October 5 will be here soon: the eighth anniversary of the publication of my first novel, Death Has Come Up into Our Windows. It is a very raw, emotional, visceral book about grief and justice, love and loss and endurance. I remain moved by it, many years later. Its thematic concerns are still the same questions that drive me. It was the first installment in The Zombie Bible, a retelling of the tale of Jeremiah.
Last year, I reflected on it while writing Lives of Unforgetting:
“I have always found myself moved and troubled by Jeremiah’s story. Like Cassandra of Troy, cursed by the god Apollo to see the future but be believed by no one, Jeremiah walks the streets of ancient Jerusalem before its fall, pleading with the economically well-to-do, the religiously content, and the politically complacent. Look at our city, he demands. One child is sacrificed to the flames on the hill, while another starves in the street while just indoors, on the other side of a wall, an affluent woman with well-fed children bakes cakes to Astarte, and sings so that she will not hear the screams of another woman’s child.
“I set Jeremiah’s complaints against injustice and idolatry (which he saw as a root cause of injustice) to fiction in my novel Death has Come up into Our Windows. I wanted to try and put that prophet’s heart and his words of fire on the page for a modern reader.”
And in a note at the beginning of Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, I said this about the story’s genre and its thematic concerns:
“The crisis created by an outbreak of the walking dead offers a telling diagnostic of those flaws in the human condition that resurface, century upon century: our tendency to let problems fester untended until they become crises, our frequent inability to work together for a common good, our quickness to forget the lessons our grandparents learned at the cost of much sweat and blood, and the extent to which our privileged classes ignore and deny responsibility for the plight of the impoverished and the disinherited. Our ancestors often described the attacks of the hungry dead as acts of either divine retribution for human sins or divine abandonment in utter grief at human evil, and in at least one sense they may have been correct: the rapid rise of an outbreak is nearly always a consequence of our own failings.”
I think the story may be all the more timely and desperate now, even more than in 2011. Certainly when I wrote it, starting in the summer of 2009, I was thinking as much of our America as I was of Jeremiah’s ancient and dying city.
If you’ve never read the book, I hope you might. It is part nightmare, part cry of defiance in the dark, part love letter from me as a young writer with a heart on fire. It is here:
In October, the book will be 8 years old. It has been a vigorous, exhausting, hopeful, exhilarating eight years. And it is still only the beginning. So many stories yet to tell.