I have a habit of not talking about what I'm writing. There are two parts to this. 1) I often feel like talking too much about something I'm writing robs it of a lot of energy. Sometimes I can talk so much about something that I feel no desire to actually get it on paper. And 2) I don't want to jinx any of the projects I'm working on by mentioning them. If there's something I'm excited about and mention it to a lot of people, I don't want to have to go back to this people later and explain that it's not going to happen should some disaster befall the whole process. I've been burned by both of those in the past. Or, perhaps I should say, I have burned myself with both of those in the past.
Such was the case with my novel. Which, for the past few months, I have been calling simply, "The novel." I didn't want to mention too many specifics here as I wrote it. And now that a draft is done and some people have asked about it, I want to talk about it in more detail, but it feels really awkward. Like when you want to bring up something in casual conversation, maybe something you are really proud of -- some accomplishment -- but there's no graceful way to steer the conversation that way and so you just end up bringing it up and you feel like an ass, but you just can't help yourself. Or maybe that's just me.
Anyway, I know that no one mentioned novels, but hey, let me tell you about the novel I just wrote! For starters, it has a title: Zomburbia. It's a YA novel. Here's the elevator pitch:
Zomburbia is about a smart-ass sixteen-year-old girl trying to navigate burgeoning first love in a world infested by zombies.
That log line is a work-in-progress, but it's nearly there. Also, I am very proud of myself for having spelled "burgeoning" correctly on the first attempt.
So. A zombie novel. I resisted it for a long time. I know that zombies are everywhere right now and that makes me think that they are about to disappear. I did think about something else as a first novel, but everything I thought of interested me less than Zomburbia. Nothing inspired me in the same way. So I decided to go with my gut and hope I was doing the right thing.
The world of Zomburbia is different than other zombie stories in that the world never ground to a halt because of the zombie infestation. Of course, they were never able to get rid of the undead either, so now they're a threat, but one that everyone is familiar with.
Here's a little bit about where the idea came from. This may be of interest to exactly no one, but what the hell. I live in Salem, Oregon. Salem is about an hour south of Portland. There was a time when my wife and I drove back and forth to Portland a lot. We'd see friends, catch a rock show, go to eat, see plays. Portland is a nice place to go and experience some culture that isn't available in Salem. On one of these trips, I sat in the passenger seat and just watched the scenery roll by. The area between Salem and Portland is open fields for the most part. Agricultural land, and not all of it along the highways is developed. Sometimes it's easy to watch that empty land roll by and imagine that there's not a single person alive out there. I was thinking that very thing on that trip and, as is my wont, I started imaging why the land would be empty. Naturally, for me anyway, zombies were the first thing to come to mind. One of the things that's always bothered me about zombie movies is the way civilization just grinds to a halt. I think that humans have overcome way worse things in its history than the dead returning. (Before everyone rushes to tell me about it, I am aware of a film out there called Fido, which posits the same kind of world. Friends told me about it after I had the general outline to Zomburbia done and I was willing to talk about it. But I have purposefully avoided watching the movie because I didn't want to be contaminated by it.) I started to imagine a world where zombies had come back, but that still functioned. What would that world look like? How would you live in it? And then I imagined a bored teenager living in this world. She would think of zombies as just another nuisance in her day to day life right along with boys, her friends, her teachers and parents. Zombies might be more deadly than any of those things, but they're still just one more hassle to try and avoid as she goes about her business.
And after I knew what kind of girl this still unnamed character was, the story just sort of came to me all in a flash. Her, her friends and her dad, I knew what kinds of characters they were. I knew the broad outlines of the story. I knew what she would have to overcome by the novels end. I knew practically all of it. That sort of inspiration has never come to me before, and I remember getting home that night and writing away in one of my notebooks trying to capture all of it. It's at this point that I have to admit that I did rework that original outline. If I was given the story from A to Z, I actually used everything from, say, A to W. I changed the ending, made the girl more sympathetic and less of an outright psychotic. She was pretty dark in the original and I brightened her up a bit.
And I think I'll stop there. I don't want to discuss too much more. I'm going to start rewriting the book next month and so things might change, but the basic world and concept will stay the same.
So, if you've been wondering what I was working on for the last five months, there you go.
*The picture that goes with this post is a still from the seminal zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, written directed by George Romero.