Friday, July 1, 2011
The Making of The Zombie Monologues
It started as such things often do, with the simple preface, “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if…” uttered at that special time of night when people are most susceptible to suggestion and resistance is lowest.
There are many, many zombie novels and movies out there showing what it is like to take on the zombie apocalypse. However, while I’m sure they exist, I have yet to see something that takes a look at that popular fictitious war from the opposing viewpoint. So there I had it, before anything else, the tagline…
“Finally, the other side of the apocalypse story.”
I could tell I was on to something because that line did, and still does, make me giggle when I read it. I came up with the conceit of how the psychiatrists were able to “read” thoughts of the zombies via some technology that actually exists in a primitive form today. Then I read through many actual therapy transcripts which my late psychologist uncle left behind, and made a file of psycho-babble phrases in hopes I could incorporate them whenever I needed a touch of realism.
From there I made a list of various archetypes that I thought might make good zombie personalities, and set each one in front of a recorder and let them talk. The corporate mogul obviously wanted to “gain more biological market share,” the married couple would naturally be having martial issues after their recent changes, and the recently turned sorority girl saw the world through uniquely tinted undead sunglasses. I made sure also to include those who had close dealings with zombies before they’d somehow been infected, such as a “Zactivist” (zombie rights activist, also known as a zed hugger), a molecular biologist, and even a “Gorillas in the Mist” type journalist who’d written a book based on her year-long travels disguised within one of the larger undead hordes. The psychiatrists and neurologists interviewing the zombies gave the story a narrative voice and a way to propel the action forward, but the zombie personalities stole the show. It only got better when the scientists linked them all together for a sort of group therapy session.
Still, a book with nothing but monologues would get boring fairly quickly. Tossing in a few of the stereotypes from asylum movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Girl Interrupted was fun, but the overall concept needed a central arc to carry it through.
After I’d given the zombies a chance to say what was on their minds, such as they were, I sat around for a day or two imagining if I could talk to zombies, what would I want to know. At last I came up with a secret one of the zombies carried - a secret which carried implications for the entire zombie war. Viola! From there it was just a matter of plotting out how to reveal the secret a little at a time.
The hardest part was actually trying to explain the background of the zombie war without too much exposition before getting into the actual interviews. At one point I had an introduction by a futuristic senator submitting the transcript as evidence to what happened (past tense) in the war, followed by an introduction by one of the PhD Residents as to why they were doing what they were doing, followed by the introduction of how the first interview would work, followed by the first interview, followed by yet more explanation by that same PhD Resident on some more technical stuff.
Four edits later, I finally managed to drop the entire part about the senator, cut the PhD Resident’s intro down to a little over three pages, and incorporate all the other information here and there throughout the book so by page four we were in the first interview. Bottom line, once I’d done all the research and set the stage, it was mostly a matter of trusting the idea, leaping into the story and letting it tell itself. Or, as Dr. Clyde Marshall puts it, "To condemn this material is to condemn the true authors, the many undead who I subjected to hours of brain scanning and verbal interviews. They are the real storytellers. I only kept the record."
Check it out if you get a chance.