The Case of the Accidental Zombie Book

 

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 glenkrisch@gmail.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.

 

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About glenkrisch

Writer, freelance editor, runner, family man, wanna-be farmer, neo-luddite
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7 Responses to The Case of the Accidental Zombie Book

  1. Paul D. Dail says:

    Leave it to someone else to tell you what kind of book you’ve written, eh? I’m sure a modern audience would call the underground dwellers in Omega Man something like zombies. When they remade “I Am Legend,” that’s certainly more of the angle they took.

    And “people who’ve encountered the dust from passing comets.” Could you be referring to the classic 1980’s “Night of the Comet”? If so, awesome.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • glenkrisch says:

      Oh, so you did catch my reference to “Night of the Comet.” Outstanding! They’ve made it available through Netflix streaming (we don’t have TV/cable, just Netflix). I really need to rewatch it. I enjoyed the remake of “I Am Legend” even if they zombyfied the monsters more than the book’s intent. Everything was great until the shitty cgi at the end.

      A reader of Where Darkness Dwells called the underground dwellers somewhat similar to the Sidhe (from Irish mythology). I’m not familiar with the term, and she recommended some LeFanu stories that use the trope. I love it when my readers can teach me something!

  2. I barely remember Night of the Comet, but I do remember it was pretty awesome! It’s probably horrible now. But yeah, as far as the whole zombie thing goes, I would be wary of pushing that angle too much. It’s big right now, but I have a feeling it will get overcrowded soon like the vampire genre. And coming from someone who has a vampire novel out that (at least I think) is far different than any other vampire book, when the cup runs over and people start getting tired of them, they won’t take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff. You might be wise to put out two versions, each with a different cover and description. One going with the zombie appeal and the one with the cover and description you already have. Just my thoughts. And btw, this one is big on my tbr. Someday, I’ll get there!

  3. glenkrisch says:

    I haven’t seen Night of the Comet in 20, 25 years? It’s streaming on Netflix now, and I should really revisit it. It comes down to only so many hours in the day. We’re inundated with content in so many formats now that modern humans develop a guilt that probably never existed 100 years ago. I have books, movies and TV shows that I want/need to get to, but the total hours would surpass multiple lifetimes. I don’t understand how some people reread books. I’ll reread a book every 2-3 years.
    So don’t feel this newfound guilt about getting to my book. I still need to check out yours!
    The vampire thing has been going strong for a long time, and the zombie mythos has been big since The Rising/28 Days Later came out. I don’t think either one is going away anytime soon. I’ve received reviewer feedback lately (since my original blog post) that my creatures are zombie-like, but not really zombies. I’m thinking of not pushing the zombie angle. Perhaps a slight alteration to my cover art, but not much more.

  4. Chris McCaffrey says:

    My vote is that Where Darkness Dwells is NOT a zombie book, but it has one zombie in it. My views are slanted by my Irish Catholic upbringing—which I don’t apologize for since we all have to come from somewhere, right? I would call the residents, with the exception of Ellie’s mom, “the Damned.” They are not dead, merely trapped. Some revel in what they mistakenly consider to be eternal life, while others seek liberation (or redemption). Their souls, whether evil and corrupt or basically good, still reside within their bodies. The fact that they do not lose their humanity and their values makes the book so moving for me. The exception is Ellie’s mom, who is a vicious and unnatural parody of who she was in life because she was brought down into the Underground after she died and is therefore just a soul-less reanimation.

    • glenkrisch says:

      I like the term “the Damned.” It’s fitting. The people of the Underground can come to the surface and potentially pose no threat to the people above. Their natures are what they are. If they are evil below, so they will be above. Mabel was one of my favorite characters to write, by the way. My brother-in-law heard me describe what I was planning early on in the book and he said I needed a character named Mabel. So that’s just what I did.

      • Chris McCaffrey says:

        …………Does he know someone named Mable? LOL The names were perfect for the period–Ethan, Cooper, Ellie, Eunice, Jacob. I must also give kudos on writing one of the most chilling scenes that I have ever read. Where Ethan Cartwright is buried and slowly being crushed by tons of earth, knowing that he will feel that crushing pain and entrapment for all eternity and not be able to die…….that scene chilled me. A very claustrophobic vision. It reminded me of the scene in Casino where Joe Pesci and his brother were buried alive after having their bones broken with baseball bats. Pesci’s character and Cartwright were both horrible people but I still cringed at anyone suffering such a fate.

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