I never thought I’d write a zombie story. But I saw an open call for stories of the undead and wanted to know, could I really do it? Could I write to market?
About this same time, I was watching a documentary about the life of composer Cole Porter. His new producer said Porter’s songs were all too serious. He wanted Porter to write something lighter. And so Cole Porter came up with his hit, “Be a Clown”. I was thinking to myself, I should try writing something just for fun. Be a zombie!
I believe that you write some stories to satisfy an artistic itch, and some stories to get published (and paid). Hopefully both. In this case, I wrote to get published, but I found I enjoyed it so much afterwards that I was satisfied as an artist. I certainly learned much about genre writing along the way.
Before long, I found myself researching the zombie sub-genres. I’d never know there were so many. Some zombies move slowly, such as in The Night of the Living Dead, and some are fast, like in World War Z. Some move individually and some move in swarms. Some are reborn because of disease and some are souls returned to this earth because hell is too full. Some can bite you and turn you and others just want to eat out your guts or brains. Some stories focus on the gore and others focus more on the drama, like with The Walking Dead series.
One of my favorite story arcs is the simplest. It looks like this:
- Put the cat in the tree.
- Start the tree on fire.
- Get the cat down.
But for a short story about zombies, I quickly realized I couldn’t do the whole zombie apocalypse, not like you see in zombie movies. I had to have the cat in the tree already. I had to pick a single incident in a world already full of zombies. Something akin to a single TV episode. What would it be like to live a day in the shoes of a zombie hunter? So I introduced the main characters in the first paragraph, and then within another brief paragraph, explained that the world had already been overrun by the undead. My characters were mercenaries hired to clean up the messes zombies were making in undeveloped countries, places that couldn’t manage the problem well by themselves.
Another thing I believe is that most art is derivative. However, if you steal too much, you get labeled a copycat. If you try not to copy, if you really want to be a totally original writer, people won’t follow what you’re doing because it will appear too alien for them to grasp. Good art, to me, is a bridge between what’s already been done and something new. So I wanted to add a new element to the zombie genre. I came up with the idea of a cure. But it wouldn’t be a cure that only the rich could afford or that only evil corporations had access to, or governments, such as in Resident Evil. I made my cure very common, easy to come by, not expensive, but with a twist. It was highly addictive. And it had some really nasty side effects. In my mind I was thinking something along the lines of opium with hallucinations. I don’t know if my contribution to the genre will be recognized, much less transform the genre, but I’m happy I created that bridge.
Near the end of my story, I played with the idea that it was just a story. That none of it was really happening. But I didn’t want to fall into the cliche of: ‘it was all just a dream’. So I only hinted at the possibility. The guy has been hallucinating, struggling with addiction, so who knows?
Without giving away too much, I’ll end my thoughts on how I wrote this piece here. Download a copy of the publication in PDF format at the link below. My story is on page 44. While you’re reading, look at some of the other stories and ask yourself, did they contribute to the genre, acting as a bridge, or just repeat what’s already been done? If they repeated what’s already been done, did they do it better than anyone who came before them?
In retrospect, I’m totally happy I wrote this story and thankful Sirens Call published it. It made me a better writer.