Birth of a Dead Mann: Where One Writer Gets His Ideas
By Stefan Petrucha
It’s the cliché questions writers are asked: Where do you get your ideas? Not that I’ve ever been asked myself, but I’ve seen it happen. There’s nearly always an obligatory eye-roll from the author, than an answer ranging from the humorous (a small company in Illinois), to the true but painfully obvious (From everywhere! I’m a sponge! Sucking up information and squeezing out novels! Whee!).
As I understand it, some writers don’t want to discuss their process for fear of being copied. Others, like a centipede asked how he coordinates his legs, don’t have a clue.
I can’t claim to remember where I get all my ideas, but I do know exactly where I got, or rather had, the idea for Dead Mann Walking. It was in my car, while listening to the radio.
To be clear, I’d been thinking about zombies, not at the moment per se, but they were in the back of my mind. I love genre, and I’ve loved George Romero since my college days. In 1978, after failing to convince anyone to accompany me (I’ll pay for your ticket! ) I saw Dawn of the Dead all by my lonesome. That same year, I wrote, shot, directed, edited, etc. a B&W video spoof of same called Afternoon of the Airheads (When there’s no more room in the dorms, the dead will walk the campus!). In it, students were infected by a creeping insipidness that made them pale-faced and deeply inept.
Point being, Z’s have been in my bones for decades. Past that, to be honest, creatively, I didn’t think much of them. I enjoyed the hell out of them, but didn’t see how to add to the existing mix in any new and/or creative way. They shambled, they ate people. So what? Sure, I saw ideas I wished I had (Shawn of the Dead, for instance), but as far as my own muse went, it felt like the proverbial dead end.
With the zombie craze swelling, though, I started thinking I should give it a shot, try to come up with something. Everyone else was having such a good time, why not me? Even so, the walking dead remained semi-vegetative in the back of my mind, the spot where I leave things in the vague hope my subconscious will ponder them without me.
One day, I was driving, maybe to get groceries or something equally exciting. Now, when I’m away from my computer, I always try to bring a pen and pad, lest some fantastic idea strike and I’ll have no way to remember it. Experience has since shown that by keeping that pen and pad nearby I am assured I will not have any great ideas. At least it frees me up to listen to the radio.
In this case, I was half -paying attention to the local NPR station, which was airing a lively discussion on the death penalty. And then, one of the speakers said something to the effect of, “Well the root cause of the opposition to the death penalty is the fact that it can’t be taken back. If someone’s unjustly jailed, they can be released. If the state kills them, there is no restitution possible.”
I stopped listening, started thinking, and the internal verbiage went something like:
Well, what if they could bring them back? What if, like most things in the world, the process is flawed? They’d be made sort of like zombies, only not the traditional sort. They’d be dead, rotting, and impaired, but otherwise what they were, creating an underclass that’d be misunderstood and mistreated. That would make the Z’s the victims, turn the whole freaking trope on its head. That could be good.
Awfully dark, though, very noir. Noir zombies? Aren’t zombies already noir, as in dark? Nah. Not really. Noir isn’t about the survival of individuals, not classic noir. It’s more about the survival of principles, usually in the form of a jaded detective clinging to his moral code in a deeply evil world. Sure, survivors in zombie stories can try to cling to their morals, but they usually drop them in a pinch go tribal, and it’s not the center of things.
Hmm… a detective wrongly accused of murder, brought back as a zombie, trying to continue his existence, follow his principles.
And that was about it.
Once I had that initial impetus from NPR, the rest felt obvious, interesting, and exciting. From there, Hessius Mann spewed forth like Athena from the head of Zeus (he not being Athena, me not being Zeus). And of course, harkening to the inspiration, I had to call it Dead Mann Walking.
I pulled over and looked for the pen and paper. Naturally, I’d forgotten to bring them, leaving me to wander the supermarket muttering key words to myself, in the hopes my brain could hold on to them…
Many thanks to Anna for inviting me here. Happy to respond to any comments, questions, etc. Please follow me on Twitter via @SPetrucha, where I’m tweeting a Dead Mann Quote a Day for a total of sixty day, and do check out the book!
Anna here~ First, a huge thank you to Stefan Petrucha for taking the time to put together a post for us. Cliche or no, I like finding out how authors come up with all the cool stuff. DMW is on my Kindle and I hope to have it finished for review this weekend. Zombies seriously creep me out (horrific nightmare type creepy) so I must read during the day, which is harder to do than it sounds and makes me seem like a big baby, but it can't be helped. I have added a few links for you, all loaded with bookish details. Enjoy!
*Dead Mann Walking goes on sale October 4th.
*Check out an excerpt (which I grabbed from Stefan's website).
*Check out the sidebar which has info on Ripper, an upcoming title that sounds awesome. And then check out the comics tab. I want to get the Nancy Drew graphic novels for my daughter. She'd flip! Maybe I should ask Stefan to come back and talk to us about the Papercutz line for Spooktacular Sunday?