Why Negan had to kill them/Celebrate the Small Things

Celebrate blog hopIf you are a Walking Dead fan, you’ve just experienced a thrilling half-season which began and ended with episodes in which Negan, the new Big Bad guy, killed two members of Rick’s group. While the half-season ender didn’t kill off anyone we were too sad about, the first episode kills featured two particularly beloved characters. Why?

Because of an important rule of storytelling. If you want an audience to fear that someone will kill beloved characters, possibly even the Main Character (Rick Grimes, in The Walking Dead), you have to show him actually killing beloved characters. Killing offstage, killing characters so minor they are mere names, will not produce the fear level that may be desired.

For novelists, particularly those who are timid, inexperienced, or working in the Christian fiction genre, there is the tendency to chicken out at this point. They ALMOST kill a beloved character. Or they fool themselves that what is essentially a minor character can be killed off with the same effect. But if the story is the sort that demands a real, evil villain, half-measures won’t do. Remember, even in Evangelical Christian fiction, beloved characters can be killed. Remember what happened to Chloe in the Left Behind series.

On the other hand, if you are writing a form of children’s fiction, including YA which is aimed at young people from 12-15, toning down your villains can be essential. You can have your villain kill people off-stage, perhaps people that the main character will mourn, but not someone who is central to your main character’s life. The same goes for writing other categories of fiction in which extreme villains are not expected or wanted— cozy mysteries, or sweet romances.



This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop: Join at http://lexacain.blogspot.com/2015/01/celebrate-small-things.html

This week I am celebrating getting back into blogging (I hope) after a few months of being ill and a month of cleaning up all the crap that didn’t get done while I was ill.

Illness can make you feel depressed, especially when it comes with isolation. I went through a phase of thinking that my writing and my blogging were crap, and that I had nothing to offer any friend anything that would be of value. So why write, why blog, why try to have ‘friends’ who were really more like acquaintances?

But I’m over that. Most days. And at least my cats need me. Especially now that it’s winter. My barn cats, who have access to an enclosed porch and my basement, found their water dish full of ice yesterday morning. My kitten Roxie, who a couple of months ago got herself locked in the refrigerator overnight, probably wanted back into the refrigerator to warm up. I do let the more sensitive cats in the house overnight when I can. And my elderly cats have taken to sleeping in the laundry hamper in the basement— which makes me hate to do laundry because it takes away the kitties’ bedding.

Z is for Zombie-Proof Fence #zombies #AtoZChallenge

ZRemember all the trouble Rick Grimes and friends had with keeping up the fence around the prison on The Walking Dead? The ability to erect zombie-proof barriers is a key to surviving the zombie apocalypse. But city folks don’t know thing one about fences.

You know who does know about fences? Premier One Supply. They are the nation’s leading supplier of unique livestock fencing options, such as electrified netting fences to contain sheep, goats, poultry and other critters. They also have an electronet designed to keep raccoons out of your garden. And their annual fencing catalog is a virtual textbook on the fine art of fencing to keep livestock in their place, and not in the neighbor’s rose garden (goats love roses, but not in a good way.)

The Premier One catalog features their unique solution to a common rural problem— fencing gardens and orchards to keep deer out. In my area the usual solution is an eight foot fence. These fences are expensive, hard to install since the posts have to be deeper, and more vulnerable to wind and other stresses (like zombies) because of their height.

The Premier One solution is what they call a three-dimensional fence— one electric fence of normal height, and a second outside it of one (or two?) electrified strands. It works for deer. And I believe a similar solution would work to fence out zombies.

Not with electric fence, of course. Zombies are insensitive. An electrical fence jolt, which is like an extra-strong static electricity shock, might not be noticed by a zombie. (How do I know what an electric fence shock is like? Well, when I first put up my electronet, I did the stupid thing and touched it to see if it was really on. It was. I’ve also touched a cat which swished its tail into the fence, and proved that cats conduct electricity.)

Electric fences, according to Premier One, are a fear barrier and not a physical barrier. And zombies don’t feel fear. So even if you HAVE electricity, don’t bother with electric fences for zombie control. You need a physical barrier. The interior fence should be a good solid fence— chain link, woven wire (NOT welded wire), or stock panels, four or five feet high (since zombies don’t climb fences.) The external fence should be barb wire— one strand would work, two or three are better. While zombies may not fear getting cut to shreds with barb wire, the more damaged a zombie gets, the better. Until we get around to double-tapping them, we want them to become as nonfunctional as possible.

As for Rick Grimes’ fence problem at the prison, the solution was super-simple. The chain-link fence was topped with razor wire. They should have taken the razor wire OFF— no zombies are capable of climbing a fence that high— put up some fence posts, and attached the razor wire at about waist height to an adult zombie. That would shred the zombies pretty good, and keep them from getting to the more vulnerable chain-link fence (which they eventually pushed down on the TV show.)

And so that is the end of my A to Z challenge zombie epic. I hope somebody out there enjoyed it. I will start May by alternating between three themes. There will also be a mystery element at the end of each post. Stay tuned. Especially for my upcoming post ‘John Wayne, Radioactive American.’

On Facebook? Visit my web page, there are kitten pictures. https://www.facebook.com/nissalovescats/

V is for (Zombie) Vulnerabilities

VWill zombies take over the world? Has the human race no hope? Actually, there is hope, and that is because zombies have vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities limit what zombies can do, and can be exploited by humans. Here are a few of the vulnerabilities.

Low Intelligence – Zombies cannot think. Even mentally retarded humans can outsmart a zombie. Heck, a good border collie can out-think a zombie.

Clumsiness – Zombies have poor motor skills. They don’t walk, they shamble. They can’t climb fences. They can’t open car doors. They have trouble climbing stairs. If they break a window to get at humans, it is an accident caused by a zombie crowd pressing against the glass.

Non-healing – Zombies either don’t heal at all, or they heal very, very slowly and perhaps incompletely. Wounded zombies are less effective at harming humans, especially if said zombies have lost limbs.

Soft skulls – On The Walking Dead at least, it seems like zombies have softer skulls. That’s why even women are able to kill a zombie by punching a short-bladed knife through the skull. With humans, you can shoot them in the head with a .22 and it might not crack the skull.

Attracted to fire and gunshots – This is a rather silly addition to zombie lore made by The Walking Dead. If zombies will walk into fire and toward gunshots, it’s fairly easy to dispose of them in large numbers with a little pre-planning.

Eat their ‘children’ – How do zombies reproduce? They bite humans, who die and turn. What do zombies eat? Humans. On The Walking Dead we’ve seen zombies swarm a person, eating away, pulling out intestines— what kind of zombie will that person become when reanimated? Zombies just can’t think about the future.

Decomposition – If zombies are really decomposing, they are a self-limiting phenomenon. They can’t digest food if their digestive system is rotting. And in time, a rotting zombie will fall apart and ‘die.’ All humans would have to do is lock themselves in bunkers for a few months and the zombie problem solves itself. (I would opine that the apparent decomposition of zombies is either limited to some external parts or that it is some other phenomenon altogether.)

Zombies are vulnerable. Even The Walking Dead acknowledges it— the only time zombies are a real threat is when they come in large groups so even the experienced zombie-killers can’t keep up with killing them.

This is a post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/ I’m not doing so well keeping up. I’d like to thank the folks that have commented on my posts. It makes me feel like my blog matters, and maybe I even matter.

I is for Infected


In the popular television series The Walking Dead, zombies are never, ever called zombies. Mostly they are called walkers, though other groups of people use other nicknames for the undead menace. In the spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, zombies are called ‘infected.’

I forced myself to watch episodes of Fear the Walking Dead yesterday, along with the season 2 opening episode. It still sucks. How can the same people that produced The Walking Dead produce this dreck? (Pardon my Yiddish.) They seem to have forgotten how to create compelling characters. Or they outsourced the character-creation job to some elderly Hollywood hacks.

Think of The Walking Dead, which from the first was centered around Rick Grimes. He was working for the Sheriff’s department and got shot in the line of duty. He woke up in the hospital, with no one around him except walkers. As a man with a wife and a child his first goal is to find his family. It’s a setup for a legendary epic struggle.

Fear the Walking Dead, on the other hand, starts of with a slew of stereotypical Los Angeles characters. The central ones are two school teachers— yeah, people who stay in school for their career and don’t know much about the real world. Each of the teachers is head of a fragmented family with one or two out-of-control teens. Neither parent seems to have been effective in training values or responsibility into the kids. These two families are connected by the fact that the parents are in a LIS relationship (cohabiting.)

This sounds more like a family melodrama made for the Lifetime channel than a zombie epic. Worse, after having watched the whole first season and the start of the second, I haven’t made an emotional connection to any of the characters, except for a vague interest in the junkie. They don’t seem like people to me, they seem like cardboard.  And the zombie menace doesn’t seem as real in this series, even the characters haven’t perfected their zombie-killing techniques.

What about you? Have you watched Fear the Walking Dead? Are there any characters YOU connected with? Do you think the characters will improve over time?

This is a post in the Blogging from A to Z challenge— yeah, I missed a few days. But I’m hoping to get on track now.  If YOU are also participating in the challenge, please give me your blog URL in a comment and I will visit you.

A is for (Zombie) Apocalypse

Ever notice there is never a zombie exterminator around when you need one?

Ever notice there is never a zombie exterminator around when you need one?

This is a post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

A is for apocalypse. Which can mean ‘an unveiling’, or be the name of the last book of the New Testament, or it can refer to the Christian end times. Or, it can mean there are undead guys roaming your backyard and you have to find the crossbow before the chickens get eaten.

Why is the zombie apocalypse, as in The Walking Dead, so popular? My theory is it is because many of us have seen the signs and know that it’s quite likely that human society as we know it will collapse during our lifetime. Only if you talk about your actual concerns— fiat currency, terrorists hiding among refugees, college students who demand to be protected from the knowledge that some people vote for a different candidate than they do— that’s not politically correct. And that can cost you your job, home, business, family and/or survival supplies. So: let’s pretend we are prepping to fight zombies, instead.

So: zombie apocalypse. It may not entirely make me forget about the priest who got crucified on Easter (supposedly), but at least when Daryl gets murdered by Dwight I don’t have to worry that I’m next, or fret that I am running low on crossbow bolts.

Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian. Funny, smart, and full of zombies, order it so you have something to cheer you up in the wake of this Sunday’s Walking Dead episode.


Bad Guys in the Zombie Apocalypse

walking-dead-dwightIs it better to be in a group of bad guys or one of good guys in the zombie apocalypse? A lot of people just assume bad is more powerful and good is weak, but where is the evidence for that?

A group of bad guys, looking for survival supplies in the apocalypse, can find, create (with things like food) or steal from others to get what they want. They even have the option to kill people they steal from to prevent retribution. Pretty sweet, huh?

But their reputation will precede them. Other groups will hide from them. Stronger groups will fight them. They might even decide to wipe the bad group out, as Rick’s formerly-good group on The Walking Dead planned to do with ‘The Saviors.’

A good group does not have to be a pacifist group. It is morally permissible to fight back against murderers and thieves. They cannot get the survival supplies they need by stealing from other groups without turning toward the dark side, but that route has its disadvantages.

What a good group can do is arrange trades with other groups. No other groups will willingly trade with evil groups like the Saviors, the Wolves or the Claimers. That wouldn’t be safe. But most groups would be glad to trade with a group that acts in a moral way, once they are convinced that the group really does have moral values and isn’t going to enslave or kill their group  members.

A good group also has the ability to take in new members more easily. Rick’s group on TWD has absorbed both individual stragglers and remnants from other groups, and has also merged with the Alexandria group. An evil group can take in new members, as when the Claimers took in Daryl Dixon. But the Claimers didn’t win over Daryl’s heart and mind— he only stayed because they would have killed him otherwise. A wiser evil group would not have touched Daryl. But if an evil group is too suspicious of potential new members, they can’t replace their casualties.

Another big advantage of the good group is that they can, and often will, show compassion to smaller groups and to individuals. Remember in TWD when Rick’s group rescued the faithless Episcopal priest Father Gabriel?

A group that becomes known for showing compassion is a group that is likely to find compassion from others. Imagine a good group providing food to a smaller group that has lost much of its food supply to theft. In addition, the good group teaches the small group better methods of growing, hunting or foraging for food, and helps them have better security. If the good group falls on hard times down the road, or needs help from a medic, gunsmith, electrician or plumber, isn’t it a certainty that the small group will help if they can?

A big disadvantage the evil groups will have is that after a number of good groups have learned to survive, have developed trade networks, and have grown in numbers, the next item on the agenda is eliminating the local evil group. And because of the circumstances of the zombie apocalypse, they won’t have the option of arresting the bad guys and putting them in a jail. The bad guys will be killed in the battle, or captured and executed (formally or informally). If one of the good guys has thoughtfully built a jail cell or two, it will go to more innocent members of a bad guy group, such as children, or women who claim to have been forced to join the evil group.

My conclusion, then, is that being in a bad guy group in the zombie apocalypse is something that has no future in it. Human beings need to be part of a community to survive and thrive, and that community can’t be based on doing evil to others. In time, evil groups will be dealt with.

Questions: how should writers deal with good and evil choices in fiction? Do some writers make evil too attractive or too powerful? How could one make a good guy character strong and powerful without corrupting him?

Story starter: In the zombie apocalypse, there are two groups, one good, one evil. Both need an object possessed by a third group for their continued survival. Third group’s headquarters is an old military bunker— they are a strong group. Show how the two group compete for possession of the desired object. You can make the third group willing to trade the item, but the price will be very hard to come by.

Walking Dead fans: Will we see Daryl Dixon on the ‘In Memoriam’ list next week? If so, who will kill Dwight?

The Walking Dead: Deanna’s Final Choice

Who's Deanna?

Who’s Deanna?

It was the mid-season finale on The Walking Dead last night, and for a bit it looked like Deanna was going to be a victim of a zombie-related suicide. You know, where someone gets bit by a zombie and they decide since they are dying anyway they might as well check out early  with a bullet to the brain.

I hate zombie-related suicides because they are part and parcel of the culture of death, which teaches that when the end of your life is in site you might as well be ‘brave’ and commit autohomicide. We are expected to ignore the life that person might have had left and also the fact that other people may be applauding the act due to selfish reasons.

But Deanna, though she had planned to self-murder, changed her mind and used her gun to blow away some nearby Walkers. Her aim improved considerably in her final moments.

Deanna wasn’t perfect— she was probably a Democrat given her community’s absurd gun-control law— but in the end she showed us that even when you are dying, you can still do things that are a benefit to other people. And that’s a good thing to know, even if there isn’t currently a zombie apocalypse.

Ding, Dong, Our Glenn’s NOT Dead!!!


Glenn’s not being killed, he’s just grossed out over what the walkers are doing with Nicholas.

Last night we finally found out the truth about Glenn Rhee’s ‘death’ on The Walking Dead— he survived after all. The guts that the walkers were pulling out in front of Glenn came from Nicholas. And Glenn managed to crawl under the dumpster and stayed there until the walkers got bored and wandered off. Because walkers have an even shorter attention span than millennials.

OK, it’s kind of silly to get caught up in the fate of a fictional character from a show that’s famous for manipulating the emotions of the fans. But that’s how I work. I love my fictional friends and it hurts when they die, or seem to die.

Glenn is a character that’s close to my heart, in spite of his moral flaws. (Moral flaws— he was the one that fetched the abortion pills that Laurie used to try to kill baby Judith before she was born.) Glenn is a man who changed from his weaker, pre-apocalypse self into a warrior who has not sold out his soul and his ethics due to the circumstances.

Some people said Glenn was for sure dead because his comic book character died. But the comic book and the TV series are not the same. Baby Judith died in the comic books. Also, in the comic books Carol died, but her daughter Sophia lived, and after her mother’s death was adopted by Glenn and Maggie. Somehow I don’t think the TV show is going to be able to do that story line.

Walking Dead fans: how do you feel about Glenn’s survival story? Of all the character deaths in TWD, which one hit you the hardest?

The Walking Dead: Is Showing Mercy a Weakness?

glennTWDRecently I’ve been visiting a number of fan sites for The Walking Dead, reading opinions on the ‘What really happened to Glenn’ issue. And I was saddened to see that a widespread interpretation, not only to do with Glenn and Nicholas but also about Morgan’s failure to kill Wolves, was that ‘in this world’ showing mercy to anyone, giving anyone a second chance, is an unforgivable act of weakness.

But this idea cannot be applied universally in the world of The Walking Dead. From the first episode major characters survived due to the mercy of others. Rick, helpless and uninformed, was shown mercy by Morgan in the first season. To keep himself and his son safe, Morgan could have chosen to kill Rick.

Daryl seemed like somewhat of a loose cannon at first. The other characters might have feared that he was more attached to his bad-guy brother Merle than to the group. But they decided not to kill Daryl or banish him from the group and he proved to be a good man to have around.

Carol chose to kill two sick people, one of them the girlfriend of Tyreese, to prevent them from spreading their illness. The illness spread anyway. Rick, when he learned of it, banished her from the group. But later she met up with Tyreese, and after a tragic event Tyreese forgave Carol. When she rejoined the group she proved to be a major asset— not only because she’s good at killing Walkers but because of her cookie-baking skills.

The fact is that we are all here in the world because someone showed mercy to us. As infants, when we could contribute nothing to society or to our families and we caused our families to do a lot of work just to keep us alive. But we were shown mercy— we were not killed or abandoned to our fate. We all have made mistakes, done wrong to other people, lost our tempers— but we’ve also experienced being forgiven for our mistakes and wrongdoing.

The fact is that human beings need one another— we need other people even more during the zombie apocalypse. But since no one of us is perfect— we all have flaws— we cannot become part of any survival community without being willing to do some degree of forgiving.

Of course, we cannot forgive everything. When young Lizzie stabbed her sister to death in order to prove that Walkers were not evil, just different, Carol concluded that there was no way to keep this dangerous child alive without endangering others. When the people of Terminus were revealed to be cannibals preying on those they offered sanctuary, Rick and the others killed them for their crimes.

In the zombie apocalypse as in the real world, there is a time to forgive and a time to get tough on others. And without God-like levels of knowledge we will never know 100% what a given situation really calls for. Which is why calls to always reject the idea of showing mercy are not the right way to go.

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Tweet: Mercy a weakness in #TheWalkingDead ? http://ctt.ec/11dL4+

First Impression of Fear the Walking Dead

So: the big day has arrived. ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ has had its first episode. Is it going to be as compelling as the original, or is it a pale imitation?

The episode started with a junkie waking up in an abandoned church. He calls out for someone named Gloria. Searching the desecrated church, he finds a dead body. Then he located the girl— who has become a walker and is chewing on the flesh of another dead body.

Panicked as the girl-walker prepares to attack him, the junkie flees out onto the street and into oncoming traffic, where he is hit by a car.

The junkie, as it turns out, is Nick, the son of Maddie, a high school guidance counselor currently living in sin with a teacher named Travis. Maddie freaks when she hears how her junkie son was raving when found.

It’s clear that Nick has encountered one of the earliest walkers in his area— but who’s going to believe the word of a junkie? Travis visits the church, which is a hangout for druggies, and does not find bodies— but does find a large blood stain.

This new Walking Dead series starts out at the very beginning of the zombie epidemic, when life is still essentially normal. Or as normal as it can possibly get in Los Angeles. This is in contrast to the original series which begins with Rick waking up in a hospital which is overrun with walkers.

I think it is a bit too early to judge the new series, but my first impression is that the characters don’t seem quite as compelling as the ones from the original series. Perhaps it is in part the Los Angeles setting. The original series has the advantage of being set in the real world (or what is left of it) rather than in the fantasyland/fairyland of Los Angeles. Who can take seriously characters in this setting?

For Christians there are certain concerns. First, the desecrated church. I’m sure that the producers of the series will claim it is just a coincidence, but the setting of a church with a fallen cross in the center, abandoned first to junkies and then to walkers, seems all of a part with the other series which paints no good picture of Christians. In the Walking Dead world, Christianity is at best a weakness, at worst the motivator of a skunk such as ‘Father’ Gabriel, the fallen Episcopal priest.

I am wondering if there was some sort of pressure against the original series for being too family-and-marriage oriented— Rick Grimes was married with kids, Carol was married with a daughter, there was Herschel’s family…. not very politically correct these days. At any rate the new series is centered on two single parents in a living-in-sin relationship. The people running the show describe them as a ‘blended family’ but actually at this point it’s just two fragmented families joined by the parents’ illicit relationship. (And the mom is a high school guidance counselor— which shows the true hell of Los Angeles and the rest of California, even before the walkers are added to the scene.)

In spite of the flaws— some of which are present in most entertainment these days— I think this series has potential. We will have to wait and watch a few more episodes to make a full evaluation.

Have you seen Fear the Walking Dead? What are your impressions? Will you continue to watch the show? Could it become as good as the original?