Here Ed explains his own, unusual take on the zombie genre, in his story for The Big Bad II.
The Story Behind “Feels Like Justice to Me”
I’ve long avoided writing about anything within a thousand miles of the zombie genre because I felt like there wasn’t anything new to say on the subject. I’ve run into a few great stories, a slew of bad ones, and enough competent ones to feel like what ought to be said on the subject already has been said. I’ve immensely enjoyed the best of them (the original Night of the Living Dead was brilliant, Carry Ryan has done exceptional work in both novels and short stories, and I’ve devoured (pardon the pun) The Walking Dead, both the TV show and the graphic novels). But a lot of writers are beating what’s starting to feel like a dead horse, and even if that horse comes back to life and starts eating people… well, okay, I think I would actually consider reading a story about that, but you really do to have to go that far out there to hold my attention any more.
Inevitably, tragically, karmicly, once you express a sentiment like that, the muses will punish you with what feels like an original idea that you simply must explore.
So there I was, with an angle I could get excited about. But then, I always have a variety of ideas nibbling at the fringes of my ADD-riddled brain, and although I dabbled with a draft or two of this particular idea, nothing seemed to come alive for me in that way I need it to in order to see things through to the end.
That’s when an open submission call for Big Bad 2 was announced. The first book had already been published and I really wanted an opportunity to work with the editors, John and Emily, as well as to see my own stuff in a table of contents along with other invited authors whose work I admired. I also immediately saw that it would not be difficult to shift the POV character in this zombie-idea of mine from the ‘good guy’ to the ‘bad guy.’ In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I knew that switching POVs would make for an even stronger story. Getting inside this ‘bad guy’s’ head and seeing him commit extreme acts of violence against his fellow humans in order to protect a zombie—and feel completely justified in doing so—was a darkly fascinating exercise. I’m not sure what that says about me as a writer or a human being, but it was absolutely fascinating.
So a big thanks to Emily and John for conceiving the Big Bad concept in the first place. You always hear the advice that every character should be the hero of their own story, even the bad guy, so as anthologies go, The Big Bad is one of those ideas that seems simultaneously brilliant and obvious—so obvious that you have to ask why no one else thought of it sooner. But then that’s the true test of genius, isn’t it? It always seems so obvious… in hindsight.
I also have to give a shout out of thanks to Emily, who, during the editing phase, pointed out that the revelation of certain information would be more effective if presented later in the story, and she was 100% correct. It may seem like a small detail, but the details can make all the difference. Her (accurate) argument was that revealing key information too soon ran the risk of making the main character sympathetic, and we weren’t going for sympathetic, we were going for horrible-but-relatable. That’s actually no small detail; it’s a vital one.
In a similar vein, many thanks go to James Maxey, who read an earlier draft of the story and pointed out the absence of other key piece of information: the main character’s underlying motivation for doing what he was doing. On one level I felt justified in making the argument that since the primary ‘good guy’ never finds out, the reader ought not to know either. But James correctly observed that since we were seeing this story unfold through the mind of the man committing such inexcusable acts of violence, it would feel to the reader like a cheat not to know, too. Plus, it wasn’t really all that difficult to let the reader know without revealing anything to the other characters.
I hated James for that. The problem there—for me as an author, anyway—was that I honestly didn’t know the answer to James’ question. Why? Yes, I knew the surface reason for his killings, but not the story behind the character’s story. So back to the drawing board I went. The new material I produced only amounted to a paragraph or two, but it was the hardest part of writing this story (which is probably why I was subconsciously avoiding it). (Writer’s Tip #413: If you ever find yourself writing a story but avoiding something, take that as a clue: it’s important stuff and your brain knows it--and has gone into hiding to avoid the accompanying difficulties.)
I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that I’ve bent over backward trying to provide insight into the creation of my story without providing spoilers. This is simply one of those stories that works best if you don’t know ahead of time what’s coming. Well… let me restate that. You pretty much know exactly what’s coming. Corpses, and lots of them; both the living variety and the dead variety. The joy is digging down into the ‘why’ of the thing. That’s the part I want you to discover for yourself; the part I’m being so intentional about avoiding.
But then that’s kind of the point of these essays, isn’t it: to make you want to read the story. I hope you do, because I honestly feel like it’s one of the best things I’ve written in a long time. I can always tell when a story is going to turn out well because I have a lot of fun writing it. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun reading it.
Of course, if you do, you’re a sick fuck. But there’s not much I can do about that.