Archive for the ‘apocalypse’ Category

Mini vlog talking (bullshitting) with Phil Beachler about our collaborations on my book covers and other endeavors. Should we start a podcast next? Hell no! Same people belong behind the page…

At least we produce good work like SCREECHERS. Cowritten with Kevin Kennedy and cover by Phil Beachler.

You can find Kevin here: https://www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk/
You can find Phil here: https://www.instagram.com/philbeachchair/
You can find SCREECHERS here: https://www.amazon.com/Screechers-Post-Apocalyptic-Kevin-J-Kennedy-ebook/dp/B07PHZW18Q/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

Artistic collaborations are not new. All authors collaborate with at least a cover artist, unless they are such an artist, just to produce a book. Authors get together to produce anthologies and even cowrite stories, novellas, or novels. As an artist, I love to collaborate. When two (or more) different inspirations converge, the intersection can lead to a new and unexpected direction.

However, just because collaborations can yield something amazing does not mean they are always easy or successful. When I talk about co-writing a novella, the first question is always, “how did that work?” or “how did that go?” It is sometimes hard to see how people could align on a common vision. Yet it does happen all the time with many creative projects. Books are just not a medium people usually think of for collaboration.

Yet when Kevin J. Kennedy asked if I wanted to write together, I did not hesitate to try. Kevin and I had worked together numerous times before when I contributed to his anthologies, but this was definitely a deeper collaboration. Then, when Screechers needed a cover, we brought in Phil Beachler, who did the covers of my books The Waning and Savages.

Rather than recount my experience of the collaboration, I thought it best to include all our experiences.

Where did the idea for Screechers come from?

Kevin: I can’t remember how the idea fully formed, but the initial idea was sparked when I was reading the Hell Divers series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith. He has creatures called Sirens in his books. They are pretty different from the Screechers to be fair, but the screams the sirens make was a bit of a spark and through time I had an idea for the Screechers.

Christina: The idea for the novella came from Kevin ultimately. He approached me to cowrite a story then suggested a post-apocalyptic story with mutant creatures. I instantly wanted to put some human survivors into that nightmare.

Phil: I naturally love drawing monsters and bizarre creatures, so the ideas came from a mish mash of werewolves, space bugs, and various other mutated horrors.

When was it clear that it was going to be a collaboration effort? How did you get involved?

Kevin: I had read all of Christina’s books and loved them. We spoke from time to time because she often featured in my anthologies. Again, I can’t exactly remember how we decided to write Screechers together. It might have been an idea to write something together and then grew into doing the Screechers novella.

Christina: Kevin and I started talking about a collaboration. I had never tried co-writing before, but after contributing to multiple anthologies for Kevin, it seemed like a good fit. Post-apocalyptic was an easy choice for both of us. I had already gone there with my novella Savages. Once mutants and monsters came up, the idea grew legs.

Phil: It became clear after I sent the initial sketches to the authors and got really great reception right away. From there on out, we sent lots of material back and forth to get the ball rolling.

Who was “the leader” on the project?

Kevin: We wrote separate sections and just sent it back and forward. We didn’t even start with too much of a structure from memory. I tend to write as I go most of the time. I can’t recall anyone being in charge. We tweaked each other’s sections, so it flowed better but that was it really.

Christina: I would say Kevin was the leader. He definitely saw more of the Screechers world in his mind, and I fed off of it. But the collaboration was very balanced. We divided the story so we each had our own little sand box. He had monsters, and I had humans. With two pansters writing, we had to force ourselves to outline eventually for when our two storylines would finally intersect then overlap.

Phil: Kevin took the lead, but I got a lot of feedback from Christina regarding various plot points and from her perspective being a fan of nasty monsters.

How did the initial idea change as more people got involved?

Kevin: The idea grew as we wrote as happens with most stories. Christina is friends with Phil, and we asked him to do the cover. The internal art was just a nice bonus that Phil decided to provide.

Christina: We definitely leveled up when we brought Phil in. Not only did we go from an artistic duo to a trio, which increased the influence and opinions flying around, but we brought in an entirely different medium. Phil did the cover, but he drew so many things as he did so. There were sketched of all kind of monsters!

Phil: The idea seemed to stay pretty cohesive. From start to finish, we all had a consistent vision that made it easy to keep on track.

Creatively, how did the collaboration work? How were ideas governed and developed between multiple people?

Kevin: We bounced some ideas back and forth and wrote a chapter each. We would stop every so often and reflect at where we were at and see if anything wasn’t working and review it. It all went pretty smoothly.

Christina: There was a lot of passing back and forth, feedback, and gut-checking. Kevin and I exchanged the outline and the manuscript. Taking turns kept us from wandering too far down a path without input from the other author. Phil came into the process when the story was pretty much done, and he could draw all he wanted based on those words.

Phil: From my perspective, I tried to keep as true to the author’s intentions and vision for the life of the creatures and world they inhabited. I threw some of my own aesthetics into the mix where appropriate, but nothing to distract from the origins of the story. Ideas flowed quite freely between all of us.

Logistically, how did collaboration work? Did you meet up? Get on the phone? Zoom?

Kevin: Everything was done via email and Facebook messenger. I’m in the UK and the others are in the US so no meeting was possible. I’m not a massive fan of video chatting, so I try to avoid it where possible.

Christina: The idea was cultivated over messenger, but the project work was done over email. Phil and I were able to get together and hang out since we both live in the same city, but Kevin lives in another part of the world.

Phil: Mostly chats, emails, and the occasional call.

How was collaborating? Did you enjoy it? Was it maddening?

Kevin: I really enjoyed it. I’ve done it with 3 different authors now, and each time it has been different, but it’s always been fun. In some ways, it’s more fun than writing on your own as you have someone to talk to about your project and it keeps you motivated.

Christina: I have always enjoyed collaborating with other artists. I have worked with visual artists before and enjoyed the balance of mediums. This was my first time working with another author on the same work, not an anthology. I really enjoyed it. I have done tag writing exercises before, where you write a sentence or paragraph and pass it off and the story goes it very unexpected directions. This felt like a much more controlled development of that. The story went in ways I would have never imagined on my own, and I loved that.

Phil: Loved it, and want to do more, much much more!

What really worked about the collaboration?

Kevin: I think it helped that we had read each other’s previous work and liked it, so we knew what we were getting into. Neither of us was too controlling, but we both had out own opinions. It was a good blend.

Christina: We started from a common baseline. We all loved the idea and the themes. Then I think everyone was the right amount of flexible. Everyone contributed, but everyone was also willing to bend and adapt to accommodate the other contributors. It was a good balance.

Phil: Our collective love of survival and apocalyptic themes, in concert with the great introspection displayed by characters, sprinkled with a bit of monster mayhem. In short, it just worked.

What would you do differently in future collaborations? Will you work with other artists again?

Kevin: We mapped out more of book 2 in advance. It came to a stand still when my father became unwell, but we are returning to it now and hopefully it’ll move quickly again now that I have more time. I will definitely do more co-writes.

Christina: In future collaborations, I would probably push an outline earlier. We already learned our lesson and did that first for Screechers 2. I definitely look forward to future co-writing and collaboration projects, with Kevin and Phil and other artists/authors.

Phil: Personally, I just need to get better about being more organized and time-oriented when I’m doing this kind of work in my free time. It’s all too easy to take the “work hat” off and slip into my habits of distraction when I just illustrate for myself.

What about the collaboration shows up in the finished product? What makes it unique?

Kevin: I think the whole point it to make it seem like a solo work. The idea was to have the voices blend although we were writing separate parts.

Christina: I think this collaboration is unique because we had our own sandboxes. It is the weaving of two separate perspectives, humans and monsters, that then collide. Instead of trying to make the dual authors completely transparent, we leaned on that strength to create a layered story. Then we brought the cover artist more into the process than always happens. Phil got to pick our brains before drawing the art.

Phil: Again, I tried my best to be the visual conduit through which the story just flowed. Everything within the book was so strong on its own merit I didn’t want to overdo anything and stray from the vision of the authors.

What is your favorite part of the work that the other persons contributed?

Kevin: I enjoyed the relationship Christina created with the humans in the book. It filled the story out and kept those parts exciting too. I loved Phil’s art and how he brought some of our monsters to life.

Christina: Kevin’s monster fight scene was my favorite part. I focused on the human relationships and humanizing the survivors, but ultimately, Kevin’s monsters were more sympathetic than my characters. That dynamic turned out great. Then I always love how Phil brings what is on the page to life.

Phil: Just getting into their headspace through the writing process as the book took shape and how we would continue to motivate and excite each other as we all came out with more parts of the story through our mediums.

You can find Kevin here: https://www.kevinjkennedy.co.uk/

You can find Phil’s art on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/philbeachchair/

Christina Bergling

https://linktr.ee/chrstnabergling

So the zombies rose to plague the living, but it was no apocalypse. The world did not end. The living were somehow able to battle back the hordes of the undead. Hey, it could happen; think World War Z (the book, not the movie).

Now, in the aftermath, there is that messy question of what to do with all the leftovers? The zombies still shambling around, the pieces strewn far and wide, maybe even the infected zombie animals. Sure, we could double tap them all right in the brain and burn the remains, but that just seems wasteful (and boring). And what are zombies about if not recycling parts (get it: reanimated bodies)?

So, in the spirit of adaptation and reuse, I give you 5 things to do with the lingering zombies after the apocalypse failed to actually end the world:

Weapons of War

What do we humans do maybe best of all throughout time? Figure out evolving and creative ways to kill each other. Guns, bombs, landmines, biological pathogens—if nothing else, we are innovative when it comes to the demise of our species-mates. Why not include the undead to the regiment?

Imagine, if you will, a battlefield led by the snarling, chomping, flesh-hungry masses that require no food, no quarter, no rest. Sure, they also completely lack cognition and loyalty, but with the proper direction, they could be unleashed on the opposing force.

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Not to mention the more covert precision insertion of a zombie. A zombie smuggled into a secure facility could mean secure facility down. Zombies could be dropped in the night into sleepy, unsuspecting towns to annihilate the population in mere days.

Entertainment Fighting

Zombie fight club. Zombie cage matches. Zombie gladiators. The variation possibilities are nearly endless. Perhaps zombies could be made to fight other zombies (gambling involved, of course). More likely, zombies would be obstacles for the living, either released gladiator style on the peripheral of a more central fight or as the direct contest.

Zombie fighting could become an entire entertainment industry. It could be conducted on a grand scale in large arenas, getting us to truly channel our savage gladiator-loving roots. It, no doubt, would be televised (most likely on pay-per-view) and YouTubed. Foolish children would be trying to emulate the greats, making their own home movies that ended with them getting chomped on by a zombie and racking up millions of hits.

Scientific Experimentation

Sure, zombies are not living tissue. OK, they are not exactly human anymore. But surely, a reanimated human body more closely imitates a human body than a pig or rat. With a horde of zombies laying around, we might not even need to worry about testing on animals anymore. We could use those undead bodies for all sorts of medical and scientific experimentation, consumer product testing. If a shampoo could give a zombie radiant, shining locks, there’s no doubt it would be a top seller. If lipstick could stay on through the ravaging of a screaming victim, it truly never rubs off on his collar.

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At the very least, there is the ever-constant search for a cure for zombies. With enough doctors, maybe they could restore zombies to the living before they figured out how to cure cancer.

Crash Test Dummies

Not dissimilar from scientific experimentation, zombie bodies being formerly human bodies could be used to gauge damage done in things like car accidents. Zombies would bring the fleshy (though rotting) tissue and animated rigidity that normal crash test dummies simply lack. And you know if a zombie gets dispatched in a car accident, there is no way a breathing human would ever survive.

Why not zombies shot into space? Save the monkeys. Surely there’s not an ethical consideration if the alternative was to put two in their skull and set their finally limp bodies ablaze.

Perimeter Defense

What is more of a deterrent than zombies? Put a shambling biter on a runner outside your house to discourage a midnight burglar. Leave staggering bodies in a vacant store, ever vigilant for any sound of a living soul who should not be there. Equip these zombie guards with webcams, and you could eliminate the need for a night watchman.

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Even better, create a zombie moat. Imagine, if you will, a deep trench around your property filled with a teeming mass of gasping bodies. You never have to feed them; you never have to make sure there are enough. All you have to do is dump in the dead and let them pace relentlessly in the ground around your site. No one is going to dare crawl down there to get across. As long as you can ignore or mask the noise of those wheezing walkers, it is perfect high security.

Perhaps around a bug out location for when the apocalypse really comes.

 

So before you double tap those bullets in a rotting skull, stop to consider how you could recycle that pitiful zombie (a second time). Grandma need not perish completely unnecessary when you could keep her around as a mobile scarecrow to would-be intruders through your backyard; think of the lives she could save being ejected from a demolished car or the joy she could bring consumers in finding the right formula in hair products.

Don’t waste the dead.

What other purposes could you find for a zombie?

I could hear them waiting, their shifting feet crunching on the dead rocks and sticks around us. There was always audience around. This was not fighting in its purest conflict; it was fighting for sport. It was violence as entertainment. In what was left of the world, they had nothing better to do.

We fought to survive each day, but then we watched others fight to unwind.

The adrenaline was already reaching thin, excited strands down my veins. My heart was already fluttering into an agitated rhythm, just knowing what was waiting. I fought night after night, smashing my swollen knuckles into another face, for the food to fight the next day. Yet the anxiety never faded; the nerves never steeled.

Above the tremors starting in my muscles, I felt my stomach tightening and writhing, tugging down on my esophagus towards the empty pit in my gut. Vacant, hollow, fucking starving.

I tried to swallow the acid bubbling up my throat and focus on the plate that would be on the other side of this fight.

Then he was gesturing towards me, beckoning me to emerge from the shadows of the trees out into the light of the large bonfire where they could see me. I could see the shifting figures now, mumbling and cheering in anticipation. The fire crackled beside them, sending embers into the black sky. I breathed out hard into that dark sky and watched my breath curl in front of and away from me.

I clapped my hands together and swung my arms back and forth as I had always seen boxers do on TV, imitating numerous people probably dead and rotting under the twisted wreckage.

My opponent looked even more scraggly and desperate than I imagined myself. I had seen myself in the dusty reflection of a shattered window months ago, and it had terrified me. Yet even in that dilapidated state, I was not this emaciated, wild-eyed shell of a man.

He held his hands up in gnarled, shaking fists. I could have underestimated him had other ragged opponents not crept out of starvation to nearly pummel me into the dirt below us.

He did not disappoint. He came at me fast and direct, flying across the dirt and dead pine needles in a flurry of long punches. I lifted my arms defensively over my face and felt his arms collide painfully with my forearms. I let him burn it out. I let him pound his fists into my rounded back.

I knew none of our fatigued and deprived muscles could perform for long.

The crowd grew restless around us. I was not entertaining them. They wanted my fight, my pain to distract them from the dismal world all around us.

The pain rolled over me in waves. Each impact from his fists or his feet rippled through my nerves. My instincts screamed to react, to heed the whine of the patrons, to perform. But I had to stick to the tried and true method. I had to fight my impulse and wear him out. Then I could eat.

I felt his blows waning. I watched his bare feet as I curled under my defensive arms. His footsteps were staggering. He could see the finish line and was seduced by the thought of that food. My food.

When I saw one of his arms dangle at his side, I knew it was time. The audience had nearly given up on me. Stray conversations had started among the crowd; the energy had shifted away from us. When there was a pause in his assault, I stood up tall again and dove my fist into his lower jaw. I felt his jaw collide with his skull, heard his teeth snap together. He toppled back surprised and stunned.

And the crowd exploded in cheers.

They loved me once more; they always loved me when the momentum switched. They were drunk off the violence, wrapped up in the sport.

In a blur of exploding instincts and ravenous hunger, I was on top of him, pounding my fists into his face. I felt the flesh contort below each blow, felt his blood wetting my knuckles. With each strike, the audience became more alive. The world was just this moment, and they lived for what I was doing to this other desperate survivor.

I lived for him to stop moving and for the plate to be placed in front of me.

Finally, his arms stopped flailing up on me. Finally, his breathing dropped to sad sputter. He fell limp beneath me, and the fight was over.

I had won. Dinner was mine.

This is just a glimpse at what entertainment might become in the apocalypse. My upcoming novella, Savages, follows two survivors through the search for others in the apocalypse.

When it comes to preparation for the apocalypse, it is more than just canned goods and a bug out plan. Mental fortitude and well stocked supplies are crucial pieces of the survival picture; however, physical conditioning is just as important. All the well laid plans will not save you if you cannot outrun a zombie or assailant.

With the importance of physical preparedness in mind and included in my full apocalypse prepping, I give you my apocalypse anticipatory workout.

(*Note: I have no personal training experience or exceptional fitness expertise, so take this as you will…)

Cardio

Rule #1: Cardio. We all know it. We did not even need Zombieland to tell us (though it was awesome and hilarious to see). Whether you are sprinting to safety with a zombie on your heels or chasing down your dinner or nomadically trekking across the country, you need the endurance and conditioning (the cardio) to sustain the task at hand.

You would think that running and speed would be crucial, and it is important. However, the apocalypse (like a horror movie franchise) is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, you will be running and fleeing and evading. More often, you will probably just be moving. Probably constantly moving, traveling on foot.

As such, you need to prepare for both.

For my apocalypse workout, cardio will be on day #1 because it is rule #1. It will also be on an additional two days (making it the majority of my routine) because it is the more crucial. First, a long distance run to truly build endurance. Next, running speed work, sprinting and increasing my pace. Then, a very long walk to include intense hills and/or a long hike, conditioning for a nomadic lifestyle that could include a variety of terrains.

Weights/Strength Training

Cardio may be the priority, but resistance training (weights, strength training, whatever you want to call it) also serves an important role. Most simply, you need to be able to carry your supplies. A properly stocked bug out bag is going to be hefty; nonperishable food and water is always heavy.

If you are going to be living a nomadic lifestyle, for instance, you need the cardio to do the moving, but you also need the muscle conditioning to hold everything you need to survive. Even just holding a weapon every waking moment requires a certain amount of musculature.

For my routine, I will include at least two strength training sessions. Once a week, I will devote an entire workout (over an hour) to a full body routine, working each muscle group in two sets to failure. One shorter upper body session paired with a plyometrics workout and one shorter lower body session paired with a cardio day.

Plyometrics

Jumping is important. Plyometrics serves as cardio in its aerobic nature (leaves me panting half to death) but also builds the muscle power. This sort of conditioning would be helpful in any survival situation.

I personally hate plyo. I loather jumping (and also suck at it). But I appreciate its value, so I will include it, paired with an upper body weight workout, once a week. I will probably do the bare minimum to satisfy the workout, but I will try to push myself to do as much as I can take.

Climbing

Climbing (on the comfort of an indoor climbing wall pre-apocalypse) works the entire body, from the flexing fingertips to the gripping toes. That, in itself, is useful. However, climbing as a skill would be helpful in the apocalypse. Without conveniences like elevators or vehicles or anything of that nature, there might be plenty of times the ability to climb would be beneficial. Plus, the knowledge could help mitigate the fear.

So up and down the indoor climbing wall to start. One day, maybe, I will confront my deeply seeded biological phobia of heights and try for the real thing. Preferrably prior to the necessity of the apocalypse.

Yoga

Yoga, for me, is for both the body and the mind. However, in the scope of an apocalypse workout, it would be for the body. Healthy muscles and connective tissues are stretched.

At the conclusion of each of my apocalypse workouts, I will do enough yoga to take care of my body and also subsequently calm my mind.

Rest

There will be no rest during the apocalypse, so before that comes, there will be a designated day of rest in my weekly workout routine. The muscles need time to recuperate; the body needs time to recover. I would like to say I would spend this restful time productively, clean living and what have you. However, truthfully, it will probably include drinking beer, watching shameful TV, and indulging in all the creature comforts I will miss post apocalypse.

My upcoming book, Savages, talks about the physical demands of surviving the apocalypse.

What would your apocalypse workout include?

First, people were on edge. They did not smile as they crossed paths, if they ever did. They talked but only about “it,” what was happening all around us. Our entire society was fixating, waiting the end coming slamming down around us the same way we obsessed over celebrity divorces, political scandal, or the Sunday football game. There was even enough time for the apocalypse to become parody on YouTube and Saturday Night Live before everything collapsed around us.

People didn’t take it seriously at first, didn’t acknowledge it was really happening until it was done. There was no way the world was ending. As always, we were a culture of denial, a culture of short sight and no consequences. Yet now, every consequence was looming over us as we laughed in their faces. As we were poised to get what we deserved.

Television and radio probably lasted the longest, programming still streaming away until being overtaken by 24-hour news updates. We knew it was over when the air went black, when the flickering flat faces and their voices stopped. The death of media was in parallel with the death of everything. The last cockroach to keel over.

Conveniences went first, like the social niceties, the few people feigned to begin with. It was all a preview of the humanity we would lose. First, we would stop being polite; later, we would stop being human. First, we would shove someone out of the way; later, we would cut them open. The apocalypse wore away on us in stages, the same way it ate away at the world around us. Again, all while we told ourselves it wasn’t happening. We were still human, and the world was not ending.

We all longed for the world we did not appreciate, the society we mocked and cursed.

When civil services dropped off, we truly descended into chaos. It was like a classroom without a teacher, a toddler out of sight of a parent. With no one watching, with no one punishing, we revealed our true nature. At first, we went crazy with freedom, looting stores to finally lay hands on the coveted items we could not earn. Then we became desperate, clawing and maiming to scratch at a can of food.

We weren’t people anymore; we were survivors.

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Once the cities were stripped and the bodies stacked up, our culture, our society was nothing but a wasteland. Everything we were, our buzzing clockwork of existence, was reduced to relics, empty shells to remind us of what we used to be. Grocery stores were only the bare bones of shelves. Electronics were piled up dead and useless. Our cute little suburban houses were reduced to ashes.

What emerged instead was no longer a society, could not be called a culture. It was transient and adaptive, human nature itself manifest. All the ways we were taught to behave–manners, rules, norms, expectations–were worthless and forgotten, abandoned in a fraction of the time it took to cultivate them. For all the work our parents and our culture did, it all meant nothing now. Those who clung to those ideas, tried to emulate the lost world died first and fast.

Survivors were something new, something empty and untrained. We were reduced to instinct and reaction. Our behavior was determined by one influence–survival. It only mattered what it took to see the next day, what put a fraction of food in our mouths. Those of us who survived, who remembered the way it was before the fall, only strove to forget.

It was too painful to remember.

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*

When the apocalypse comes, what do you think will be the first thing to go?

My partner has a not-so-secret belief that I am a serial killer. Not in a “maybe you were in a past life” sort of way but more an active on the down low sort of way. Dexter-style, if you will.

His suspicions arise from my sadistic streak and my talent for manipulation. I am no serial killer, however. Instead, I think I am just more in touch with my inner savage nature; I am more honest about what am I at my core. That intimacy with my own primal self is what helped me write my book, Savages.

Whichever way you slice it, this part of me is the backbone to our apocalypse plan.

The idea started easily enough. We were watching some apocalyptic movie or TV show (both of which are steady in our entertainment diet). He made some comment that he might not be able to do all the killing required; he would not want to. To this, I replied simply, “Well, baby, I’m going to handle all that; you think I’m the serial killer, remember?”

From this hatched our hypothetical division of post-apocalypse duties.

My partner has wanted to purchase land for years. He would like to permanently reside self-sufficient on said land. Only, tragically, he would have to do so without me, so the compromise is to live in civilization and own said land for vacation and, of course, the apocalypse. Even without an imminent threat or an unavoidable need, he simply enjoys things like living off the grid, farming his own food, improvising conveniences, camping, and survival skills.

Obviously, since he already harbors an interest and enjoyment of these would-be necessities, he would be in charge of managing the related tasks. He would procure our drinking water, grow our crops, engineer devices for our survival.

That leaves me with what he thinks I already secretly indulge: I would be in charge of the killing.

Killing in a post-apocalyptic world would be unavoidable. It could be animals to eat, but, even more likely, it would be other survivors for survival. With creature comforts eliminated and resources restricted, when we all devolve to our savage roots, there will be (many) times it will be kill or be killed. After just the briefest and most peripheral exposure to people at war in Iraq, I believe this would undoubtedly be true should the entire world fall.

So it is a win-win. My partner is able to avoid the dirty work, and I am allowed an acceptable and productive outlet for the darkness he thinks is at my core.

And if I am driven to savagery and survival, I am going to be savage. I told my partner that I wanted to line the far perimeter of our land with the heads of those who had attacked us (and I dispatched) on pikes, as a warning. He only lamented that this approach would require him to make pikes, impale severed heads with them, and plant them in the ground.

I told him I would do the decapitating for him.

Survival is a high stress situation. It is best to have a plan, especially with your family (or established survival group). My partner and I have been together a long time; we know each other and our various talents and proclivities rather well. Yet, I feel more comfortable having discussed our basic plan and division of labors, as joking as it may have been. We have kids and dogs to keep alive; we cannot be wasting time bickering over whose turn it is to kill the latest threat.

Who would start in your survival group? How would you divide duties?

I have a guilty pleasure: sexual tension and ill-fated romance in horror and apocalypse stories. So deep does my secret affinity run that it manifests as a major line in my own book (Savages). I simply cannot help myself.

Do not misread me; I am not looking for classic romance. I do not want a happy ending; I do not want courting or dating or any of that drama. Even if part of me is rooting for ultimate consummation or for the characters to end up together, I am always secretly satisfied when it goes so terribly awry. I think it is less about the actual romantic element and more about the juxtaposition of it within a terrifying or catastrophic scenario. It is normalcy in the traumatically abnormal.

Sexuality is also very primal, very base, which runs completely in line with survival, be it surviving a killer, the apocalypse, zombies, whatever. It seems appropriate to acknowledge and include that instinct while exploiting the others. It makes the scenario and the characters seem all the more real to us.

Humans are hooking up in every scenario; you cannot stop us. And when in real life does it ever play out like a romantic comedy? It is all the more accurate to be messy, ill-fated, or unrequited.

When I wrote my own book, the sexual tension between the characters is where the story began to blossom in my head. In a post-apocalyptic world slim on survivors, with all the normal world and distractions stripped away, I was able to concentrate on two elements: survival and her attraction to him. For me, the survival was the setting, and the attraction was the story.

And that is because of this guilty little pleasure I have. Clearly, however, I am not the only one, as this element does appear in horror and apocalypse stories.

For horror, Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling immediately come to mind, whether in the novels or the movies. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal is clearly intrigued by Clarice and her intelligence, in a similar way he was by Will Graham in Red Dragon. In both instances, he wants to toy with the other while also teaching them, minimally helpful manipulation.

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However, his interactions with Clarice take on that additional level of sexual tension. Hannibal is aroused by her vulnerability, hungry for her specific psychological damage and idiosyncrasies, a level he never achieved with Will. I think this sexual tension and Hannibal’s attraction to Clarice is what makes their dynamic so interesting and convincing.

By Hannibal, Hannibal’s romantic attraction is fully realized and no longer relegated to simple sexual tension in their interactions. In the movie, he sacrifices his hand to spare Clarice hers; in the book, he drugs her and spirits her away to live with him in the jungle. By this point, it got a little too romantically centered for me but was still enjoyable.

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The sexual tension in Silence of the Lambs was much more engaging and entertaining that the outright romantic pursuits of Hannibal, but throughout the franchise, that sexuality is a strong element between the characters and in the plot. Hannibal being my favorite fictional serial killer does not hurt either.

As far as apocalypse, (let’s go mainstream, why not?) The Walking Dead fully exploits the soap opera of human sexuality in a apocalypse survival scenario. The Walking Dead being such a sensation and its success bringing it so mainstream does always lead to more interpersonal drama, a tactic to entice outside the initial target audience. Yes, I have the zombie lovers, but if I have a little romance, let me hook those on the fence too.

The first instance of sexuality and romantic drama in The Walking Dead was the love triangle between Rick, Lori, and Shane. Rick wakes up to the zombie apocalypse and hunts down his family, only to find his wife entangled with (and impregnated by) his partner, Shane. Definitely soap opera worthy but enticing all the same. The scenario is also pretty realistic. If you thought your husband/partner was dead, would you not consider finding comfort with one another?

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The relationship between Glenn and Maggie is probably the longest and most explored in the series. They start as convenient fuck buddies on the farm (sex always happens during lulls in combat, right?) then develop into a full romantic relationship. They get separated and reunited; they make horrible and dangerous decisions based on their love for each other. Again, this crosses my unrequited, inappropriate romance line (for my own personal affinity); however, it is still very effective. It gets the audience invested in them, rooting for them (and hence hooked on the show).

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I, personally, think sexual tension and romance has a place in horror and apocalypse. It attracts my interest and also makes the scenarios and character seem more authentic to me. Even facing the end of the world, given a moment to breathe, I believe humans will continue to be sexually driven. Oh, it seems the zombies are gone for the moment; how about a roll around in an empty pharmacy?

However, I think the inclusion of this element must be applied properly. Too much or too idealistic and it violates the genre; too little and it is lost and its purpose is unrealized. It needs to augment the plot and play off of the survival scenario; if it takes over as the story, it becomes too much.

Hopefully I succeeded in doing just that in my own work.

Consider the my to-do list. Consider this my plan to start preparing.

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Let’s say the zombies started shambling tomorrow, staggering stiff-limbed and rotting through the streets, clawing and wheezing and chomping their teeth. Would you be prepared, or would you be lost in the panic?

Would I be ready? Today, absolutely not. I think about preparing; I muse about preparing; I even talk about preparing. Yet I lack in follow through. Like so many, I fall victim to complacency. Sure, the zombie apocalypse looks terrifying (and entertaining) on my lovely flatscreen TV, but surely that won’t happen tomorrow! Or even the next day. I tell myself that I have time.

However, when the apocalypse comes (zombie or no), there will be no announcement; there will be no gradual transition. It will crash down, and you will either be prepared or not.

So I am taking the first step in zombie apocalypse preparedness; I am making my ideal plan.

When the undead begin clawing at my door, or even when I see them teeming nearby on the news, my first priority will be to gather supplies and GET OUT. I love to live in a city, to be near activities and around people and community. However, in the apocalypse, for all their resources, cities are suicide. The more resources, the more people. The more people, the more zombies.

Most importantly, once civilization falls away, you need to survive the other survivors just as much, if not more than, the threat. People turn savage when their resources are threatened, when they legitimately fear for their lives or even their way of life. It is best to band with a group of well-known family or friends and strike out, getting as far away from the dangerous masses as possible.

Plus, if the zombies are infectious, a city is the easiest place to get infected. Priority #1 is to BUG OUT.

To enable me to bug out with ease, I have to be prepared. I will need bug out bags properly packed and stocked at the ready. Most importantly including water purification and food rations and enough for the whole family. We need to be able to snatch up those packs and move at the earliest possible moment to avoid being caught in the surge of refugees.

Beyond the elemental basics of food and water, these bug out bags need to contain provisions for shelter during travel, basic tools, and (perhaps next most importantly) weapons. Guns are extremely effective but require ammunition and attract attention by sound. Silent, reusable alternatives like blades or blunt objects should definitely be included, multiples based on size and weight.

Packed down and bugged out, the next priority would be travel. I would want to move as camouflaged and subtly as possible, making my way apart from the other survivors and zombies. I would want to cover as much ground as possible to put distance between myself and the majority. Being economical with resources and rest would help to maximize the progress made. The goal would be to put down miles without attracting attention.

Ultimately, I would need a bug out location. I would want this property to be remote, secluded, not easily discovered. A cabin in the mountains would be ideal (and would have plenty of non-apocalypse uses beforehand). There would always be the risk that other refugees would find it before I arrived, so I would have to be prepared to either share or reclaim my cabin.

My bug out location would need to be properly stocked. I would want more rations, tools, and weapons, but they would need to be hidden or disguised enough to not be fully exploited by the time I got there. And I would need to be able to protect them once I was on site. I would want either enough rations or enough means to procure rations (hunting, growing, what have you) for me (and my group) to survive at the cabin long term.

The goal would be to resettle in a new and safe location. However, depending on the apocalypse and the duration and severity of the aftermath, that might not be an option. In many scenarios, nomadism might be the most effective survival strategy. Stationary and too comfortable invites threats and most often other desperate survivors, especially the longer after the event. I would need to be prepared to replenish the bug out bags and keep moving.

If settling at the bug out location, I would need to be prepared and staged for self-sustaining existence. I would need a water source. I would need a steady procurement of food, either by growing, gathering, or hunting. I would need to be well fortified and protected.

However, if I was unable to stay and had to continue moving, I would need to be staged to exploit my bug out location and carry the provisions with me. I would need to adapt to a nomadic way of life and find ways to continually find resources on the road. I would need water purification means that would be lightweight and small and could be continually applied to varying water sources. I would need weapons that were reusable and easy to carry; I would want back ups in case one was lost or taken from me. I would need portable shelter and clothing for the different climates I would move through.

Hopefully, all these preparations would keep me (and my group) alive long enough to learn how to live in the new world. Surviving the apocalypse would be about longevity and adaptation. Things would never go back to how they were, so the greatest long term preparation I could have would be the aptitude to survive in whatever was on the other side.

So, tell me, what is my plan missing?

I have already shared my thoughts on our culture’s current fixation and mainstreaming of the horror genre. A natural extension of this is our culture’s near obsession with all things apocalyptic.

The horror and apocalypse genres easily blur and mingle, mostly because the apocalypse is the worst thing that most people can imagine. The apocalypse, in any of its varied forms, also nearly always includes a whole menagerie of horrors. It does not have to include a knife-wielding serial killer to be considered a member of the horror family.

I am no exception to this. My first book, Savages, is entirely centered around an apocalyptic scenario. I found this topic fascinating for the same reason I think we as a culture and a species fixate on it.

Humans, as a whole, are almost always somehow focused on our own demise. We have writing about it since there were cave paintings; we invented religion to explain it. We all know it’s going to end somehow, and an apocalypse no doubt seems the most grandiose. What is really more terrifying and fascinating than the abrupt end to absolutely everything we know?

Beyond this inherent morbidity in us, I am drawn to the psychology of the survivors, what happens to people who lose everything and manage to continue on. Due to my own personal beliefs on the savagery of humans (for another blog post, I assure you), I believe something like the apocalypse reverts us back to our natural and base instincts. When falling from a society as advanced and convenienced as ours,  this is a drastic and near unfathomable change. It’s no different than the change required in desperation or war, yet the apocalypse equalizes all humans involved.

I do believe that the more socially tense or politically unstable our culture, the more we tend to gravitate towards this apocalyptic media. The post-apocalyptic obsession is art manifesting our deepest fears about our current reality. Is the apocalypse really happening now? Probably not. But with the issues we face, we can see the path down that road more easily; it seems like a more realistic scenario.

We like to flirt with that fire, get close enough to the heat of that idea while still being able to tell ourselves it’s all fiction and just for entertainment.

Why do you think we are all binging on movies, television, books, video games about the end times?