No One Pays Their Bills During a Zombie Apocalypse!


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A brief explanation on how the well made zombie story helps us understand the world. Written and illustrated by Fred Smith

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No One Pays Their Bills During a Zombie Apocalypse!

  1. 1. No One Pays Their Bills During a Zombie Apocalypse! ! and other reasons why fiction helps us understand what the hell is going on ! Fred Smith ©2013 Fred Smith
  2. 2. Table of Contents Introduction or What the Hell is going on (in this story)? ! ! The zombies are a metaphor. What they stand for is real. ! ! What does the zombie want? A lesson in drama and humanity ! ! Another Death Scene? The importance of what happens next… ! ! What the Hell is Going On?? The longer we keep asking, the better the story. ! ! The Zombie’s Denouement What have we learned?
  3. 3. Introduction or What the Hell is going on (in this story)? Independent filmmaker, author and self-proclaimed king of filth and bad taste John Waters wrote a non-fiction book a few years ago with a single passage whose message struck me then and hasn’t wandered far from my conscience since. ! “You should never read for "enjoyment". Read to make yourself smarter. Or less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends' insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick "hard books". Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for God's sake, don't ever let me hear you say, "I can't read fiction. I only have time for the truth." Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of "literature"? That means fiction too, stupid.” ! A good point (even if you can’t overlook the fact that the author’s defining moment as an artist involves a drag queen and a handful of dog crap.) We see it everyday. Whether you’re in high school, a corner office or a nursing home, the people in our world do things we don’t understand. My question, the one I ask before rendering judgement, is why? Why is someone acting this way? What could possibly be going on to make this person act this way? OK that’s three questions, but the important one is: ! What the hell is going on? ! !
  4. 4. Introduction or What the Hell is going on (in this story)? ! This book attempts to explain how I believe that fiction can help us figure out what the hell is going on in the world by exposing us to new ideas about people’s behavior in a way that can make us all better human beings. ! A lofty premise I know, but I wanted to give you the chance to get a sense of where I’m coming from since the catchy title and cover of this book might lead you to think I was going to broaden your zombie obsessed horizons. Don’t worry this book will do that too. Just not in the introduction. Most people skip this part and that’s OK because Elmore Leonard says so.* *A disclosure: since many of my literary heroes have already made most of my points better than I ever could, I’ll be citing them often- giving full credit and then some. Since this is a digital book I’ll include links to my inspirational sources so you can check them out for yourself on the world wide web. ! The John Waters quote is from Role Models. The drag queen/ dog poop scene is in his 1972 film Pink Flamingos. ! Elmore Leonard warned of introductions in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.
  5. 5. Metaphor noun a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, esp. something abstract. flesh eating metaphors
  6. 6. The zombies are a metaphor. What they stand for is real. In a zombie story, the world as we know it ends. An apocalypse ensues and no one has any bills to pay by the second act. Until then, there is confusion. What’s going on here? What happened to the world I know? The world I was comfortable in? We the audience know it’s gone, but the characters must accept that things have changed. A few harsh lessons in human sacrifice aid in this adjustment period to the delight of the audience. ! Once there is acceptance there is only one remaining course of action: survival. ! The forces of evil (the zombies) are closing in on a small group of seemingly different humans who are surrounded by this advancing wickedness. The group is forced into a confined but defensible place where certain choices must be made: Who is the leader, who will make the tough decisions to keep the group alive? Who are the non-believers, those who can’t or won’t accept that the world they know and were comfortable in is gone? Who is the defender of virtue, the one who will question an inhumane act no matter how desperate the situation? All of these questions must be brought to the open, because we’re in the midst of an apocalypse. And during an apocalypse, the menial distractions of the world have been eliminated therefor no one has any bills to pay. !
  7. 7. The zombies are a metaphor. What they stand for is real. ! There are no distractions to the conflict in a zombie apocalypse. There is ONLY the conflict. All frivolous responsibilities are shed and only survival matters. The superfluous has been stripped away and now only the fight against the advancing evil matters. The well made zombie story isn’t about the walking dead. The zombies are a constant threat, but they soon become one to which the living adapt as the narrative evolves. The crux of the story lies with the people who are fighting to survive. We know what the zombies want. They want to eat flesh. We know what the people want. They want to survive. What makes one zombie story pop and another dud depends on the author’s ability to maintain a healthy friction among the living characters as they contend with the complexities of human nature strained by the life or death urgency of every moment*. This is where the drama lies. Done right, this tension will keep us asking the crucial question: ! What the hell is going on? *The Walking Dead does this well. The show’s success is a testament to the authors’ ability to convince fans (through a feat largely accomplished via the re-cap show Talking Dead) that the story isn’t about zombies. It’s about (so says the show’s legions of zealots) survival and humanity. It’s about people.
  8. 8. The zombies are a metaphor. What they stand for is real. The well made Zombie story’s ability to focus its audience on the struggle to survive in a world gone to Hell is exactly what makes the genre one of the most beloved in pop culture. ! Every person on the planet is trying to make sense of a complicated world. Along comes the zombie apocalypse and suddenly the once convoluted rules of life are made to be painstakingly simple. ! Great fiction is an escape. But it can also teach us a few things about ourselves. I’m just an expendable nuisance with no discernible feelings. Tell me about it.
  9. 9. The zombies are a metaphor. What they stand for is real. (cont.) Back to the real world where bills and homework are due. ! Here’s a pop quiz. What was the name of the Colorado high school that saw twelve students and one teacher die when two students opened fire with automatic weapons in 1999? ! Depending on your age, you likely know the answer with a knee jerk reaction: Columbine High School. Sticking with the dreadful topic of school shootings, what was the name of the Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that saw twenty children and six teachers killed during a shooting in 2012? Everyone reading this likely knows the answer: Sandy Hook Elementary school. ! How about this one? What was the name of the Amish one room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania that saw five girls killed during a shooting in 2006? This one’s a bit tougher, isn’t it? Why? The act is no less horrific than Columbine or Sandy Hook. In fact, given the execution style of the murders, one could argue it was worse. The incident dominated news headlines. You remember the images of the aftermath. So why can’t you think of the school’s name? ! !
  10. 10. The zombies are a metaphor. What they stand for is real. (cont.) The reason you and I (admittedly I had to look this up) don’t have West Nickel Mines School at the forefront of our memories is because we don’t live in a zombie apocalypse. We live in the chaos of the real world where we all have bills to pay, responsibilities to maintain and other personal challenges to distract us from the evil that surrounds us. ! By the third act of any zombie story, the survivors are hardened and don’t bother confronting the living dead until the latter is within a threatening range. No one panics, cringes or weeps at the sight of rotten corpses until the victims are our own loved ones. ! This is how we live in the real world. Numb and immune to the threats that lurk around every turn.* ! The shooting at West Nickel Mines was tragic, a startling reminder of how treacherous the world can be. We (those who weren’t victims or family of the victims) acknowledge the tragedy, compartmentalize it and move on knowing that like characters in a zombie story, we live in a world bound on all sides by a perpetually advancing wickedness that will never tire of flesh. ! *Great fiction slaps the apathy from our soul and makes us once again care about complete strangers. The well made zombie story orchestrates and directs this compassion well. Stephan King does it even better. !
  11. 11. Tale of the Tape The Woman The Zombie VS single motivation (flesh) numbers advantages tenacious persistence no concept of failure mindless slow expendable handicaps fully functional brain speed agility access to weapons fragile and precious life human emotion (fear and confusion)
  12. 12. esh. What does the zombie want? a lesson in drama and humanity Here’s a scene: A woman walks alone down an alley. She’s confronted by a zombie. What happens? We know what happens, but for the sake of the exercise let’s ask the appropriate questions. ! What does woman want? To survive. What does the zombie want? To eat the woman’s flesh. How can this scene play out? Someone should win (i.e. get what’s desired lest we have no drama). Aficionados of the zombie genre applaud a creative resolution to this otherwise hackneyed scene. The woman’s life is precious. The zombie is expendable (plenty more where that come from). The woman has advantages. A brain for one. Speed for another. The zombie has no feelings and (like a fish) receives no sympathy. An imaginative death is preferred. We know what happens next, all that’s left are the details. Credit is due to stories that outdo their ancestors. “Brains.” “Oh, Shit.”
  13. 13. What does the zombie want? a lesson in drama and humanity (continued) Here’s a zombie free expression of the same scene: Same woman walks alone down the same alley. She’s confronted by a man with a gun. What happens? Now for the standard questions. ! What does the woman want? To survive. What does the man want? We don’t know, and neither does the woman. And now the audience is the woman. In order for the scene to play out, we have to know what the man wants. And in order to learn that, an exchange must occur. Human to human. Does the man want money? Does he want violence? Rape? Answers? Does he want to save her, thereby raising another question by implying the woman was in danger before he confronted her? ! The woman’s life is precious, yet the man has all the advantages. He has the weapon. He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing which is to say he has the answers the woman needs in order to act. “What the hell is going on?” we ask and so does the woman. No one on the dangerous end of the gun seems to know and so we don’t know what happens next. ! Two scenes. One imaginary. One real. Both have been overdone. Both are still done. Which scene is the more dramatic? Better yet which scene tells us more about ourselves and the world around us? “A gun? How romantic.”
  14. 14. Another Death Scene? The importance of what happens next… Think about that book you put down and never picked back up. The movie that dragged. The job that made you feel like you’d been paroled when you finally left. The boyfriend or girlfriend you dumped when Friday nights became predictable. ! In life and fiction we become bored when we stop caring about what happens next. Great fiction tantalizes our expectations by appealing to our inner child’s desire to be wowed with story. ! As kids and adults we’re forever trying to figure out how the world works and what part we’re supposed to play. Whether you’re four years old or eighty two, stories are the currency to understanding what the hell is going on. *The idea that all audiences are like kids and only want to know is what happens next has been championed for decades by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet in his work in theater and film as well as in books like Bambi vs Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the movie business and in True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. ! Author, actor and filmmaker (and personal hero of mine) John Sayles best describes the dramatic importance of What the Hell is Going on? in this series of videos on the nature of stories and why we tell them. The series was filmed during the artist’s lecture at Duke University. I’ve devoted much of this book to running with Sayles’ idea since he has often helped me figure out on so many levels what the hell is going on in my writing and storytelling
  15. 15. What the Hell is Going On?? The longer we keep asking, the better the story Just in case you’re the ignore-the-footnote-type… here is a recap of author and independent filmmaker John Sayles’ explanation for why we tell stories: ! 1. We tell stories to define ourselves. Every tribe, nation and company has a creation story. It’s the narrative that is passed through the generations that explains where we’ve come from, who we are and gives the tribe a sense of self-identity. ! 2. We tell stories to define ourselves to the world. Knowing is not enough. Neither is being. The proud tribe uses story to convey their history to the world in a compelling manner that explains who they are as a people. We are the people who (insert collective accomplishment here.) We’re the United States of America. We are the people who broke from the autocratic rule of the British and later made the world safe for democracy when we kicked the shit out of the Nazis. Take your pick of American war movies that fall under this theme. ! 3. We tell stories to help us figure out what the hell is going on. Most great stories do exactly that, which is why the longer we’re compelled to ask what the hell is going on, the better the story. !
  16. 16. What the Hell is Going On?? The longer we keep asking, the better the story Let’s say we have a story that takes place in an American public high school. There’s a boy. There’s a girl. What happens next? We ask the usual. ! What does the girl want? To gain the attention of the boy. What does the boy want? We don’t know for sure, because he’s mysterious (and good looking for if he were anything less than attractive he’d be considered aloof and aloof doesn’t sell). ! What the hell is going on? ! Usually we find out at the end of the first act. The boy is from the wrong side of the tracks and knows he can’t get involved. He may be a vampire in which case we’re in for a franchise. But now we know what’s going on and only the author’s ability to intrigue us with the moment to moment of the romantic chase will hold our attention. Using attractive subjects helps, since the aloof tend not to make it the sequel.
  17. 17. What the Hell is Going On?? The longer we keep asking, the better the story Rewind the scene. Ask the questions again. What does the girl want? She wants to learn about the other. The boy is from the wrong side of the tracks and the girl is curious to understand what life is like there. What does the boy want? He doesn’t want the girl to step into his world because he knows that she’ll be harmed if she does.* ! What the hell is going on? Good bet we’ll be asking this question until the last page. Along the way, we’ll think we’ve got the narrative pegged only to realize that the author was toying with us. Then we’ll ask to be toyed with again and again as we joyously wait to discover what happens next. *A shameless plug for my debut novel The Coolest Labels, a work that follows this basic plot and may or may not be published independently in the somewhat near future. The final paragraph on this page is my fantasy for audience reaction. 

  18. 18. What the Hell is Going On?? The longer we keep asking, the better the story Now for an exercise in the hypothetical: ! You’re in high school. You close your locker door and find a boy standing next to you. What happens next? How can this real world scene play out? ! Apply what we’ve learned from fiction and we have a primer for deciphering the moment. Now for the questions: What do you want? To survive and figure out what the hell is going on. What does the boy want? You don’t know and that’s the game. Figure out what the boy wants and you’ve gained the leverage to steer this scene in your favor. If the boy has his wits about him, he’ll try to keep you guessing. Like a good author, he’ll give you enough information to intrigue your curiosity but not enough to completely get a hold of the situation. He wants you to ask what the hell is going on for as long as possible. All the while he’ll toy with your emotions by letting you think you have him pegged only to throw a twist that makes you realize you don’t know anything. You’ll become obsessed. Your friends will warn you it’s not worth it, which will only make you more determined. ! Fast forward in life. Now you’re an underling in a office working environment. You’re working diligently in your cubicle when an message appears indicating that your department’s manager would like to see you immediately. What happens next?
  19. 19. Denouement noun The final part of a play, movie or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. And the living dead forever wander in search of flesh and brains…
  20. 20. The Zombie’s Denouement What have we learned? I don’t usually write about zombies (and seldom do I draw them though you’ve likely figured that out by now), but I fundamentally agree that in the real world we live in a constant state of apocalypse, forever pursued by a slow moving menace that surrounds us and closes in with each passing moment. The difference is that the real world (unlike that of a zombie story) doesn’t afford the luxury of shutting down just because there’s an advancing threat on humanity. ! In our case the zombies are metaphors, but the things they represent threaten us on a daily basis: racism, classism, corruption, violence. These things touch our lives in waves, ebbing and flowing through our existence depending on how close we choose to focus on the water. And in the real world (my story world of choice) we all have bills to pay, homework due and worldly concerns despite our being perpetually surrounded by evil. ! As characters we endure a state of confusion when we encounter a new experience. What’s going on here? What happened to the neat and simple world I knew? This is life, trying to figure out what the hell is going on is what we do everyday. The past is easily resolved because we have a resolution. We know what happened so we reflectively invent narratives that help us understand why our story turned out the way it did. “College is a waste of time anyway,” says the high school stoner who didn’t get in. “My marriage failed because I was an alcoholic,” says the man in the third act of his life, “I know that now.” !
  21. 21. The Zombie’s Denouement What have we learned? The present isn’t so clear because we don’t know how things are going to turn out. That’s what makes it so exciting. The exhilaration is in the truth that we don’t know what happens next. This is where the drama lies and it’s what I’m after as a storyteller, consumer of fiction and roaming soul of the real world. ! Humans aren’t that different from one another, and the skilled crafters of good fiction know that. They know and fundamentally relate to the truth that each of us spends the better part of every day wandering through scenes of our own personal stories trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
  22. 22. Thanks for reading. Please visit my site for more stories. ! And be sure to like my Facebook page to receive more FREE musings like this one on a weekly basis.
  23. 23. About Fred Smith A product of Florida public school system and graduate of the University of Florida, Fred is a husband, father and storyteller who’s authored several books, films and more TV commercials than he can remember. ! In college he played baseball with a future World Series MVP.  After college he played drums in a band that once opened for James Brown. Since then he’s published a music magazine, made a feature film, installed his own sewer line and married the greatest woman on planet Earth. ! Fred spends his days in Tampa, Florida enjoying every second he can with his family that includes his wife, Marie; daughter, Madison; and dog, Charlie (not pictured).
  24. 24. What are you still doing here? ! I’m glad you’re curious, but this story is over. (actually it ended 3 pages ago) ! Now be a good human and make use of your cognitive freewill that renders me jealous so. ! Go to and pick out something else to entertain you.