How Much Dead is Dead Enough, and Other Questions That Plague My Sleep
By Mark Justice

So.

I’m writing a column for Horror World. If you’re like me, and you usually enjoy the behind-the-scenes features on a DVD better than the movie, then you may wish to know how I ended up in this position.

It went a little something like this.

The phone rings.

Me: Hello?

The Goddess of Horror World: This is the Goddess.

Me: Uh, hi, Goddess. (giggles nervously)

(Digression: I was nervous because when She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed calls, it can sometimes lead to something unpleasant. For instance, last time she rang me up it was to order me to send a series of anonymous, annoying tweets to Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts just before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLIV. The tweets included nasty comments about Manning’s ginormous forehead, his masculinity and the location of a mole on his wife’s body. Where the Goddess obtained this information I dared not ask. Suffice it to say the tweets got in his head and Manning’s team fell to the New Orleans Saints, a certain bookie in New Jersey went out of business, and the proprietor of this web site is now tooling around the landfill in an Aston Martin DB9.

Oh, and before you ask “Why don’t you just say no?”, let me tell you a little story about what happened the only time I turned down one of her “requests”. I came home from work only to find my wife gagged and duct-taped to a kitchen chair while the Goddess of Horror World fed my mint condition copy of Tales of Suspense #59 ( with the first Silver Age appearance of Captain America in a regular series by Jack “King” Kirby) into a paper shredder. As the centerpiece of my comics collection was turned into confetti, she cackled maniacally and said, “Gonna say no next time, bitch???”

Where was I? Oh, yeah.)

Goddess:  You’re writing a column for Horror World.

Me:  I-I am?  What’s it about?

Goddess: It’s going to be an angst-ridden diatribe, dramatizing your hopes and fears and failures with soap-opera hyperbole. You’ll take to task horror publishers, readers and writers, fueling your fury with your own insecurities and your insatiable craving for attention.

Me: Uh…

Goddess: What??

Me: Well, I’m a pretty happy guy. I don’t have angst.

Goddess:  Oh. Can you fake it?

Me: I don’t think so.

Goddess: Hmmmm. Then write about your silly little books. I can’t spend all day on this. I have an empire to run, damn it.

Me: I can do that. Oh, and Goddess?

Goddess: What??

Me:      Do, ah, (clears throat) I get paid for this?

Goddess: Sure. I’ll pay you the same thing I pay you for Pod of Horror.

Me: But you don’t p—Okay. Great. Thanks for the oppor—

(The Goddess of Horror World hangs up)

Me: Goodbye.

There you have it, my Secret Origin as a Horror World columnist. So let’s get into what may be my first and last column.

(Hey, she never said that phone call was off the record.)

We’ll transition into my silly little books by addressing an email I recently received from  the charmingly named “higroller666”

“Hey Mark, what’s up with all the death in your titles? Dead Earth: The Green Dawn, Deadneck Hootenannay and now The Dead Sheriff?  Is it a Goth thing? Have you considered professional help?”

Thanks for the question, Hi.

I don’t think it’s a Goth thing. For one thing, I’m not sure fat guys can be Goths. Besides, I don’t like to wear black, because there’s no way to hide my beard squeezings.

And you’re right. There are a lot of Dead titles. I only noticed it when I looked back over my work.

The first one was Dead Earth: The Green Dawn, the novella I wrote with David T. Wilbanks. For that story “Dead” was an important part of setting the stage for a handful of survivors on a world that had been rendered nearly lifeless by an alien plague. I don’t remember who came up with the title, but if you like it, it was my idea. If you don’t, I’m positive Dave did it.

Next was Deadneck Hootenanny, a pair of long stories about a small Kentucky town where most of the population had been turned into zombies. What separated this from most zombie tales was that the reanimated corpses retained their personalities and interests. So between bouts of eating people, they hung out at the bar, drank beer and watched NASCAR.

My most recent “Dead” project is The Dead Sheriff, a multi-platform series from Evil Eye Books.

(What does multi-platform mean, you may ask? Yes, you may, because I had to ask too. It means publishing across a variety of media and formats. Some of those platforms have already been announced, some have not.)

The Dead Sheriff is my take on the story of Lone Ranger. I took that legend, crushed it, chopped it into tiny pieces, liquefied it in the blender and sucked it through a Crazy Straw. What I ended up with was the myth of a lawman who returned from the dead to avenge the murders of his family. Now he haunts the American West, handing out justice from beyond the grave, aided by his faithful Indian companion.

That’s the legend. The truth is quite different.

The Dead Sheriff will be a kaleidoscope of horror, humor, adventure, mystery and magic.

The Dead Sheriff will appear this spring as a weekly web comic in the style of the great Sunday newspaper comic strips of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.  A prose book will be released toward the end of 2010. Eventually the web comic will be collected between covers, and a new prose adventure will come out each year.

But (as the late Billy Mays would say) there’s more!

Another Deadneck story showed up last year. “Deadneck Woman” is in the humorous horror anthology Dark Jesters.

A sequel to Dead Earth: The Green Dawn will come out sometime this year from Permuted Press. It’s called Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road. Imagine the wildest post-apocalyptic movie ever made. Now picture that story on crack. Add a heavy metal soundtrack and you have DE: TVR. Mr. Wilbanks and I think it’s pretty good.

And the “Dead” march on. This spring Graveside Tales will publish my collection Looking at the World with Broken Glass in My Eye. It includes an original novella called (ahem) Deadtown.

Deadtown concerns the residents of an apartment building in Greenwich Village who discover that the world disappeared as they slept. All that’s left is part of a city block surrounded by nothingness. When a path appears, leading to a strange structure, the survivors have to decide whether to step into the unknown or stay behind as the remnants of their lives are obliterated by the encroaching empty sky.

So, higroller666, to answer your other question, I probably do need professional help.

But I’m having too much fun right now.

However, I’ve decided that I’m finished with “Dead” titles. From now on I’ll name my stories after small cuddly animals.

So next year, expect Puppy Hootenanny and Kitty Earth: The Hairball Cometh.

Meanwhile, keep those letters coming, and drop by next time to see if The Goddess of Horror World lets me keep my job.

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Mark Justice is a writer, and radio announcer who lives in Kentucky with his wife and cats. Drop by the Justice-Wilbanks message board and say hi.

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