You get a feel for these things after twenty years of writing and so I can finally say with confidence that I’m working on the final chapter of The Land of the Beautiful Dead. But don’t get too excited, faithful readers, because there’s still all the editing to do, as well as blurbs and a cover and all that technical jazz. Nevertheless, I do believe this book will go live before my birthday (Halloween). So now that the light is finally at the end of the tunnel, I guess it’s time to start talking it up and since a good way to begin is at the beginning, I’d like to talk a little bit about where the book came from.
In the pantheon of the paranormal, there is a kind of unholy trinity that has been popular in books and movies for as long as books and movies have been around. I am speaking, of course, of the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Corpse. As a reader and a movie-goer, I frequently have some harsh criticisms for books and movies that use one (or all) of the Trinity, but who “bring nothing new to the table”. There are just so many friggin’ vampires and werewolves and zombies out there that even the best story can get lost in the crowd, or worse, come across as derivative, because let’s face it, there are only so many ways to reinvent them. Vampires in the daytime?
Werewolves who don’t need a full moon to shift?
The new standard.
Zombie love interests?
Three cheers for necrophilia.
As someone or another once observed, the first step to slaying our monsters is to mock them. If that’s true, the second step must be dating them. Somewhere along the way, we as a universal consciousness stopped being afraid of the paranormal and started being turned on by it, and thank heavens for that, because otherwise, I couldn’t make a living doing what I do, but what was once a shocking and provocative idea has become so popular and so mainstream that it’s become a joke. Knowing that, I never intended to write a book about vampires or werewolves or zombies, because I knew there was no way to avoid the stigma of chasing the para-rotica bandwagon.
This is where you should be hearing the wah-wah-waaaaah cartoon d’oh music.
I started writing The Land of the Beautiful Dead because I wanted a quick novella to offer up for free on the table I never actually got at the RT Convention this past summer in New Orleans (hell of a fun city, by the way. You should all go. Begneits and café au lait for the win). I figured it would run me about 45k words, which would give me just enough space to have my hero and heroine roll around on a bed made almost entirely of broken zombie tropes and go home happy. Simple, right? (wah-wah-waaaah) Unfortunately, I made the biggest mistake a writer can make: I fell in love with my own story. And when you love something, you can’t do anything by halves.
Ba-bam! My 45k book is now 120k and climbing (not too far, though. This is the last chapter) and I had a great time writing most of it (the ending gave me no end of grief. Like all great love affairs, the break-up is always painful). But again, I never wanted to write a zombie apocalypse book. It just sorta happened and I hope you can all forgive me for doing something so unoriginal. Having said all that, let me tell you, when I let it slip that I was writing a zombie apocalypse book, my e-book publisher (lord, I hope she doesn’t read this) got all excited. She told me she’d been just about to write and ask me for one. She was a huge fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead and she wanted some Walking Dead erotic fanfiction, all names changed of course, to avoid copyright drama, but with the characters themselves clearly identifiable so they could do all that zombie-slaying by day and hardcore sexing by night.
“I hate The Walking Dead,” I said. “I hate that stuff with a passion. The Walking Dead is everything that is wrong with zombie apocalypses. I wouldn’t write in that world if you paid me with a swimming pool full of puppies.”
I think I hurt her feelings. But oh well, that’s my feels and I don’t apologize for them. If you enjoy watching a 4-year long car commercial with zombies popping up every other episode, that’s fine. Takes all kinds. But I like my apocalypses served up with a side of reality. Reality check number one: Gasoline goes flat very, very quickly. None of those pretty, clean, freshly-waxed Hyundais would work. And yes, before you ask, I do have cars in my book, but they don’t run on gasoline. I have a lot of faith in Man’s power of invention, particularly when coupled with necessity and desperation. And zombies. Someone once told me he didn’t understand why people are always driving in zombie wastelands (because no gas, remember) instead of riding bikes (which don’t need it), to which I can only say I would strap a Hyundai onto each foot and skate away before I tried to escape a horde of zombies on a bicycle. Likewise, horses need so much more care than people realize, magnified exponentially by the fact that everyone would need one…no, give me a motorized vehicle for the apocalypse.
So anyway, if not from The Driving Dead, where did I get the idea for the book? Join me next time when I actually answer the question. In the meantime, please enjoy this snippet:
* * *
There had been other names for them in the beginning, back when people thought they knew what the Eaters were, back when people thought they could be stopped with something as simple as a bullet to the brain. No. This was Azrael’s world and nothing died save by his word of release. You could break them, burn them, or just wait them out until they had rotted away to bones and could no longer come after you, but even then, whatever remained of them still retained some kind of horrible life; Lan could remember her mother pulling the teeth from a charred skull after a neighbor’s death and showing them to her, how the teeth had trembled in her mother’s hand, trying to come together and bite. There was no hope then, only the diminishing living, the growing ranks of the dead, and less and less unpoisoned land to share between them.
Surrender was inevitable, no matter how bitterly Lan’s mother spoke of it now, but surrender had not ended the war. Azrael had accepted the leaders of that broken world for his unending retribution, but he did not forgive the people who gave them up. In the years since his ascension, Azrael had harrowed his great Revenant army to a whisper of its former magnitude, but even a handful of Revenants were enough to wipe out whole villages when all they had to do was break down one wall, let the Eaters in, and wait. Everything else they did—the burning, the dismemberments, the impaling poles—served purely as a warning of the fate that awaited all those who took such unwise pride in defiance.
And really, what did Azrael have to fear from them? The world which had once groaned under Man’s weight had been relieved of its burden, reborn under Azrael. Perhaps there were as many as a million humans left, scattered widely over this wasteland of Eaters, but numbers didn’t matter. If Azrael wanted more dead, he could always get them. In the meantime, he allowed the living to build their towns and he did not interfere in the squalor of their stubborn existence provided they stayed away from the tall walls that enclosed Haven, his city, the land of the beautiful dead.
She was close now, so close. This fool’s journey, begun when Lan walked away from her mother’s smoky pyre two months ago, was now only a day from over, if only she could find someone to finish it for her.
Lan dragged her eyes open without any conscious memory of closing them. She was falling asleep and sleep was never safe in a strange town. She got up and dragged her mattress over to the cell door, propping it against the sliding panel so that she could not help but be jostled awake should someone try to come in with her in the night. Then she lay down, pillowing her head on her lumpy, uncomfortable rucksack, and went to sleep.