Monday, May 30, 2016

“True, I could do without all these funeral home rejects stumbling around looking to bite my ass off.”

I always chuckle at the heroes in other writers’ zombie apocalypses when they have their, “We will take it back” moment. It’s even more ridiculous than the boilerplate “We will rebuild” line you get at the end of most disaster porn stories, because...well, let Mr. Derek Grace, the Dead Silencer himself, explain this through first-person narration:

“You’re not much of a people person, are you?”
I laugh. “The only real ‘people persons’ left are the dead. They sure like people, don’t they? Mmm-mm. Yum-yum, eat ‘em up.”
“That’s just mean.”
“We brought it on ourselves, Kim. Finally, the human race is the next best thing to extinct and I can’t say I mind it.”
“You know you don’t mean that. If people come together, they could take it all back.”
“You’d think so. We could hunt the smelly yellow and green people-eaters to extinction, like we’ve done so much else. People need motivation, though. The woolly mammoth, sabre-tooth tiger, all those had value as either food or skins. All you get from killing walkers is a toxic pile of rot. People would rather scurry around like rodents from trash pile to trash pile than to….”
I shake my head clear of the “profundity” of these drunk-stoned thoughts. I might as well be speaking in tongues. I top off my glass, hoping the alcohol will dull my buzzing, stinging nerves.
“You’re really angry, aren’t you?”
“True, I could do without all these funeral home rejects stumbling around looking to bite my ass off.” I look at the woman across the table from me, and I’m almost startled sober by the realization. “You’re the first survivor I’ve seen since I got back to Colorado. My God, I suppose they’re all gone….”

There’s good news and bad news on that score. The bad news is they’re not all gone. The good news is...they’re not all gone. Grace Among the Dead is a story of Love, Redemption, and a Monster Truck. We meet some bad guys right out the gate. But we also meet some good people worth saving. (I know some of you bitched about that in regards to the denizens of Bleeding Kansas. Hey, what can I tell ya? I’m not exactly a people person, either. Most of us aren’t, which is why we apocalypse in the first place.)

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.

Yet Another Self-Absorbed Twit of a Writer Ruminates on Suicide and What It Means to Him

You no longer see it as death
so much as the end of worry
the finale of fatigue,
the null of aches, chills & coughs

and glorious emancipation
from that most hateful tyranny 
of other people’s schedules

“It’s just so selfish!”
screeched my ex-
girlfriend when I mentioned
having these thoughts. “You
don’t even think about
how this will affect 
everyone else
around you!”

“Maybe I’m just
tired of worrying about 
everyone else around me,” 
I shouted back.
“Maybe I’d like to
do something for myself
for a change.”

Really, all I wanted to do
then was sleep. I’d been up
nights and nights and nights
and the days were getting more
and more awkward 
as if the very sunlight 
was disgusted with my

“You’re still here?” Mister Sun
seemed to say

“Get off my ass” I’d snap back.

From the forthcoming collection Nymphomagic Electroshock and Other Middle-Aged Complaints.
Copyright © 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

It’s One Goodbye After Another in the Post-Apocalypse

This scene from Chapter 2 of Grace Among the Dead is all the more poignant for me at this point in A.D. 2016, as I also find myself saying goodbye to a house of long years, and the memories of better times:
It was Sunday afternoon when I pulled up at my house on the north side of Colorado Springs. The streets were clear, but it was as hot as it was bright, which meant the dead haunted the doorways, or wherever they could find shade. I saw one getting to her feet from behind a hedge as I passed, another staggering out from behind a tree. I might as well have been the ice cream truck playing a merry tune, bringing all the half-rotted kiddies from their yards.
I parked in the driveway outside of the garage. I killed the engine and pulled out my house keys. “It’s me,” I said, as loudly as I dared as I opened the front door.
I pulled the screen door shut behind me and locked it before closing the front door. “It’s me,” I said again. I could feel the emptiness of the house. Not even a cat. I went into the kitchen. 
There was an odor coming from the door leading into the garage. I drew a deep breath and held it before throwing open the door. I should have known; this was the only place they could take the trash out. A good thing they weren’t here too long. 
The pantry stood empty. Even the plastic trash bags were gone. On the stove was a thin, battered, red spiral notebook with “DAD” written in bold Sharpie marker across the front. The pages in front were torn out so that only Sybil’s three-page note and some blank paper in back were left.
The date at the top of the first page was Thursday, May 15. That was my second day of more-or-less consciousness in Natalia, Kansas, still shaking off the painkillers given me after my plane crash the previous Saturday. While I was getting myself together, it was already too late for Sybil and Jack.
I left the kitchen to make my last tour through the rooms where we’d spent the last seven years of our lives. The last…it was all I could do to keep from being overcome by the very sound of this word in my head. 
I took a book from my son’s room (he had a good picture book on firearms we’d given him for Christmas), then some other books from my downstairs office. I found one of our overnight bags on the floor in the hall, as if someone had dropped it in their haste to get out. I put the books inside, along with some clothes from my bedroom. I spared a moment to look at the unmade bed, and the yellowy outline a heavily sweating body left on the fitted sheet. 
Standing in the light of the picture window looking over the backyard, I read as much as I could of Sybil’s note. Later, I would have it all but memorized.

The note goes on to detail Sybil and Jack’s ordeal holding down the house before they took the opportunity to leave their undead-infested neighborhood for rural Pueblo County. In reviewing this chapter for rewriting/remastering for the eventual omnibus edition of my series, I was struck by how heartbreakingly dark the story got, especially in regards to what happened with Claire Grace, and what the children were forced to do with their pets.

For all the choppy-chop, shoot-’em-up hijinks, the zombie apocalypse is a dark and sad place. Ultimately, THE SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER is about redemption through action. But there must be loss. So much loss.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Why Thomas Wolfe and I Are Getting the Hell Out of Dodge

I wrote this shortly after a road trip I took to the Baltimore/ Washington DC area in 1987. It’s strange how the American Deep South creates some of the best artists and art, yet so many of us have to put it in the rear view mirror to make that art happen.

The scrub oaks on the rolling sand hills,
the pines greening the ancient sand dunes

fade into the bare white skeletons of 
trees I recognize as 
alien. The familiar flattens 

into the coastal plain of 
Northern states and those 
Northern states of mind 
where restless Southern boys,
aloof in strangeness, might

furiously reproduce 
the diseases of their souls
in the laboratory
of another world far more friendly
than where those viruses incubated.

a common ground to be
as uncommon as I like
as the aches I’ve 
carried with me become
the only familiarity
which threatens but soon 

will flounder and drown
in a depth of distance
my car easily conquers.

From the forthcoming collection Nymphomagic Electroshock and Other Middle-Aged Complaints.
Copyright © 1987, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken.

Friday, May 20, 2016

“To prepare a face to meet the faces”

There will be time, there will be time 
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; 
There will be time to murder and create 

T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Here, our intrepid, soon-to-be-legendary zombie fighter realizes he’s not fighting people. These reanimated dead are human only in general appearance:
There’s no way Angie could have made a face like that when she was alive. Not on tequila, not on angel dust, not on a dare. Her teeth are dry like her eyes; they don’t glisten so much as glow with menace. This is a monster’s face. I realize now the worst wasn’t leaving her on the floor like a pair of dirty socks. It was letting this dutiful, sweet daughter of the paved-over prairies turn into this.
There will be a lot of dead-for-good bodies lying around like piles of dirty socks by the time this is all over. Read the full chapter with this passage here, or go ahead and get your copy of Bleeding Kansas in Kindle or paperback, and get your apocalypse on already.

“Like regular TV programming, this is all going away”

In which we find our hero cooking breakfast in a luxury hotel kitchen the morning after the first night of the living dead, awaiting the inevitable.

The timer beeps over the fry vat. I pull up the basket, bang it to the side to knock the oil off, and hook it to drain. The snap-clicks as I shut off the fryer and the grill—I wish I had something less trite than “sounds like the slamming of coffin lids,” but it’s all I got.
I hear the TV outside in the bar. I look around the kitchen. The bright overhead lights. The fry vats and electric grills. Humming. Buzzing. Functioning.
Like regular TV programming, this is all going away. 
I doubt there was even an evening shift to relieve at the power plants this a.m. How about the water and sewage treatment plants? How many of those workers were straining against the yellow tape when the dead kicked out of their winding sheets and clambered out of the trenches on each other’s backs?
 I pull up a stool. I could sit outside at the bar but I need to take all this in without the distractions of Tanner, the TV, and whatever might be pawing at the front plate glass in the lobby.

I’ve got the full chapter in serial form here. There’s so much going on in Bleeding Kansas and its sequel, Grace Among the Dead, I can afford to print up entire chapters. As it is, the Kindle editions cost less than a happy hour beer, yet deliver hours of deliriously crunk entertainment.

We commence the collapse of civilization in Bleeding Kansas, wherein our intrepid hero, Derek Grace, must survive a plane crash, combat with the undead at the local Wal-Mart, an exploding fire truck, a female hardbody assassin, and lots of walking dead people-things.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.

I’m told it reads even better in German. This edition from Luzifer Verlag also sports a hellacious one-of-a-kind cover courtesy of ace artist Michael Schubert:
You can buy this German version stateside here.
You know you wanna.

Book 2, Grace Among the Dead, steps up the game with a tale of love and redemption, the living dead, and a flame-throwing monster truck. We’ve got an arc going from decadence to...respectability?...for our hero. As close as it gets, anyway. You should savor this big book o’ hell while it lasts, because things are about to go completely to shit.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Jack and Puff on Watch at the Basement Window Well

It’s a fine Colorado spring morning, and when it’s warm enough, I open the window of my office. The Call Smell of the Wild comes through, attracting our two youngest household feline units, Puff and Halloween Jack.
What's that?


That. Over there.

Whoa, hey, what?

Now what were we looking at over here?

Never mind.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sordid Tales of My Sort-Of Career: “A Writer Is Always Writing”

...or. as Ionesco put it, thinking about writing. And then writing. Never forget that last part.

For most of my life I’ve doubted I could ever truly consider myself a writer. Writers write books, and for decades I’d yet to assemble so much as a collection of short stories. I’d tried, sure, but despite the size of the box pictured below, it would be far too slender a volume to be considered a proper book. You really need to be a story-a-day kind of person like Ray Bradbury to succeed at this. I simply didn’t write enough. Just enough to fill a file box with the multiple tweaked editions of those stories and the rejection letters they brought home.

These are multiple copies of stories kept along with their rejection letters. They vary wildly in tone and theme and genre. And, frankly, they’re not that good.

I can put forth a case that the short story market was already over in 1992 and 1993 when I was sending out something every week. Because it was. I was wasting postage and time for that alone. But, looking back, I see the usual crude morality tales written by a starry-eyed fuckwit who thinks he’s going to save the world with his cleverly (to his mind) arranged words.

While perhaps not as turgid and talky as most creatures of writing programs—oh, who am I kidding? My stuff wasn’t that good. “Better than most” doesn’t cut it, even it is true, and that’s up for debate.

For the longest time, my sole publishing credit was a 1990 appearance in a horror comic anthology Taboo #4. I shared the table of contents with the likes of Alan Moore and Moebius...but it was only because the book’s editor liked the artist who illustrated my script, the artist had something to prove, namely that he could get himself published with even one of my stories...and I’m not beaming with pride about that thing, either. I got paid, though. It was the one and only time I’d get paid for writing fiction until 2013, when my novel Bleeding Kansas got picked up by Severed Press.

“So far away and so long ago
But a dream goes on forever.”
Or, in my case, 23 years.
In 1994 I wrote articles for $25 a pop on city council meetings and surf contests for the Imperial Beach (CA) Times in 1994. It was nothing to get excited about, and once I left for Japan later that year, I was done getting paid for writing in the 20th century, and the first decade of the 21st after that.

I had bylines in a sporadically produced lefty giveaway paper based in South Carolina called Point. It felt good getting published over the Internet all the way from where I was living in Japan—it was heady stuff for 1997—but that lasted only as long as the magazine did, and Point folded in 2000.

I’d post links to the pages, but, frankly, I’m embarrassed. The columns aren’t that good, and, besides, I don’t do politics anymore. At all. From any side. Leave me out of it.

My safe space, February 2014. It’s a lot more stripped down now, but that’s another story.

So much for me being a writer. I was just another guy who had been published in some out-of-the-way places. Big deal. For years I felt a half-step removed from the plain-faced girl who gets a poem published in a church newsletter and won’t shut up about it, because it’s all she’ll ever do with her sad, empty life.

I wasn’t a writer. Still, I kept writing. I’ve got a big, formless blob of an unfinished novel that I slaved over for nine years before James Robert Smith pulled me away to collaborate on a zombie novel, and thank God for that. 

My inability to keep a deadline got me fired from the project. Which I took more or less in stride, because, after all, Bob’s the writer. He’s got one novel optioned for film, and a book of short stories so damn big it’s partitioned into sections for themes. Me, well, it’s obvious I just dabble. Look at my credits. What credits? Exactly.

This isn’t even all of my big, formless blob. I didn’t bother printing the last 500 or so pages of front-back galleys I’d written before shelving Cringe City.

I laughed to see I’d actually written something with this title. It’s actually a poignant story that will make a fine novella should I decide to come back to it. It wasn’t a complete waste of nine years.

I abandoned my nebulous mess of a novel for the Wonder Boys foolishness it was. Still, I was writing. Every now and then I have to do one of these major shred-and-purge jobs on the printed drafts piling up my closet, and I come across weird crap I forgot writing. Terrible stuff, most of it.

How I finally became a novelist in my 50s is a multi-post story and podcast all to itself. Suffice it to say I started getting serious writing the novel that would become Bleeding Kansas, and began releasing it in installments on this blog, like I’m doing now with The Wrong Kind of Dead. James Robert Smith dropped a dime on me to an editor at Severed Press, and I was off to the races. The next thing I know, those morbid imaginings I thrashed out in a sunless corner of my small basement room are being translated into German.  

So if you take one thing away from all of this, it’s simply keep going. You are what you do. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Be realistic about your skills and abilities and what you’ve actually done so far—honestly, that’s what I was doing above. Never confuse a realistic assessment with “negativity.” If you’re throwing a pity-party, though, I’m calling the cops.

You’re a writer. Yippi-yi-ki-yay. Try not to make a big deal out of it, because it isn’t. It’s just something you do.

Here’s a twist—Write Hard, LIVE Free. Just a thought.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Elegy for a Century Barely Begun

What I miss most
is the sense
of something
“These things are gone forever
Over a long time ago
Oh yeah.”

a new song
a new dance 

a whole national
to love
or fashionably

Lord pity these children
who look forward 
to nothing
but the next
Summer Christmas
Blockbuster Event

of stale
fart jokes
& obscure culture 
to make 
mom & dad
feel clever 

& remind 
the rest of us
there’s nothing new
but the remake

the toys in the
Happy Meal™
the joyless
Sex the
senseless Toil 

a few more
Shopping seasons

From the forthcoming collection Nymphomagic Electroshock and Other Middle-Aged Complaints.
Copyright © 2004, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

People-Watching in the Post-Apocalypse

From the sticky red pages of BLEEDING KANSAS:

I rather like this passage from Chapter 16. A quiet little think piece, with zombies, as you’ll see only in this genre. Seriously, can you see this happening with vampires or werewolves or ghosts? Bigfoot? Kaiju?

I see them as they pass the privacy hedge between me and the house next door. The sun fails behind them, as if their passing drains the very light from the world. Men in suits, men in denim and wife-beaters. Children in pajamas, mothers in their gowns. 
And then there are the ones who didn’t obviously die of the Flu first…I’d never thought about what Tanner meant by that, what had him so shaken up as we leveled off in the plane. Now I know. I cannot unsee them. The ones whose heads hang to one side because the meat around the collarbone is so damned convenient. The defensive wounds on the arms. Where huge chunks of flesh were torn right through their clothing, fabric embedded about the edges of their wounds, by jaws driven with the force of senseless rigor mortis and rage-purposed hunger. Those children in their pajamas…blood-black-stiff pajamas…shit….
The first rows sport glistening new blood-bibs, the chin-to-crotch remains of Natalia’s high-end slacker community. In Emory Kerch’s Hard Workin’ New World, the party really is over. It’s dripping down the front of a homeschooling mom in her shift, staining the power tie of that sales rep. 
That same tie is crimped from where someone had grabbed it in an attempt to steer those hungry, meat-clotted teeth away from her own face. Or his face. You can guess who those are stumbling up a couple of rows behind. They’re damned hard to look at, with the skin pulled away, the muscle exposed beneath their eyes, around their mouths. I wonder if they died right away from the shock or they had to bleed out first. 
Their collective moaning forms a low hum, like an epic cloud of flesh-eating flies. They reach the rear of the Cadillac, close enough to touch. The arms of the ones in front go up, they pick up speed. And just as they’re about to touch, the kid lets his foot off the brake. The horde lets loose a collective groan in frustration. The kid releases a thoom! in response.
I get up to go to the window on the other side of the room. The driver stops before each house. Kerch is letting us know he’s not making exceptions for anyone. 
Well, good for him, I think, taking another gulp from the growler bottle. All governments rule by terror. Kerch’s terror just happens to be more terrifying than most.
Gore porn among the living dead, and a thought on social control. All within 500 words. Later on, there will be sex, before we come to murder with our coffee and fresh laundry in the morning.

I love how I went over the top with this book, like describing one of those dark-as-fuck 1970s movies as it ran frame by frame in my head. It's a feeling I'm striving to get back into as I finish writing The Wrong Kind of Dead. Stay turned, uh, tuned. Read my other stuff while you wait.
They're coming to get you, Barbara. They're coming for all of us.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Character Transformation in the Post-Apocalypse

Fun with tropes in zombie apocalypse fiction.

A scene from Grace Among the Dead,
as rendered by my wife, Cynthia. It’s okay, Grace
has been hacking at undead for a while by this point.
A while back, when I would force myself to read the reviews on Amazon, I saw one for Bleeding Kansas from a reader who complained that my protagonist, Derek Grace, goes from everyday ordinary guy to a zombie-killing “Terminator” too quickly in the book.

I might have dismissed this as one of those troll reviews on behalf of another indie author looking to boost himself by undercutting his perceived competition, but the argument was presented well. My problem, though, is this zero-to-hero-in-nothing-flat trope is an issue with every single zombie novel I’ve ever read.

I read one popular series that started with the usual illness that brings people down, then back up again as cannibal corpses. The hero’s wife is working at the hospital, and she’s bitten by one of the resurrected. She calls our hero, who is watching their baby at home, and thus the audience is informed of the rules of this zombie apocalypse: get sick or get bit, you’ll die, then resurrect, then you’ll bite someone else. The Circle of Unlife.

Even though this sounds boilerplate—which it is—an author still needs to run that boilerplate, in order to affirm the audiences expectations. (For instance, if this was a brain-eating zombie novel, a body with a brain missing might be found, and we the readers will know what we’re up against before our heroes do.) What bothered about that particular scene was everything is going to hell, the hero knows it, and now he learns his wife is dying, and will have to be put down by her colleagues before she resurrects. The hero’s reaction to learning he’s about to become a widower and a single father in the middle of a plague? “Oh, wow, sorry, honey. So that’s what’s happening, and you’re dying, too? Okay, then. I’ll take care of our baby. I love you. Bye.

The hero might have spent a sentence feeling sad immediately after hanging up; I’m not sure. It’s been a while since I read this, and I don’t want to say the sadness wasn’t noted. But it did seem that the hero went right from mild-mannered high school administrator and babysitter to a weapons and tactical expert well within the same page.

If anyone complained about that, I missed it. Not that it matters. Again, this is a common issue. I’m proud to say I did what I could to address that in my own series. If it wasn’t enough for some readers, that’s on me.

Bleeding Kansas begins with the usual sickness that starts the zombie apocalypse. Derek Grace is flying out of town to an interview that promises to break him out of the limbo of unemployment, and his wife is too sick to drive him to the airport. He’s more irritated at this situation than sympathetic towards his wife. (No one knows this is the end of the world yet.) Grace becomes even more irritated when it turns out his cab driver is sick, too. So is every other person at the airport.

Grace can’t afford to get sick. He needs this job, or his house goes into foreclosure. He’s also ambivalent towards his family. Years of professional unemployment and its attendant anxieties have embittered him to the point where he wants to toss over everything associated with his old, impoverished life and start anew, 600 miles away from where his pecuniary miseries began. 

From pp. 8-9:

After the last four years of waking to the terror of the same day, it’s not just a new city I want. Hell, I’ll save the company some money and tell them not to bother flying me home once I have the job. I’ll find a house and buy my furniture one stick at a time. Sybil’s 18; Jack will likely move out with me, so I won’t have to sweat child support.
It’s not that I hate Claire, or that I’m going middle-age stupid for young pussy, or anything like that. Our you-and-me-against-the-world groove has run its course. That’s all. After bumping past each other in the house nearly every day since I got cut from my last position, we’re done. After 22 years I expect she’ll be grateful to see me gone, too. She just doesn’t know it yet.

Later on the same page Grace receives a call from his wife at home. She seems to have recovered from the illness, but she’s consumed with dread that her current well-being is “the eye of the hurricane.” (This sense of dread was common to the mysterious and fatal “sweating sickness” of the 15th and 16th centuries in England.) Claire Grace’s insistence that her husband stay and get that job they need so badly shames Grace into trying to make arrangements to come back home. The supervisor who was supposed to interview Grace is sick, too, after all, and Grace now fully appreciates that his desperation for professional employment has warped his sense of priorities.

By the next morning when Grace tries to make arrangements to travel, it’s apparent that the “Mayday Malaise” is not the summer cold the media has played it up to be. Enough people have called in sick, or called in saying they’re taking care of their sick, that the airlines aren’t running any flights. Not much of anything is open or working. Soon Grace can’t even call home, as the networks that support cell and landline phones are no longer operational.

Derek Grace finds himself under lockdown in a nearly empty luxury hotel as the city goes under martial law and the mass burials begin. His one other companion is a self-described security consultant named Tanner who tries to take charge, but only angers Grace with his passive-aggressive attempts at social dominance.

One of Tanner’s hijinks was leaving Grace to fight an undead woman with no weapons at hand, forcing Grace to finesse a way that would force Tanner to shoot her. Grace realizes he’s pretty much on his own and has to find weapons. In the course of doing so he ends up making his first zombie kills.

These kills do not come without a price. From page 46:

I stand over the stilled bodies, fighting my gag reflex. I’m aware of a terrible shit-and-spoiled-meat odor and it’s not helping my adrenaline hangover. I marvel at how readily I slashed at other humans with sharp blades and swung blunt objects into their skulls.
I barely make it to the sink. The projectile force of my vomit covers the distance for me. I turn on the spigot and work the spray hose to rinse my mouth and clear the sink.

Misanthropy, self-loathing, terror, and rage are a hell of a cocktail. It’s quite all right to puke after your first.

I turn to face the bodies. Of course, they’re not human; this instinct to eat living flesh is nasty, to hell with them! Still. This came so easy. Not that I’m ungrateful for this opportunity to second-guess my own success. Still, rage issues? Was Tanner right?

Characters in zombie apocalypse novels become quickly accustomed to dead bodies lying around, which you’d think would be traumatizing enough without some of those bodies rising up, their wounds bled dry, to come after you and eat you alive. Then you find yourself cutting pieces of them away, and bludgeoning the others, in ways you can’t imagine doing to a living creature.

I’m convinced you’d have to be a little twisted up inside to survive civilization’s fall to mindless, flesh-hungry corpses. You would have to get used to some nasty things in quick order.

I’d rather not look at the bodies in the lobby, let alone manhandle them outside, but they won’t smell any better come morning, and I’m going to want breakfast. I find a luggage dolly and start rolling the bodies two at a time to the dock. Then I find some disinfectant and get the blood and shit up as best I can.
In any event, Tanner doesn’t need to know what I just learned I’m capable of. Not while I’m still trying to make sense of it myself.
God help me, this is actually kind of thrilling.

It’s not difficult to understand why so little, if any, effort is expended explaining our character’s reaction to what we already understand to be happening. As readers, we want to get on with the show. We know what kind of apocalypse we’re in for. We know our hero has to rise to the occasion.

The quicker we get these story components in place, the better. Otherwise, we turn into the famously awful second season of The Walking Dead, when the show nearly bored its fanbase out of existence for all of the “exploration of relationships” or whatever they called all that talking and bickering.

By necessity, there will be some down time in between the action in which our character must bind wounds, take stock, and consider the next move. On page 82, after the mayhem and terror of the first act has passed, our hero takes the opportunity  to reflect on the preposterous reality of his present, which turns out to be only slightly more preposterous than the reality of his past:

I wipe a mirror clear. Aside from the five-days growth of beard, I can’t imagine this was the man taking thousands of dollars in vouchers out on the town in Kansas City, savoring the idea of escaping poverty—and the people he’d lived through it with. Who had bluffed his way past trigger-happy National Guardsmen.
Good Lord, I really did that, didn’t I? Bantered with a cop, then fought that same cop in his undead form. I played and won the alpha-dog game with Tanner, escaped an undead swarm, and flew away from another just in time. That is, after using a pack of crackers to lure a retarded child and his insistent mother away from our plane, to a death as messy as it was certain.
I look at myself. My family is gone. And with them gone I realize I have no idea who I am. What I am. What to do.

Derek Grace was a fake-it-til-you-make-it kind of guy when he was an unemployed professional trying to fake his way back into a living salary. He’ll end up faking it until he inadvertently makes it as the titular Dead Silencer, a slightly overstated celebrity that gets him in as much trouble as it sometimes gets him out. 

His guilt for his failings as a husband and father will haunt him in Grace Among the Dead, requiring a bitter resolution in The Wrong Kind of Dead. My SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series is crammed full of violent and dark set-pieces, but the people who inhabit its world are just that. People. 

Again, the trick is to make sure this doesn’t devolve into melodrama along the lines of Season 2 of The Walking Dead. People who presumably knew what they were doing fumbled that narrative ball. I’m just one man, and I have to be smarter.

Good luck to all of us, then. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again: this may be a simple zombie apocalypse action series, but that’s my name on the cover, so I’m putting everything I’ve got into it. Here’s hoping you honor your own labors likewise.
Some melodrama is absolutely necessary, of course. Walking corpses eating living flesh handily lend themselves to multiple servings of lurid and morbid tropes driving lurid and morbid scenes.