The Zombie Queen

At Kimberling book fair when The Gunslinger stood me up and Sunshine came out of nowhere, I met the Zombie Queen and nothing was ever the same.

She bought my Manhunters series. I bought her Zombie Club series. And this is what I got.

She is a local writer. Not to say she isn’t international good. When I call her a Local Writer, I am talking about her settings. She wrote a book about a class field trip that a middle school took that found them right up the street from where I live in the middle of a zombie outbreak. They have to fight their way back home and try to put anything of a life back together they can.

She has a group of unforgettable characters. All unique, all very cool. Her students are so varied and so believable it is hard to imagine she is not a middle schooler herself. Her teacher such a badass that you can’t look away from him. As her characters move through her stories they all find new strengths and fears as they try to make a new reality for themselves.

I got ahold of her shortly after the event just to touch base and let her know that I saw a bright future for her. We talked until about four in the morning about her work and mine and by the time we ended our conversation I had a very cool new friend. And we started going on adventures together.

She asked if I was going to the next book fair. A college was putting a fair together in Neosho, Missouri and I agreed to meet her there. We shared an eight-foot table and I brought my Manhunters series. It was at the time the only series I had published. Legends of the Exiles had yet to be released. I think we were about a month from that date.

Bekah and I had found a site that sold trade show booth materials and we started to put together a very conservative plan to buy a professional booth as we went along on the profits that we earned at our shows. Well that plan fell to shit when we saw that in three hours the website sale was ending and that sale was fifty percent off. We quickly added up how much our plan would cost and came up with eight hundred dollars, or four if we did it right then and right there.

So now fully four hundred dollars in debt we showed up in Neosho with a professional booth and a desperate desire to sell as many books as possible. We set up next to The Zombie Queen and at the four-hour sale we sold four books at ten dollars a pop. It was pretty much a bust except we did meet The Bushwhacker and that made the whole trip worth it.

About a half an hour into the show you always get the same thing. The crowd has not shown up yet and every vendor comes around to every other vendor and exchanges business cards and talks a little about what they are selling. We all promise to come by their booth and look and try to buy something but everyone is there to make money and few purchases are made by other vendors. I try to buy at least one thing at every show but that cannot always be. The Bushwhacker came by ready to make a sale.

He was a short, overweight old guy with a shirt skin-tight with little horses on it. He wore a ten-gallon hat and talked with a deep accent. He looked at my booth and, ignoring Bekah and The Zombie Queen, he leaned in and smiled at me.

“I’m going to make you a million dollars,” he said.

“How are you going to do that?”

“I’m about to give you the best publishing advice that you have ever had.”

I already don’t like this guy. He has already managed to insult my product and my booth but I can’t tell him to leave and he is there for the Slim Jims.

At these events almost every vendor sets out candy of some sort. Chocolates are very popular. But you get suckers and taffy, too. I wanted to give my shoppers something different and a little salt to counteract all that sugar so I set out little Slim Jims in a small steel mug. This guy stood next to my jerky and ate one after the next as he bent in tight to tell me the secrets of publishing.

“These books you are selling are too thick. You gotta break them up, eighty pages, hundred twenty max.” He picked up Song and flipped through it. “And this will never work. You need to have these at eighteen-point size. They need to be at least double spaced. At least.” He looked around as if to check for any eager listeners. See he is telling me the true hard facts about publishing so he doesn’t want just anybody knowing this.

“See, the thing is this.” He smiled at me and winked. “Seventy five percent of readers are women.”

Let’s stop right there and look at that bullshit. Seventy-five. That is not even close to accurate. Eighteen point, double-spaced, 80-100 pages. Let’s watch him go on and we will see just how pissed off The Zombie Queen, her granddaughter, and my wife can get.

“See seventy five percent of readers are women and when they pick up a book and open it, they need to be able to say, ‘Even I can read this!’ Then they buy it. Then you have a sale.”

I can feel the heat coming off the women around me and am relieved when a shopper shows up and The Bushwhacker has to duck away.

“Even I!” The Zombie Queen says. She is still whispering but won’t be for long.

“Did he just say, did he just,” my wife can’t even get her words out. Always an eloquent speaker she is reduced to a stammering mess in the face of his chauvinistic arrogance. “Did he?”

The granddaughter, we are going to call Golden, she is raging. She is about fourteen years old and is clenching her fists and curling her fingers into talons.

“Please calm down, ladies,” I said. “Please. We can’t kill an old man today.”

Well Golden gets up. She is an artist and she works on her phone creating images. She wants source material to work from, so after they fume for a while she gets up and walks over to his booth. She takes a picture of him and is stopped by The Bushwhacker.

They talk as The Zombie Queen cranes her neck and tries to read lips she has no hope of reading. Golden comes back with a book.

It is titled Civil War Women of Courage and it is a little over 120 pages.

“He told me to take this book with me and beg my grandmother to buy it for me.” She looked shocked, pissed, confused. A lot of other things, too.

But while Golden obviously did not have any idea what to do, The Zombie Queen had to take two seconds to find a reaction. She grabbed the book and marched away.

“Should I help her go kick his ass?” Bekah said.

“No one is kicking that man’s ass,” I said. But with a little less conviction.

The Zombie Queen marches back and, even though I have only seen her a few times, I can see that she is furious by the way she walks and the way her head moves. I have seen this kind of fury before.

“I walked up to him and said, ‘Did you tell my granddaughter to beg me to buy this?’” She kept looking around and I could tell she wanted to hit something. “His wife piped up and said, ‘He sure did.’ Well, I told him she doesn’t want his book and I won’t be buying it. Told him to shut his mouth to my granddaughter and walked away.”

“Did you punch him first?” Bekah asked.

“Wanted to. Didn’t,” The Zombie Queen said.

Well, a few minutes later The Bushwhacker comes back. He has a copy of that book and he holds it up. “Listen I would really like to give this to your granddaughter as a gift free of charge if you will let me.”

The Zombie Queen looks at Golden who nods. “I’ll take it,” Golden said.

The Bushwhacker opens the book and signs it. Nods at her and you can tell he feels as though he has done his good deed.

She opens the book and he has written, “Women can be heroes, too!” With his name and his business card.

I think I had to toss water on their torches. I am pretty sure these three women were making a march to set this old man on fire. But I can’t be positive.

We saw The Bushwhacker one more time. This year when I went to Kimberling I ran into The Raven and set up next to her. The Zombie Queen was forced to either set up away from me or set up right next to The Bushwhacker.

We talked about him. Very loud. Across the aisle. When Bishop, The Zombie Queen’s poet friend, came over he traded his poetry book for one of The Bushwhacker’s books.

It had fifty pages of story, forty pages of ads for other books he had to sell. The Bushwhacker has written over thirty books. I’m told they do very well in Europe where no one can check his historian credentials and no one knows that the facts and true accounts in his work are totally bullshit.

Watch out for The Bushwhacker. He wants to sell you a book, ladies. He has published it just for you.

The Zombie Queen and I shared what was supposed to be an eight-foot table at That Geeky Con in Arkansas last summer. It was actually an eight-foot booth. Which meant a six-foot table. Which meant that we each had three feet of space to sell on.

We were a bit cramped.

She brought her grandson Bolden with her. He is a very cool guy. Going to come with The Zombie Queen, her husband, and Golden to the goat-themed barbarian drinking party we host every year. He plays guitar so Bolden will add to our band.

She held me together during that very busy convention. I was talking to lines of people at a time and trying to keep from screaming. Adam was still alone at this point. He did not have Prince or Shadow to help him and was unable to rely upon Shadow’s swagger to ride the wave of communication he needed.

He perfected his spiel and we sold books. We sold out and by the end of that show we had paid off our four-hundred-dollar debt. We sold eighty-three books and would not have sold a single one had The Zombie Queen not been right by me.

See we did a few without her near us. Did Visioncon with her a few booths down but our confidence was gone and we got nothing for it. For the first few cons I was trash without The Zombie Queen. She makes me laugh and holds me together. Every now and then she will cuss or tell a funny story and she gets me through.

Just seeing her reminds me that I am not alone. I have a crazy friend right beside me having to talk to people too and with her confidence, whether it is faked or not, and her grandchildren, she pulls me through every con I have ever had.

She is one of my greatest allies and my secret weapon at every live event I go to. I can’t wait to see her again. Can’t wait to get back out on the road with The Zombie Queen.

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