The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brief History of The Dead Part 1

Seeing as how the main thing I've got going for me right now is this zombie novel called The Dead, I thought some of you might like to hear how it came about, and what's happened with it over the years. I've been living with it for a very long time, and while it never really catches on, it doesn't ever quite lie down and expire, either...

The very first thing that got me thinking about writing a zombie book was a glance at a painting called The Triumph of Death, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder...I was going to Monmouth College at the time, in 1970, and I spent most of the middle seventies thinking about incorporating that sort of imagery into a novel. Very scary's an allegory of death triumphant, and you have these wizened corpses hunting down everyone on's cadavers all the way out to the horizon, and no one is escaping, peasants, kings, churchmen, they're all getting slaughtered, or herded into these big landing-craft things, presumably for slaughter later. Anyway, when I saw Dawn of the Dead later on, while I was out in South Bend, Indiana (my wife was going to Notre Dame)I thought to myself that Romero's vision, as entertaining as it was, wasn't as frightening as that old Bruegel picture. The fact is, it's very hard to imagine Romero-type zombies ever getting the upper hand on the rest of us. They're stupid and they're slow, and they'd get shut down pretty soon. But you don't have any chance at all against Bruegel's dead guys, and let's face it, that's a much more badass idea.

As the seventies ended, I started kicked around the notion of a living-dead story set at the Jersey Shore, because I'm from there, and I began constructing sequences in my head, some of them derived from dreams...the bit where our protagonists walk across the dead on the mudflat as the corpses are waking up was based on a very vivid nightmare. Being a Roman Catholic and a big C.S. Lewis fan, I decided to suspend the story from a Christian escatological scaffolding, and rationalize everything in accordance with that...I'm not particularly End-times oriented, but it seemed to me that the Resurrection and the Last Judgement were better plot devices than saying the zombies were caused by radiation from a Venus probe, or, for that matter, any sort of pseudo-rationalistic ploys, since we know that nothing sort of a miracle would bring dead people back. It occurred to me right from the gitgo that this approach would annoy a lot of people, so I decided not to softpedal the Christian aspect at all...I'd been reading Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, and it seemed to be that the sort of balls-out controversial tack he took was the only way to go (my other stuff is a whole lot less in-your-face, religiously speaking). Still, I continue to be amused and amazed by the reaction that some people have to the book...even though there's a ton of zombie-fighting and scary scenes, and all manner of carnage, very fast-paced, about a fifth of the reading population reacts solely to the theology, to the point where their little heads explode, and more than one has declared that it's not even a zombie book at all!

But I digress.

What convinced me to go ahead and actually write the book was my Grandpa's funeral in 1980...I noticed all sorts of weird details about funeral-parlor culture, and decided they really needed to be incorporated in a zombie story...I was particularly taken with the strange pink lighting (to cover up the color or the corpse, obviously) and the flowers that look like they have little pee-pees sticking out of them, and the fishtanks, invariably with one dead fish floating in them, being chawed on by the other fishies...I was working on the first draft within the week, and the book pretty much wrote itself. I think I spent about five months on it. The version that's presently available isn't too different; subsequent drafts cleaned up some prose issues, but there weren't too many of those...I did add the Bonewolves, the Cairn, miscellaneous Hell-fauna, and Legion's true non-human appearance later on, but that's really not too much material. Certainly the main points of the story and the characterizations were settled very early on. No matter what, the book predated the present zombie-craze by a very long time, Left Behind too, for that matter. If you don't count John Russo's Night of the Living Dead novelization from the mid-seventies (Mr. Russo deserves more credit for Romeroesque zombie mythology than he generally gets), which was, of course, based on a screenplay, The Dead might well have been the first original zombie novel out there. I could be mistaken, of course, and would happily submit to correction. The characterization of the zombies was also ahead of the curve (or way behind it, given Brueghel's influence)...they're fast, they're mean, and they have a program. John Russo was kicking around similar ideas, which show up in Return of the Living Dead (one of my favorite zombie flicks), but I was unaware of that screenplay till the film came out, by which time I'd already written the book.

More digression, I apologize, I'm the monkey...

Had no definite plans regarding publication...after I finished the first draft, I started working on Adventures of Samurai Cat, and had a publisher lined up for that, and was hoping that would lead to other publications, but it didn't at first. The people at TOR books were utterly uninterested in any non-cat material, and I made no headway with them...I managed to get an agent, but he informed me that The Dead was "the gospel according to Mark" and that I needed to cut at least half of it before he'd think about sending it around...deciding that was pretty worthless advice, I resigned myself to simply not selling the thing. But that wasn't the end of it, hence the fact that you're looking at this now...

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