I’m currently in the middle of writing a collaborative novel with Charles Colyott. It’s a zombie novel. A planned zombie novel. I knew when we started the collaboration that we should work on a plot that we could both identify with. I also knew that if we tackled one of the genres most common tropes, we would need a unique angle. Luckily, I think we’ve come up with a good idea, and more importantly, that the characters are strong and can carry a plot that goes from zero-to-manic in short order.
So, I’m in the middle of writing my first zombie book.
Or so I thought.
My novel, WHERE DARKNESS DWELLS, concerns people who live in the tunnels beneath a town caught in the grips of the Great Depression. These people, the vile, racist, killers that they are, are immortal. As long as they stay belowground, they live in a perpetual stasis. They don’t age. Their wounds heal as if by magic. Just as long as they stay put.
But sometimes the dwellers from down below go to the surface. And once they leave the protective reach of the Underground, they begin to degrade. They are shambling, rotting corpses.
To give you an idea what these people are like, here’s a short snippet from Chapter 1. A local boy has entered the Underground to explore, but stumbles across something that might cost him his life:
George reached the steep incline and scurried through the slick moss. When he reached the cave-in, he scrabbled into the low opening.
Once on the other side, he took a moment to catch his breath. Wheezing with his hands on his knees, a single thought pushed all others aside:
If I hadn’t broken the lantern, none of this would’ve happened. I wouldn’t have noticed the candlelight through the tunnel. Jimmy wouldn’t have left me.
When he was ready to take off again, a face appeared in the low tunnel. Just the outline of a forehead, a curve of chin. Shadows for eyes. Nothing else. The man grunted, blindly swinging the machete as he crawled through the narrow opening. George switched to the other barrel and fired the shotgun into the man’s skull. Something splattered George’s face, but he hardly noticed. He turned and fled, desperately feeling for the next turn in the tunnel.
When he reached the last uphill leading to the cave’s opening, he threw himself up the incline. The limestone floor transitioning to mud as he hit top soil. He shoved through the grass veil shielding the world from the unholy hell he had encountered below. Not knowing his location in relation to his house, he simply ran. The fog had burned off and the sky was warm with the rising sun. Before he lost sight of the cavern, he glanced back.
The unwounded third man appeared. Once clear of the small opening, another man’s arm emerged from inside. Another man pulled free. The man had no face. Blood and clots of brain matter soaked his denim shirt. Once on his feet, the third man reached the opening, and he too climbed out, the mortal wound in his chest exposing his insides to the morning air.
The over/under had its .30 caliber round, but these men still chased him after being shot point-blank with a shotgun. There was no point in using the last round. George tossed the deadweight aside. He’d go back later for it. If he lived through this.
“You’re never gonna see another sunset, shitheel!” said the unwounded man. “Don’t worry, we’ll make it go right-quick!”
The man’s shrill voice didn’t create an echo. The air was alive with birdsong, buzzing insects, a lush blowing breeze. It was maddening after the cavern’s compressed, blunted air. George ran, his adrenaline fighting the mounting fatigue from a sleepless and a seemingly endless night of fear.
In no time, the clamor of pursuit intensified. Glancing back, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Loping through clumsy strides, they were still somehow lightning-quick. But their skin… it had begun to sag, having turned to pulp. All three had started to disintegrate, even the man he hadn’t shot. Lesions rioted across their exposed skin, gravity pulling the wounds wide. George turned away and crested a small hill, heading toward wetter terrain. The swamps. At least now he knew where he was. He darted down the trail, through wispy trees and rutted ground, unsure of his sanity after seeing such sights.
Behind him, the men kicked through the underbrush, picking up their pace, gaining on him with every stride.
So, when I wrote this novel, I thought I’d written something not only well thought out, but original. But lately I’ve been receiving reviews that call my book a zombie book. Did I really write a zombie book? If I did, how did I not notice until now?
The people who live belowground act like regular living human beings when they’re in the Underground. They don’t eat human flesh. To me, if they’re zombies, it’s based on a curse to the physical space of the Underground. Can zombie-hood be tied to a place? I didn’t think readers would think they’re zombies. But then again, the zombie myth has changed over time. From it’s earliest connotations of voodoo practitioners and zombie masters, it’s expanded to include the dead rising from the grave, virus-infected victims, and even people who’ve encountered the dust from passing comets. Now, there are zombie lovers, zombie detectives, zombie space aliens. The mythos is malleable and changes to suit both the author and the time in which he writes.
I guess maybe I have written a zombie novel. I’m planning on making it more evident in both my cover art and book description that my “undead” really are zombies.
If you’ve read my novel, I would love to hear your feedback (drop me an email at email@example.com). Is WHERE DARKNESS DWELLS a zombie book? If I market it as a zombie book, will readers feel disappointed that my zombies aren’t the same-old, same-old garden variety flesh-eaters? Or will people flock to it since it’s a unique take on a sometimes tired subgenre?
I will let you know what happens.