Summer of Zombie 2015
“How Do You Write Something That Hasn’t Been Written Before with Zombies?”
by Jay Wilburn
Zombie stories are the one subgenre wherein one of the first questions is “so what makes your zombies different?” You don’t get that as much with other types of stories. Other writers get asked what their story is about. That is a normal, respectable question that implies you are accepted as a writer and can simply share what you wrote. The “different zombie” story implies that you have to justify writing in the subgenre at all. Oh, my zombies are glutton free and only attack people who forgot to call their mothers. Sometimes I feel like I’m expected to make my zombies shoot lasers out of their eyes and sprout jet boosters out of their butts before I get to talk about the human character elements of the story.
I think to an extent this puts premise above story in the formation of the question. We may have done it to ourselves though. There are a lot of vapid zombie stories out there. People ask what makes our zombies different because they are afraid we are going to tell them about how our characters hide in a mall like we made something really special. They will have to nod along and pretend that they care until they make an excuse to go to the steampunk jewelry booth next to the zombie book publisher.
I think some of the effort to be different has resulted in creating stories that are wildly the same. The characters still follow the same patterns of run, fight, hide, die, repeat, but the zombies want to eat the naughty bits or the zombies talk and want to make a king with a crown of skulls. I’m not looking to tear down anyone’s story, but there has to be an individual or group that are fighting for something or want something. In a way, that is the same as all literature and we aren’t really doing anything new at all. Maybe with the zombie story finding something deeply emotional to tell or having a real story beyond the zombies is the key difference.
Finding new ways to tell the story may be one of the key evolutions of the zombie story. I know Jack Wallen has played a good bit with stretching what the story is and how it is told. He does voice work too which makes audio elements for his storytelling a natural extension.
I was thinking about him and his work a bit when I started considering the possibility of trying to do real music with the Dead Song story. I was out of my element in trying to compose music, but the story sort of demanded it. Having the first soundtrack done, I can’t imagine the series without the songs.
When I first held the master tracks in my hand after we had finished the final cuts, I didn’t know what to think. Listening to the entire The Sound May Suffer Book 1 EP all the way through with all the songs together and complete, I remember wondering how we made it work at all. The short answer is that I brought on talented people who could actually play and sing. Some of the songs still have my original vocals and guitar playing. In other cases, we used that as a “this is the idea of what I’m going for” and someone with skill redid the vocal or music to make it into something real.
I think back to sitting down with Bryan Ekardt and explaining to him another crazy idea I had. “Listen, Bryan, I don’t really play or sing, but I want to write and record five songs in five different musical genre mash-ups that don’t really exist and don’t natural go together in real life. Then, I want to sell it as a sound track with the book. Can I count you in?” As we began, he got a feel for how weird the process was going to be. Once he realized that I was open to any crazy idea he had for the music, he really jumped in and made my insanity work.
My thoughts on listening to storytelling through those little radio play/ songs from a world I invented in my head was “I can’t believe no one cut me off and convinced me that this couldn’t work.” Part of the success was that I couldn’t find anyone else that had really done exactly this before. There was no bar set for me to jump. Also, I seem to be resistant from learning the intended lessons of failure. I make adjustments and think I need to try something a little different on my next leap off the cliff, but I never really get the message that jumping from cliffs might not be something that should be attempted over and over.
Maybe writing in general is that cliff jumper without a learning curve. If writing is not it, then trying to be a full time writer is. If being a full time writer is still mildly noble, then coming back to zombie stories over and over has to be jumping from cliffs without a glider or a chute because this time I might just fly. If writing zombie stories still isn’t enough, then thinking “you know what a zombie story needs? An original, musical soundtrack!” might be the sign of true insanity. My zombies don’t need jet powered butt packs. Apparently, I keep leaping off the cliff expecting to grow one myself.
The different zombie story may come down to taking a leap off a cliff story wise that seems worth a try just because no one else has done it. Maybe they haven’t because there are rocks down there, but maybe this one will be the magic cliff that will teach me how to fly finally.
Zombie fans have incredible endurance. I think they are getting tired of the empty stories, but imagine what they will do if they finally get something that surprises them. I wouldn’t trade zombie fans for any other genre of fandom. I’ll take any fandom and all their pennies, mind you, but I’m not giving up on the zombie fans to do it. They have stuck with this genre through a lot of hard times. I’m still going to try to give them something different. Here we go over the cliff together again. Hold my hand. Don’t be weird about it. Just hold it!
Check out the first book in the Dead Song dodecology and the soundtrack The Sound May Suffer for the story told through words, pictures, and 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!