Tag Archives: writing tip

Love in the Time Before Zombies

Outside the bedroom window, storm clouds turn the sky a steely blue.

Norm and Jill are afraid that the world is unraveling and that soon, civilization will collapse.

Some people are waiting for the time of the zombies to come, both fearing it and desperately craving it. They want apocalypse, burning cities, every man for himself. They stock up on weapons and canned food and reading glasses. They build bunkers and become survivalists. They learn which insects and weeds to eat and how to shoot a crossbow. They watch zombie TV and wait for the time of the zombies to come.

Some people don’t want to be lumped in with the zombies, don’t want to go down in a hail of bullets, or the shrapnel of a fertilizer bomb. Norm and Jill are like that, but they’re afraid it’s coming and there’s no stopping it. They came into being about six years ago. They and two little children living in an apartment in New York, exactly like the one I lived in, growing more fearful as 25,000 words accumulated until one day they just stopped mid-paragraph. It was titled, Love in the Time Before Zombies. A lot people don’t like that title because they think it’s derivative. *

Norm is kind of like me, only better at his job. But dumber, too. Jill is loosely based on my wife. I say loosely because it’s safer for me that way, you understand.

They have two barely sketched out kids, Brian and Dot. Little is known of them other than that they both like cute, cuddly things. We don’t know their ages, what color hair they have, whether they’re plump or skinny or ordinary or exceptional. Their names will change a half dozen or more times.

The story starts with a line that violates the first of Walt the Dog’s Rules of Writing: “Unless you’re Pat Conroy, don’t use weather to start a story. Even in the prologue.”

Love in the Time Before Zombies
Chapter 1, Verse 1

Lightning flashes on the gray sky across the river over New Jersey, and then it strikes startlingly nearby. Thunder follows an instant later and she flinches in the bed beside me, but doesn’t wake. She can sleep through anything. Most nights, I can’t even fall asleep.

In a moment, Brian’s tousled head appears in the door. He rubs his eyes. “What was that?”

“Just thunder,” I say. “It’s just a storm.”

“Can I get in bed with you?”

I pull the covers aside for him and he runs to the bed, clambers up and over me and lands between Jill and me. She murmurs something, licks her lips and rolls onto her side, draping an arm over Brian as another blast of thunder shakes the room. I hear a scream, pounding footsteps and Dot bounds into our bedroom, her hands covering her mouth, tears on her little cheeks and she too dives onto the bed.

“Mommy, mommy, mommy!” she shrieks.

Jill wraps her arms around Dot, cradling her, kissing her hair. “Shhhh, my little punctuation mark. It’s OK. Mommy’s right here.”


So, the story continues and eventually the storm subsides, and frankly, some of the sentences I make up are overblown and self-important and embarrassing. The kids fall asleep and Jill is quiet and Norm starts to drift off when she says, “Norm, how are we doing? I mean, how much do we have in the bank?”

That line about money is supposed to be important to our understanding of this couple. Jill the money manager, the financial wiz is suddenly worried about money. Norm says he’ll check their account balances in the morning and she insists he do it right then and there. He does and when he comes back to bed, she’s asleep.

Love in the Time Before Zombies, is a pre-apocalyptic tale. I mean, once you have zombies, you have the apocalypse, and these events are all the things that happen leading right up to that. These may be pre-zombie times, but make no mistake about it, the zombies are coming.

* As Bob Dylan sang, “if there’s an original thought out there, I could sure use it right now.”

The source of your writing power

 

It’s all about appearances; the writing life has its demands. These include, explaining at parties what you’re working on when you yourself are clueless. You explain how you’re cranking out a few thousands words each and every morning and that you’re sure that once each word has been organized, catalogued, edited, and rewritten, the story disguised within will rise. Like a fucking phoenix.

Look, one minute it’s a dystopian mystery, the next it’s sci-fi existential flibnar set in pre-Victorian Ecuador.

Maybe you have a blog. Or 9 blogs. Few read them, but you have them anyway and you tweet your posts but let’s face it, you don’t want anyone you know in the real world to know what you’re doing online so you only sometimes tweet and maybe that’s under a pseudonym; ahem, that’s nom du plume to you. You need to be institutionalized.

You have to look like someone who is up to the business of wordification. How you dress defines how you write. That’s just common sense and is as important to the process as which pen nib you use, which typewriter you pound upon, whether you write on legal or A4, on a PC or a tablet, and whether you write in coffee shops or perched upon an I-beam at a construction site, which really gets the blood flowing.

At some point, you’re going to realize you haven’t done whatever grooming you still bother to do, so you shave. And you need a haircut, so you go to get a haircut. Then you’re in the chair with that thing they drape on you to keep the hair crumbs out of your clothes when you realize, crap, maybe your hair is the source of your writing powers and you should never let your hair be cut again. Lest you never write again, and the people, starved of your words, whither and perish…intellectually, that is. Otherwise they’re fine.

The point is, writing power springs from uncut hair, and that’s your tip of the day. Don’t believe me? Don’t cut your hair for two years and see your productivity soar. If I’m wrong, go ahead, get a haircut. Take the money you saved on haircuts and treat yourself to a night out or a Maserati. You deserve it.