New Frontiers: This Dark Earth

The publicity push for Southern Gods is over – I’m told that the first three months are the make and break time for any book and after that it’s just long-tail sales. SG is still hanging in there, pretty well, but I don’t actually have any sales figures in my grubby hands. I think it’s doing okay. Seems to be. Whatever those Amazon ranking numbers mean. But hey! I can live with opacity. 100% opacity. Heh. Heh heh. Photoshop joke FTW.

I’ve started the next phase, working with my editors to make sure that my next two novels are the best they can be. It really is a gratifying experience to work with editors who have a sure hand on the tiller, guiding me in my revisions, rewrites and edits. Both of my editors, Adam Wilson at Simon & Schuster and Andrew Karre at Carolrhoda Labs – differ in style but they’re both very detailed and precise and possessed of a keen eye for story and theme. Their editorial letters have given This Dark Earth and The Twelve-Fingered Boy new strength and stronger character arcs, tightening the structure in both books. As I said on the Twitters (you should be following) I love this kind of collaboration.

For my readers, I’d like to say a few words on This Dark Earth hopefully to pique your interest.

THIS DARK EARTH AND THE END OF THE WORLD

I love post-apocalyptic novels. When I was growing up, my father terrified me with possible nuclear annihilation scenarios and movies like The Day After didn’t help much either. At night during thunderstorms, I’d look out the window and worry that the lightning flashes intermittently illuminating the dark were actually nuclear strikes and that with each flash, it was the apocalypse. My own private apocalypse. I didn’t sleep well, those nights. I’d draw pictures of the bomb shelter I planned to dig in the back yard. I was enough of a realist at that age to understand that I wouldn’t be able to dig out a bomb shelter to the size you see in Donald Fagen’s “New Frontier” video – the stereotypical Atomic Cafe bomb shelter with running water, kitchenette, and toilet. No, I had more modest goals. My shelter more resembled a coffin with a periscope. I didn’t realize how apropos the coffin-like aspect of it was and I hope it wasn’t my subconscious saying something.Don’t know what all that says about me as a kid, but I spent waaaaay too much time alone with my thoughts.

Yet I loved apocalyptic fiction – Lucifer’s Hammer, Earth Abides, The Stand, Alas, Babylon, Farnham’s Freehold… hell, I could go on all day listing novels about the end of the world.

So, when it came to writing my second novel, I thought I might tackle that subject, the end of the world.

I’d recently watched the remake of Dawn of the Dead and read Brian Keene’s The Rising. Those two works in conjunction actually gave me bad dreams, seriously bad dreams. Kings of infinite space and bind me in a nutshell and all that. This was in 2008 and, I have to admit here, at that time, I wasn’t too aware of the current zombie craze. So I started doing a little online browsing and was totally astonished at the amount of zombie fiction out there. I bought a few more books and started reading. I enjoyed the faux Studs Terkle approach that Max Brooks took with World War Z and I started seeing the constant presence of the military in zombie books and fiction. That gave me the first inkling of an idea for a novel.

ON SLOW VERSUS FAST ZOMBIES

For my money, I love the traditional Romero zombie, the shambling, slow zombie. Keene’s demon possessed zombies are terrifying, and the super-fast zombies of the Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Days Later are awesome too, but if I was gonna write about them, I was gonna go traditional. Because, honestly, I wasn’t interested in the undead as an avenue for creating horror, I was interested in them as a crucible. A pressure cooker in which to place my protagonists.

Side note:  Guys are funny. You probably could stop any regular dude (or female under 25) on the street and ask, “What’s your zombie survival plan?” and without a moment’s hesitation they’d rattle off what they’d do. I started asking my friends. They all had varied responses of the same stripe. Get guns and head to Wal-Mart. I usually refrained from ridiculing them. Wal-Mart? Well, there’d be a shitload of other people heading that way, too. Thing about zombies is that any other person is a potential enemy. Maybe that’s the lure (and the terrifying aspect) of zombies – it highlights our distrust of other people because, realistically, people are not to be trusted. There is a baseness to mankind that none of my experience has disproved. Zombies are the perfect analogy for the human condition – especially the American condition. Consumption and anger and stupid shambling people. Don’t get me wrong. I love America, but the majority of bible thumping, gas-guzzling, brainless Americans addicted to Dancing With The Stars and reality television and a life devoid of higher thought… you can keep those folks. They’re already zombies and just don’t know it yet.

No, so I sat down and started thinking about the situation seriously. What I’d do if it really happened? If zombies rose? I came to some conclusions rather quickly.

APOCALYPSE IN ARKANSAS

Location, location, location. It works for real estate and zombie survival.

First up, the zombie apocalypse in Arkansas. In New York or LA or Dallas or even Memphis, the general populace would be in trouble pretty quickly. With all that biomass suddenly becoming carnivorous, you’d be hard pressed to survive without an endless supply of ammunition. But what about my home state? Arkansas has a population of approximately two million people. In the WHOLE STATE. There are more people in the city of St. Louis or Memphis than we have within our state borders. Dallas alone has three times the population as our state. Good thing I destroyed Texas in a nuclear fire. That was fun. Wait…where was I?

Arkansas’ population. We’re not Montana or Alaska in population density, but we’re not that far off either. And like Montana, most Arkansas residents have guns. We’re a hunting society. Country folk. The closest city to Arkansas of any size is Memphis but luckily, we have the Mississippi river between between us. To the north and west, the Ozark and Quachita mountains and rural areas for hundreds of miles. Come zombie season, we’re sitting pretty.

So, with our population density, our geographic location and the natural predilection of the populace toward gunplay, I thought the zombie apocalypse in Arkansas would be pretty tame.

So I had to make the situation worse.

That’s right.

Nuclear war. Zombies and nuclear war is like a big old undead radioactive double fudge brownie for you to stuff in your cakehole.

MY ZOMBIE/NUCLEAR WAR SURVIVAL PLAN

I had to make a couple of suppositions regarding the walking dead. 1) Reanimated corpses are creatures of instinct and so they group and respond like flocks of birds or schools of fish. 2) Zombies can’t climb, swim, or do anything better than living humans except for the always hungry not dying thing they’re pretty damned good at. This means, no walking through rivers that would normally sweep a healthy human away. DIGRESSION: My dear, slightly addled, friend Erik Smetana has this idiotic thought that zombies can climb chainlink fences. And for years – YEARS! – he’s been saying this to me. Finally I said, “Hey, Smetana, do me a favor, willya? Go outside, find the nearest chainlink fence, and climb over that bastard, okay?” That shut him up. Because, folks, it’s freaking hard even for someone who’s breathing. For a zombie? Impossible. However, Mr. Zombie might have a thousand friends and they could just push the damn thing over, which is far more likely. END DIGRESSION.

My zombie plan? Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with Wal-Mart, that’s for sure. I thought about it long and hard. Silly to say, but it’s true. I really pondered the best place to make a stand. The deal is, you’ve got to get away from any larger populace and into the country but not too far into the wild or you’ll be living like a caveman in a month. No, you have to find the area with the least population density and then set up a defensible location. And the best defensible location for your money?

A bridge.

You can check out my interactive little zombie-proof fortress right here.

FUN THIS DARK EARTH FACTS

The title was cribbed from “Make It Rain” by Tom Waits.

My dog Cookie has a cameo.

I kill characters named Rector and Smetana.

I got the idea for the novel from a story I wrote called “Heaven of Animals” featuring a dour cowboy and a recurring character of mine named Red Wolf, a slightly batshit ex-professor who considers himself a “phony Indian.” They’re tasked with wrangling zombies for the slaughter. You can buy that story, and three others, here for only 99¢.

The town called Tulaville is totally a creation of my own mind. The Tula indians were the tribe that kicked Hernando de Soto’s ass bad enough to make him want to stop searching for gold in la Florida.

I worked with a pathologist to get the Lesch-Nyhan virus/bioweapon details correct. Any errors in medical procedures are mine.

I discovered the Lesch-Nyhan disease in college, before the internet, by browsing through actual reference books.

There is a crucifixion scene that I’ve been waiting all my life to write.

I get to destroy Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I also destroy Dallas which I enjoyed probably more than I should’ve.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT?

This Dark Earth will be released next summer – that’s what we’re shooting for. You’ll be able to get it at all the regular brick-and-mortar stores (whichever ones of them are still solvent in eight months). There’ll be ebooks and all that, too. I’ll do a self-funded book tour in support of it, probably on the east coast. And I’m seriously considering San Diego Comic-Con.

I have seen TDE‘s cover and I think it’s pretty damned awesome. Unfortunately, I don’t have to the go-ahead to share it with you all yet, but hopefully I will soon, before New Years. However, publishing being what it is, it probably won’t be before New Years.

After that? My young adult novel, The Twelve-Fingered Boy will be released by Lerner Publishing/Carolrhoda Labs, in the spring of 2013. I will do another New Frontiers entry on that in the coming weeks as I’m revising it and working on its sequel, Incarcerado.

Beyond that? The Incorruptibles is under submission. We’ve had some early interest – and that’s all I can say on that matter – but we’re really hopeful that this book will go to a fabulous home that can give it the exposure and release it deserves.

Please share your zombie survival plan in the comment section.

That is all.

10 comments

  • Funny to talk doomsday scenarios of the undead variety since I just received a box of that ridiculously brilliant Z-Max ammo from Hornady. What’s next? Black & Decker making a contraption that shoots wooden stakes?

    Talking “the plan” has fascinated me since I was a kid. My old man thought Y2K was going to end the world, so we had an “apocalypse panty” in our basement, stocked with canned goods, MRE’s, batteries, flashlights, spotlights, tactical lights, water purifiers, buckshot, birdshot, magnum slugs, .45ACP, gasoline and a generator…along with gold/dollar bills for barter and trade. Y2K came and went and the room morphed into a holding cell for CostCo run-off. But I loved the preparation.

    As for our plan, I’ve got about a thousand rounds of Winchester white box (.308, .45, 9mm) and a couple hundred rounds of Federal buckshot to waste on zombies. I would save the personal defense cartridges for humans. I’ve got a go-bag, too, with the essentials. Wise makes freeze dried emergency food kits with a 25 year shelf life. For $150 you get 84 servings. Well worth the investment, and one less thing to worry about while survivors are eating each other at Wal-mart over a bag of melted pizza rolls…or getting eaten themselves because they thought the Kroger would be free of zombies. My girl and I would round up every living family member we safely could and take surface streets/backroads to her grandparents 29-acre tract down in south Georgia. It would be dangerous but worth it. The property is isolated, well-stocked, and well-armed. There is a well and a generator. What I imagine I wouldn’t have enough of is gasoline. If I couldn’t siphon it, I’d have to steal it.

    That’s what the hollow points would be for.

    • Gas is tough. But water is worse. Hope you make it to the well and don’t have to go anywhere near Atlanta.

      Last time I was in Florida, it occurred to me that all the beach houses there, up high on stilts to protect them from storm surge, would be very easy to convert into zombie proof homes. Take a saw or axe to the steps leading up to the doors, the walkways to the beach, and you’d have yourself a home very hard to get into. And out of.

      I imagine sailboats would be in short supply very quickly.

  • My plan is simple. Find a place to hole up that can be defended indefinitely and has resources.

    Isle Royale, in Lake Superior. That’s where I am going, come the Zombie Apocalypse. Or one of the islands up in Lake of the Woods.

  • I’d recently watched the remake of Dawn of the Dead…

    That movie introduced me to “The Man Comes Around”.

    Also, what really gave me nightmares was not the movie, but the little short documentary “news show” they had on the DVD, with the actor from Babylon 5. *That* gave me nightmares. (Admittedly, I was sick with a fever at the time…)

  • The Day After still haunts me. Where all children instructed to watch it or something? To this day, I can’t see Baby Ruth candy bars and not think of nuclear annihilation.

  • Hey, thrilled to find another Arkansawyer and writer rolled into one. Howdy, neighbor!

    Have you read Robin Becker’s BRAINS book? She’s hanging out in Arkansas, too, in advance of the zombie apocalypse.

    We’re all the smart ones!

  • Really glad I stumbled upon this website! All of these upcoming books look fantastic! Espescially This Dark Earth! I can’t wait to read it!

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