chapter of All Right Now as I presented it for critique. We'll meet up after to talk about the revision notes, then we'll end with a fully revised chapter. Ready, break:

1




     RICHARD MACOMBER IS TERRIFIED. THIS is the most terrified he's ever been or will ever be, he thinks. It's a thought the day ahead will test.
     It's 6:00 in the morning. He's slept maybe two hours for the first time in 48 hours.
Elisha called him at work Saturday morning. She didn't call him from home when she was thinking of calling the doctor, or from the car once the doctor had advised her to come in, but from the maternity ward of Wyandotte General.
     By the time he drove to Harrington from Indianapolis, Elisha's labor was being induced and Eunice was already there.
     Of course.
     Eunice sat in the sole glider beside Elisha's bed, holding her daughter's hand, muttering prayers and reciting scripture, despite Elisha's having had an epidural administered Saturday morning. Elisha had some pain through the drugs, but mostly she stared at the television as one evangelist after another preached, wearing an expression approaching euphoric.
     Visiting hours ended at nine for non-spouses, but visiting hours mean nothing to Eunice, and her sitting in the glider beside his wife is the first thing Richard sees when he awakes from the office chair at the foot of the bed. His mother-in-law volunteers at the hospital with her group of holy rollers and the nurses wouldn't dream of asking her to leave.
     She isn't what terrifies him.
     Eunice's purple T-shirt hugs her frame tight enough he can see the wrinkles in her blouse, bulging beneath the shirt's white cross. She always wears a blouse under her Jesus T-shirts. Richard has often wondered if she honestly believes people will mistake the bulk beneath for blouse rather than Eunice.
     Her brown hair is mostly gray and curled close on all sides of her face, which is pudgy and wrinkled like a pug. There's so much flesh bunched around her eyes, one doesn't immediately notice how small and beady they are behind her enormous bifocals.
     "Wake up, Richie!" she calls, her voice hoarse from singing hymns all night. He's given up asking her to call him Richard. "You're about to be a daddy!"
     Her accent is one he's come to think of simply as "Indiana hick" and it grates, especially the way she drags out the 'aaaaa' in daaaaaddy. She could tell him he's won the lottery and so long as she said it in that low, undereducated drawl, he'd be convinced she was giving bad news.
     He stands and rubs a hand down his face, smashing each of his features in turn. "What's going on?"
     There are five people already in the room and three more coming in: doctors, nurses, techs, and whoever else is needed. No one even looks at him, except a nurse who asks him to step back, sir. They focus on Elisha.
     Richard focuses on Eunice. "What's going on?"
     She hears him, he knows she does, but her response is to clutch her bible to her bosom and sing, "Once I was all alone mired in sin. My wicked self had usurped His word."
     In the bed, Elisha joins in the song, though her words have the slow, lazy sound of a drunken slur. "When I felt most afraid, the Shepherd called, 'Lost lamb, come join the heard.'"
     By the time Richard deciphers that a cesarean surgery is necessary to deliver his son, the hospital people are rolling Elisha's bed out of the room.
     She and her mother sing, "All together now, we're all together now. Yea though we perish, yea though we die—"
     Richard moves with the bed, but a woman in scrubs holds up a hand. "Stay here."
     When he ignores her, she plants her palm on his chest and actually pushes him back; not hard, but firm.
     Elisha cries out as they push the bed through the room's one door. No one stops or even slows. They take his wife (and son) away; now you see them, now you don't.
     From the hall, Elisha starts singing again, though much weaker than before. Eunice never stopped singing.      "We'll all be together in the sweet by and by. All together now, we're all together now."
     And then everyone's gone.
     Richard stares at the door, waiting for someone to come back and explain things to him.
     He turns to Eunice. "What happened?"
     The old woman's piggy eyes are squeezed so tightly shut he can see her facial muscles straining. Her left hand clutches the good book. Her right is raised in the air to address the heavenly Father.
     "Be with my Elisha as You were with Noah when the waters rose, flooding the earth save for two of all Your magnificent creatures afloat in the great ship."
     "Eunice, what happened?"
     "Comfort her as You comforted Jonah in the belly of the great fish."
     "Eunice!"
     Something in his cry, probably the panic, convinces her to open one eye. "Richie, I'm talking to the Almighty."
     "Talk to me!"
     "Pray with me, Richie. Bow your head and close your eyes." She reaches for his head, but he ducks.
     "What's wrong with my wife?"
     "Same thing that's been wrong, Richie. It's her blood pressure. Doctor was debating whether or not to do a cesarean for about ten minutes."
     "Why didn't you wake me?"
     "We didn't want to upset you."
     "You didn't want to upset—"Richard laughs, the sound filled with more exasperation than mirth.
     "Calm down, Richie. It's gonna be okay. The doctors are delivering my grandson and I've asked the Lord to guide their hands and He will. Matthew 18:19: 'Again I say unto you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.' Now bow your head and pray with me, Richie."
     "I think I've had enough Jesus for one morning, thanks."
     "Blaspheme! I'm gonna pray for you, Richie. I'm gonna pray for God to mend your sinful mind and turn you toward Him and give you the fatherly wisdom He gave Abraham."
     "You do that," Richard says and strides to the door. There's no one in the hall.
     He steps out of the room and a nurse he was introduced to yesterday but whose name he can't remember comes around the corner. "Congratulations," she says.
     "Did she already deliver?"
     The nurse shakes her head. "They're still prepping her. Would you like to join her in the OR?"
     "Absolutely."
     The nurse hands him a bundle of paper clothing: a gown, a hat, and bright little footies to put on over his shoes. Eunice is praying loudly when he steps into the room to get dressed, but she stands as soon as he puts on the hat.
     "Where's my gown?" she asks.
     Richard is terrified, it's true, but he doesn't miss the look on his mother-in-law's face when the nurse informs her only spouses are allowed in the operating room. And a part of him, the part not panicking, savors her expression and files it away for later enjoyment.
     Eunice seizes his shoulder and some of his terror flares in her eyes. "You take care of my babies."
     Richard shrugs her hand away and strides into the hall, saying, "Pray for us."
     He can hear the old woman wailing "Blessed Redeemer" as the nurse leads him away.
     Even then, he'll think later when he marvels at how quickly the whole world fell apart, even then, under his mother-in-law's caterwauling, he can hear faint screams in other parts of the hospital.


The Cannibals found both the first and last line of the chapter offensive. I like the first line because I like emphasizing Richard's terror of fatherhood over his later terror of zombies. But the Cannibals found it annoying and with the exception of the one other father in the group, no one got why Richard was terrified. Also, me telling the reader Richard's emotional state rather than showing it is weak writing (but easier).

The chapter's last line creates a potential story issue. I want to promise readers that zombies are coming even if the first two chapters are all about new fatherhood and the first zombie doesn't shamble onto the scene until chapter four. The Cannibals rightly point out that the zombies aren't going to politely wait off stage for two chapters. So both my attempts at cheap hooks have failed to impress the Cannibals. I'll end the chapter instead with Richard telling Eunice "Pray for us," as it's a strong exit line and it immediately endears Richard to me:)

Revision one: Drop cheap hooks that open and close chapter. Open with new cheap hook that assures horror fans the whole story isn't going to be just about having a baby:) Naturally, this means I'll have to remove all other references to Richard being terrified.

I like this as a new opener: THE FIRST DAY OF CHARLES Macomber's life is the last day of life for most everyone else in Harrington, Indiana. (zombies coming y'all! hang in there)

The Cannibals aren't crazy about all the time hoping as it creates too much confusion here in chapter one when Esteemed Reader would rather be focusing on getting to know the characters. Fair enough. My main goal in chapter one is to introduce the conflict (always a reader pleaser) between Richard and his mother-in-law. It's the reason we open in the room before the birth of Richard's son rather than during the birth, which I want to show to invest Esteemed Reader in this father and son before I chase them with zombies for the rest of the story.

Some of the cannibals suggested I open the story with Richard arriving at the hospital or perhaps returning from the bathroom to find doctors in his room. But I like that Richard wakes up to find the world in motion and everything in flux. Also, selfishly, waking up after 30 minutes of sleep after two and a half days of no sleep to find doctors taking my wife to surgery is one of the few autobiographical parts of this story. No doubt, Mrs. Ninja pities how I suffered:)

Revision two: drop all flashbacks and focus only on the present action, simplifying the narrative. This requires some rewriting. 

The Cannibals who are mothers got on me about Elisha's expression approaching euphoria while in labor, despite the epidural. I personally witnessed Mrs. Ninja's expression approaching euphoria during labor, but it's a small thing and why tick off mothers who didn't have the good fortune to get the drugs Mrs. Ninja got:)

Revision Three: remove offending description. 

Revision Four: there are too many medical staff members. Reduce them (I hear the crying out of voices suddenly silenced).

The cannibals didn't understand why the nurse who brings Richard scrubs congratulates him. The answer is because the nurses who came to get me after Mrs. Ninja was taken for a cesarean operation congratulated me and even in my terror, I thought they were jumping the gun. However, "it actually happened" is never a good argument for why something should remain in fiction unless I'm writing about fact. As this is a zombie story, there's no need to preserve the historical evidence of my own experience.

Revision Four: remove nurse's line and clarify that medical staff is not set against Richard, even though it felt that way to me in real life. Make her the same nurse who stops Richard leaving the room earlier and describe her with a unique detail or two to mark her: "a short woman in scrubs and plastic glasses with large shields."As Richard is no longer allowed to be terrified, there's no need to confuse the reader.

Revision Five: change description of Eunice's "bulk" to "rolls" for clarity. 

Revision Six: change "glider" to "rocker" for clarity (if this word gave a cannibal pause, it will probably bug at least one Esteemed Reader, and that's one too many).

Revision Seven: change "heard" to "herd." Die of embarrassment for misspelling the lyrics to my own song:)

Revision Eight: add quotation marks to "step back, sir." and capitalize Step.

Revision Nine: I like the names Eunice and Elisha and I like that mother and daughter both have 'E' names, but it adds an extra layer of difficulty for the reader to remember which name is which as they're learning who everyone is. I think making the text clearer and easier to read trumps my joy of alliteration. Therefore, Elisha will now be Deborah, thanks to my handy list of biblical names:)

As I'm going through the cannibal's notes, I see we have a talking head situation late in the chapter, which is to say lines of dialogue not broken up with description or body language. That's okay sometimes and can be used for good effect, but I'd like just a little something more, so I've added He turns to leave. after "I think I've had enough Jesus for one morning, thanks."

And that's it... for now. The next step is to sleep on these changes. Tomorrow, I'll reread this chapter in the Kindle viewer the same way Esteemed Reader will likely be viewing it to make sure it works. Then I'll hand this draft off to my editors and test readers for their feedback.

Here's the new and improved chapter:

1




     THE FIRST DAY OF CHARLES Macomber's life is the last day of life for most everyone else in Harrington, Indiana.
     The hours before Charles's birth are the longest of his father's life. Richard Macomber has been awake for the two and a half days of his wife's inducement and for 30 glorious minutes he's been reclining with his eyes closed on a flimsy office chair in a tiny maternity suite at Wyandotte General Hospital.
     He's forced to sleep in the uncomfortable chair at the end of his wife's bed as Eunice, his mother-in-law, sits in the rocker beside Deborah, holding her daughter's hand, muttering prayers and reciting scripture.
Eunice is the first person Richard sees when he opens his eyes
     Visiting hours ended at nine the night before for non-spouses, but visiting hours mean nothing to Eunice. She volunteers at the hospital with her group of holy rollers and the nurses wouldn't dream of asking Eunice to leave.
     Her purple T-shirt hugs her frame tight enough that he can see the wrinkles in her blouse, bulging beneath the shirt's white cross. She always wears a blouse under her Jesus T-shirts. Richard has often wondered if she honestly believes people will mistake the rolls beneath for blouse rather than Eunice.
     Her brown hair is mostly gray and curled close on all sides of her face, which is pudgy and wrinkled like a pug. There's so much flesh bunched around her eyes, one doesn't immediately notice how small and beady they are behind her enormous bifocals.
     "Wake up, Richie!" she calls, her voice hoarse from singing hymns all night. He's given up asking her to call him Richard. "You're about to be a daddy!"
     Her accent is one he's come to think of simply as "Indiana hick" and it grates, especially the way she drags out the 'aaaaa' in daaaaaddy. She could tell him he's won the lottery and so long as she said it in that low, undereducated drawl, he'd be convinced she was giving bad news.
     He stands and rubs a hand down his face, smashing each of his features in turn. "What's going on?"
     Two people are already in the room and three more are coming in: doctors, nurses, techs, and whoever else is needed. No one even looks at him, except a nurse who asks him to "Step back, sir."
     They focus on Deborah, who had an epidural administered yesterday, and her pain registers on her face only as a weak broadcast sent over a corrupted network.
     Richard focuses on Eunice. "What's going on?"
     She hears him, he knows she does, but her response is to clutch her Bible to her bosom and sing, "Once I was all alone mired in sin. My wicked self had usurped His word."
     In the bed, Deborah joins in the song, though her words have the slow, lazy sound of a drunken slur. "When I felt most afraid, the Shepherd called, 'Lost lamb, come join the herd.'"
     By the time Richard deciphers that a cesarean surgery is necessary to deliver his son, the hospital people are rolling Deborah's bed out of the room.
     She and her mother sing, "All together now, we're all together now. Yea though we perish, yea though we die—"
     Richard moves with the bed, but a short woman in scrubs and plastic glasses with large shields holds up a hand. "Stay here, sir."
     When he ignores her, she plants her palm on his chest and actually pushes him back; not hard, but firm. "Let us take your wife first, and then you'll be allowed to join us in the OR."
     Deborah cries out as they push the bed through the room's one door. No one stops or even slows. The medical staff takes his wife (and son) away; now you see them, now you don't.
     From the hall, Deborah starts singing again, though much weaker than before. Eunice never stopped singing. "We'll all be together in the sweet by and by. All together now, we're all together now."
     And then everyone's gone.
     Richard stares at the door, waiting for someone to come back and explain things to him.
     He turns to Eunice. "What happened?"
     The old woman's piggy eyes are squeezed so tightly shut he can see her facial muscles straining. Her left hand clutches the good book. Her right is raised in the air to address the heavenly Father.
     "Be with my Deborah as You were with Noah when the waters rose, flooding the earth save for two of all Your magnificent creatures afloat in the great ship."
     "Eunice, what happened?"
     "Comfort her as You comforted Jonah in the belly of the great fish."
"Eunice!"
     Something in his cry, probably the panic, convinces her to open one eye. "Richie, I'm talking to the Almighty."
     "Talk to me!"
     "Pray with me, Richie. Bow your head and close your eyes." She reaches for his head, but he ducks.
     "What's wrong with my wife?"
     "Same thing that's been wrong, Richie. It's her blood pressure. Doctor was debating whether or not to do a cesarean for about ten minutes."
     "Why didn't you wake me?"
     "We didn't want to upset you."
     "You didn't want to upset—" Richard laughs, the sound filled with more exasperation than mirth.
     "Calm down, Richie. It's gonna be okay. The doctors are delivering my grandson and I've asked the Lord to guide their hands and He will. Matthew 18:19: 'Again I say unto you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.' Now bow your head and pray with me, Richie."
     "I think I've had enough Jesus for one morning, thanks." He turns to leave.
     "Blaspheme! I'm gonna pray for you, Richie. I'm gonna pray for God to mend your sinful mind and turn you toward Him and give you the fatherly wisdom He gave Abraham."
     "You do that," Richard says, and steps out of the room.
     The short nurse with the shielded glasses meets him in the hall. She hands him a bundle of paper clothing: a gown, a hat and bright little footies to put on over his shoes.
     Eunice is praying loudly when he steps into the room to get dressed, but she stands as soon as he puts on the hat. "Where's my gown?" she asks.
     Richard's heart is racing, but he doesn't miss the look on his mother-in-law's face when the nurse informs her only spouses are allowed in the operating room. And a part of him, the part not panicking, savors her expression and files it away for later enjoyment.
     Eunice seizes his shoulder and some of his terror flares in her eyes. "You take care of my babies."
      Richard shrugs her hand away and strides into the hall, saying, "Pray for us." 


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