complications of the writing life

So Dog on Fire is done and out there (although I’m still waiting for it to appear in the Apple and Sony stores). I ought to be doing promotional stuff—and I intend to—but what I really want to do is get engaged with the next project.

The question is, which next project? I have four possibilities. 1) A novel that’s been published already and needs to be converted to e-publishing formats. 2) Another set of short stories. 3) A sort of police procedural/zombie novel. 4) A fantasy novel.

The most logical choice would be #1. I wrote Lightning in the Blood while I was doing the research for my doctoral dissertation. It was published by Saint Martin’s Press. The novel got generally good reviews, sold a few thousand copies, then disappeared—which is the fate of most novels.

But when I look at it now, all I can see are the flaws. It’s about the same two characters who appear in Dog on Fire. Each alternating chapter is narrated by the other character. That works pretty well in short fiction, I think, but not so much in a novel format. That’s exactly why I scrapped the second novel SMP asked for and began to use those characters in short stories.

If I undertake this project—and it would be stupid of me not to—I’ll want to update the novel, both to reflect modern PI tech and to improve bits of it. It would be dull grunt work, but this plan makes the most sense. Which doesn’t seem to weigh much in its favor.

A second book of short detective stories has its appeal. I’ve got maybe half a dozen scenarios sort of semi-sketched out. It would be fun and fairly easy, though time consuming (but then all of these possible projects would be time consuming). I know there’s interest in the characters, so there’s that. And I could probably sell some of the stories for print publication and bring in some extra jing that way. That’s an attractive aspect.

But then there’s the police procedural/zombie idea that’s been banging around in my head for a couple of years. It’s not a traditional zombie ‘must eat brains’ idea. It’s actually more of a civil rights story. Here (and other writers will probably think I’m nuts for putting this out in public) is the basic premise of the story.

Some unknown environment circumstance triggers a viral event which causes a person’s body to effectively meet the legal criteria for death: the heart stops, the circulatory system stops, respiration stops, brain activity stops. Many hours later, the patient revives—after a fashion. The heart doesn’t start beating, but it sort of vibrates; blood no longer circulates through the body, but it sort of quivers like jelly; respiration doesn’t take place, but the virus simulates hemoglobin so closely it deceives the body into behaving as if was receiving oxygenated blood; electrical brain activity resumes but not in any way recognizable by an EEG. The patient’s bodily functions fail to meet the legal criteria for life, but the patient still retains their ability to think, their identity, and a degree of mobility.

Naturally, fear of contagion means these people are quarantined. Over time it’s discovered the virus isn’t transmitted from person to person, but is triggered by some circumstance in the environment. One ‘zombie’ can’t create another ‘zombie.’ Something in nature does that, though most patients come from a very large geographical region (the Southwest).

The story takes place a few years after the outbreak. There’s a population of a few thousand ‘zombies’ who are being detained in one location—the town where the first patient died and revived. They’re confined to the hospital grounds, which has become overcrowded. An isolation zone of several square blocks of empty buildings, established during the early months of the outbreak, surrounds the hospital. Because each ‘zombie’ was declared legally dead, they have extremely limited civil rights. The courts are beginning to hear lawsuits by ‘zombies’ seeking relief from what they consider unlawful detention. It’s believed the courts will soon expand the limited rights of the ‘zombies,’ allowing them to occupy what has been the isolation zone. The community is opposed to the idea. During all this, a living hospital worker is murdered.

Somebody has to investigate the crime, but it appears the killer may be a ‘zombie.’ If so, can a person who is legally dead be arrested and charged with a crime? How could that person possibly be given a trial by their peers? Could the State just dispose of the accused in the way they’d dispose of any other dead body? The investigator has to deal with the political and cultural issues while trying to solve the murder. This stuff fascinates me.

Finally, I’ve been kicking around a fantasy novel for some time. I like the idea of the genre, but not much of the genre itself. I simply haven’t read much fantasy that wasn’t painfully formulaic. Magical swords, potboys who are rightfully the king of the realm, an evil force bent on world domination. That crap bores the hell out of me.

I have an idea for what’s essentially an adventure story that takes place in a border region between two hostile cultures. Again, it’s the clash of cultures that intrigues me. Nothing fancy about it, but it appeals to me.

So I have all these ideas. I just have to make a decision and focus on one of them. It ain’t easy. I’ve already written the novel, so there’s nothing new for me there–but it’s the logical next step. I enjoy writing short stories, but I’ve just finished a collection of them. The zombie market is flooded, and I’m not sure my idea is marketable even though it’s different and I’m sort of jazzed by it. There’s always a huge fantasy market, so that direction would also make sense and maybe be amusing.

The writing life—she is complicated.

4 thoughts on “complications of the writing life

  1. This is my first time visiting your blog, but if your tag line is accurate (either this or get a real job) it implies you’re doing this full time. The choices you ennumerate above are great problems to have, don’t you think?

    One comment of encouragement I’d like to make from my very biased point of view as a short story writer is that a collection of short stories leveraging characters and showing different facets of a story is very hot right now, and it makes for compelling reading. I just dropped by Frigg (the new issue is online today) and Vallie Lynn Watson put up five short stories that are good examples:

    Also, Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer for her short story collection Olive Kittredge in 2009:

    Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer for her first published book and short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies, and the first story is available full text on the NY Times website reviewing the book:

    So, clearly I have my biases, but I do have my reasons. Consider all the possibilities before you make your decision.

    Best of luck!


    • Hey Carol, thanks for stopping by. The beauty of short fiction is you can always work on it even while working on another project. I love the constraints of short fiction, so I doubt I’ll ever stop working in that format. I’m just not sure I want that to be my primary focus now.


  2. You know, I’m not a fan of the whole zombie thing. But that story you outlined puts an interesting twist on it, doesn’t it. That’s one I would read. And the fantasy one. Oh, and more of the detective short stories, because I am so enjoying Dog on Fire.

    I am no help at all. Not that you need help.


    • Lisa, you are clearly the perfect audience. I have to admit I’m inordinately fond of the thought of writing a novel of ideas disguised as a zombie story.


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