The Walking Dead

I spent a lot of time with Zombies over Christmas break.    I’m not talking about the people shuffling around Walmart on Christmas Eve – I’m talking about The Walking Dead.

Why I didn’t watch the show when it first came on, I cannot say. What I can say is that the hubs and I have been burning through the episodes every chance we get. (Or as he likes to say, “when football isn’t on.”) We’re almost halfway through Season 4 now. I’m going to really hate it when I have to wait a week between episodes.

For those of you who are not familiar with The Walking Dead, I’ll give you a brief synopsis: Deputy Rick Grimes leads a group of survivors around Georgia in a world overrun by zombies. (or Walkers, as they call them.)  So, your basic Zombie Apocolypse.

Because I can’t seem to turn off the writer mind, I started seeing comparisons to writing when I was watching TWD.  There are some essential things you need when you’re faced with a zombie apocalypse, just like there are some essential things you need when you write.

-Vehicle. You’re going to need a reliable vehicle. Now me, I keep screaming at Rick & Co. to take some of the army vehicles they’ve passed by, or raid a Humvee dealer, but sadly, they stick to their soccer mom SUV. (Except for Daryl, he rides a motorcycle. Roof? He don’t need no stinkin’ roof!)

In my mind, the vehicle of your story is your plot. What is carrying your characters from A to B.   It’s important to fine-tune your plot. It will carry you through the obstacles, or rather carry the protagonist through them.  It is the thing that drives your story.

-Weapons. Of course, you have to have weapons to kill the zombies, lest they kill you. TWD characters use a variety of weapons to get the job done – guns, baseball bats, crow bars, even their boots -anything that smashes the brain works fine.  Daryl is the only one that carries a crossbow. It’s the best choice, in my opinion, because it’s accurate and quiet, and well, it looks dang good slung across his back.

There’s a variety of weapons you have in your arsenal when it comes to writing too – style, subplots, language, dialogue, conflict.  But I’d say your writing voice is the crossbow of your story.  It’s the single most identifying factor that says it’s your story. Some people take time to develop a writing voice. It’s easier for others. I found that trying to force my writing voice into a certain style failed miserably. When I just started writing what was in my head, it came naturally.

-Shelter. You’re going to need somewhere to hole up when you’re not out whacking zombies.  Mid-season 4 on TWD, Rick & Co. have occupied a prison. It’s not the Hilton, but it gets the job done and they’re safe for the most part. They’ve constructed an elaborate security system that helps keep the walkers at bay.  They work on it constantly. They’re always improving and finding new ways to make life bearable.

The shelter in writing is your practice. Emerging writers will read this piece of advice more often than any other-write and keep writing. The foundation that is going to support you and your story is the foundation you’ve built by practicing your craft.  The more you write, the more you learn, the better your foundation, the better your story.

-Numbers. All Rick wants is to keep his family and friends safe. He has some trust issues with outsiders, but he usually comes squarely down on the side of “there’s safety in numbers.”

Writing is a solitary job.  I have a lot of family and friends who support my writing and cheer me on enthusiastically. But when it comes to the words on the page, I’m sitting alone at my computer with only my imagination to keep me company.   It reminds me of Daryl in the early seasons. He had his own tent separate and away from the others. He was comfortable there with is crossbow and his thoughts, but when it came crunch time, when little Sophia was lost alone in the woods, he jumped into action and joined the group. He worked with them and became a valuable (The most valuable, if you ask me) part of the team.  That’s what writer communities are all about.  You write alone…but you don’t have to go through it alone.

-Death.  It’s inevitable that people are going to die in any apocalypse situation.  Rick & Co. have had their experience with death.  Some of the deaths they’ve experienced have been shocking and important. (From a writer’s perspective, I applaud the show runner’s guts for some of their choices. From a fan’s perspective, THEY BETTER NOT KILL DARYL!)

I’m not saying that all stories need to contain an element of death in them. I’m saying that when you’re writing, sometimes you have to be willing to let things that aren’t working die. It’s hard to do. But Stephen King said it for a reason. “Kill your darlings.”

Last night I decided to take a character out of my WIP. I eliminated references to that character then looked at my word count.  3250 words killed.  Tragic. All that work…poof, gone. But my story? It’s better for it.  So, I look at it as acceptable death.

One final thought that ties this all together, one of my favorite TWD lines, as said by Dale:

If I had known the world was ending, I would have brought better books. 

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More Christmas Traditions

I broke tradition (if you can call 18 weeks’ worth of something a tradition) by not posting last Tuesday.  A particularly stressful work week got the best of me, but I’m happy to say it’s all over now. I’m off until January 2 and I can’t wait to dive fully in the manuscript and finish my revision.

When last we met, I blogged a few 100ish-word pieces about Christmas traditions from the points of view of my characters. I’ll pick that up again today with a few more.  Whatever your holiday traditions are, I hope you and yours enjoy a blessed season full of joy and love!

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When you say Christmas, my mind goes to soup kitchens.  My parents dragged me to volunteer at one every Christmas Eve.  They were the ones volunteering. I was the one griping about volunteering.  My mother said you’d never know when you might need the generosity of others, so you should help people when you can. It used to amaze me how joyful some of the people there were. Even at their worst, they were grateful.  The Christmas after my parents were killed I found myself on the other side of the ladel with my mother’s voice echoing in my head.  Then I was grateful.

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I have two words for you- Rankin and Bass.  Most people these days don’t know who they are.  They made a bunch of Christmas vids for kids over 150 years ago-classics, if you will.  Each Christmas we make a large bowl of popcorn and snuggle into the couch and have a Christmas vid retro-fest.    My brother with his blonde hair and I with my red, like to reenact Heat Miser and Snow Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus.  It never fails to make my parents laugh. That’s what’s supposed to happen at Christmastime I think.

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My family celebrates Hanukkah.  Long ago Jews were forced to participate in pagan culture. Soon they began to assimilate and practice impure acts. They even allowed a pagan god, Zeus, into their temple.  A group of Jews called the Maccabees, finally said ‘Enough is enough! This is not the way God intends us to live!’ So they reclaimed the temple, pushed out the pagan impurities that were hurting the Jewish culture. They cleansed the Temple and rededicated it to God.  That’s what the word Hanukkah means-rededication.  I find it interesting how closely that matches our society today. It’s time to cleanse our people and rededicate this nation.

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I always got twelve days of Christmas. Not the literal twelve days, mind you-what’s a kid going to do with three french hens? (Although I did have one Christmas celebration in my mid-twenties when I bought myself nine ladies dancing in Santa suits. THAT was memorable.)  I’m talking about getting gifts from December 14 through December 25. They got more extravagant with each day until Christmas.  My fifth Christmas I spent in Walt Disney’s apartment at Disneyland. My seventh, I got an actual-sized remote control airplane. At ten, it was an island.  My dad’s estate was willed to me when I was sixteen. Since then, it’s Christmas year-round for me.

Christmas Traditions

My family has a Christmas tradition. Each year I buy the kids Christmas pajamas that they open on Christmas Eve. I started doing that when my daughter was born. The purpose was for her to have something cute and Christmasy for the photos on Christmas morning. When my son was born almost five years later, I made a point to buy them matching pjs, because FOR THE PICTURES!
As they got older, it became increasingly difficult to buy matching pjs for two genders and age categories, so I had to get a little more creative. I went from matchy-matchy to similar themes-like each had reindeers or snowmen or penguins on them. They didn’t match, but they were still similar.

When they reached the teen years, the Christmas theme morphed into buying them something they’d really like. One year it was all blue. One year had a skull & crossbones theme. Last year, it was plaid pants with their favorite things t-shirts. (Harry Potter and Beatles).

They love it and both have told me not to stop even though they’re a little old to have matching sleepwear. That’s kind of the point of traditions. We do them because it gives us the feeling of nostalgia. It connects us to each other and our shared experiences.
Even if you don’t have any Holiday traditions, I bet you can come up with something from your past that brings you to a place of nostalgia.

I started thinking about this in relation to my characters. Each of them has a past. The details of their lives leading to the starting point of my story may not be mentioned in my book, but they all must have a past who made them who they are.
So I asked my characters about their holiday traditions, but I told them to keep it brief-around 100 words. I found out a lot of things about my characters by doing this. Even if I don’t specifically put any of these details into my story going forward, these thoughts/feelings will help me define who these characters are as I write.

Character Traditions
On Christmas Eve, my mom cooks a pot of venison stew for us to eat for dinner while we pack up the tent – the old-fashioned kind, not hiber-domes laced with heating elements. At dusk we put on our warmest clothes and follow our Dad who has already scouted the “perfect” tree. We start a fire to warm the stew then decorate the tree with whatever seeds or corn we can spare for the birds and squirrels. Mom says it’s important to preserve their environment. Then, even though we’ve almost outgrown the tent now, we huddle together inside until Christmas morning.

We don’t really do Christmas in my family. Pop said that Christmas was meant to celebrate Jesus being born and since Jesus didn’t do anything when the virus came around, he didn’t want anything to do with him. But my Grandma had a different idea. She thought we should be thankful for the lives who were spared, so she always celebrated. I’d spend Christmas day with her every year. We’d make cookies and she’d read the Christmas story from the Bible. She told me that we should be like the wise men and seek Jesus. Sometimes I do.

My family’s Christmas tradition is a little…weird. A hundred years ago, it was pretty common, but nobody does it now. On Christmas Eve, my parents, sister and I go Christmas caroling. My parents started before I was born. They wanted to spread joy and let people know that someone cared about them, so they’d find the houses of people who had no family left and sing to them. When my sister and I were born, they took us with them. We’ve met some of the most interesting people and all of them appreciate what we do, so I don’t think we’ll stop.

Once, my younger brother wouldn’t sleep unless my older brother and I went to check for Santa, so we climbed up on the roof. Dad had those hideous Santa and reindeer figures up there and I somehow tripped and got tangled in them. I had to grasp at the figures to keep from falling. My weight pulled the display down and sent Rudolph flying over the house and out into the yard-just as my little brother peeked out of the covers. He was convinced that he saw Rudolph and went right to sleep. Now every year we go up on the roof and toss Rudolph over the house.

Book Tree

My family and I spent last Christmas at Hogwarts.

Well, the Universal Studios equivalent of Hogwarts.

It was one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. And I can still say that even though I experienced a 24-hour stomach flu during the trip.  (Or maybe it was just the aftermath of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride-hard to say.)

There was a special kind of magic that came with celebrating Christmas in a different way and in a different location.  Sometimes, I think, when we get into routines and experience the same things over and over, we become numb to them.  I have to admit that the thought of pulling out the same tree we’ve had for 20 years, sneezing through two years worth of accumulated dust, forcing my kids to help me decorate and BE JOYFUL ABOUT IT, didn’t have much appeal.  So this year when it came time to decorate for Christmas I decided to mix it up a little.

I told the hubs my idea. I guess he liked it. Because last Saturday I awoke to find seven tiny (live) Christmas trees on my kitchen table. One for each member of our family, including our cats. (One great thing about the hubs, he’s a cat person.)

This weekend we decorated a tree for each of us.  It was fun coming up with the themes for the trees.  My daughter made hers a Supernatural tree. (Yes, Sam & Dean Supernatural, complete with Castiel as the topper.) My son made his a replica of the German flag with black, red, and gold beads and his favorite soccer player on top.

We even had fun with the cats’ trees.  Our cat Cookie’s tree is decorated with cookie cutters and cookies.  Coconut’s tree is totally white like he is. And Oreo’s tree is adorned with socks because she loves to steal and hide our socks.

My favorite tree, though is mine.

Because I made a book tree.

I used the kind of tags that open (like a book, duh.). I glued pictures of my favorite books on the front of the tag and wrote my favorite quotes on the inside.  It’s really cute.

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I even included my “one day” book on my tree too.

Now our fireplace area is decorated with all the things we love and it’s making the Christmas season magical!

I hope yours is too. And if you’re trying to figure out what gift to give someone-you can never go wrong with a book!