Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Art of GRACE AMONG THE DEAD: Digital Drugstore Cowpunching

My wife, Cynthia Aiken, took it upon herself to illustrate scenes from my novel Grace Among the Dead by way of fulfilling an art school assignment, and maybe drawing attention to my work, while in turn drawing attention to her art. So let’s see if this works:
Art Copyright © 2015 Angry Chicken Studio.

Oxford shirts smeared brown and black, their ragged ties stiff with old blood, our first three office stooges get their numb, dead feet back under them. The two others behind them shuffle and growl for the delay. Now, all five are reaching for me over the counter, trying to work out how to get over it without falling face-forward and losing their footing again.
Their craving to chew into my warm, living flesh will soon overcome the matter of their undead dignity. Here, with their arms outstretched, their heads laid out across the counter, these ghouls are all but offering themselves to me.
I pull my panga from my belt. My beautiful panga, weapon of choice of the Rwandan genocide, and the most invaluable souvenir of my Kansas adventure. My left arm is hobbled from the woman’s crushing grip so it’s raw adrenaline driving its wide blade through the arms of the first two office stooges and the near hand of the third before sticking halfway through his other wrist.

The man in the picture didn’t look at all what I imagined Derek Grace to look like. The Dead Silencer is in his mid-40s. This character is dressed young. A duckbill and a wife-beater? Heck, put some ink on those arms while we’re at it.

To be fair, my wife had not read the previous novel, Bleeding Kansas, in which it’s established from the jump that he’s a middle-aged man struggling out of middle-aged professional irrelevance when the Final Flu crashes infrastructure, and the rise of the dead to feast on the flesh of the living separates him from his two nearly grown children. I may have to retcon Chapter 1 of Grace Among the Dead to fix this, as I like the idea of the books in my series standing independently of each other; i.e., you don’t have to read the book that came out before to make sense of the book you’re reading now.

Also, I subscribe to Elmore Leonard’s philosophy regarding character description. Unless there’s something about the character’s appearance that is integral to the story, let the reader cast and clothe the character in his mind. My wife read the above quoted passage, and that’s what she came up with.

I’m flattered to see these characters coming to life at all. And if you buy the book, and you like to think of Derek Grace as rocking full sleeves of sick ink, well, that’s how he rolls.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Surf: Terry Border’s BENT OBJECTS

First in what will likely be a very short series about Sites I Like.

While drinking and surfing the Internet, I often come across images I like that I automatically download with no regard for who did them. That happened with this image right here. I knew it would be a hit on my Facebook page.

I’m especially impressed by the gloating expression on the one-eyed zombie in the middle.

Hard to resist for a guy who writes zombie fiction, amirite?

Look at this, though. Someone took the trouble to make these objects and photograph them. This wasn’t something someone gundecked at the coffee table while half-bored watching Game of Thrones. Note the morbid color of the zombie peanuts versus the healthy victim. Note the carefully graded background lighting, the texture of the surface the objects stand on, the placement of those objects in the photo.

The least I could do was a reverse image search (right click on the image with your mouse, if you don’t know), find out who did this, give them credit—and maybe get a better resolution image out of the deal. 

And so it was that I found Terry Border and his Bent Objects page. Border has another page set up for selling prints and whatever, but Bent Objects is where he cuts loose.
FEAR the WALKING BREAD. The necrotic look of the zombie bread is squick-a-licious.

You can follow Terry Border on Facebook and on Twitter. He has what looks to be a couple of truly charming and whimsical children’s books, so check those out if you’re in the market for some non-corporate franchise fun.

The feel of Border’s work reminds me a lot of the Penny Cartoons from Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which I know helps absolutely no one, so click the above links already. While indulging my guilt, I learned Border had a picture of his used by George Takei without credit. Border wrote a blog post saying all he wanted was a little love, i.e., recognition. I say to heck with that. Buy his books, send him money. Love may be what he wants, but we all know what he needs to keep the good work coming.

Sermon over. Now get off the computer and go outside. Don’t waste a pretty day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

State of the Apocalypse, Semi-Immediate Post-Solstice Edtion

This was originally titled “The Ides of June Edition.” Then the Ides of June became the next week’s summer solstice, and then that became three days after. I just haven’t been in a bloggy groove for a while. I’m too busy rewriting, retconning, and going on a general murder spree regarding all my narrative tics. 

I suppose I could have written about current events in the news. I would have picked up one audience while alienating others. As it is, I post nothing, there’s nothing for anyone to read, and I have no audience at all.

Still, it’s better this way. As I used to tell my children (now grown and done with me), drama belongs on the TV. Or, more to the point, in a book. And I really, really want to finish this last book in my SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series and send it off with a gooey, gruey bang.

Here’s just a small taste of what I’ve been working on. Check out everything that’s going on here:

I walk up to Smug Young Thing, groaning in the dirt alongside the road. “Hey,” I say, nudging his ribs with the tip of my boot, “how long have you been working these checkpoints?”

His expression is the closest thing to an undead rage face I’ve seen on a living human. “I’ve been in charge of perimeter security since February, you ass,” he says.

Smug Young Thing jerks to one side in a heroic effort to retrieve his AR-15, but my heel catches his operative shoulder as it comes up. I push him back to the hardpan between the road and the drainage ditch. My foot still on him, I lean over to retrieve his rifle.

“So, you’re aware of what happened that night when a young man came by looking to get the midwife.”

“Aware, shit. I was the one who turned him away. I heard the cow and her sprog died. You gonna send the whiny faggot over to finish me? I’ll be impressed if he has the balls to do it. He begged like a bitch.”

I yank him up by the front of his shirt. “Justin Driscoll is one of our best warriors. That he won’t waste his talents seeking revenge on trash like you shows a strength of spirit I hope to understand some day.” I shove him back to the earth. “I should live so long.”

Smug Young Thing does a fine job of suppressing his pain. That is, until he lands on his wrecked shoulder. I notice another odor in the air as I strip him of his sidearm. His phone—it’s in a bright green protective case, but it’s the same Provisional Government-issue model Dietzen issued us. I wonder how long he’s had this

Not that I need to know that badly. I step away from Smug Young Thing and look towards the woods on the opposite side of the road, then towards Elyssa’s and Brother Christopher’s convoy. 

“Heads up!”

The shotgun blast that distracted the checkpoint crew rang like a homing beacon to the local population. The smoke from the burning live bodies has to be attracting them, too. And now Agnes, who can see them coming from her perch high up in the truck, has already started the engine.

“Wait,” squeals the former chief of perimeter security for the Abundant Life settlement. “Aren’t you going to shoot me?” He struggles to get up, but it’s hard to do with one arm.

“I just did.” I put my heel out again and push him back down, again to his bad side. Although I missed the artery, the little psychopath sustained serious trauma on his right shoulder. The round scooped the entirety of his upper deltoid clean from the bone. Gotta love those hollowpoints.

I don’t want to spoil the moment by walking away too fast. I have to trust that the woman in the filthy, blood-rotted shift will settle for the easy meat moaning and weeping behind me. The high shrieking I hear over the chatter of Mom’s Taxi as I begin climbing confirms that she did just that.

There’s no sense wasting time trying to look smooth while scrambling up the ladder, though. A man wearing the black ribbons of a white T-shirt and the ruins of boxer shorts shuffles up behind the woman. It won’t be long until the rest of the Diner’s Club gets here.

Weapons porn, check. Revenge porn, check. A Great Evil we will have to deal with down the road. (Check that phone!) Zombies. Zombies eating people. A flame-thrower, and burning bodies. The kind of truck you climb into via rope ladder. Plucky survivors who have the evil living and the amoral dead to contend with. It’s all here.

Readers may recognize this passage from a few months back. It’s streamlined, yet with one added feature. It’s been one hell of a grind going through all these pages and making sure everything ties together, that everything has a purpose.

I’m still haunted by a passage I read in a popular, perennial zombie book series, in which the hero encounters a newcomer to his survivor’s camp whose speech and attitude promise trouble to come—only to have the author forget we met this person as the drama builds into the third act. 

The name of this book isn’t important. Nor am I judging the author, because I know how easy this is to do. In this case, it simply looked like a good confrontational scene; he might have left it in there for just that reason, while missing how this character has defined herself as someone who will be trouble later. Maybe he dealt with this person in the next book. 

What I know for certain is that, as there was no resolution to this conflict addressed in the book at hand, it created a discordant note in the narrative. It was a classic violation of Chekhov’s dictum that, if there is a rifle over the mantle in Act I, that same rifle needs to be discharged by Act III. 

Again, though, it’s easy to do, especially if the narrative has been going on for a while. Fortunately, the fix is just as easy. It will, however, require going one page at a time to find these scenes, and either tie them together with something before or after the scene in question, or omit the scene altogether.

When will I be done with this? I wish I knew. It’s going to be a short summer, Charlie Brown.

If you’re looking for some slam-bang zompocalypse action to read in the meantime, and you missed the link above, here it is again. I’ve got to get back to work.
Assume the position, son. It ain’t gonna write itself.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Horror at Lunch

With a stickpin and the right ketchup packet, we have instant entertainment to transport us from the more banal evils of the “news” cycle.

If only for a moment. Or when I finally look away, whichever comes first.