Story of the Story: A Tide of Flesh
...and caps it all off with the horror of facing zombie monkeys when all your guns are single-shot flintlocks. - Paul Douglas, writing for acomfychair.com
A Tide of Flesh was one of the first stories I sold (just after I sold Face Change to Pseudopod) and it was a bit of a nail-biter. Break-out success publisher Cohesion Press, out of the land down under, had arranged for stories from some horror greats already working in the field and had space leftover for some of us nobodies. Cohesion, headed by lead editor Geoff Brown, put out the call for open submissions for SNAFU, an anthology of military themed horror.
I read the guidelines closely, which is a thing that all authors submitting anywhere need to do. Editors are serious about their submission guidelines. By not following them, you're telling the editor that you can't been assed to even read what they want from you. Why would an editor, who is going to work closely with you to make your story as good as possible, work with someone who didn't even read the directions?
Yet, here I took a gamble: the guidelines said if you submit a zombie story, it had better be good. I had a zombie story, and I thought it was pretty good.
A Tide of Flesh takes place in Napoleonic India. The setting is a British border fort over which breaks an army of zombies and other undead critters.
The idea for A Tide of Flesh was most likely born of my boredom with modern zombie stories. The advent of The Walking Dead (with problems, in my mind, so numerous as to be unwatchable after the first season) and saturation of the video game market with open-world zombie games (think Dead Island, Dying Light, etc...) was a signal that the market was full. There was plenty of zombie fiction to tide the world over, did we need more?
But we did need something new and interesting in the genre. I thought about setting my zombie story in other eras. I have a personal love of the age of sail and of Napoleonic warfare, and the idea clicked. I chose to set my story on a little fort, far from help, and have an army of zombies attack it. The idea of having soldiers defending a hard point in the face of overwhelming odds is a classic trope, and to add in the zombie riff made things more interesting.
I also really enjoyed the idea of fighting zombies with single-shot weapons and the steel of bayonet and hardened muscles. I had my heroes, I had my villains, and I had my setting, but what else was missing?
The zombie genre needed another poking with a stick, to test if there were any pockets of interesting ideas left inside the rotten corpse that had been beaten to death in popular media. I decided to bring in animals. Animals added a whole new dimension to the zombie story. Now my soldiers weren't only fighting mindless men, they also had to fight zombified animals. The animals stood in stark contrast to the human zombies in that they seemed to have a great deal more agency and hatred for the living.
I started small, with monkeys, and worked my way up to a pair of elephants.
I have to admit, my favorite line from the story is this:
"We got the cow," said the sergeant who appeared beside me. "Now we get the bull."
I have to attribute it to my friend Robb, who often acts as a beta reader for me and has excellent insights and ideas. I owe him many thanks over the years! (Thanks, Robb!)
With the ideas I had assembled, I wrote the story, and of course, sent it off to readers for feedback. I got to the point I felt ready to submit it, so I sent it off to Cohesion Press.
It was considered, and slowly made it through rounds of semi-finalists and finalists until it was an official selection for the anthology. I made it out of 1,100 open submissions. It was a huge moment of pride for me, and still is.
I worked closely with editor Amanda J. Spedding, who made the story into the fun, stupid, zombie-stomping, monkey-shooting action ride it is today. I could not have done it without her.
Make sure to thank your editors, writers, for they are there to make you look good, and they do a fantastic job of just that.
I hope that you may find some interest in the story of story....which I think I like better than "In Focus:" which sounds lame. Story of the Story sounds good. See you next time.