Summer of Zombie 2015
“The Sound May Suffer – Making Music for the Apocalypse”
by Jay Wilburn
When the short story “Dead Song” starting getting attention in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 with editor Ellen Datlow and then later in Zombies: More Recent Dead from Prime Books, it still took me a while before I realized it had the potential to be a novel. After I started the draft for the novel, it took me a while to realize this was the beginning of a series. Eventually, artist Luke Spooner would be involved in the cover and interior art and Byan Eckardt of Wayward Son Productions would be involved in a recorded component for the series. The title of the five song soundtrack The Sound May Suffer has significance to me as well.
As I wrote the story of the characters that traveled around apocalyptic America recording the music of the various groups of survivors, the story seemed particularly silent on the page. The characters were rich and complicated. The story was quirky and funny. I was finding connections between the characters I had not realized would be there when I wrote the short story so long ago. Writing about music with no sound element felt a little flat and empty though. I was asking readers to imagine music without giving them sound. I could have trusted the reader and probably have still had a fine, little zombie story, but I decided to take the story a step further in an effort to honor the reader’s commitment to the tale and the world it created.
I was faced with the daunting task of really creating what I had created. In the original short story and then the novel The Dead Song Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals, I had described in detail a number of musical mash-ups that supposedly happened as a result of disparate groups of survivors ending up together and evolving musical styles that would not have naturally occurred before the apocalypse.
I was also limited by my own musical talent. I play a little guitar, but I’m a hack. Music for me in terms of playing chords is almost more mathematical than it is artistic. I know where to put my fingers to strum different chords, but to identify and E from a G without seeing the placement of fingers would be tough for me.
As with all things, I needed a circle of talent that was better than me. I found that in Luke’s art, in Lori Michelle’s editing and formatting, and Bryan’s production.
I wrote and arranged the scripts for the songs. In their creation, they became like miniature radio plays. The songs included dialogue, ambient noise, interruptions, and distortion as if they were recorded live by the characters of the novel in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. With the help of friends, actors, truly talented musicians, and the enthusiastic creativity of Bryan that went far beyond the notion of just doing a job, the songs became something greater than I imagined. I found myself on the floor of our recording space using a violin bow on a guitar and Bryan found himself in a corner of a stage pulling his cheeks and making zombie noises. The songs became unique, funny, and beautiful in their constructed layers. They are part of the story and add a rich addition that extends forward through all parts of the series. The five songs of the first sound track, The Sound May Suffer: Songs from The Dead Song Legend Book 1 January, are part of the legend in the story.
“Amazing Circle of Suffering” blends two classic hymns from a church in Vicksburg in a Death Gospel classic. “Undead Dinner Bell” records New Swing from a rooftop in Milwaukee used to distract the zombies as scavengers gather food and supplies in the streets. “Don’t Make Me Repeat It” is an original New Wave Slam Jo poem. “Last Lullaby of the Wind” is a Native American Blues song played on the battlefield in a war that is yet to come. “Replay the Life Incomplete” is a Rom Zom track recorded from the moans heard in the streets of post apocalyptic Los Angeles. Together they add to the legend of Tiny “mud music” Jones unfolded in Dead Song book 1.
As I was thinking for the “group name” that would allow me to come up with eventually twelve soundtracks covering book 1, book 2, book 3, etc., I tried to come up with something that would almost apologize or warn that this wasn’t music in the tight, refined sense of a finished song meant to impress the listener with fleet fingered solos or expert vocals. I still think they are good, but vested within the strain and pain of the apocalypse. The Sound May Suffer came as a name that seemed pulled from a warning label. It also struck on the notes of the music expressing the pain of the times and the suffering of the survivors.
While working on the first book and the music, my polycystic kidney disease worsened. This series started to take on the note of a swan song for me – the great thing I wanted to accomplish with my life with the energy I have left to create. This series is my Dead Song. Not that I plan to drop over after uploading book twelve, but we seldom get to plan such a thing even when we do see it coming. The series and the struggles of the characters became more intense for me. The creation of it all meant something more.
Among all the other symptoms of my decline and decay in real life, my ears started ringing. I imagined it was unrelated Spring allergies or a byproduct of the fatigue that was also growing. When it worsened and did not relent, I checked in with doctors. Turns out hearing trouble is around twice as likely with chronic kidney disease as with the general population according to a recent study. I’m not likely to go deaf as a result, but the hearing trouble at forty as opposed to later concerns the doctor that the toxins released into my blood from my failing kidneys may be worse than they thought.
As I continued to work with the team to create the music for The Sound May Suffer book 1, the title and project meant something more again. I never thought I’d create music to sell, but I have. At one point in my life, I never thought I’d be able to write full-time, but I do. Even as life comes apart for me physically and time grows short, I get to dream and fulfill in more ways than I imagined possible. While dreams come true, the sound may suffer.
I feel the urgency of the shortening of time and I try to translate that intensity into the value of what I am striving to create. I hope you feel it and enjoy it too both in the book and the soundtrack that supplements the story in music.
Check out The Dead Song Legend Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals –
Check out the five song sound track in The Sound May Suffer … Songs from the Dead Song Legend Book 1: January –
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near Myrtle Beach on the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He was a teacher for sixteen years before leaving to become a full-time writer. He writes in many genre. His Dead Song series book 1 is available now along with the five song soundtrack The Sound May Suffer.
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The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 30+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!
#SummerofZombie is the hashtag for Twitter, too!