Saturday, August 25, 2012

Liven Up Your Writing with Zombies

"When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."—Raymond Chandler

"When in doubt, have a man zombie come through the door with a gun brain in his hand."—Seth Grahame-Smith
A few years ago, a young man by the name of Seth Grahame-Smith made a ridiculous amount of money by taking Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice and adding zombies to it. Pride and Prejudice is judged by many to be one of the greatest novels of all time and certainly needs no improving upon. Unfortunately, because it is in the public domain, it may safely be subjected to such vandalism with impunity. As a writer, my first thought was that Mr. Grahame-Smith was an unprincipled hack, with little or no imagination or talent.

My second thought was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Better late than never. Zombies are still pretty popular, so I have decided to take a leaf from Grahame-Smith’s—and Austen’s—book and use the living dead to further my own career. Part of my job as writer/editor at a tax software company is to write advertising copy for our products. I’m always looking for ways to liven things up, so that our customers will actually read our ads before they toss them in the recycle bin or delete them from their inbox. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to come up with anything interesting to say about tax software. Here’s an example:
As we go to press, we still don’t know if and when Congress will pass legislation to extend the AMT patch and Bush tax cuts. However, we have made it easier for you to predict the effect on your clients—whether or not the provisions are extended.
I considered giving you the whole paragraph, but I was afraid I might put you to sleep. Let’s see if we can add some interest by adding some zombies:
As we go to press, we still don’t know if and when Congress will pass legislation to extend the AMT patch and Bush tax cuts. However, as the entire country is being overrun by brain-eating zombies, it probably doesn’t much matter.
Now, isn’t that better? Here’s another example:
For a limited time, we are offering the following 2-for-1 special: purchase both the 2012 and 2013 versions for just $49. Call now to order.
Dull as yesterday’s dishwater. But adding a few zombies...
For a limited time, we are offering the following 2-for-1 special: purchase both the 2012 and 2013 versions for just $49. Call now to order. I mean right now. Because they’re coming to get you, Barbara. In fact, they’re already...
BRAAAINS!!! it a nice sense of urgency, doesn’t it?

Try it yourself. Take any piece of writing—your own or someone else’s (as long as they’ve been dead for at least a century; otherwise, you might find yourself at the wrong end of a lawsuit)—and sprinkle liberally with zombies.

Fun, isn’t it? And zombies aren’t just for prose; they go great with poetry, too. Here’s a little something I just dashed off with a little help from the late Emily Dickinson:
Because I could not stop for the living dead,
They kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
Emily Dickinson (1830-????)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Angry Cows

This weekend marks the conclusion of "Shark Week," an annual event where the nice folks at the Discovery Channel try to scare the hell out of everyone so they can have the beaches to themselves during the hottest month of the year. At least, I’m guessing that's what "Shark Week" is about. I've never watched it. I don't need to. I’ve been afraid to go near any body of water—ocean, lake, river, or swimming pool—since seeing Jaws over thirty years ago.

However, lately I've been worrying less about sharks and more about cows. According to a recent study, you are twenty-seven times more likely to be killed by a cow than by a shark.

This doesn't surprise me. Think about it. Sharks have no reason to attack us. What have we ever done—what would we ever dare do—to make them angry? Cows, on the other hand, have been our victims for thousands of years. We herd them, milk them, breed them—not to mention slaughtering and eating them. As if that weren't enough, our young people subject them to all manner of indignities, from "mooing" at them from passing cars to unceremoniously tipping them on their sides.

No wonder they're angry.

They're also devious. Oh sure, they look sweet and docile, but looks can be deceiving. They're biding their time, waiting for the opportune moment to attack. As soon as your back is turned, BAM! You’ll never know what hit you. Cowboys knew this. I bet you thought they were armed with all those rifles and six-shooters to defend themselves against devious rustlers and hostiles. Not so. They were armed to defend themselves against devious angry cows.

If you want to avoid angry cows, you might want to avoid Great Britain, which seems to get more than its share of cow attacks. If you absolutely cannot avoid Great Britain (for instance, if you happen to live there), be sure to steer clear of pastures (no pun intended). Come to think of it, you'd do well to steer clear of pastures in any case. Even if you don't encounter any cows, you're certain to step in something you'd rather not step in. One way or another, those cows will get you. Like I said, they're devious.

Finally, in case you do find yourself under attack by angry cows, it might be wise to acquaint yourself with these survival tips.

As for me—I think I'll just stay in the house.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Taste of Fort Wayne

A friend recently told me she was going to be in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this month. She knew it was my hometown, and she asked me about things to do there. I was hard pressed to give her an answer.

We seldom get back to Fort Wayne anymore. When we do, we spend all of our time with my Aunt Sheila—my only surviving relative there—and much of that time is spent eating. One thing among many that Loretta and I have in common: whenever we visit our respective hometowns (Fort Wayne for me, Buffalo for her) we always make time to visit our favorite restaurants.

Many of my favorite Fort Wayne restaurants are gone now. Fortunately Hall’s, one of the best, is still around. Hall’s has several locations throughout the city. The food is always excellent and reasonably priced. I recommend the strawberry pie—my Aunt Vonna’s favorite. If it’s your birthday, they will give you a cake—not a piece of cake, mind you—an entire cake, big enough for three or four people. (Once, when Loretta and I were in town on her birthday, I’m rather ashamed to say that we made the rounds with my aunts and scored a cake at each of several Hall’s locations.)

The one place I absolutely have to visit whenever I’m in town is Coney Island, on Main Street. In my opinion, they have the best hot dogs in the world, topped with the perfect blend of chili, mustard, and onions. And you can’t beat the price: $1.35 apiece—cheaper if you buy them by the dozen, as we usually do.

If you prefer burgers, Powers Hamburgers, on Harrison Street, have been grilling their delicious little onion-drenched sliders since my parents were kids. As a matter of fact, Powers, Halls, and Coney Island have all been around since my parents’ day, if not before. (Coney Island has been serving hot dogs in the same location since 1914!)

Of course, there are plenty of things to do in Fort Wayne besides eating, and one of these days, maybe I’ll get around to telling you about some of them. But right now, I’m getting hungry.

I wonder if Coney Island has mail-order service?

At Coney Island, Two Years Ago

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Mother Was a Carny

Not really, but you have to admit that’s a catchy title. My mother did work at a ticket booth at the Kosciusko County Fair when I was a kid—a service she performed as a member of Tri-Kappa, the women's organization she belonged to when we lived in Warsaw, Indiana. Maybe that’s why I feel like the county fair is in my blood. This time of year, I always get an overwhelming urge to look at livestock, ride on a ferris wheel, and eat just about anything that’s deep-fried.

On days when my mother was working at the fair, I always went along and spent the day there. I visited the exhibits, ate fair “food” (not really food at all, just sugar and fat), and played a few carnival games—even though my parents cautioned me that they were all rigged. But most of my time and money were spent on the rides. My favorites were the ferris wheel and the paratrooper, which is sort of like a ferris wheel, except it’s tilted and your feet dangle. Once, when I was riding the paratrooper with a friend, one of my shoes flew off, hit the top of a tent, and bounced to the ground. My friend thought this was hilarious, but I didn’t see the humor in it—at least not until we were off the ride and I had retrieved my shoe.

We moved to Goshen when I was twelve, and I found the Elkhart County Fair to be much the same as the Kosciusko County Fair—the same exhibits, the same food, the same games, the same rides. One of my friends in Goshen was a wizard at the claw game. If you told him what you wanted, he could always get it—even if it was buried under a pile of other prizes. (His other singular talent was that he could belch louder than anyone in our school—possibly louder than anyone in the world. I assure you that I have never heard anything like it, either before or since.)

The Ventura County Fair opened this week, and I plan to go. I haven’t been for several years, but I expect it will be much the same as the last time I was there, and much the same as the county fairs of my childhood—the same exhibits, the same food, the same games, the same rides. There’s something reassuring in that. My tastes, however, are not the same. These days, I tend to spend more time looking at the exhibits and less time on the rides. But I will ride the ferris wheel, and I may ride the paratrooper, if they’ve got one.

If I do, I’ll make sure my shoelaces are securely tied.