When my begging bowl was in hand, I offered a bargain. In exchange for your support, I would offer up a story of both lascivious embarrassment and romantic "epic fail." I would also share parts of a side project I have been working on for fun.
I like to keep my bargains whenever possible. As I mentioned earlier, I have shared portions of this project with a few published fiction writers and other folks that I trust. The response to the sample chapters range from "you got something here that is really good, do x, y, and z," to "not my thing, I don't get speculative fiction or zombie stuff," to "I like this, keep writing, you have enough chapters, and send it off with a pitch/query letter and use the feedback as advice until you get lucky."
At Chicon 7 I had the good fortune to talk to Jack McDevitt. His advice was simple. Don't be afraid. Learn to accept rejection. Listen to trusted friends and others who tell you the truth. He told me directly, in a very kind way, that I already have cashed checks (not enough) for my writing, non-fiction or not, and this means you can do something well enough to get paid by someone. As such, I am already ahead of 90 percent of those other folks who never get a check from anyone.
He asked me, "what do you have to lose?" Not much.
My, much a work in progress, elevator pitch (still too long) is something like this:
Zombie Lives is a work of speculative fiction that is a combination of George Romero meets No Country for Old Men. Zombie Lives is set in the near future where the undead, called "Grabbers," have come to rule most of the world. However, the living have adapted to their existence, residing in fortified cities and communes in relative comfort.
For most people, the idea that people die and that some return to eat the living is simply a fact of life. However, the vast majority of human beings have never seen a Grabber. As the generations pass, most people become comfortably numb to the fact that they are a minority in the world, forever imperiled.
Written as a series of interconnected stories, the central conflict in Zombie Lives revolves around how an ensemble of characters, a college aged student, a bounty hunter, a group of constables, and a self-style religious mystic turned street preacher, have come to realize the absurdity of their lives. While they have come to accept the truth--that humans are a minority in a world now ruled by the walking dead--most other people are in denial.
Ultimately, this culture of denial and lying will destroy them all. The Grabbers are coming, and what were once just phantom bogeymen will soon make themselves all too real for the denizens of the community known as Low Town.Most of the current books about zombies are all about blood and guts and don't try to use the genre to say anything substantial about our human condition, existential dilemmas, or society at large. Zombie Lives is of course a good old fashioned zombie story where the undead walk the Earth, wreak havoc, but where we, the living, are as always, the real monsters. It is also a meditation on politics, culture, race, and emotion which reflects a political and social moment where citizens have lost faith in government and its ability to solve shared problems.
Have fun at my expense. For obvious reasons, here is just a small excerpt that makes sense on its own, and teases what is to come. If you want more, are curious, have suggestions, do chime in.
Chapter Two: Toro the Constable
“Mariposa” doesn’t fit too well with boys. And even accounting for the absurdity of a world in which the dead had long ceased dying, being named “butterfly” (even if it was given the masculine edge of "Mariposo") was an indignity that resulted in many a fight and none too few a black eye.
Toro even went by the name Mothra during his teen years (a gender mismatch given that the famed monster was female...but few knew such details); re-christening himself after the great kaiju monster he grew up watching on the old holovids his mom had spoiled him with as a young boy. Mothra only lasted for a few years though, discarded as soon as he left his old clique turned street gang at 18 to move into a new living community with an ailing mom, two younger sisters, a cousin, three very wizened and old, but still quite tough dogs, and one semi-feral cat named Trina.
Thus, Mariposo, a male butterfly, turned Mothra a female kaiju monster, turned Toro a bull, found himself in a household of women.
Toro wondered if Kikoko had infused some secret wisdom in his name. Or maybe it was just a perverse joke? One day he would have to muster the courage to ask her.
Either way, the here and now demanded absolute attention even as Toro’s mind often wandered to different places in the quiet seconds before his unpleasant work called him back to practical Earth.
Toro had done this many times before, but each moment such as this he still fell back on his "real world" training, and the virtual practice he received each day in the Modern Warfare Battlefield combat sim back at the station.
The Constables looked at one another, crouching down, breathing in unison, each with their hand on the shoulder of the officer in front of them.
They could only see each other’s goggles--a motley assortment of colors--adorned with markings and decorations to add some hint of individual personality to otherwise undifferentiated and bulky uniforms, so enveloping the protective clothing was, that the race of its wearer could only be figured out at the mesh seams of the neck or wrist, where a little bit of brown, chestnut, olive, or light beige skin would occasionally peak out, visible only to a quick and keen eye.
Captain Stella’s combat goggles were yellow and decorated with black wasps; Lieutenant Trevor’s were camouflage with a Mickey Mouse charm hanging down around the elastic strap; Sergeant Patel had taken part of the delicate panty of a lover and wrapped it around the bridge of his protective eye wear. Sergeant Toro had a hybrid and interlocking set of white bull horns, Maori and Filipino tribal tattoos, and barbed wire embroidered into his goggle’s black elastic.
The local authorities had been informed that there was an unauthorized religious gathering in this sector of Low Town. By itself, that would not have warranted more than a pat on the back and perhaps a few extra credits in the monthly per diem for the resident snitch if the lead panned out.
In most areas of life, the State frowned upon religion. But, the government also saw religion as a necessary form of relatively benign mass psychosis and self-therapy, one that more often than not kept the peace. And after the first Outbreak in 2015 grew into a pandemic, religion had ebbed and flowed in popularity, but remained, to various degrees, a part of social and political life in the years and decades to follow.
In those first years, tens of millions were attracted to religious fundamentalism as End Times, Judgment Day, and other eschatological fairy tales called to them as a way to make sense of a civilization at its apotheosis. Others fled to atheism or agnosticism figuring that God had fucked humanity, so why give Him or Her or It the satisfaction of their getting on two knees to worship an entity that cared not if they lived or died?
As faiths which emphasize the spiritual over rites of ritual, rules, and structure often do in moments of cataclysmic change, the Buddhists, Whitman Transcendentalists, Protoculturalists, Bahai, Zoroastrians, Jedi, and the radical Wiccan environmentalists somehow found a way to keep hold of their numbers, and in some cases, even grow the ranks during those difficult first years.
And of course, the real crazies strapped bombs to their bodies and killed non-believers in the name of God, politics, and faith, in a holy war jihad. Their respective leaders having reasoned that the rising of the dead was the ultimate sign from Providence to finally begin settling millennia old scores in a 2nd overtime sudden death battle royale between the “great” religions of the world.
A tip about an unauthorized religious meeting was attention getting because the rules governing such matters in an age when dead folks rose from the grave, and actuarials--fancy insurance agents who were really just math geeks--had figured out decades ago that too many people together in one place was just too dangerous.
Bites, and the disease, travel fast.
A version of the multiplicative rule that school-aged children learn--and then conveniently forget later on--applied here. One Grabber becomes two becomes four and so on in ad infinitum. As such, any gathering of more than 10 people, in any given space, for any purpose, had to receive pre-approval from a block captain.
But what did that mean in practice? Were five gatherings of two people plus one in the same room a breach of protocol? Two gatherings of five plus three? In Toro’s mind, the mathematical permutations were clearly not infinite, but they spoke a basic riddle: who decides when enough is enough? And why go through the trouble of not reporting a meeting if you were up to no good? No one is likely to care either way, so why risk getting caught?
In this case, matters quickly became more complicated.
Children and young women in the area had come up missing.
Although people came and went all the time, some migrating to other communities, others wandering out into the wastelands never to be seen again, a few dying of natural causes or somehow getting themselves killed, the weekly census showed a consistent pattern. People were disappearing at a constant rate every so many weeks. A few here, a few there. It was the forced and feigned randomness of the disappearances which made them all the more noticeable.
When the local record keeper for the sector put the data into his computer a clear pattern emerged: on the flickering green magazine screen, crumpled like paper until it was activated and spread out across table or other flat surface, an increasingly small series of concentric probability circles appeared.
Each one narrowed down the disappearances to a three block area.
In a world where reliable sewage systems were long a thing of the past, the Highwood neighborhood of Low Town just stank. It was not the normal stink of shit, piss, and a heavy phlegmatic air that reeked of pollution from cars with broken catalytic converters, burning trash, and methane. No, it was something else.
The cadaver dogs went crazy, yelping and howling when they walked past the old multilevel structure. Something was horribly wrong and amiss. While no Grabbers had been seen in the area, the Constables by habit, and as learned through hard taught lessons, always assumed the worst.
Toro and his team were immediately dispatched. Arriving via a plain, white, battered panel van that was gimmicked to look as though it were part of the local transit service, following the lead of a fully muzzled, and thus quieted cadaver dog, the Constables quickly focused their search on the fifth floor of the Bully Arms.
The Bully Arms was an old apartment building that had been divided and subdivided again and then once more to house many more people than originally intended when it had been built back in the mid 20 teens during President Obama’s third Work Progress Administration program.
She was still a grand old lady, lots of heavy cinder blocks mixed with then state of the art reconstituted plastics and other environmentally friendly materials, put together in an aesthetic reminiscent of the early twentieth century. Time had not been kind to her. The building was now water stained and the outer facade was falling apart.
As the team entered the Bully Arms that late evening it became apparent why a call to the local authorities had not been made days or even weeks earlier. The foul smell at the outside of the building gave way to heavy air that was a mix of cheap patchouli and sandalwood perfume, aromas such as curry and jerk, a smattering of old frying grease, and the essence of soy…along with a healthy dose of mildew.
When the front set of doors opened outward to the street, the Bully Arms would exhale, letting out its stink much to the misfortune of anyone who happened to be walking by.
A person living here would have no choice but to quickly get used to a synergy of odors that would be noxious to any person’s sensibilities, however hardened or unrefined the latter may in fact be.
Stella tapped Toro on the shoulder. She was giving him the signal to go.