“You need to write about zombies.” It was my friend Rob’s dime so I continued to listen. We’ve been a dangerous duo for more than 50 years—more dangerous to ourselves than anyone else. “Your book needs a regiment of zombies.”
I’ve just finished writing a novel that covers some of the American Civil War and I’d sent Rob a copy. “Look,” he said, “everybody’s written about the Civil War and it’s boring. The problem with history is that everybody knows the ending. What you need is a regiment of zombies marching through Georgia with General Sherman.”
“Dump the literary stuff and put in a regiment of zombies. Historical truth is out, zombies are in. Crap’s the new marketing tool. There’s already a book about Lincoln as a vampire killer. He goes around chopping on vampires with an axe. It’s selling like hotcakes. And what about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Huh? It brought Jane Austen’s reputation back to life.
“You could jump on this trend and instead of just one creepy creature you could have 600 of them. They could bite the Confederates on the necks and they can’t be killed unless you shoot them in the head.”
“But I don’t know anything about zombies. You’re supposed to write what you know and I don’t know a damned thing about the undead. No, let me rephrase that. I don’t know anything about zombies. As far as the undead go, I’ve seen you with a hangover.”
“I could be in it.”
Zombies were over the fence already, but there’s no way I could put Rob in the book. I tried that once back in the days when Dad controlled the keys to the dinosaur. I’d written a piece in a local entertainment rag about my friend’s lounge lizard phase. He used to play the piano in all the Holiday Inns around Ontario and do a spectacular version of Harry Chapin’s Taxi. It was magnificent in its improvisation and duration—going on for two complete 45-minute sets with a 10-minute break for a pee and a gargle. I don’t think I ever heard him play anything else.
“Look, you want to make some money at this writing thing or not? Zombies I tell you!”
“Suppose I do consider a rewrite, why couldn’t I go straight to vampires. I know something about vampires.” I’d read Bram Stoker’s original tome one dark and stormy night in a cottage on Georgian Bay, my only companions the field mice who’d moved indoors for the winter and were busy setting up their deck chairs on the drain board surrounding the kitchen sink. I nearly wet the bed.
“Vampires are the teenyboppers of the netherworld. If you want to add some real meat to your story, go straight to zombies.”
“What makes you think vampires are short hitters?”
“Everyone knows that. Hell, my doctor draws more blood in a visit than those 90210 look-alikes suck in an eternal lifetime. No, zombies are the coming thing. You can even stick them through the heart with a wooden stake and they don’t blink an eye.”
“The zombies I’ve seen never blink anyway.”
“That’s beside the point. I’m telling ya, you need a regiment of zombies in the book. No matter which way you go with it, you can always blame everything on them. They could foil a Confederate secret weapon…”
“But there’s no secret weapon.”
“Well you could create one, then they could destroy it.”
“Writers have a term for that—deus ex machina—it means that a god comes up through the floor in a play and solves all the writer’s problems when he plots himself into a corner. Only Monty Python gets away with it. I can’t have the zombies solve my problems. I’ve got my literary career to worry about.”
“You have a literary career? With all this history stuff I thought it was deader than the undead.” —Bruce Kemp
Photo by Laurie Carter