Today is Independence Day, and also the one year anniversary of the kindle publication of President Zombie. I will be discussing certain themes presented in that book, as well as the Outbreak in the following paragraphs, just so you know. If you haven’t read those books you’ll be spoiled, and possibly confused by reading on. You can always click on the side bar link to join the email list for a free copy of the first book to get you started, if you’re new.
When I started writing The Resistance is Dead in March of 2016, I was doing my best to learn all of the rules of fiction writing as fast as I could. One of the big rules is to write what you know. Of course, that advice can only help but so much. I’m sure C.S. Lewis never knew a talking lion king, and J.K. Rowling never knew what it was like to be an orphan boy in wizard school, but they did insert what they knew about life within the frameworks of their stories to make them more believable. My story involves a zombie apocalypse from the perspective of an American President, which is about as far away from what I know as you can get. Including a zombie-fan perspective in the story was always in the plan, but I found it much more natural to include writing what I knew in Patrick Mills and his friends. And let me tell you, I knew a lot about how to party.
At first, I included the drinking, and weed smoking traits into the group as a way to make them flawed and believable, to be an accurate portrayal of the party lifestyle I happened to enjoy at the time. I thought it would be funny to have someone smoking pot and saving the day in a horror story for once. But the magic of fiction, especially when you are letting the story unfold one situation at a time, is that adding any element will change the flavor of everything else.
As the first book progressed, I began to realize that thematically the drinking and blazing habits were a great metaphor of zombism, just as consumers in a mall were a great metaphor in Dawn of the Dead. I allowed that theme to come forward by having Patrick Mills swear off all substances the morning after a harsh experience.
Separating the story from the source, I didn’t see the epiphany of a character I made up as having any bearing on my own lifestyle, and finished the first and second books while getting blasted on bourbon four to six days a week. My wife at the time was also a heavy drinker. I thought about quitting the sauce, briefly, but considered it too much of an inconvenience to follow through with. I still thought that I was having a good time checking out from the world so hard and so often. But subconsciously I was in pain. Imprisoned in a life where I felt that I was a product of my upbringing and environment, instead of understanding the empowering reality that I am a product of my daily choices. I hadn’t reached that moment of truth quite yet. My subconscious was calling out for help when I wrote Patrick’s decision to go sober. My subconscious also tapped into what I knew from my experience as a functional alcoholic when writing the perspective of a zombie who can think, but can’t verbalize his need for help. President Chambers always feels the hunger for flesh and brains clawing up to him, coaxing him, and he resists it for the sake of what remains of his humanity. Strong addiction themes throughout. My subconscious was getting louder, more fed up, and I remained oblivious.
I began my journey to quit drinking the week before President Zombie went live on Kindle. It wasn’t because I read between the lines of my story. It was because I was the target of a drive-by shooting.
I lived in an apartment complex just off a major highway in Durham, North Carolina, which has had a notorious reputation for gang violence for decades. One night, after an eight hour writing session tackling the big, action-packed climax at the end of the book, I rolled up a joint and went for a walk. There was a cluster of trees at the end of the property where I liked to go and smoke. It was 3:00AM, the road was empty. As I walked, I noticed a man sitting at the entrance of the complex and smoking a cigarette. I’d never seen him before, but didn’t think too much about it. I’m listening to my earbuds, and ten seconds after I pass him, I hear two sharp *pops* from behind me.
I stop, take out my earbuds, turn around to face the dark and silent street, and just then I see a set of headlights turn on about a quarter mile down the road. They hit the gas and start shooting more rounds. I’m frozen in my tracks for half a second, then start bolting, sprinting, running harder and faster and more furious than ever before in my miserable life. All my years of video games kicks in and I transform from a fat, drunk, ex-goth writer to John McClain in Die Hard just like that. I’m aiming for a cluster of trees up the hill by the road. As I run, the SUV is barreling down the road, popping off round after round. Time is all messed up, just like in most action scenes and a part of my brain is calmly counting pops as my legs and arms pump furiously and my torso sucks in air. That counting part muses about how each pop could be the last one I ever hear. Every time my left foot hits the pavement, there’s another *pop*. Fifteen shots in total. I skid the last few feet and scamper behind the tree just in time to see the SUV race past me and down to the freeway. I sprint towards home. The guy who was sitting at the entrance is calmly walking towards the parking lot. I avoid him at all costs and deadbolt the apartment door behind me.
That night I got drunker than ever before. I was too jazzed up, too freaked out. Drinking calmed me down, as I kept telling myself for years on end. A week later, after really letting the fact that I was still alive settle in, I quit.
I wish I could say that everything was great afterwards and that I stuck to my guns, but it wasn’t and after two months, I didn’t. But I am sober now, and it has been one heck of a year. On the other side of sobriety, I see the cries for help so clearly, and I know for certainty that sobering up was the best path I could take. Some people have no problem having a few drinks from time to time and leaving it at that. I’m not one of those people. Never have been. Most of the past year has been spent on that personal journey. I had to put the story on hold so that I could get my life where it needs to be, but the next chapter of The Resistance is Dead is currently in production, and I have just secured a talented artist for the cover of that book.
However, I’ve been thinking about writing another book called “Escaping Life and Death” which would explore the journey itself, and the subconscious themes of my series. It will be the most personal and candid bit of writing I’ve ever attempted, which is a little unsettling, to be honest. I like keeping my personal life personal. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Consider this a preview of that project.
Oh, and Happy Independence Day.