How do some people get into some messes? If I’d anticipated writing horror fiction, I certainly would not have chosen a screen name that happens to sound like the name of the, er um, absolute monarch of horror fiction…
Earlier this fall I was commissioned to write some zombie apocalypse stories. I hadn’t read any, and still wouldn’t call myself familiar with the rules of a genre that deals mainly in gross-outs. But I have read most of Stephen King‘s novels (I don’t recommend them unless you’re a fast reader; I am). I’m not related to him and wouldn’t even list him as a favorite author but he is very, very good at what he does. I have a lot of respect for his thoughts on the writing process. I set myself to the task of writing a short story sequence that wouldn’t totally disgrace Big Steve’s family name. Terror, horror, gross-outs, and the occasional sick joke.
Well, zombies are about as un-auntly as a topic can be. “Priscilla King” is the official, registered business name of an auntly writer. And I have to admit I’m on unfamiliar and unsteady ground. The important thing about an action story is that the action needs to work; if it’s fiction, and the writer doesn’t reality-test the action sequence s/he creates, it’s always possible for a writer to envision and write–however well–an action scene that would not work in real life. Even if a writer can call a friend and have fun wrestling around and blocking out a fight scene (and fight scenes were stipulated in the contract), what’s possible for friends having fun might not work in a real life-and-death fight.
Due to the virus going around, our aging and vulnerability, and the timeline for publication, I wrote and submitted a couple of zombie stories without even wrestling through the fight scenes. The client terminated the contract, as allowed under its terms, without explaining whether that was because he didn’t believe the fights, because he missed Bob and Ray (no worries, they’ll be back), or just because my zombie apocalypse vision was shaping up differently from his.
One of my rules is that if I write something for payment, and the client who requested it doesn’t use it, I have to publish it somewhere to protect my copyright. Another of my rules is that my Blogspot and Blogjob sites are family-friendly for all ages–absolutely no zombies. So, the zombies have to go on Live Journal, on a separate, family-filtered LJ account.
The first two installments of my zombie apocalypse have been published in another’zine. The second two have been written but not (yet) published. Others, enough to make a novel-in-freestanding-stories, have been loosely outlined but not written; whether they’re written or not depends on how readers react to the first two.
Here’s what I can say about the zombie apocalypse stories-or-novel. It’s not “supernatural”; in the zombie genre, I learned, “zombie apocalypse” does not involve any questions of belief about either the afterlife or the Final Apocalypse; these stories are about a hypothetical pandemic disease that may or may not kill enough humans to destroy civilization-as-we-know-it. The genre makes up for that loss of terror (while leaving room for emotional terror about bad things happening to good characters) in gross-outs. Lots of medical information, along with the medical speculation; to make any story into a movie would take buckets of fake blood.
Emotional trauma was a requirement for the original contract, and all aunts know more about that than we normally inflict on other people. Lots of bad things happen to good people. Lots of cross-gender violence (fight scenes probably tested by a heterosexual couple, after all). Children, animals, and grandparents may be involved (although there won’t be zombie animals, because nothing can be added to Pet Sematary). Heroes from one story may become victims in another story. In what’s been published so far we’ve had an elderly church lady zombifying while her husband, her best friend, and a doctor have been trying to help her, and killing her husband; we’ve had a man having to kill a woman on whom he’s had a crush. In what will soon be published we have an old lady accidentally killing a ratbag relative before she finds out that that’s been possible only because he’d become a zombie (so now she has to kill his wife too), and a truly great-grandfather who may or may not survive killing a zombie.
It won’t get warmer or fuzzier. A zombie apocalypse is by definition about a different kind of zombies than Piers Anthony’s magically animated, tragically ugly but mostly nice characters (as in Zombie Lover). They need killing, if they have any human consciousness left they want killing, and the only way to kill them is to reduce them to small pieces and destroy the pieces. Try to be nice to them and die–horribly. If you want to be grandiose and literary you can say they represent evil misbeliefs more than people, but they’re embodied as characters that used to be people. In real life I don’t believe there are many situations where it’s really necessary to destroy a human body in order to overcome evil. In zombie fiction that’s how it’s done.
Triggers: if the whole novel ever gets written, probably all triggers I’ve ever heard of. Squick level: maximum. Family-filter activation: I see no need to type out every vulgar word or linger over descriptions of every wound, and zombies are by definition nonsexual, but that doesn’t mean that body parts I don’t normally mention may not be featured in stories–torn out, flung about, eaten…Totally un-auntly, and not recommended to The Nephews even when they’re fifty years old, because I’m not interested in provoking them to competing gross-outs. In real life I do try to limit our gross-out fests to discussions of spiders, bugs, and snakes.
Redeeming social value: All these stories were meant to accomplish was a small part of funding the infrastructure to keep my web sites afloat, which costs about $150 a month (mostly for Internet connection maintenance). However, they do incorporate what I know about survival and emergency prepared-ness, and I’ve survived a fair amount. If you don’t enjoy horror fiction you certainly don’t need to read it for that information, but the information is in the fiction.
Cost: The first two stories have been published and paid for. The second two will be published via an unfortunately complicated crowdfunding process (they’ll be online, but people will have to pay, using the Paypal button on your left, to read them until they’ve reached their funding goal). Others will be published as they are funded, like most of Elizabeth Barrette‘s speculative-fiction narrative poems; unfortunately, because they don’t fit Blogjob and Google Adsense family-filtering rules, these stories will not be available on Blogjob.
I’m hoping to make a nice, wholesome piece of speculative fiction, with life lessons and family-friendly romance, available at another Blogjob site. To make that happen, and (if you’re a really dedicated blogger) maybe even get paid for your own blogging and blog reading, click here: