Guess what I did? I wrote a book! And after toiling – bravely no doubt – through whatever exactly happens to a book between me turning in the manuscript and it sliding out of the printing press, it has now been loosed into the wild just in time for frenzied last minute holiday shopping and post holiday gift card purchases! $10 on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. *cough*
I’m not going to patronize you devastatingly attractive people by pretending this isn’t all just a ploy to get you to purchase my book ($10 on Amazon). Of course it is. I really, really want you to buy it. But Nick has supportively suggested that I share my experiences as a first time author with you as a way to transform my shameless self-promotion into something a bit more palatable. So that is what I will do.
First things first. My book…
Buy two copies and receive those two copies in the mail!
The book is a detailed revisionist history about the mostly forgotten – yet no less critical – role that the living dead have played in the American narrative, from the first arrival of European explorers on North American shores, up through the Reagan administration’s covert involvement in the Soviet War in Afghanistan. Along with pages glowing hot with the harsh piercing light of the truth, the book is also coated with a veritable horde of old maps, photos, and lovely new illustrations by Jonathon Buck.
As to that author name: for those who don’t already know, I often write under Worm, which is an old childhood nickname (older brothers). And yes, I am a doctor. Of history. And young ladies’ hearts.
Okay. Now, I know what you’re thinking…
Thank god someone finally wrote another zombie book! It’s about damn time!
In all seriousness, it has been minor agony for me knowing that likely no one is thinking that, unless you are building a fort made entirely out of zombie books. While I have been surprised by the reactions I’ve gotten from the average person – namely that they are largely unaware of the mash-up subgenre beyond Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and that many are shockingly just now getting exposed to zombies via AMC’s The Walking Dead (where have they been for the past ten years?) – I mostly exist in the un-average sectors of the world. Sectors like CHUD, where the topic of the mash-up subgenre might inspire CHUD papa bear Mr. Nunziata to say, “I hate these things blindly based on what they represent.” Or Ms. Rappe’s Facebook friends to react thusly to a link to my book…
So why did I write a book about zombies?
Simple. Because someone asked me to. And in such a situation I always implement Winston Zeddemore Ghostbusters logic: If someone asks if you want to write a book, you say, “yes!” Long-story-short: Keith, the acquisitions guy at my publisher, tracked me down because he had read some of my humor pieces on-line. We discussed me writing a book. Zombies naturally came up, given their “hot” status, and after kicking around some ideas we emerged with the American History angle (for those unfamiliar with historian Howard Zinn, the book’s title is a play on his classic revisionist tomb, A People’s History of the United States).
I was just happy the publisher didn’t want me to add zombies to A Catcher in the Rye or something. Honestly, zombies aside, I was extremely excited to write a fake history book. As anyone who reads either of my current columns – This Day In History’s Movies or Horror 101 – can likely tell, I love history and I enjoy writing faux academic pieces. Plus I like monsters. So ZHUS ($10 on Amazon) was a sexy marriage of interests for me. What easily could have been a cash-grab job (I’m certainly not above such a thing; don’t think I’m trying to convince you that I have any integrity), thankfully transformed into something I could nerd the fuck out on.
Mapping out the book was relatively easy. I knew I would start with the Vikings landing in Vinland (the first “discovery” of North America), and end things nowish, touching on some recent events. I just had to select what to throw in between. Before I had even decided upon my book’s tone or approach, I started reading and researching. First I re-read Zinn’s book, which I was ostensibly parodying. Then my shelves and boxes were promptly emptied of all the books by David McCollough, Stephen Ambrose, Edmund Morris, and others. And god bless the Internet. If I had been writing this book fifteen years ago, I never would have been able to leave the library, considering how frequently I was doing Google searches for dates, name spellings, quotes, and specific details on various historic events. There are a lot of great history sites out there (also a lot of contradictory info). Though bits were added and dropped here or there later on, in fairly short order I had figured out all the major periods and incidents in American history I was going to shed new light on.
Actually starting the book was a weird process. I rarely get writer’s block (I can’t afford it), but I had it pretty bad the first couple weeks working on the book. The problem was I had not actually decided what the book’s “thing” was going to be. Clearly the book was supposed to be funny. But funny in what way? Would I go for easy jokes? Should the prose itself be humorous? Should the book be absurdist? Should my history be wackily inaccurate, fudging facts even the stupidest person knows? And how much of a parody of Zinn’s book should mine even be? Ultimately I decided I couldn’t bear to write an overly jokey book. I wanted this thing to be dry as fuck. Like desert dry. I was in for the long con here. Apart from having zombies in it, I wanted it to be hard for you to tell where actual history ends and my bullshit begins; I wanted you to be hitting Google every few pages out of curiosity. As ridiculous as it may sound, I wanted you to actually be able to learn a few things from my dumbass book. I think the coolest reaction someone could have to the book ($10 on Amazon) would be becoming inspired to learn more about a particular period or person.
I also made the decision not to specifically parody Zinn’s book (this decision was made easier by my discovery that almost no one I knew had actually read the book). While still taking Zinn’s quote-heavy revisionist approach of shining a light on an obscured element of American history, I did not want to talk about zombies as if they were a wrongly oppressed minority (Zinn’s book retells American history from the perspective of African slaves and Native Americans). Zombies are dangerous. They eat people. Who could get self-righteous about their “subjugation?” Maybe I was splitting hairs, but to me that is too silly to be interesting. Either way, I now had my “thing.”
Thankfully, being a working writer, I didn’t have to grapple with trying to find time to write. My heart goes out to anyone with a 9-to-5 trying to pump out a few thousands words a week in their spare time, especially if they have a wife and kids. I had it easy. Though I did envy those people’s steady paychecks. I quickly determined that it just wasn’t feasible for me to write all day on other things and then write all night on my book. All the work would have ended up suffering, or I would have gone mad. Anyone out there who does something creative knows what I’m talking about – you only got so much good juice in a given day. So I made the decision to turn down other work while I focused on the book. To any writers: if you ever want to beat the ever loving shit out of your saving’s account, write a book, my friends.
More sincerely, for those of you who have maybe been thinking of writing a book, but don’t have a lot of free time to monkey around, I must recommend thinking about doing some sort of historical fiction. My book would have taken twice as long to write if I hadn’t had history to use as a map. One of the handicaps that I gave myself eventually became my greatest ally. I refused to completely lie. The challenge was making my ideas fit within actual historical framework. This had the added benefit of making a lot of decisions for me through inherent limitations. Nothing slows a writer down like endless possibilities.
Given that I spend so much time writing as it is, I naively thought that doing a book couldn’t throw me many curve balls. The book ($10 on Amazon) had to be a minimum of 40,000 words long, which sounds like a lot, but really isn’t (this piece is about 2,700 words). But I quickly was met with two big surprises:
1) I had to shit words onto the page. Research was eating up a significant amount of my workday, so I simply had to get words on the page everyday to make progress. I have never subscribed to the philosophy of just sitting at the computer and seeing what happens. I know that works for some writers, but that’s how I end up with 100 files of worthless bullshit. I like to pace or go for a walk, waiting for inspiration to strike, and then write it down. Not this time around. While I never forced myself into a fascist system that demanded I hit a certain word count each day, I decided I had to write something every day that I worked. This diarrhea of words led directly to the second big surprise.
2) My prose had to be good! Now, that seems pretty damn obvious, but prior to writing this book ($10 on Amazon) my longform writing experience was bound to screenplays. While crafting a good script is incredibly hard, actually writing the screenplays is incredibly easy from a prose perspective. Your dialogue needs to be good, but the blocking can read like a children’s book. In fact, sometimes that’s the way a producer wants it. In a script I could write:
Tadah! Movie magic! Now some other sucker can figure things out.
I had spent too many damn years growing used to that lax medium. Looking over much of what I had initially written in my book it dawned on me – with ulcer-forming horror – that this all read like steaming mediocrity. My writing had to feel at least somewhat comparable to the level of prose found in a non-fiction history book, or else my long con gag wouldn’t work. Thinking up the book and getting those ideas on paper was a breeze. The real work came in turning that horseshit into something that felt plausible.
I have had very few creative experiences more stimulating and rewarding that the period of time when I was really kickin’ ass on my book. As a writer, the feeling that your ideas are hitting the page just like they should is I imagine similar to a quarterback bombing a pass down the field and successfully making contact with his intended receiver. And before I knew it, the book was suddenly done. Which was very bitter sweet. Then I handed over my manuscript to the publisher, which was incredibly…
Turning in your manuscript in the days before the Internet must have felt great. Binding your giant stack of papers with some string, or putting it in a box, and physically handing it to someone. That is how you finish a book. There is a palpable sense of closure. I clicked “send” in my gmail account. Doesn’t exactly fill one with a sense of awesome accomplishment. But I was done. Then I treated myself to a $60 bottle of bourbon. It was tasty.
How do I think the book ($10 on Amazon) turned out?
Right when I finished it I had absolutely no clue. I never do. Everything I write seems equally brilliant and catastrophically awful the moment I’m done. Frankly I still don’t really know. I am very happy I stuck to my guns on the book’s dry tone. I had visions of doom when I turned my manuscript in to the publisher; I was sure that they would reject it for not being jokey enough, and that I’d have to return the advance they gave me (which I had more than spent already). But they loved it. I am still worried about the general public though. My friends who have already read the book have applauded my ultra-nerdy approach, but they’re all ultra nerds too. My dad, who majored in history in college, brought up an extremely relevant concern after he read the book. He asked, “Do the kinds of people who buy books like this know enough about history to get it?” I don’t know. My big fear is that I wrote a book for no one: too subtle for the kinds of people who blindly snatch up funny zombie books and just want an easy laugh, and worse, that the kind of people who might actually enjoy the book will dismiss it at face value as just another obnoxious zombie book. Of course, worrying about how your published book will be received is the good kind of problem to have. So I’ll stop whining.
It was a lot of fucking work, but after receiving an advanced copy of the book from the initial test-printing the publisher did – holding it in my hands and thumbing through the pages – it was all worth it. The immediacy of Internet writing is wonderful, but its easiness also removes a certain sense of accomplishment. Here at CHUD, I can preview articles and go back later and fix errors that helpful Chewers may point out on the forum. Handing my book off and knowing that was it, no more time for changes – that was scary. But scary is exciting. I don’t know that holding my book in my hands was the proudest moment of my creative career, but it was pretty damn close. Seeing it on the shelves of Barnes & Noble this week was fucking badass too. And want to know a great way to make your mom super happy? Write a book and dedicate it to your parents. Me: 1, other siblings: 0. Bwah ha!
So, obviously, my book is great for me. But why should you spend your hard earned money ($10) on my book ($10 on Amazon)? There are a lot of books out there. Plenty of zombie books too. And the economy is still in the tank, so you may be hard up for cash. You might even be unemployed. Well, I can say with total sincerity that my book…
Will get you a job!
How? Buy it and find out. And the magic doesn’t stop there, folks! A Zombie’s History of the United States ($10 on Amazon) will not only get you laid, it will improve the intensity of your orgasms and the satisfaction of your partner!
Fellas, ZHUS has been shown to either restore or at least halt further hair loss in 2 out of 3 men.
Ladies? Buy my book and you’ll never have to wax again! ZHUS‘s patented revisionist history removes unwanted hair with just a sweep of its back cover.
Did I mention it whitens teeth and freshens breath too? It also attracts puppies and repels sharks. It can lead you to water in the desert, hover suspended one foot off the ground for up to 32 hours, make julienne fries, and is guaranteed to give you at least one semi-useful super power if you happen to be holding it while exposed to radiation. Buy two copies and you’ll even become taller (after you glue a copy to the bottom of each foot!)! The book is bound along the edges for easy organization of the many pages, each individually turnable, with front-and-back printing! Perfect for all your booklike needs!
So buy now and help support a worthy cause.*
Thank you for your time. By the way, did I mention how attractive you all are?
For any aspiring authors out there, please feel free to prod me with questions on the message board. I will be more than happy to share my sage-like non-wisdom with you.
* Making me a best-selling author.