My progress tracker for the first (and a half) draft of Reviva Las Vegas!

The first draft of Reviva Las Vegas! Book 1: Dead Man’s Hand is done! Actually, it’s kind of a first-and-a-half draft since I’ve been doing the NaNo no-no of reworking and (thanks to the Spousal Unit helping) editing in fallow periods of writing. But this ain’t NaNoWriMo, so whatevah, I do whut I want!

I do love NaNo tools of all kinds and will be using them for next month’s Camp NaNoWriMo, in which I will be writing a 30,000-word “bizarro” novel for a publisher who I really, really hope really, really likes it. The one tool I especially like (TWSS) is the “Word Tracker,” which is an Excel spreadsheet (but compatible with Google Docs and other such suites). They don’t have one I could find for 2014, but it’s trivial to customize the cool ones for 2013 for your 30-day novel project like, say, Camp NaNo in July.

Anyway, since Dead Man’s Hand was not a NaNo project, I felt free to take more time to write my novel since it was actually going to a publisher who had bought it and all. The draft took 42 days of writing, but that was spread out over two and a half months or so. (And it was 70,000 words, not 50,000 or fewer like most NaNo projects.)

I thought you all might find it interesting or even useful to see my finished Word Tracker spreadsheet. The image below is just the pertinent numbers, but this Excel spreadsheet also has all my annotations (made at the end, so I could have insight on my own process from the end point. Also, it explains the why and wherefores of my writing schedule idiosyncrasies. You can get it right at this here link.

But here is my final Word Tracker for the draft of Dead Man’s Hand:

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They say nothing attracts the muse more than a writer on a regular schedule, and although my schedule wasn’t totally regular, it sure seemed to work for me this time. Remember, for insight into why things are highlighted or why days seem to be skipped, check out the annotated Excel file here.

Any thoughts? Has anyone out there tried this?

 

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Blog whining. I admit it.

Aside

I was looking at my blog view breakdown here at WordPress, and it was so motivating that I wrote a song about it. It should be sung to the tune of that Bob Dylan chestnut “Blowin’ In The Wind”:

♫ How many posts must a writer put up
Before someone subscribes to his blog?
How little interest must a blogger accept
And not feel like a bump on a log?
Yes, and what’s it feel like to go unread
Before it all turns into a slog?

The answer, my friend, is like pissin’ in the wind
It’s just like I’m pissin’ in the wind. ♫

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Sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bought this thing.

Anyway, back to my noveling! I’m just a few thousand words from the end of this draft.

It’s a hard-knock life, I tell ya.

 

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James Crawford has great advice, as usual. And not for the first time, neither.

So pay attention this go-round, willya? I’m reblogging this from his excellent blog.

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Maybe even check out his scary book, maybe?

THINGS I’VE SAID BEFORE ABOUT WRITING, THAT MIGHT NEED REFRESHING

  1. You can’t write with the expectation of fame or monetary gain.
  2. Your emotional state can profoundly impact your work.
  3. Your emotional state can profoundly change your ability to work.
  4. Writers do not stop writing, much like Coders do not stop coding. It is a discipline, an art, and a constant presence in our consciousness.
  5. Peers and friends who write are some of the best resources you have. Reach out to them. This is one of the things that social media is for, and excels at.
  6. Don’t know what to write? Pick up and old idea, toss it with another genre, and use it as an exercise. You might come up with something astounding. You might make useful garbage.
  7. Having trouble writing, reach out to a peer and start a game of Exquisite Corpse.
  8. Know of a coffee shop or restaurant in your area that has a bookshelf for customers? Tell the host/hostess that you’d like to bring in a signed copy of your book and leave it for the customers. Follow through on it. I just did this last night, and they were thrilled to have a local author around.
  9. Trade reviews with other authors, and use them as content on your website. This generates traffic for both of you.
  10. That rule also applies to interviews. Have you met my Illustrious Peeps? There will be more in the near future.
  11. If you have a copy of your book on your person (don’t leave home without it), and someone expresses interest in it, give it to them and sign it. Why? They will tell their friends about it, and might share it with them. Expand your audience.
  12. Provide emotional support to other authors who need it. Why? You hurt too. Compassion goes a long way.
  13. Appreciate your spouse/significant other/partner until you’re blue in the face. Chances are, he, or she, does not get what we do, but accepts it because they love you.

That’s all for now.

God, father, why must rewriting be so cruel?

As both readers of this blog know, I have been working like a man possessed in order to deliver what I call a “presentation draft” to my publisher, that titan of apocalyptic fiction, Permuted Press. They are the most wonderful people one could hope to work with, but contracts are built on trust that each party will deliver on time. I will deliver on time, but I’m just having to work like a maniac (and make my poor editing slave, the Spousal Unit, work even harder). It’s writing, not digging ditches, so I really have no complaint. Besides, I’m sure Permuted will be understanding if I don’t meet my deadline.

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Just like they were with noted author Luca Brasi.

Anyway, the highs of getting a lot of words down and then even going back over them (with the help of a professional book editrix who you married 15 years earlier just for this exact moment) are wonderful. But, friends, now I have come to a part of the novel that I had written when I was first fleshing it out … and I love it, it’s very exciting … but it’s going to have to go.

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“Tell that chapter it was only business. I always liked it.”

See, Dead Man’s Hand is a huge expansion of a short story I wrote back in the day for a zombie fiction anthology. It always begged for a sequel or expansion, because I never really resolved the main conflict. Now, oh yes, it is solved, but only after I created — as every writer knows — an entire world around it, the world of what is now 65,000 words of a novel. Part of that world — where the main character is beaten and abused and then witnesses a lottery that makes no goddamn sense now. It made sense then, but now? It’s not only cliché, but downright stupid. So, even though it will cost me some 2,000 words of my total that will not be replaced — THIS IS WRITING I’VE ALREADY DONE, DAMMIT!!! — I must be strong and be a professional. I have to make it nothing personal, just business.

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“Leave the formerly relevant but now extraneous action and exposition. Take the throughline.”
Huh?

So what I’m going to do is keep the 5,000-or-so words as a “deleted scene” on the eventual eBook or just have it as an extra on SeanHoade.com. This seems like the best of both worlds for me. It gives a little peek under the hood of my incredibly well-oiled writing machine of a brain, but doesn’t put it in the novel itself, where it is undeniably distracting and worse than unnecessary.

For my word count, which I have been keeping assiduous track of for my friends, I’m going to note how many words I wrote today rather than the net gain as I did with excising some stuff the other day and writing new stuff elsewhere. I will amend my word count to reflect the net words for the day, however, because that will be the new, accurate word count as I close in on the finish line of Reviva Las Vegas! Book 1: Dead Man’s Hand.

fredoIn the upcoming Godfather digital remasters, Coppola has Fredo shoot first.


Want to get that novel written instead of just talking about it like a mealy-mouthed so-and-so? Then read this post.

Look, do you want to write a novel or not?

I have never been good at tough love. A rapidly moistening pair of eyes, a quivering lip — these have been my downfall as a “tough lover” because I hate sadness. I embrace and enjoy existential terror and nihilism as well as, as one brilliant writer recently called it, “Cosmic Futilitarianism.” But sadness, hurt feelings, disappointment? Holy mother of the FSM, I can’t stand them and will often try to completely blank out my mind in order to avoid experiencing them in myself or (especially) others whom I care about. Almost anyone being sad … I can’t stand it.

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There are exceptions.

Anyway, all of this is to preface that I’m about to dispense some tough love. If you are a writer or want to be a writer, then, frankly, I love you. You are doing something very brave, or intend to do something very brave, because writing does all of the following:

  • Allows a way to make a living only slightly less arduous and risky than panning for gold on a stream inside the compound of a Tea Party militia;
  • Completely exposes your most secret and important self to a world that may not only not give a rat’s ass, but that might actually mock and despise you for it;
  • Makes you so needy that you think of the above risk of mocking and despising as “Hey, at least people are reading my stuff!”; and
  • Takes you away from doing other things that other, non-writer, people enjoy.
  • Also, you might suck at writing and no one will tell you except on your deathbed, precluding any chance of your improving from their feedback.

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 And that’s the good news.

So you see that when I say the prospective writer (especially novelist, but this also applies to playwrights, poets, nonfiction scribes, and writers of shorter fiction as well) is “brave,” I absolutely mean it. You are willing — heck, asking — to confront demons both internal and external, as even the most hackneyed plot and characters still require a plumbing of one’s own depths in order to allow them to do anything at all.

There are writers, and there are “writers”

So the people I respect are the writers who are either working on a project, planning a project, or shopping a finished project around (and this includes self-publishing folks). People I do NOT respect (as writers — I’m sure they’re all fine human beings) are those who exclusively talk about writing, or who “work on their writing” by shopping for the right desk and lamp and computer and office and house and city to work in before they dare put words to paper, even virtual paper (which is quite cheap) on a word processor.

These are the beret-wearing, clove-cigarette-smoking dilettantes of a thousand New Yorker cartoons. But they are also the people who talk endlessly about agents, copyright protection, marketing plans, and other writing business topics without actually doing any writing. I run into these people every week, almost whenever I leave the house and go somewhere where writers gather. I consider outlining, writing treatments, and doing research (actually doing it, not “being in the process of doing it”) as perfectly acceptable parts of writing novels or other kinds of work. (I do novels, so that’s my focus, obviously, but this applies to wannabe writers of all stripes.)

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“OfficeMax was out of the quills I like, so I ain’t writin’ jack squat ’til they get them in.”

A writer can become a “writer” at any time. There are tons of authors (they are measured by weight, not volume) who write a book and then proceed to do nothing for the rest of their lives although they still call themselves “writers,” not “have writtens.” While this is unfortunate, these folks get a pass with me. At least they did it once. They can always say that they wrote that one novel which legend has it exists in each of us.

But here’s the flip slide: If he or she puts him- or herself to the task with real intention and real commitment, a “writer” can become a writer. I spent years with it “not being the right time” or “I didn’t have what I needed to ‘really’ start writing” and using every other excuse in the book (which I did not write). Here are a few that I relied on for years to explain why I wasn’t writing but really, deep down, was a writer:

  • “My wife called it ‘that damned book’ and made me feel unsupported.” (Before Ann.)
  • “I don’t have a fast enough computer.”
  • “What I really need is a laptop.”
  • “Without a deadline imposed on me from without, I just can’t seem to finish anything. Or start it, to be honest.”
  • “I’m not good enough of a writer to ever compete with real writers.”
  • “Publishing is a scam. It’s who you know, not how good your writing is.” (Note that I was not doing any writing in the period I was saying this, so it was doubly bullshit.)
  • “Self-publishing is a scam.”
  • “Small press publishing is a scam.”
  • “There’s no point if I don’t have an agent.”
  • “I need to really research everything in Writer’s Market before I do anything. I wouldn’t want to waste my time writing for a market that doesn’t exist.”
  • “I can’t write with small children around.”
  • “I can’t write with any kind of social obligation hanging over my head, even if it’s months in the future.”

And so on and so on, ad infinitum (or at least ad alotmoreum). It’s all excuses, nothing but excuses. I personally used every one of these and a whole lot moreum over the years. I do work extremely well under the pressure of an externally imposed deadline, but you know what is the most externally exposed deadline of all? DEATH. (Very little writing gets done in Heaven, where everybody is already a best-selling author, and even less gets done in Hell, since it’s an endless open mic poetry night using a sound system with random, but almost constant, squealing feedback.) In other words, you have to write now.

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Photo courtesy of ExtremelySubtleImages.com.

But you’re in luck! There is a mass movement to get you WRITING!

Most people who are into writing know about NaNoWriMo, “National Novel-Writing Month.” (I added the hyphen. Philistines. Anyway, moving on.) You commit to write a 50,000-word novel — about the length of The Great Gatsby and Fahrenheit 451 and Stephen King’s first book in The Dark Tower series (The Gunslinger) and other famous and beloved tomes — in one month. (November, to be exact.) That means you write an average of 1,667 words per day. You know you’ve written emails, Facebook posts, and blog entries longer than this already. It’s a challenge, but even if you write gobbledygook, you have that most precious of writerly artifacts, a first draft upon which to perform surgery. Add a leg, remove a rib — as Faulkner said, “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” And our buddy William Faulkner practiced what he preached — he rewrote his own name from “Falkner” to “Faulkner” to make his brand stand out more.

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Also, in his first draft, Faulkner’s fictional county in Mississippi was called “Fartbutt Holler.”

NaNoWriMo gives writers the opportunity to get that first draft down. It takes commitment and it takes a certain amount of both bravery and bravado — but if you’re a writer, you’ve already gone all-in on both of those, haven’t you?

“But why do I need NaNoWriMo? I can just tell myself I’ll write 50,000 words in a month and BAM! Same difference.” Well, yes and no. The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that you are supported by an entire community of fellow writers who are trying to do the same thing you’re trying to do and share their triumphs, frustrations, questions, cheerleading, need for cheerleading, and much more both on the national level but also in the smaller “pods” of writers that just about every city in the U.S. has. (Bigger cities have more than one.) These groups schedule “write-ins” where NaNo participants show up and … well, write. It’s usually at a coffee shop or Panera Bread or some other public space where people can call out to each other with all of the expressions of feelings noted above.

“Okay, fine, but November is a long way away. Why are you writing this blog post right now?” Well, the official NaNo is in November, but they have a July version called “Camp NaNoWriMo,” which gets you from zero to whatever word count you choose. (For instance, I am doing a 30,000-word “bizarro” novel for a publisher who puts out shorter works.) You can do the 50,000-word novel, of course, but you can also do a shorter one, a longer one, or a revision of something you already wrote.

The important thing is that you can break it up into stages with daily goals to meet. A friend of mine who is a poet (and an awesome one) wants to write 31 poems, one for each day of Camp NaNo. What she’s doing, since the word count requirements say a minimum of 10,000 words and word counts don’t really mean anything for poetry, is putting her goal at 31,000 words, and every time she finishes a poem, she puts up 1,000 words on her progress chart. BAM — 31 days, 31 poems, and a steady accumulation of words/points until she reaches her goal on July 31.

That’s another great thing about NaNo in general but certainly Camp NaNoWriMo is that there are widgets you can put on your blog or website that show your progress. I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my daily words, how far I am from the goal, and other fun little stats I like to look at. It was created by a NaNo writer a few years back and given freely to the entire NaNoWriMo community, to be shared by everyone.

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This cat knows what I’m talkin’ bout.

The opportunity is here. The support is here. You want to write a novel?
Then join me at Camp NaNoWriMo this July, aiight?

Here’s the link: http://www.CampNaNoWriMo.org. My username (if you want to add me to your cabin) is, creatively, SeanHoade.

A final important note: Once you finish your project, whatever it may be, you can go on to rewrite it or not rewrite it; try to get it published, self-publish, or just stick in a drawer for later; or even use it for applications to MFA programs. What matters is that you did it.

It won’t be easy and occasionally it won’t even be fun. But you are brave. You are a writer. Let’s make your book happen.

 

 

An excerpt from my upcoming zombies-in-Vegas novel!

Hello there, my friends. I haven’t posted much of anything lately since I’ve been slaving away at the new book, which is Book 1 of my Reviva Las Vegas! trilogy, Dead Man’s Hand. My Patreon campaign (www.Patreon.com/SeanHoade) recently hit a milestone and I promised to release a bit of the first chapter if that happened, so here it be!

Coming very soon will be a bitter, angry post about the art of rewriting.

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It’s been 8 years since the zombocalypse.
Almost everything has changed, but one thing remains the same.
Chris Newman and his cards are ready to whip your ass.

In the first novel of the Reviva Las Vegas! trilogy,
one poker pro is just trying to make it through the day.

But somebody powerful wants a game with Chris,
and the stakes couldn’t be higher:
If he wins, he gets to stay within the gates of Dos Vegas,
a zombie-free gambling haven.

But if he loses …

In the excerpt below, Chris is in the process of recapping the new rules
of poker and life following the zombie apocalypse.

Rule Four: Never, ever go on tilt. 

Remember those old-school pinball machines that would sometimes get a ball jammed, and when you shook the machine or otherwise went crazy to get it dislodged, the display would light up with the message TILT until an attendant could come and reset it? TILT meant something had gone haywire and nothing good would happen until a reset occurred.

“Tilt” is a phrase that gamblers use to signify when Juan Valdez fucks, strangles, and then eats his donkey and wears its head around town for a hat, all because his big shipment of coffee … got fucked up, I don’t know, whatever bad thing happens to coffee shipments. It’s when a player with pocket Aces loses his shit after getting beat by some idiot’s 3-8 offsuit because the flop, turn, and river come down A-K-3-8-8 because some people never, ever fold and luck into these situations. They’re called fish, donks, and all manner of other unkind names, but they will have the “W” in their column that time and the poker Ph.D will not.

When you’ve got the absolute nuts on a hand, it’s a great time to start teasing fellow players, trying to make them angry and annoyed, do anything you can put them on tilt and off their game. Occasionally it’s a great idea to stay in a hand with shit cards (like that 3-8 off) on the slight chance that you can catch weird pairs or a straight and make your opponent lose his mind. The difference is that the fish just does this because that’s how a fish plays, not knowing a thing about pot odds or when to stay in a hand or fold—the poker pro is playing a completely different kind of game in addition to Hold’em. The poker pro knows that this will transform otherwise excellent players into gibbering, furious balls of impulsivity.

Tilt is what makes that pushed-to-the-limit cardsharp go all-in on every single hand until he loses everything, then go out and get drunk and land in jail for DUI as well as for trying to punch the arresting officer in her Kevlar-protected tits because the winning 3-8 fish was also a woman and GODDAMNIT WOMEN.

That’s “tilt.” It is invariably fatal, either to your poker game or in what passes these days for “real life.”

Example: Couple of years ago, I was compadres with a self-styled zombie hunter calling himself “Dildo ‘B.B.’ Baggins.” (Yes, a nickname within a pseudonym. I didn’t say he was any good at self-styling. And why not “D.D.”? You’ll find out soon.) If you’re old enough to remember reality TV, you’d remember his real name in two seconds from the sharpshooter show he hosted on ManTV, making straight women swoon and straight men rethink their orientation. He was absolutely the greatest shooter I ever saw. I witnessed that son of a motherless goat shoot more than a few wobbly shamblers right between their empty eyes. He did this, time and time again, from more than fifty feet away. While we were running the opposite direction. The guy was unflappable when it came to knocking down revenants like they were undead tin ducks at a county fair shooting gallery.

His other interest was pussy.

Dil said that the only reasons he bothered surviving were shooting zombies and getting laid. It was hard to argue with this viewpoint, or really find any fault with the chisel-featured Dildo (other than maybe his moniker, but whatever). I saw him as the most rock-solid, coolest cat ever to come down from Chillsville. Nothing threw this guy is what I’m trying to say, okay?

This was when I still, even after years of living in an undead world, might piss myself over seeing more than two zombies together at one time. So Dildo usually had the added distraction of me muttering in terror not too far from his ear while he was trying to cap the walkers, too. He had nerves of absolute steel, fibers which were cooled by blood composed entirely of iced vodka, and this was back when most cities had already fallen, with nine out of ten “people” you encountered to be mortuo homine ambulans , but out in the California mountains it was pretty clear. Hell, by the time we happened upon that camper settlement at Big Bear Lake, I hadn’t actually seen a free-range walker in more than a year and occasionally allowed myself to hope that humanity had somehow beaten back the undead, that somehow we had gone and won this World War Weird.

Then we’d stop to play cards or trade at some little encampment and learn that our species hadn’t won a damned thing. Solar-powered or hand-crank radios still picked up nothing but static. Tribe members looking to trade for supplies or just get information either came back with bad news or didn’t come back at all. If these little enclaves were lucky and their envoy did make it back, much of the time the poor bastard was stripped naked, relieved of any trading materials, and sometimes abused so viciously he walked sideways and dripped a trail of blood. (That might considered in itself an example of “bad news,” by the way.)

Anyway, young Dildo and I were kind of trading services in those days, with me playing cards and getting us food and whatnot and Dil providing us protection with his two holstered pistols, one slung rifle, one fully-stocked bandolier, and these velcro leg pack things stuffed full of ammo that made walking easier than a backpack full of ordnance would have. (Also, his backpack had juggling balls and porn and such in it already. Not all trading materials had to be what economist types used to call “intrinsically valuable.”)

Dil and my own bad self tracked through some forest roads—hard for zoms to notice you through the trees, and they don’t give a shit about deer—and ended up at Big Bear Lake, me looking for a game and him looking for a young lady upon whom he could express his appreciation of enthusiasm for life in general and the female form in particular. Mountain lake enclaves were always iffy—on the one hand, they were beautiful and offered relative shelter from zombies thanks to their “vacation getaway” isolation and those trees; but on the other, if some undead pals did somehow manage to stumble down the access road, you’d better be a fantastic climber or a damned good swimmer if you wanted to keep your “survivor” status, because it’s up the mountain or into the drink with you.

Undead danger notwithstanding, the RVs and little lake homes that comprised this particular encampment made for the perfect place for Dildo and me to while away a little bit of the end of the world. There was one young nubile thing walking around in lake de rigeur bikini top and cutoffs, with her shiny brown hair and slight tan making her look like she was at summer camp instead of waiting for ghouls to come and eat everyone she loved. However, she didn’t look quite old enough for me to do anything but gaze wistfully—I kept a strict over-18 policy that had served me well after countless poker tourneys, since only gambling-age and older were allowed to hang out at casinos anyway. But by not dipping my wick into minors—even though the legal niceties of statutory rape no longer applied in this lawless new world—I helped myself avoid awkwardness with any well-heeled parents I was trying to keep in a good mood so I could beat them senseless at an evening’s game. Since there were middle-aged men in a fifth-wheel RV who were starving for a challenge at the dining- slash -card table after playing for matchsticks with the same three people for years on end, getting laid was not high on my agenda that evening anyway.

Dildo, on the other hand, would take to bed any girl who had hit puberty—if she had actual tits or anything even approaching an hourglass shape, even if she was essentially still a stringbean, he was right there with his underwear model good looks and a libido hungrier than any ten zombies. So he zeroed in immediately on the bikini-and-cutoffs girl, who with her dimples had to have one of the  sweetest faces I’d ever seen, like something out of that old TV show Petticoat Junction . She was making out with Dil right there in the middle of the road before they said two words to each other. Darkness was falling but you could see their hands running up and down and around each other like they thought this might the last shot at sex with a hottie for both of them.

I was ensconced in the fifth-wheel RV already when two of the three gentleman with whom I was seated and about to pokerate craned their necks to gander at the pheromone-drenched sight outside. The girl’s name was Caroline, and her father was Mack, the third gentleman I sat with and the only one of us not watching. He shook his head ruefully as he looked up just in time to see my handsome-but-obviously-dog-horny friend get led by young Caroline into one of those little pop-up campers, no doubt headed right for the full-size bed that took up one entire side.

For a few seconds Mack stared into the encroaching gloom—the white pop-up wouldn’t be visible in a few more minutes—but his face was utterly blank, without the slightest sign of what was going on in his mind. (If that poker face was his actual poker face, I was in trouble.)

Finally, Mack removed his gaze from the window, returning to us with a sad shake of his head, and said to me, “Zombies changed that girl.”

Then he shrugged, motioned for me to hand over my plastic cards (which I did—he wouldn’t run far with that beefy frame jammed in between the bolted-down table and curved bench seat). Like an old Vegas hand, he riffle-shuffled the deck three times quick, burned a card off the top, and shot us each two cards face-down. He obviously knew his way around a deck of cards, which was a refreshing change from the half-wits I sometimes had to let deal, but it also put me on guard against bottom-dealing or other advantage shenanigans. Remember, folks: No gambler is too holy to cheat if he feels the need.

Zombies changed that girl. To me, the sentence lingered there like a noxious fart that only got worse the more you tried to wave it away. However, the two other middle-agers, both remaining chunky-style like Mack despite the deprivations others may have been suffering (which bode well for any food prizes I might collect), just peeked at their hole cards and waited for the flop.

So I said to Mack, equal parts anxious for Dil’s safety and trying to be polite, “The, um, zombies … ? They didn’t get to her, did they? Like, recently?” It wasn’t really a question so much as a request for reassurance. “She didn’t just take my friend back for a last romp as a human before she turns, did she? I’ve seen girls who are desperate to have an experience before they—”

Mack chuckled mirthlessly. “No, nothing like that. She’s no virgin, far from it. Your boy’s isn’t gonna get bit or anything, although he could’ve bought her dinner or shook my hand before he went back to tap her.”

At this the other two men, one with a big red beard and the other with salt-and-pepper hair that looked like it was cut using a bowl and a sharp rock, exchanged a look and a little laugh, probably less out of mirth and more out of politeness to their friend whose daughter was at that moment experiencing how appropriately Dildo had nicknamed himself. (Note to the post-zomboc reader: Back when manufacturing artificial penii was still a going concern, they didn’t bother making a lot of small ones.)

“I, uh … hell, man,” I said, and it didn’t sound half as coherent as it may seem written here. I lifted the corner of my plastic hole cards—everybody always wanted to use my beautiful once they were convinced they weren’t marked (which they weren’t)—and saw the suited K-Q. Quite the nice open—against three opponents, I already stood a 35 percent chance of winning the round. But I pushed my cards toward the center, even though I was in position and had those excellent cards. “I fold.”

All three of my new buddies looked distressed, then apologetic. “Hey, Chris, you don’t need to feel bad about Caroline,” Mack said, “she fucks absolutely everyone who comes through Great Bear Lake.”

“Or who lives here,” the red-bearded guy said.

“That, too,” Mack added, shooting Redbeard a look. “Not me, of course. Zombies or no zombies, I’m a father first.”

“Not a lot of men with hot daughters can say that,” the gray-haired guy said in a supportive tone, apparently unabashed about making lusty appraisals of Mack’s daughter or noting the fact that everybody for miles around had apparently sampled her wares, “not after the undead assholes ruined everything. Some men just gave up and started taking advantage any way they could, even of their own families. People got changed , even if they never got bit.”

“Yeah, that’s a fact,” Mack said to me. “Everybody changed, families changed, friends changed. And my little Caroline sure changed. Don’t feel like you got to make up for it.” He slid back the cards I had just folded. “She’s done every man come through here over the past three years after what happened to her in the lake. ”

That sat there like a sandbag, so I said, “What, um, was it that happened?”

“Fucking underwater zombies,” Redbeard muttered. “One year after the decide not tostay dead anymore,start pulling their shit, a teenage girl can’t even take a goddamn swim in her Daddy’s lake.”

Alarmed, I couldn’t help shooting a look out to the waterline, which was visible through the RV window behind Redbeard.

“Nah, don’t worry about them now, man,” Grayhair said. “We trawled the whole fucking thing with nets after. Threw back all the fish—they wouldn’t keep anyway, not without power—and did a backwoods trepanning on every goddamn soggy walker we dragged up.

“What happened was one tried to get Caroline—the fucker grabbed her ankle as she tried to pull herself up into the rowboat. By reflex and panic, since she was still half in the water and could feel it was a hand and not a fish mouth or drifting plant, she kicked out hard at whatever had clamped onto her ankle. She said that as soon as she kicked out blindly with the heel of her foot, she could still feel the rotten hand still gripping tight but the pulling stopped. She hauled herself into the dinghy and there it was around her ankle—a rotted hand attached to a rotted arm that wasn’t attached to anything anymore.”

“She kicked the zom so hard it ripped his stinking arm off,” Redbeard added with a chuckle, but the laugh died on his lips almost immediately. “We went down and ended that fucker’s suffering, but after that incident, Caroline never was right in the head again. Started drinking and acting … well, maybe a bit overly friendly to the men in our little camp here.”

“Overly friendly, huh? Like you weren’t the first in line to fuck her,” Mack spat out with a murderous stare at Redbeard, and everything froze. Was there going to be a throwdown right here before the first hand had even been played? Then Mack’s stern look broke into a smile and he laughed, which released nervous laughter from the rest of us at the table. “Hell, I’m just glad she’s still alive, that she’s got a way to cope with all this End of Days shit. Her mom …” he said, and choked a little.

The two other guys nodded somberly and gave Mack some manly bops in the arm and thoroughly masculine supportive claps on the shoulder. I took it that his wife—Caroline’s mother—had not found a way to cope with the 24/7 horror show of the zombocalypse and thus had taken it upon herself to check out early.

“I got my fishing,” he continued, “these guys have their vices like drinking and fucking their friends’ teenage daughters , but my wife lost her mind—I mean, her whole brain clocked out and never came back for another shift the first time she got cornered by the walking dead bodies of her vacation lake friends and had to bash in one of their heads from two feet away. That was in the first wave, three years ago. We had come up for a quick dip and cookout, just like a dozen other families. All of them are dead or undead or whatever now. Since that day I’ve never left Bear Lake except on supply runs. My wife, Caroline’s mom, she never ate or drank anything voluntarily again. We forced it on her as much as we could, but within a couple of months she was dead.”

Everyone sat at the little table, looking at the backs of their two cards, nobody speaking or moving. Through the window behind me I could hear the pop-up squeaking in rhythm.

To be honest, I have been present at even less fun poker tables.

But shit .

“So you can where Caroline got it from, the losing her mind thing. Like her mom when she had to kill her book club friends, after Caroline got grabbed in the lake she just said fuck the world and then proceeded to do exactly that,” Mack finished, and looked at each of us in turn.

“Can I ask a question?” I asked, a question.

Mack nodded in a way not unlike a cat sniffing its own fresh feces.

“How is she not pregnant? Or, like, sexually infected?” See, I was unable not to think about what teenagers did when they realized the zombies’ march was not going to stop and we were all going to die, or worse. I had seen so many in LA want to go out in a blaze of glory and so put on their headphones, cranked up something suitably metal, and went surfing on their skateboards into the biggest undead cluster of rotting teeth and jagged nails they could find. Might as well get eaten while I can still choose it myself , maybe they thought. And maybe sweet Caroline thought I might as well get every fucking flavor of VD I can and get knocked up before I die horribly anyway or go nuts like Mom. Why not?

I could almost hear her despair. It was beyond me to contradict her. At least she was bringing happiness to the men she took to bed, right? But after registering what I had just asked, first Mack started shaking with laughter, and then Redbeard and Grayhair caught the giggles, all three of them laughing hard, eyes squeezed shut and streaming tears of hilarity, in a matter of seconds.

“What?” I said, smiling despite myself, despite the horror. “Why are you—”

 She’s hotter with the clap than a Gold Rush whore!” Mack managed to squeeze out between titanic guffaws. “These guys’ll tell ya—they’ve been oozing and itching and boiling for years—they got to go in the lake to try get some relief! Ha ha! Ha ha HA! HA! Oh Jesus, HAHAHAHA!”

Ooh, ouch, did that take the wind out of their sails. The men who had fucked young Caroline tried to force out a couple of more laughs, but I but they had both visibly paled and shared a miserable glance. They both, as subtly as possible, were scratching themselves, something I hadn’t noticed earlier but would have to see if I could use as a tell if we ever actually, you know, started playing poker . Mack wasn’t lying about the venereal diseases ravaging his daughter, then, and now he was having the greatest revenge paroxysm in the history of bitterness as he watched two of her lovers’ faces fall.

My own eyes grew wide as I turned in my chair and looked out at the little camper where Typhoid Caroline had just taken the resolutely horny B.B. Dildo for his Big Bear Lake roll in the hay. It was only a couple of minutes, I thought, so maybe they were still on foreplay? Did 17-year-old girls even require foreplay? Either way, Dildo had joked with me long before that the “B.B.” in his moniker stood for “bareback.”

Oh, no. I had to get over there and stop him before he—

 Haw haw ha ha ha! ” Mack’s butcher-block face turned purple as he laughed and cried and tried to breathe and also kept looking at his poor infected friends who had fucked his 14-year-old darling daughter again and again as she grew into a woman. “And pregnant? No, sir—she hasn’t had a period in two years, how’s she gonna get pregnant with all that sickness in her lady parts!

The proud papa practically screamed this last part and had to slap the table to control his laughter and try to coax at least a little bit of oxygen into his lungs.

“Okay, Mack, why don’t we play some cards, huh? We get the … the, um … joke …”

Grayhair trailed off as he noticed that the beefy RV owner who’d been laughing so hard wasn’t laughing anymore—but his face wasn’t getting any less purple and his eyes were bulging in exactly the way you hope your own never will.

“Aw, fuck!” Redbeard said, and tried to skootch around the little built-in RV kitchen table to get out and over to his friend. “He’s having a goddamn heart attack!”

I don’t know what Red was trying to do, but as soon as he tugged on Mack’s arm to get him up from the table and maybe onto the floor for CPR or something, Mack stopped struggling against his own asphyxiation, cocked his head up at his standing friend and then at his sitting friend, and let out one final, awful, brutal “HAAAA! ” At the end of that horrible sound, vomit mixed with black bile mixed with arterial blood projected all the way across the table and full into Grayhair’s shocked face, and Mack’s face smashed down onto the laminate. You could see the man was stone-cold dead even before the black blood started pooling in his ears.

The two men jumped around the kitchenette screaming “Oh, fuck! Oh, FUCK!” again and again while I hit the RV’s door running to get down to the little pop-up camper where Dildo and Caroline hopefully hadn’t yet gotten 100% busy.

I banged on the little metal half-door and the curtain almost instantly parted, Dildo sticking his sweaty red face ( oh, fuck ) out to look at me.

“What the hell’s going on in there?” Dil said with his usual casual amusement. “You hand them the all-time bad beat or what?”

Did you guys do it? ”

Dil laughed and I could hear Caroline do the same. “Well, we didn’t come in here to do jigsaw puzzles.”

“But did you already? Did you fuck?”

Now Dil could see the fear on my face and dropped his smile. “Well, yeah, man. You get the easy one out of the way and then—”

“Let me in,” I said. “Pop the latch.”

I saw Dil look back at his camper partner and she said, “We can all party, baby.” He sort of smiled at that and let the curtain drop, then crawled over and opened the door for me to come inside.

“Dude, what is up with you?” he said with a little grin, a thin camping blanket around his waist. “You usually don’t go for the younger hotties.”

“Did you use a condom?”

“Me? B.B.? Man, don’t you remember what that means? Besides, there’s not exactly a CVS on every—”

Did you use a fucking condom?

His grin was gone. “No, I did not, Mister Sexual Hygiene.”

“Flick on the light in there,” I said, motioning toward the half of the pop-up with the bed in it. It was twilight outside but damned dark inside the camper.

“No!” Caroline squealed.

“What in the hell is going on?” Dildo whined in perfect confusion. He pulled the switch on the solar-battery LED lamp and motioned me to come into the “bedroom.” Caroline swathed herself in a second camping blanket now, shy for maybe the first time since the zombies took her mother and then her sanity three years earlier.

I wasn’t proud of myself or happy, but Dil needed to know what we had just … well, gotten himself into. “Look at her cooch,” I said. “Take off the blanket and look at her cooch.”

“Dude, we just fucked for like ten minutes—I don’t think Caroline is a guy, okay? It’s dark, not—”

“Do it. Do it now.”

Caroline started panicking as Dil turned to her and started to remove the only thing hiding her genitals. “Hey, no, that’s not cool! Stay away from me! You don’t get to—stop!

He swept the blanket off of her naked body and saw just what I was afraid of but expecting—a raw, pustule-mottled, angry red delta around and inside her entire pubic area and into the folds of her vagina.

“You said those were piercings!” Dil shouted, betrayal in his voice. “ What the fuck do you have? WHAT DID YOU JUST DO TO ME?!? ”

Still obviously freaked but suddenly also defiant, Caroline jutted out her dimpled face at my friend and said icily, “You got what you wanted, I got what Iwanted.”

“What you wanted? You wanted to infect me with … all that? ” he shrieked, pointing at her pestilent, pustulent pussy, and when Caroline let out a bitter laugh—looking a lot like her father in that moment, actually—Dildo hauled back and unloaded a punch to the face that bloodied her nose and instantly knocked her unconscious as she fell back onto the bed against the window screen of the pop-up. He looked like he wanted to do more, but I got an arm around him and held him back before he could do something I’d really regret. We stepped outside into the forest darkness. He had let go of the blanket and stood there naked and fuming.

“Dil, she’s sick, her mind’s gone, it’s not her fault—”

 NOT HER FAULT? Dude, I live to fuck! Now I’m gonna have pus dripping out of my dick, I won’t even be able to get it up—if it doesn’t just turn black and fall off— fuck! I … I just …” He slowed mid-rant and then stopped, fixing me with a look that burrowed right into my soul, and said. “Wait, how did you know she was all VD’ed?”

Oh, hell. “It came up while we were playing poker, that’s all.”

Dil shot a look up at the RV, in which Redbeard and Grayhair were still stomping around and shouting, still trying to process that their pal just literally died laughing at their misfortune in a world without antibiotics or soothing ointments. (Goddamn lack of CVS again.)

“They knew?” he said to me with all the energy gone from his voice. Then he turned toward the RV and his rage resurfaced. “They knew. They knew! Motherfuckers knew she was a bag of disease , set me up to get my dick rotted off. Thought it was funny!

“Man, listen, it wasn’t like that. I didn’t—”

“Not you , Chris. You tried to save me. They thought it was funny.” He stood stock-still for a few seconds, acid in his stare at the two men pacing inside the RV, alternately shouting at each other and embracing in manful support.

Then he ducked back into the pop-up, pulled out his trusty Winchester Model 70 rifle, and marched barefoot (and still bareback) to the fifth-wheel, swung open the door, and unloaded four impossibly loud and concussive shots, I assumed two (double-tapping?) for each man. Then, sprayed with blood, my zombocalypse compadre stepped out of the vehicle, tramped down its three metal steps and then over to me, where I was still standing by the pop-up, utterly shocked and still. He stood maybe five feet from me, the LED from the camper behind me illuminating his face. He stared at me, maybe contemplating all that had just happened.

Then he said, “Fuck this,” swung the barrel of the Winchester under his chin and blew out the top of his own head. As brains, bone, and blood misted down onto me, his body remained standing for a couple of seconds and then collapsed to the ground in a heap of meat and gristle.

So, yeah … that’s “tilt.”

Try to avoid it.

Back to Puttin’ It Out There

Further afield in Lovecraftian places that really exist

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