The Origin of Scavengers

As Halloween approaches, I find myself thinking back to when I was a kid.  It occured to me that the origins of my recent zombie novel Scavengers trace back to that time, so I thought it would be pretty cool to look back and see how it came about.

For those who don’t know, Scavengers tells the story of five poor stiffs selected by their community to travel to the zombie-filled town of Rundberg in order to raid the supermarket there and replenish their dwindling supplies.  There’s a lot of horror and a lot of action as they try to make their way through a small Indiana town entirely populated by decaying cannibals.  If you’ve picked up my earlier graphic novel A Trip to Rundberg, you know Scavengers is an expanded (and improved) version of that story.  You also know the story was first inspired by my inability to realize when Saturday morning cartoons have ended.

One Saturday way back when, my brother Matt and I were watching cartoons.  When our Saturday morning entertainment finished, a movie came on the TV.  We didn’t realize it at first, but that flick was Night of the Living Dead.  Why the local affiliate thought it was the right movie to put on immediately after cartoons is anybody’s guess.  What I do know is that we sat there for the next two hours, scared out of our minds, and watched every single minute.  It’s the first time I remember watching a scary movie that wasn’t Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, even if they did share a similar climax.  From that moment on, I was hooked on the scary stuff.  Sure, I usually couldn’t watch it without hiding my eyes, but I was still hooked.

Years later, I was an adolescent and spending the night at the home of my best friend, George.  We were pulling an all nighter, which typically involved Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, and usually at least one attempt at filming a kung-fu movie.  This night, however we got the great idea at around five in the morning to go play in the street.  Well, to be specific, we would stand in the middle of his suburban street and wait until we saw headlights coming around the corner.  Then, we’d bolt for the house and try to hide in the shadows before the driver saw us.  And yeah, we had no way of knowing if the driver had seen us or not, but we amused ourselves with this quirky little game until well after the sun began to rise.

Over the next few days, Geroge and I talked about that little game a lot.  We wondered if we could get from one end of his subdivision to the other without being spotted.  Then, we wondered if we could get from one end of town to the other.  The idea stuck with me for years, even to the point where I sometimes wonder if I can cross downtown Austin without being seen.  To be fair, I don’t think it’s possible.  At least, it isn’t for a lumbering doof like me.

For some reason, I didn’t slap the two ideas together until a camping trip maybe eight years ago.  I wanted to write an action comic with a high body count, and somehow the idea of trying to get across town without being spotted jumped back in my head.  When the Romero fan in me spoke up and asked for some attention, the two ideas fused and became the script for A Trip to Rundberg. 

Then, maybe two years ago Lee Thomas and Brian keene both suggested novelizing the story.  Lee thought I should submit the novel to Night Shade Books, who were looking for zombie novels at the time.  The only problem was that the deadline was only three weeks away.  So I went overboard.  For ten days, I wrote eight thousand words a day, sending each chunk to Lee for immediate reading and notes.  The second draft took another week, and my girlfriend Shawna proofread that version.  A two-day polish, and it went to Night Shade.

I never heard back.

A little more than a year later, Creeping Hemlock announced that they were looking for zombie books.  How lucky!  I dusted off the first three chapters, did a quick rewrite, and sent them to RJ Cavender, figuring he was swamped and I’d have anther month or so to finish rewriting.  Instead, RJ got back to me in about thirty minutes.

“Looks great! Let me see the rest.”


So I called into work the next day and rewrote the entire thing in about sixteen hours.  It was exahusting work that led to at least one senseless rant and a really good crying jag, but I survived and came out the other side with a novel I enjoy very much.  The rest, as they say, is history.

So there you have it, a quick little look at how a kid watching a movie after cartoons turned into an adult who wrote a book in a ridiculously short timespan.  Next week, I’ll be recommending some of my favorite zombie books and movies for your entertainment pleasure.

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