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Left! My Review of “He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies” by Katie Cord

Posted in book review, evil girlfriend media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 24, 2013 by vagabondsaint

(Author’s Note:  Katie Cord, friend of this blog, does not know I am writing this review.  Don’t tell her until the end, would you?  Thanks.)

So there are a couple-or-three things I need to get out of the way before I get to actually reviewing the book He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies by Katie Cord.

leftcover2

First thing is:  I am not typing that title out over and over again.  We’ll be calling it Altar/Zombies from here on out.

Second: this book is currently out of print.  Katie Cord self-published it a few years back, before starting Evil Girlfriend Media. The copy I bought from her in September 2013 was one of the few remaining in her possession.  If, after reading this review, you wish to join the growing chorus of those begging her to republish Altar/Zombies, please feel free to send a message on her site. You can still get copies on Amazon, but be prepared to pay a bunch.

Third: this book is a little rough.  I was warned before I read it that it was self-edited, and Katie makes no claims at all to being an editor.  Definitely could use a little more polish before the repub. . .hopefully Katie can find an editor that works cheap (hint, hint).

Okay.  All that said, let’s get on to the review!

He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies is brilliant.

Seriously.

I’m not even a zombie fan, and I loved the hell out of this book. Reading this book, I started to understand that good zombies stories, really good zombie stories, are about the survivors, not the zombies.  Katie clearly already knew that, and painted ten pictures of normal, flawed (some deeply so) human beings struggling with the sudden reality of dead people not staying dead.  It’s about the discovery of a new world through abrupt change (more on that later).  Whereas The Walking Dead is mostly about Rick Grimes trying to do right by his troupe of survivors and bring some order to the new lawless world, these stories are about people who are just people – not exemplars of a higher ideal, not moral compasses for other survivors, not even shining examples of the heroism everyone should aspire to – just real, average people shoved into extraordinary circumstances.  Those are the stories Katie is telling here, and they are simply brilliant.  Brilliantly written, very well characterized, deeply flawed, people – those people always make for more interesting stories than archetypes and pure heroes, and Katie does a fantastic job with them here.

Enough raving – though I could go on for quite some time – let’s get to the stories.  As with WSB, I went through and took notes on each story.

1. Puberty – This is the second time I’ve read a version this story.  An elongated version was written for the writing group that Katie and I used to be part of; that was the first version I read. Gotta say it – sorry, Katie – I like this version much, much better.  Shorter and more to the point, this version, just as it is, could and should be the first chapter of a novel-length story. It’s a great coming-of-age story, the feeling of transformation is very well portrayed, and the story is just so, so good this way! It’s such a sudden, abrupt transition from day-to-day boring life into this strange new world – the suddenness makes it so good and really pulled me along with the heroine into her new, unwanted life.  So much better this way!

2. Daddy’s Girl – Another story that could be part of a larger one, “Daddy’s Girl” is an interesting look at life inside a military family with an overbearing patriarch.  He’s mostly like Bill Cosby, but that he records all the family’s conversations is a disturbing detail – it’s like if Cliff Huxtable worked for the NSA. But it’s not about him, it’s about his daughter, and how she uses the lessons he taught her, from a prom gone awry to the wonderful twist at the end.

3. The Language of Survival – If you ever want to read a story that will dissuade you from being a professional pedicurist, this is it.  Oh my God, other people’s feet. Ick. That part of the story is pretty grody, but enjoyably so! There are a lot of moving parts in this story, from Amy’s relationship with her vapid sister April and domineering Auntie Xian to the pale creepy guy that’s there for a surprise meeting, and then the zombie problems start – all of these elements are expertly juggled in the story, which is why I love it!  And it manages to be funny in the middle of all that, too!  This story continues the theme from the other stories of a new world being discovered, but Amy is the one who uses the opportunity to break free of her old life and be someone new – a very satisfying ending to a very good story.

4. He Left Her at the Altar, She Left Him to the Zombies – Well, the title kinda gave the plot of that one away, didn’t it?  But it’s still well worth reading! Especially for the protagonist Maddie, who is, point-blank, a terrible, terrible person! “Bridezilla” is one of the many words that could be used to describe her, and one of the few I can say on this page.  She’s a selfish, spoiled, self-absorbed, ruthless, unholy terror of a woman – and that, as I began to realize with dawning horror, makes her extremely  well-suited to survive a zombie apocalypse.  In the movies, that type of person never makes it to the end, but in reality, they would not only survive but possibly prosper, because they’d do whatever it takes to insure their own survival.  A funny, but brutal lesson to learn.  Well taught, though!

5. Marriage – This was my least-favourite in the book, actually.  I felt the marriage problems were smoothed over too quickly, and, if the story had continued, would only return in greater strength later.  But at least I cared enough about the characters to think that much about them, as those who know me know that I don’t often do with real people.  It’s still a well-written look at an astereotypical marriage, with a breadwinner wife and lay-about husband, but ugh.  That guy.

6. The House and Kid – While the last story looked at an un-traditional marriage, this story looks at a painfully traditional marriage, and works all the better for being a counterpoint to the previous story.  Looking back, I realized that this is the first story in the collection of a smooth, orderly life, falling suddenly into chaos; a point wonderfully illustrated by the zombie PTA that shows up – and I am not kidding about that.  At its heart, this is a story about all the little things we fuss over every day, and the knowledge, brought by horror, of what it is that really matters.

7. The Pet – In my notes, I called “The Pet” a “quietly, and therefore gloriously, disturbing story”.  Like the title story, the female protagonist in this one is not a good person; Mariah Braxton (I just got that name, haha) is also selfish and self-centered. The difference is that Mariah rationalizes away her guilt over the terrible things she does, unlike Maddie, who just never felt guilt.  So there’s a little more hope for Mariah.  In the end, though, Mariah reveals herself to only have wanted the same things we all want, which makes her a little less horrifying than Maddie was, but still every bit as ruthless.  Something else I liked about this story: it’s told from Mariah’s perspective, and Katie does a great job of making the reader sympathize with a terrible person.  Maybe you won’t want to, but you will, and you’ll like it in the end.

8. Your Cheatin’ Heart – This story takes place in Mississippi, which reminds me: What are you trying to say here about my home state, Katie? I don’t want to give too much of this story away, but it’s my favourite of the collection and it shows that Katie has a completely-correct-yet-completely-depressing grasp of human nature.  This is EXACTLY what would happen in a zombie Apocalypse, if enough of humanity survived. It’s hilarious and it explores an avenue of depressingly-realistic human reaction to the zombies that I’d never seen done before.  The good news here is that this story is reprinted in the recent collection Roms, Bombs, & Zoms, published by Evil Girlfriend Media. This story alone is worth the price of that book!

9. The Plan – “The Plan” is more a traditional ghost story than it is a zombie story, but still a good one that earns its place in this collection.  The failed “raise the dead” ritual was a nice, humorous touch.  This is the most character-driven story; it does read a little dry early on but picks up quickly enough to prevent you from losing interest.   It also maintains the theme of the risen dead making a new world, a new life, possible, and does so in a way that’s perhaps more traditional than the other stories in this book, but isn’t out of place with its motifs.  It’s about where you came from, where you’re going, and what the people that didn’t get there have to say about it.

10. The Cure – Up front: this story is heartbreaking.  It’s so sad.  It’s gonna grab your heartstrings from the beginning and not let go. But it’s so well-crafted and the characters so well-developed that you have to read it.  Olivia Jayce makes a compelling protagonist, and her love Dani is a very tragic figure in the story, and her struggles with her illness gave me a new respect for those who care for the disabled.  Olivia makes a deal with Umbrella Corp a shady pharmaceutical company to save her love, and the results. . .well, just read it.  It’s a very sad, very evocative story. I know that may scare some of you away, but I like it when a writer makes me care enough to feel what they want me to feel.  I like emotionally evocative writing, and this is a shining example of that particular bit of word-crafting.  Also, it wouldn’t be out of place as backstory in a Resident Evil game; in fact, it reminds me of the very sad back-story shown in the credits of Resident Evil 4, about how the poor villagers just wanted medical treatment and were instead infected with. . .okay, I’m digressing.  Just read the damn story (and play Resident Evil 4; it was the last one before Capcom thought co-op or AI players were a good idea).

In fact, read all of the stories.  They’re all wonderful in their ways, all working along the same themes but exploring those themes in very different ways.  The variety is great, the characterization is spot-on, the emotional involvement with these characters is very high, and you may stumble over a spot here or there that needs editing but it’s not enough to distract from the enjoyment of these ten brilliant tales.

Get this book if you can, and if you can’t, ask Katie to re-publish it here!

VS – 12.23.13

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On Racism

Posted in media failure, politics, racism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2009 by vagabondsaint

I have been thinking, for the past few days, about racism.

“Racism” is being launched into the airwaves fairly often nowadays.  While conventional left and middle wisdom do not blame racism solely for the. . .vociferousness of protests against health care  reform and President Obama, the pundits certainly do seem to believe that racism is a significant factor in the protests.

And they’re right.

You hear President Obama being called a fascist, a socialist, a Marxist, a Kenyan, a communist, and more by people who, when confronted, seem hard-pressed to define any of the labels that they’re throwing at him (except Kenyan, and honestly, I doubt that many of them could even find Kenya’s general location on a map or, as much as they claim to love and want to preserve the Constitution, seem to remember that as long Obama’s mother was an American citizen, he is an American citizen, no matter where he was born).  The man can’t even continue the tradition of giving a Presidential address to schoolchildren without right-wing parents getting up in arms about it, for fuck’s sake!  (For the record, I am proud to say that my daughter’s school didn’t send anything home or call any parents about the speech and showed it at the scheduled time without fanfare or fallout.)  If you take a good, hard look at the people protesting, and the ludicrous claims and scare tactics coming from a very vocal minority of this country, I promise that you too will be left with the strong impression is that what these people are really angry about is the black man in the White House.

Racism.  There’s that word again.

Racism, I believe, has a basis in primal human nature.  It is natural to fear what is different from one’s self, from one’s own experience.  It is also a natural human reaction to be fearful of change.  The loss of what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is known, can be a very frightening thing, and that is a natural reaction, to be afraid of the unknown.  However, fear of difference and fear of the unknown can and often do turn into dislike, disdain, prejudice, hatred. . .racism.  What we’re seeing in these protests is the result of fear not only left unchecked, but, in many cases, fed and nurtured and used by leaders, elected or otherwise, on the political right until it either mutated into racism or merged with already-held prejudices and became an even bigger monster (but not a monster dumb enough to forget to cloak its true nature by tossing out a “social-Marxist-fascist” smokescreen).

And the left shares the blame.

Yeah, I said it.  The political left is partly to blame for these protests.

How so?  By trying to enact reform beneficial to all Americans?  By winning new congressional majorities in the last two elections? By daring to put a black man in the White House?

No.

By demonizing people who were just afraid.

Remember what I said about it being an intrinsic part of primal human nature to fear change, to fear the unknown, to fear what is different from oneself?  It is.  And instead of talking to these people and trying to understand why they were afraid and calm their fears, the left instead labeled them “racists” and “rednecks”  and “ignorant” and ostracized them, shunned them, tried to make them ashamed of merely being human, being afraid. . .and drove them right into the open arms of the people on the right that were willing to use them for ratings, for money, for political power.  A lot of these people were just scared of a strange face, a face unlike their own, and when they turned on their TV to look for answers, they saw, instead of reports emphasizing the commonalities of all people and how the President is just a man like any other, they saw emphasis of difference and division: the first black President, the relevance of the black vote, the Latino vote, the Asian vote, the white vote, and the people who looked like them, who were largely white and older, being labeled as “racists” and “opponents” of change.  I’m not saying that some of those labels weren’t correctly applied; far from it.  I’m saying that the labels got overused and, in their overuse, succeeded more in alienating a section of the population than in actually hurting their intended targets. . .leading to those feeling alienated and disenfranchised right now, holding up signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache and parroting the words of the people who gave them ways to channel their fear into a cause instead of making them feel ashamed for being afraid.

For being human.

Don’t get me wrong;  I’m not defending racism at all.  I’m saying that the left blew a chance to win over many of the hearts and minds that they drove to the side of the extreme right-wing demagogues.

It’s not too late to correct the mistake.  It takes understanding, compassion, and most of all, calm, reasonable, logical debate.  Understand that these are not necessarily bad people on the other side of the debate.  Have the compassion to listen, and in debate, give them the knowledge, of human commonalities, that can defeat a fear of the unknown, of another people.  Remind them, hell, show them that most African-Americans are not gangsta rappers, most Asians are not martial arts experts, most Muslims are not terrorists, and most Latinos don’t even know who Carlos Mencia is.  Knowledge is really the only way to defeat the media-promulgated stereotypes and show everybody (because there are minority racists, too) that we are, as our President said, far more alike than we are different.

Not doing this, not fighting back with knowledge, will only lead to more of the same thing thing you’ve seen this summer: more loud voices covering fear with nationalism or patriotism, more walls of anger with fear hiding behind them, until finally people stop yelling and start acting. When that happens, then, if nothing else, we’ll know for sure one commonality:  everybody’s blood is red.

VS – 09.17.09