Latest Entries »

9 things about DEAD INSIDE

No Spoilers.  That’s the first thing I’ll tell you here.  This post will not give away any plot points or tell you what becomes of any characters.  The point of this entry is to tell you about the process of writing the book.

And so…

1) DEAD INSIDE was the fastest book to write of the books I have authored.  RISE took just a hair over a year.  AGE OF THE DEAD took four years, despite being shorter than RISE.  This is because there was a long period of writer’s block in the middle where I had no inspiration or clue about how to continue the story.  DEAD INSIDE was different because I knew from the day I started it roughly how it would end.  More on that later.  But the length of time I took to write it?  About 11 months.

2) DEAD INSIDE is between RISE and AGE in length.  Really it’s just about 5,000 words longer than AGE, which isn’t a lot.  That’s half of a Novella longer. 

3) DEAD INSIDE’s ending is radically different from what I originally planned.  When I conceived of the idea for the book I mapped out the beginning and ending right away, but as my characters sprinted headlong toward the ending, I realised that it wasn’t going to work as planned.  I rewrote the ending almost entirely, and moved my original ending back a few chapters, leaving it as a climax, but not the BIG climax.  The ending I rewrote is far better.

4) DEAD INSIDE’s characters are my favourites out of all the published books I have.  Note that I said ‘published books’ and not ‘all the books’.  I love the characters in DEAD INSIDE, and I think they have a life of their own, and I miss them now that the book is done for me.  Authors will sometimes tell you that the characters they write surprise them.  They are correct.  These characters frequently did things I was not expecting.  I know, that sounds weird, since it’s my hands on the keys, or gripping the pen, but I tell you it’s the truth.  Going back and reading over the scenes later, months afterward, I saw that of course they acted that way.

5) Writing DEAD INSIDE was intense.  Not only because the book itself is intense, but because I was trying a new style of writing, and writing about many new characters.  Discovering their attitudes and ambitions, their loves and hates, was as fun for me as it will be for you.  I’m like a combination of a Discovery Writer and a Plan Writer.  So for me, even though I knew where the characters all needed to be at the end of the book, I loved finding out each day how they were going to get there.

6) DEAD INSIDE is out very soon.  It comes out from Permuted Press in March.  As is usual with these things, the eBook will probably hit first, then the trade sized paperback.  Shortly after that I believe the Audible version comes out.

7) Editing DEAD INSIDE was one of the most painless experiences of my writing career.  I finished the first draft and compiled it all, then sent it away for editing.  Months later, when it came back (my editor is excellent, and in high demand, and thus very busy), my editor Felicia had very kindly corrected a host of minor issues in grammar and tone and even a few small plot problems were pointed out to me.  I fixed all these things and did a once-over of the altered manuscript.  I then noted one plot point that I had forgotten to resolve, but that Felicia pointed out was quite important.  It took a day or so of pondering, but I got it fixed up by adding a few sentences to a chapter that was my original ending.  When I sent it back she looked it over, tweaked a few very small issues, and we were off to final.  I consider it a triumph that it took less passes to get it into that version, the coveted Final Draft, than it had with either previous book.

8) I incorporated the main body of a short story I wrote some years back, called 100 DAYS OF RAIN, into the book.  If you’ve never heard of this story, I was going to publish it as an ‘alongside’ story that paralleled RISE.  Significant changes were needed to incorporate it into DEAD INSIDE, but I feel that the book is deeper and more complete with the addition.  100 DAYS was never published by itself, and never will be now.  It is part of DEAD INSIDE now, and the book is better for it.

9) Looking back on DEAD INSIDE, I am very proud of it, and I think it is the best thing I have written so far.  It is focused like nothing else I have done.  It is brutal, funny, bloody and exciting.  It made my editor stop talking to me for a little while.  It delves deep into the characters.  I cannot wait to see reviews pop up, and hear peoples reactions.  I want to hover over people as they read particular sections, just to see how they react.  I want to hear from fans and friends when they finish it, to see if they liked it.



Something that people have been asking me about is why the zombies in my books (Rise, Age of the Dead, and Dead Inside) haven’t completely skeletonised by the time, at the least, that Age of the Dead ends.  It will get even worse when people read Dead Inside, which is set about 9 years after the initial outbreak.  There are zombies in that book that I specifically describe as being from the original hordes of undead.  They wander about, mostly completely naked now since their clothing has disintegrated, and make pests of themselves.

So, why haven’t they rotted away?  Or at the very least become immobile as tissues fail and bloating and casual damage slowly abrade them?

There’s a formula that describes roughly how long it should take a corpse to become a skeleton.  Y=1285 / X.  It depends on the ambient temperature of the environment, and takes into account where the body is (above ground, buried, or submerged).  The result is a total number of days until that body is a mere pile of bones.

This does not apply to the zombies in my books.  They look awful, showing the accumulated damage of the passage of time, but they don’t fall apart except under extreme duress.  The flesh withers and the eyes sink, but they don’t bloat up very much or go through Rigor Mortis.  Why?  I’m not telling.  But there is a reason, I assure you.

They also don’t even feel it if you happen to blow a limb off in your haste to escape them, but that is neither here nor there.

Some other strange things about the zombies in my stories.  They don’t freeze solid in winter.  For some reason they maintain an ambient temperature of about 4 C.  That should tell you that some kind of metabolic process is ongoing, even if it’s nothing that could accurately be described as ‘life’.

Further, some of them act strangely.  We first saw this in Stan.  While I didn’t go much into this in Age of the Dead, I can tell you that there are some strange zombie behaviors in Dead Inside.

They don’t like running water.  Rivers stop them cold, and a good downpour just fascinates them.  Really.  Go back and read Rise again, the Prince George bits, and the Golden bits in Age of the Dead.  This is strange behavior.   Why do they react like this to water?

It is all connected.


The Value of Beta Readers

I have DEAD INSIDE in to the publisher and editor, but it is also being read by several beta readers.  What is a beta reader, you ask?  It’s someone who gets to see the unedited, unpublished work before it ‘hits the shelves’ and gives me feedback on flow, character development, action, and the general ‘feel’ of the book.

Yesterday I sat down with two of my beta readers to discuss what they thought.  They had insights into elements of the book that I hadn’t realised that I had put in there.  For example, our two lead characters have very distinct personalities that make complete sense based on their backgrounds.  I sat and listened as they told me this, and realised that it wasn’t something I had consciously included.

Other examples included the analysis of the ending, and the questions about How Zombies Work, that made me think a few things through.  Clarity is essential, and if there is something I missed, or overlooked because ‘everyone knows that’ then clearly I failed to realise that Not Everyone Knows That, and I have to explain myself better.

The value of the beta reader, then, is that they are a set of eyes and a brain Not Your Own, who can look at your work and point out the problems you might not see because you are too close to the work.  Another beta reader has pointed out that my villain is not quite right.  She’s been very helpful in showing me some information that will help immensely, and I have been ‘darkening’ the bad guy accordingly.

We’ll see how all this comes together once I hear back from my editor.

My third book, the end of the series I began in RISE, and continued in AGE OF THE DEAD, has gone to the publisher and on to my editor.  This is the v2.2 draft that I sent in, a book very different from what I envisioned when I started it.

Over a year ago, when my wife and I moved to BC, I got the idea for DEAD INSIDE while driving across the Mission-Abbotsford Bridge across the Fraser River.  I jotted down some ideas and then left them to ferment in my brain for a week or so.

Once I started writing it all came together, but I didn’t write a lot of it at first.  I was working on two books at once, and my attention was split between them.  BLACK HORIZON is a science fiction story that I think is going to be the longest thing I have ever done, probably ending up at around two hundred thousand words.  It’s post-apocalyptic, set several centuries from now, and focuses on characters with some truly extraordinary, though entirely plausible abilities based on real science.  I was writing BLACK HORIZON at the same time as DEAD INSIDE until I got an email one day from my publisher at Permuted Press.  They asked what I was working on, and I sent them an email detailing the two books.  Pretty soon I had a contract for DEAD INSIDE, and was hard at work on that book.  BLACK HORIZON got shelved for the time being, and I am happy to say that I have returned to it now.

DEAD INSIDE was exciting to write.  It was the first time I have written a book this way, with a time limit and expectations of what I had to get done in that time.  I think it’s the best thing I have done so far.  It’s a far more focused story than the first two books, taking place over only a few short days.  It’s also set in a place far removed from the first two books.

BLACK HORIZON, on the other paw, is my current focus now that I have gotten the chance to return to it.  I am nearly 40,000 words into it, still at the beginning, really, and learning about the characters and exploring the new world that I have created.  And what a world it is!

I look forward to the process of creating BLACK HORIZON.  I am a slow writer though, so don’t expect to see it for some time.  I’ll make sure it’s worth the wait.

In less than a week I will be at Crypticon in Seattle, my first time ever as a guest rather than as a paying attendee.  It’s a little strange to think that I am a published author, with a book out in English and Spanish, and another book soon to come.  I even signed a contract for a third book, which is coming along nicely. 

So.  Crypticon.  It’s a horror convention that happens in Seattle.  Don’t know much more about it beyond that.  I’m on a few panels, gonna be pimping books at the Permuted Press table, and hanging out with other writers.  Should be a good time.

If you’re in Seattle and want a signed copy of RISE come by the table.  I will happily sell you a copy and sign it.  I may even doodle.  If you have a rare Lulu version of RISE bring it by so I can show you the differences between that and the Permuted Press version.

I’ve seen the cover art in progress for AGE OF THE DEAD, and it looks good.  Thanks to Zach McCain for that.  He did the cover of RISE too.

DEAD INSIDE, like I said, is going well, and is going to be my third Permuted book.  I’m currently writing chapter 20.  Out of how many, I cant yet say.  But I can see the form of the book now, the destination that is coming, and the paths to get there.

I’ll post more after the con, hopefully with pictures.

This is an excerpt from the book I am working on now, a sequel to RISE and AGE OF THE DEAD.  It is set in Mission BC eight years after the dead rise.



Mission Safe Zone, September 1st 2012, the Essential Supplies Warehouse

Alexander Corrone reported for work early. His shift began at seven thirty in the morning, but he was there by seven. He was the boss of one of the two warehouse crews for Essential Supplies, the day shift, and he ran his crew efficiently and well. He was lean and dark haired, just slightly greying. His features were blunt and forgettable, and he blended into a crowd easily, unless he spoke. His age could have been anything from thirty to fifty.

Alexander stood outside the warehouse in the warm morning sunlight and greeted his team as they arrived. He knew them all by name, knew the names of their families if they had any, and knew their cares and worries. He was considered a great boss by everyone on the crew. He was known as a leader and a team player. His team thought he liked them, and genuinely cared about their lives and problems.

It was all a lie.

“Morning, Bob,” he said, as one of his team came in. Bob made small talk for a few minutes and finished an incredibly rare cigarette.

“Helen,” he greeted his forklift operator when she arrived, “how is Sandy doing?”

He listened to the replies and filed them away, tucking the memories away inside his head to be evaluated later. Soon everyone was there, all of them on time and happy to have jobs in such a prestigious place. Essential Supplies was the place to work if you weren’t a salvager or a Wall guard.

As the last member of his team arrived, Alexander went inside, listening to them shooting the shit, watching them gesture and touch and catch up. Alexander smiled and nodded as they engaged him in conversation. He spoke words of encouragement and got his team to work. None of them suspected that beneath his affable and kind exterior, his well practised expressions and calm manner, Alexander felt nothing.

Nothing at all.

He had come into his position through a combination of what appeared to be good luck on one hand, and terrible tragedy on the other. Alexander had become foreman of the day shift crew when his predecessor had been killed and eaten by a wandering zombie. At least, that was how it appeared to everyone but Alexander.

He had been working his way up the ladder of command in Essential Supplies for some time, nearly six years. Unfortunate but not always fatal things tended to happen to those in his path. He was very careful, and no one yet had managed to guess that it was him behind the scandals, accidents, and deaths.

Alexanders goal, ultimately, was to be in charge of Essential Supplies. That was the high seat on the Town Council he aspired to. Not to serve the interests of the population, or to help people, or protect the town against the undead, but purely so that he could have the pick of the salvage for himself, to make himself more comfortable and affluent. One of the few things he felt anymore was the distinct pleasure of skimming something out of the incoming salvage. His pleasure would be tenfold, he knew, when he was in position to take anything he wanted and make it his own.

Every few weeks the list of salvaged items was prepared for the Council meeting, and it went through the head of Essential Supplies, but not before Alexander got it and looked it over for choice prizes. Once a month or so he would select a few things and put them aside, then delete them from the list. There were no further records kept below his own, since he made sure the salvagers were subtly discouraged from keeping records. If they took a little initiative and made a list of everything they had recovered, Alexander would take the list and then ignore it, making his own list right in front of them on his own clipboard. His people would explain that they had to go over everything that came in themselves, even if the salvagers came in with a typed, double-spaced, and in triplicate inventory of their haul. Most of them took the hint and just dropped off the goods at the warehouse.

He planned to take his team with him to the top, not because of any loyalty to them, but because he needed well trained minions to do the hard work. He had absolutely no interest in doing the work himself. So he got to know the crew, made sure they were loyal to him, and made sure they were taken care of. A little something to help them out now and then, like a few extra cans of food, a pack of cigarettes, or antibiotics for a sick child. Whatever it was, it always came from his hands, so they thought he cared and stayed loyal.

All the while he was cold inside, quiet like a grave.

Accidental Publication

How I ended up becoming a published author is really a story of coincidence.  I had never intended to publish. When I started RISE back in 2004 it was a hobby.  I needed something to do since I was at a crossroads in my life.  As a fan of the zombie genre I had seen many of the films, and read a few of the online stories.  What had always struck me as absurd about the movies especially was the fact that the characters acted stupidly out of character, and died for it.  I understand that it’s a movie, yes, and they don’t always make sense.

What I set out to do with RISE was explore a little bit of what might happen if reasonably intelligent people, faced with a Romero-style zombie apocalypse, were to learn from experience.  But never mind that, this is about getting it published.

A few years after I finished RISE, and was a ways into the sequel, AGE OF THE DEAD, I got an email from a Spanish publisher.  I had put up my email address and invited comments on the story on an Angelfire website where I posted the fiction, and had gotten several dozen emails from all over the world from people with comments on the stories.  The email in question came from Dolmen Editorial, a Spanish publishing house that does translations of books and comics from other languages to distribute in Spain.  They also have Linea Z, their Z Line of zombie fiction that they publish.  Apparently it is a big thing in Spain, this whole zombie genre.  So the email said that zombie fiction sells pretty well in Spain, and would I consider having RISE translated and published?

After a few emails back and forth I asked my wife what she thought.  With her encouragement I asked for a contract, and signed it.  That is how “EL DESPERTAR DE LOS MUERTOS” came to be, the Spanish language translation of RISE, published in physical form before the English language version was even a thought.  To date the book has sold 1100+ copies in Spain.

What this did was open doors.  It made me think, can I sell English copies here?  I decided to try Lulu, a print-on-demand free internet publishing company.  I uploaded a copy of RISE with some cover photography I had done myself to the Lulu site, and ordered myself a copy.  It arrived, looked pretty good, had an actual ISBN number and everything.  So I approved it and it was for sale in electronic and physical form.  I sold 22 copies.  If you have one, it’s a collectors item.  If I ever meet anyone who has one I will happily sign it for them.

About a year and a half ago I was on vacation in Vancouver, walking across the plaza in front of the hotel we were staying at, when I decided to check my email on my iPhone.  There was an email from Permuted Press, publishers extraordinaire of post apocalyptic fiction.  I had received one email a long time ago from them, back when RISE was nearing completion, but I never followed up on it.  This new email wanted to know, since they had seen that it was now available in Spanish, would I be interested in publication in English?

This was a no-brainer for me.  I had done nothing other than write a book.  Both times, publishers CAME TO ME.  How could I not do this?  So I replied, we talked, and I mentioned that I had just finished the sequel.  Soon there were two book contracts to sign, I am writing two more books, RISE has been published in many forms, the Lulu version and the free online versions are long gone, and AGE is going to be published this fall.  Both books had the attentions of a real live editor who did a great job of cleaning up my rough framework and turning them into intelligible words.  Thanks Felicia!

Ebooks and Audio books are a huge market.  The physical book is cool to have in your hands, but the real frontier of publishing is electronic.  I have read three or four books just on my iPhone, and my daughter has an eReader that she has read many books on.  I see people on the bus and train all the time reading on their iPads and Kobos and such. Expect far more of this in the future.

That is the story of how the books came to be.  Like I said, I had to do almost nothing other than the original writing.


DEAD INSIDE is coming along nicely.  I am currently on Chapter 4, wherein Robin (our protagonist/heroine) learns that her new partner Nick is a bit of a fuck-up.  This is not something you want to deal with when your job is being a salvager eight years after a zombie apocalypse.

This book, the third in the series after RISE and AGE OF THE DEAD, takes place in the Lower Mainland.  It has only one character returning so far from the first two books.  Really it is more of a ‘same universe’ story than a direct sequel to them.  I got the idea while driving through the area between Abbotsford and Mission, and it all naturally fell into place. 

And so I have written a solid intro to Robin and Nick, in Chapter 1.  Robin is a former UBC astrophysics student who was caught up in the ZA, and survived for almost a year on the Endowment Lands of the peninsula before being chased out by hungry dead things.  Nick is a young man just making his way in the world.  His first job outside the Wall of the Mission Safe Zone has been a bit of an eye opener for him, having come face to face with a ‘higher than usual number of the undead’ on his first time out.  Fortunately Robin is there to guide him.

Other characters are Shakey Waterson, proprietor of Shakey’s Guns and Ammo, an old hippie who’s taken up a new career.  His friend Jim Reilly is the Mission Sheriff, who in Chapter 2 comes to Shakey with some problems.

In Chapter 3 we meet Amanda Martin…  What is she doing here, seven years after the events of AGE OF THE DEAD?  You’ll see…

There are others, of course, but these are the important ones.  There are minor characters, an actual antagonist, and a plotline that I hope will shock and surprise readers of the previous books.

BLACK HORIZON is also coming along.  It is my epic SF tale about some astronauts who spent 350+ years in suspended animation on the Moon after a global war on Earth destroyed civilisation..  It starts when they return to a much changed Earth.  Characters include Tara Riseman, a NAUSA (North American Union Space Agency) astronaut who wakes up from suspension as her EEV is on re-entry.  She’s sensible, smart, and decisive.  What can I say, I like a strong female lead character.

Father-Captain James Montrose is a Jesuit Soldier-Priest of the Black Legion, the military arm of an emergent civilisation on Earth, and an explorer who searches out Ancient machines and tools for use by the new culture. 

Knight-Commander Gavin Hamilton is strictly a soldier, a ranking officer of the Legion who spends his time putting down troublesome barbarian tribes.  He comes across as very British to me, which was a surprise when I started writing him.

There is also Reiko, an AI who remains behind on the Moon, and an interesting fellow named Park Ludwig Choi, who is from the Asteroid Belt society, the Commonwealth.

The characters come from all sorts of backgrounds and tech levels, and the interaction of the characters should be fascinating.  I have test chapters out for BLACK HORIZON, and the readers seem to like it so far.  I have written far more of this than I have of DEAD INSIDE.

Further developments as they occur.  Stay tuned to this channel for the duration of the emergency.

In his book BEYOND THE BARRIERS, the Washington author Timothy W Long introduces us to a curious hybrid of zombie and human called a ghoul.  It’s really a fascinating idea, born from the idea that if a living human ingests the dead tissues of a zombie, they can transform into a hybrid between the two states.

Ghouls are formed when the living ingest zombie flesh.  When they eat them.  Disgusting as the thought of that is, it happened often enough in BEYOND THE BARRIERS that there was a small group of ghouls available for the climax of the book.

So one must ask, just how desperate to survive was that first person who cooked up some zombie fillets?  Or perhaps we are better off not knowing.

So the ghouls have become something other than zombies.  They can reason, know what they used to be, and can, in some fashion, command the zombies to do their bidding.  The exact method is never spelled out, and the limits of the control are never tested where we can see the results.  This is absolutely fine, because it allows some room for things to develop as the next book gets released.

They are still dead things, however, and can be destroyed as zombies can.  This is most fortunate.  If they were immune to brain damage they would quickly be able to command huge armies of zombies and destroy all life on Earth.  The battles against the ghouls in the book are among the most satisfying scenes in the story.

One thing we don’t know is whether the ghouls only exist in the area the book describes (a small part of Oregon).  If they are worldwide that presents a whole load of other issues, the least of which is that all over the world living people resorted to undead cannibalism.  Ick.  If the ghouls only exist in this small area then there is a small chance that winning the fight against the undead is possible.

The ghouls seem genuinely puzzled that the living characters they meet are still alive.  It’s like they see it as a burden.  The heavy ordeal of being alive weighs the living down, keeping them dependent on food and water and secure shelter.  The ghouls only want to help the living get better, and by better I mean more like them.  Naturally there is some resistance among the characters to being fed zombie tissue.

I look forward to the next book.  I think Tim Long has created something memorable here, and I look forward to where he takes it.


Opening lines…

Possibly the most important part of a story, the bit that draws the reader in or turns them away, are the opening lines.  A strong opening line or two can grab your attention, open your mind up to new possibilities, and lead you into the world the author has envisioned.  At the other end of the spectrum, a weak opening line can take you somewhere else entirely.  It can harm your readers perception of what is to follow.  If the first two or three lines are not exciting, or do not take your imagination to a new and interesting place, chances are you will lose the readers interest no matter how good the story that follows may be.


I have learned this.  I have had to.


Some background… When I wrote RISE back in 2004 it was never my intention to see it published.  It was an experiment and a new hobby.  That it was actively sought out for publication by two publishers, one in the US and one in Spain, tells me that there is something there worthwhile, that people might enjoy.


It may be that the first book one writes will always be something that an author looks back on and thinks, “I should have done this better…”  For me that will always be the beginning of RISE.  Even though I have had feedback and encouragement from many people, there will always be that voice inside that says “It could be better.”


The next book I wrote, AGE OF THE DEAD, a sequel to the first book, has a far better beginning.  The opening line came to me as I sat before the computer trying to imagine just what the world would be like a year after the dead rose.  I knew I was going to write it first person again, keeping on with Brian Williams’ story and that of his Salvage Team.  But I also knew I was abandoning the journal entry format.  This book would have more immediacy, more character development, and far more dialogue than RISE.


After I finished AGE OF THE DEAD I took some time to relax.  Not too long.  I went back and looked over the beginning of that book, and really liked how it started.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than the previous book.  The opening line, “The stench of the dead permeates everything,” sets the tone right away, and lets you know you may be in for something visceral.


I have started two other books.  BLACK HORIZON is a post-apocalyptic SF book that has no zombies in it.  Yes, that is correct, not one zombie.

It is still the best thing I have written so far.  Here’s the opening paragraph, which came to me in a flash;


Tara Riseman awoke to fire and thunder.  Needles retracted from her flesh, withdrawing into the sides of the suspension cocoon as thick blue fluid drained out through holes in the cramped capsule floor.  Tara groggily shook her head to clear the fluid from her ears, and the deafening continuous thunder only got louder.  She could dimly see red and yellow light through the cocoon’s transparent lid, flickering and flashing.  Her stomach registered the all too familiar sensation of falling.

Re-entry, she thought.  What’s going on?


I think this opening is strong.  I think it immediately grabs the reader and hopefully pulls them in, wanting to learn more about this woman, and why she has awakened in a suspension cocoon that is falling into atmosphere.  I admit that my goal with BLACK HORIZON is different from the zombie books.  I am not experimenting here.  With this book I am setting out to do something specific.  Read it to find out what.


I am also writing DEAD INSIDE, the third book in the RISE universe.  It is set far from the familiar lands of Cold Lake and the Alberta prairie.  Rather it all takes place in the ruins of the Lower Mainland.  I have created something called the Mission Safe Zone.  There is only one recurring character.  It is set eight years after the dead rose up.  It begins thus;


Robin Cartwright and Nicholas Bulman ran down the hallway of the ruined hospital, rifles held high in their hands.  Her long black hair streaming behind her, Robin leapt over a rusting gurney that had been tipped on its side, and ducked beneath a long extinguished light fixture that was hanging from the ceiling.  Nick sprang over the gurney a split second later, shouldering the fixture aside with a grunt.  Ahead was the door that led to the rooftop patio, a rectangle of glass and grey-painted steel.  To either side long term patient rooms were abandoned and quiet, and light spilled onto the floor from the southern windows.  Behind them the dead came in a slow wave.  There were eight of them, rotten, mostly naked and unaccountably still moving many years after they had died. 


Both of these beginnings have something in common.  They both use In Medias ResThey start with characters in peril, as things are happening.  Details are left deliberately vague.  Specifics are explained later.  The characters are named immediately, and you get to know them well within the first pages. 


I think I am getting better at this.