Thursday, October 10, 2013

In defense of zombies

Me, Zombified
Zombies scare me.

I don't know why, exactly. Maybe it's the idea that they are us, just with our morals switched off and our hunger turned to 11.

Maybe it's the idea that they can't be reasoned with (insert your favorite political joke here), or that they never tire, they never stop, and it seems like they come out of nowhere by the multitudes.

Maybe it's the overwhelming dread of a worldwide plague turning the planet into a dead zone where the slightest noise or a change in the direction the breeze blows can mean death.

I seldom have nightmares about zombies. I generally recall my dreams in detail, and my really bad dreams are usually about demons. (Don't even get me started.)

Then one night I dreamed that I was a zombie. I "woke up" in the middle of a feeding frenzy, at first frightened and confused by the walking corpses all around me and the prey they were devouring, and suddenly a weird calm came over me.

My new e-book of short stories
I realized what I was and why the horde wasn't trying to attack me. I was just like them. And I realized that was okay with me (in this dream, at least) — knowing what I was, I could deal with that. (I've tried to decipher the psychological implications of this dream. In fact, I'm writing a book to deal with them.)

But see:  There was a sense of personal freedom that set in once I realized that my continued existence had been made so simple. There were no worries, because the worst had already happened. All I had to do was feed myself, and the rest of the world could go to hell.

Like I said, I'm working this out: That's where the opening scene of my new novel takes place — as an undead man "awakens" (becomes self-aware) in the middle of an afternoon snack he's sharing with another undead man. (You can read this opening scene in my new ebook, "Tales of the Awakening Dead," only 99 cents on Kindle!)

I spent last year's NaNoWriMo exploring what happens next — a simple thing, as the man recognizes that the food stocks are being depleted while the number of predators rises. That won't do, of course, so he has to find a way to reduce the feeders and fatten the prey and ensure a steady supply of "This Mortal Flesh."

The trailer video for Tales of the Awakening Dead

As I wrote in the introduction to 'Tales of the Awakening Dead,' there's some cultural backlash already rising that indicates people think the zombie apocalypse is played out as a source for storytelling. That's being floated out there at a time when "The Walking Dead" is a hit comic book and a super-hit TV series. (It returns for its fourth season Sunday, and AMC is now developing a spin-off series to fill the seasonal hiatus next summer.)
The Walking Dead Season Four Trailer

So obviously, there are still plenty of stories to tell.

Myself, I write about zombies for a variety of reasons beyond my own desire to understand my dreamstates. One, they make excellent metaphors for just about any massive, mindless groupthink you want to apply. Two, you can set up different rules for how the creatures multiply and how they operate (can they speak? do they run or shamble? does only a bite spread infection?). Three, exploring how your human characters relate to one another and the zombies in such an environment reveals so many things about the human condition.

But an added bonus, and probably most importantly: You can tell any story in this framework. When it comes to human relationships, action/adventure, or even buddy cop stories, zombies are like bacon — they can make any story better.

Don't believe me? Next time you're writing and you hit a wall, and you don't know what happens next, have a zombie come through the window. Instant writer's block solvent.

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Thoughts? Refutations? Please comment!
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