Saturday, November 28, 2009

Zombies and Social Upheaval


Before the holiday, over at A World on Fire Brian blogged about the subject of the relationship of the zombie genre to periods of social dislocation in the United States. He approvingly linked to an older article at that charted a correlation between the production of movies with a theme related to the living dead and periods of war and social upheaval. Check out each link for more of each of their respective takes.

Now that all the Turkey Day festivities are out of the way, I'd like to add a few words to what Brian had to say about this.

I think that the correlation that found definitely exists - but only for a subsection of the genre. Periods of social upheaval contribute to the popularity of what you could call the zombie action genre, but do not necessarily contribute to the popularity of the zombie horror genre.

I think that to the extent the zombie genre is a subset of the horror genre, it would be hard to find a legitimate correlation. The production of horror films, and fashions within the production of horror films, is so deeply bound up with issues of film financing, film production codes, and the preferences of individual performers and directors that it would be hard to say, "These films were made because of the Viet Nam war," or "That set of films was the result of McCarthyism."

But not all zombie films [or stories in other media, which tend to track along with the fashions in film] can really be said to be part of the horror genre. Many of them - perhaps the majority now - are actually science-fiction action films or stories. Certainly films like 28 Days Later or Zach Snyder's version of Dawn of the Dead pretty clearly belong to the tradition of the science fiction disaster film more than they "fit" into horror. They're much more like Them or Day of the Triffids than they are like The Exorcist. I would argue that the appeal of these zombie action stories basically mirrors the appeal of the science fiction disaster film.

In her essay "The Imagination of Disaster", Susan Sontag outlined her view of the basic appeal of the science fiction disaster tale, and although I don't generally care for Sontag there's a lot in this particular essay to agree with. [Sorry, no link; I don't believe it's available online.]

The lure of such generalized disaster as a fantasy is that it releases one from normal obligations. The trump card of the end-of-the-world movies - like The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962) - is that great scene with New York or London Or Tokyo discovered empty, its entire population annihilated. Or, as in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1957), the entire movie can be devoted to the fantasy of occupying the deserted metropolis and starting all over again, a world Robinson Crusoe...Another kind of satisfaction these films supply is extreme moral simplification - that is to say, a morally acceptable fantasy where one can give outlet to cruel or at least amoral feelings. In this respect, science fiction films partly overlap with horror films. This is the undeniable pleasure we derive from looking at freaks, beings excluded from the category of the human. The sense of superiority over the freak conjoined in varying proportions with the titillation of fear and aversion makes it possible for moral scruples to be lifted, for cruelty to be enjoyed.

In this respect, the zombie action story is like Sontag's model of a science fiction disaster film on steroids, with the amp turned up to eleven. How much of the appeal lies in the more or less openly conceded idea that fighting off a a zombie apocalypse would be fun? Many popular zombie-themed sites - like Zombie Squad or the Zombie Research Society - make no bones about the fact that they are primarily interested in what you could call the survival problem, which is basically the Robinson Crusoe fantasy in a modern context. Basically the subconscious psychological appeal Sontag claimed existed in some types of end-of-the-world sci-fi has been consciously brought out into the open in the zombie genre; we now openly admit that there is something cathartic and almost attractive about the idea that on the day after the zombie apocalypse, none of us will have to go to work, and everything in the malls and the gun stores will be free for the taking, and anyone who has become a zombie can be blown away at will. I don't think it's an accident that one of the largest zombie groups at Facebook is called "The Hardest Part of a Zombie Apocalypse Will Be Pretending I'm Not Excited".

To tie this in to what Brian and the IO9 folks were saying, if this is in fact the appeal of the zombie action story, then it makes sense that these types of stories would be more popular during periods when the population was frustrated or under great stress. When things are going well, fewer people are interested in the catharsis of a release from everyday obligations. When things are going poorly, the reverse will be true.

Of course, I need to cover this entire post with a great big Not That There's Anything Wrong With That. A lot of these "pop psychology" analyses can sound like they're critical of fans of the genre. Certainly Sontag intended to be critical, and patronizing. Not me, though. I've got my own bug-out plan and I own all these films and I sat down and chose to write my own zombie story - so all of these things apply to me, too. But it's OK. I've learned how to own it.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

De Bello Lemures Featured at A World On Fire


A World On Fire is a zombie-themed horror blog that is updated with content very frequently and includes a lot of interactivity.

I'd recommend following this blog on Facebook, as well as browsing it directly. The Facebook fan community is very active and there's a lot of great commentary there.

They were kind enough to run a little feature on De Bello Lemures here.

I have to admit that I liked the enthusiasm of the guy who runs A World on Fire and his little marketing pitch for the book. I may have to steal all or part of it.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

De Bello Lemures Featured at


The astute zombie fans over at were kind enough to post a brief feature about De Bello Lemures this week.

Check it out!

I have to extend sincere thanks to Barry and all the folks over at I definitely noticed a spike in Kindle sales right after their feature ran. And it was really exciting to see my work mentioned on a key site within the genre community.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book Review: Naked Metamorphosis, by Eric Mays


In the course of working on promoting De Bello Lemures, I've inevitably come across other authors promoting their own works. [If I may be permitted to refer to myself as an author for a moment.] Recently this allowed me the opportunity to review a new title in the New Bizarro Author series at Eraserhead Press: Naked Metamorphosis, by Eric Mays.

For those of you not familiar with Bizarro, Wikipedia defines it as "a contemporary literary genre noted for its 'high weirdness'." I think that would be an understatement: it's not really merely contemporary, I would consider it extremely progressive and forward-looking. It's a genre that seeks to use the absurd to entertain - by mixing images and influences in a Grand Guignol of modern hyperreality. It's the reductio ad absurdum [literally] of the concept of the mash-up. Since I am nothing if not all about the mash-up, I am giving some Bizarro titles a shot.

Here's the Amazon description for Naked Metamorphosis:

Kafka's Shakespearean Tragedy!

All the world's a stage...and Franz Kafka wants to direct! The absurdist has got his hot little hands on the Bard's greatest work - Hamlet. Unfortunately, William S. Burroughs wants to direct too! Perhaps, George W. Bush wants a piece of the action as well.

One thing these literary creators haven't taken into consideration, though, are the characters. Horatio, Hamlet's college roommate, has reached the end of his rope trying to determine whether the piece is a tragedy or a comedy. Hamlet has dropped into a world of hallucinogens and drugs, and thinks he may be turning into a cockroach. And after the declaration of a ghost in Elsinore , Claudius has declared a "War on Terrors"!

What's it all about? And why is Puck around? These questions, and many more, will be answered in a bawdy, bizarro tale of Shakespearean proportions - complete with mistaken identity, ghosts, and true love lost.

Bizarro titles are supposed to barrel the reader over with sheer narrative momentum, inventive dialogue, and inspired weirdness. NAKED METAMORPHOSIS certainly succeeds at all of these.

It's not all just strangeness and transgression, however. There is a clever literary structure hidden under the Burroughs-esque imagery here. Part of that comes from using "Hamlet" as an inspiration, of course, but most of it is the author's own doing. It's sort of a revelation to get to the end and discover that there was a literary plan there all along, wearing a surreal disguise - it's like attending a building demolition and then waking up at the end to discover you're at a Kabuki play.

I was interested to see how the author would combine "Hamlet" and "Metamorphosis", since the former work gives us tragedy as the result of character and the outcome of the choice to either act or not act, and the latter work gives us tragedy as something that happens upon us regardless of our character and regardless of our decisions. I think - though I'm not sure - that the author thinks it's both at once. And shows that to us using a bawdy, funny, ridiculous comedy - while off-handedly having his narrator invent existentialism along the way, while dealing with some annoying actors.

A definite recommend. You can add a star if you're "into" the critical history of the original material, since a number of history's ephemeral "interpretations" of various Shakespearian characters make absurd appearances here or are reimagined in comical ways.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Paperback Version Temporarily Down


I have had some feedback about the POD paperback version that matches my own initial estimate of my proof: the front cover is [was] awkwardly centered, and the one or two typos that I did not catch in the proof process really stand out.

So I decided to bite the bullet and revise the files that CreateSpace and Amazon use to produce the POD version.

I've uploaded corrections that are now being processed. The new version should be back up for sale soon.

I hated to take it down, but now at least the paperback version and the Kindle version will match.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

De Bello Lemures Now Just $0.99 for the Kindle


When I made the edits described in my earlier post below, I took the opportunity to change the Kindle price at the same time.

New purchasers of Kindle copies will now get the "new iteration" of the book, and will get it for only $0.99.

Basically I've discovered that my Amazon sales rank in the Kindle store dramatically fluctuates as a result of minor changes in the number of copies sold per day. The sales rank crests and ebbs like the tide as individual copies are sold, and as time passes between sales. I'm lowering the price to try to push myself higher during the "crests". If you can get on and stay on some of the bestseller pages it helps product visibility a lot.

With the "Kindle for the PC" app coming out this month, at some point there will be a wave of new users looking for content, and I want to be highly visible when that happens.


Monday, November 9, 2009

De Bello Lemures Free Sample Now Available


Currently Kindle customers can preview De Bello Lemures for free using the Kindle Preview feature. But DTB paperback customers have been out of luck, until Amazon catches up on their "Look Inside!" backlog.

I am therefore going to make available a preview of the first 38 pages via Google Docs. In addition to the link in this post, I will be adding a permanent link on the left hand side of the home page.


De Bello Lemures, or the Roman War Against the Zombies of Armorica


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kindle and Version Control


One of the revolutionary things about publishing for the Kindle is that it is truly zero cost. Authors and publishers upload the text of books to be published as .html files, and Amazon does the rest.

As a result, correcting or updating the text of a Kindle book is as easy as editing an .html file and negotiating an upload window in your browser. There are no new books to print or old copies containing errata to destroy.

This became relevant to me because, as I mentioned in a post below, a reviewer on Amazon asked a pointed question about the title of De Bello Lemures that was not addressed in the text. As he no doubt noted, the title itself is not grammatically correct Latin: Lemures, as a plural noun, should not be used to modify Bello. The fun "noun adjunct" stuff you can do in English is not appropriate in Latin usage.

The truth is that I chose the title I did because I believed that a measurably higher number of people would be able to decipher De Bello Lemures as "Regarding the War of the Ghosts" than would have found a more grammatically appropriate title accessible. Of course, I should have considered that the very readers most able to do that would also be the readers most likely to note an error in Latin grammar. At one point in an early draft, the Foreword included text justifying my title by claiming that it was an addition by a medieval copyist. After the Carolingian Renaissance dried up and blew away, Latin usage even by the most literate churchmen became progressively more abominable as conditions across Europe worsened, so this explanation of my preferred title was certainly plausible, and fit nicely into the entire "palimpsest" narrative. Unfortunately, I cut this explanatory material from the Foreword, along with other material, in order to scale the Foreword down and keep it proportinate to the main body of the text...and naturally the very first reviewer called me out on it.

But thanks to the Kindle, I can correct this omission. I have added the explanation back into the Foreword as a brief footnote. Since I was changing the text anyway, I took the opportunity to correct a couple of other minor items in the text as well. And POOF! I was able to upload these changes into the Amazon system, where they will go live for new downloads in a day or two. With no cost but my [minor] effort.

One can envision publishing for the Kindle eventually becoming highly iterative in nature, as authors interact with readers and make textual changes based on their input. And that's very exciting to think about.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Upcoming Horror Project


One of the things that drew me to the zombie genre was its central place in the universe of apocalyptic fiction. I've always been interested in stories about how systems and societies fall apart. This may be related to my interest in history, which is often presented to the reader as a series of stories about how individual societies rise and then fall; apocalyptic fiction telescopes that process and personalizes it, and often applies it to our own society in interesting and thought-provoking ways. I've always loved the first twenty minutes of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, because it gives us a series of moments where it's clear that society's defenders - the police, the journalists, the government scientist, the helicopter pilot - realize that the situation is deteriorating from a mere emergency to the End of the World, and then shows us how that End actually comes when those defenders stop defending and proceed on the basis of "every man for himself". Society collapses with the speed of a landslide once a few key thresholds are passed. I've also always loved the last fifteen minutes of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, because I'm fascinated by the human beings in the central facility at Ape Control, who have to realize that they've lost the battle and have a ringside seat as humanity goes down for the count. I always wondered, "What would it be like to be in that room? How would that feel?" That bunker experience, to me, has elements of pure horror that can't be explored by other traditional horror tropes.

That's why it's a little funny to me that I've written a zombie novel - that doesn't explore either of those concepts at all. The "traditional" zombie story provides the perfect opportunity to tell an apocalyptic tale, and it also provides the perfect opportunity to explore the horror possibilities of the "last stand". But the zombie story I chose to tell doesn't do either of those, because it's much more of a Night of the Living Dead story than a Dawn story. And that leaves me with some unfinished business.

I'm going to try to finish that business by telling a new horror story, one that again I'm going to try to tell in an unconventional way. I've started an untitled project that will tell the story of the last days of Philistine Jerusalem, leading up to the city's sack and the extermination of the inhabitants, as described in the biblical Book of Judges and Deuteronomy. I have made the creative decision as well to give the "invaders" the supernatural advantage that the Bible stories describe. Although, as was the case with De Bello Lemures, this makes it possible to think of the story as belonging to the genre of historical fiction, I'm going to approach the story as if it were horror: What would it feel like to face the advance of an implacable enemy, bent on your annihiliation and the destruction of everything and everyone you know and love, if that enemy had been chosen by God to be your destroyer? If that enemy was fighting you with the support of the divine? I think that will explore the concepts I talked about above quite well, if I can properly execute what I'm trying to do. We'll see, I guess.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

De Bello Lemures Receives 5-Star Amazon Customer Review


When a new title is published and appears for sale on Amazon, naturally there are no customer reviews associated with that title. So there's a period of time that goes by when the title has no stars.

I obsessively visit the title's product page to keep track of its Amazon sales rank, and in the course of one of those visits I noticed that stars were suddenly associated with the title. That's a really nice "Woot!" moment - you're momentarily confused, and then you blaze around the page looking for the review section.

It's a favorable review, and I found it gratifying for that reason, but also because of the reasons this Kindle reader gives for his positive review. He "got" what I was trying to do with this title, and that made me feel like maybe I had accomplished what I set out to do. I'm going to post the review in almost its entirety [the reader asks a question in his review which I'll clip, and answer in a subsequent post]:

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars A very clever novella with some real creepiness, October 31, 2009
By John P. (Kennett Square, PA USA) - See all my reviews

Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I heard about this clever book from someone on a discussion board. The framing as a translation of a Roman manuscript is brilliantly done -- from the "cover" to the translator's introduction to the footnotes. The way it allows your imagination to work on what happened in AD 185 before you get to the actual manuscript reminded me of the slow build-up of an H. Rider Haggard novel. The story itself lives up to the frame. It has good suspense and pacing, with real chills. Overall, the author succeeds at the difficult task of writing a horror story that is both entertaining for modern readers and believable (or not wholly unbelievable) as an ancient work. On a few occasions, the spell was briefly broken when the dialogue became too modern. But those moments are rare.

Well done! I'm interested in seeing more work from this author.

That's really, really nice to read, as an author. The "frame" was a critical element of the story's conception, and I was not sure that readers would appreciate it. I was actually concerned that many readers would find fault with it and think that it detracted from the narrative. For this reader at least that was not the case.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Modest Kindle Sales Success


Kindle sales have been steady since this book's release. The book rose into the top 5000 items at the Kindle store at Amazon, and made it into the top 25 or top 100 in several of the book's Kindle subcategories or Amazon book subcategories. Seeing the book listed next to titles from "name" science fiction, fantasy, horror, and "zombie" authors was extremely gratifying.

One observation I have to make about the Kindle store is its price sensitivity. A lower price definitely equals higher sales through this channel. I've tried it at $9.95, $4.95 and $1.99, and the higher sales rate at $1.99 evens out the lower royalty per sale, and gets the book into more hands, and higher in the Amazon sales ranks. A high sales rank can turn into even more sales, since customers can browse to your title through the genre or category or subcategory, so this is a great trade-off, as far as I am concerned.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

De Bello Lemures Now Available for the Kindle


On October 24th, De Bello Lemures, Or The Roman War Against the Zombies of Armorica became available for the Kindle at

Now I just have to promote the damn thing.