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Love in the Time of Zombies

Book Cover: Death Has Come Up Into Our Windows

Besides a philosophical zombie thriller, Death Has Come Up into Our Windows is a love story, a married man’s hymn to marriage:

As dawn slipped into his house with the sound of voices in the street on that last day, Yirmiyahu had lain beside his wife in their bed. The navi had watched her sleeping, her soft body, her graceful eyelids, the delicate curve of her jaw. He thought how beautifully she was made, how God, who had birthed her into the world, must have meant for the whole world to look like that, like her. At peace, glowing with beauty. Yirmiyahu smelled her hair and caressed the long strands of it.

The first time he’d seen her, she was dancing in the barley during the Feast of Tents, with all about her the pavilions and booths of the People, and above her a night filled with stars. He had danced with her, and asked her name and her mother’s, and she had laughed when he told her he was a levite by birth, like her, for she did not believe him. After they danced they had kissed, and the touch of her lips on his left him dizzy, and when he stumbled back to his father’s tent he’d realized how sharp, how bright in color were the tents and the people and the wild thyme growing by the path.

The wedding bowl had cracked beneath their feet. He remembered how she had hummed as she moved about their first home in Anathoth, and the way she cried softly a few months later as she packed his levite’s robes and her green linen gown—a gift of her mother’s—for the long walk into the hills to Yerusalem. The words they’d spoken together when he came into the room to hold her. The soft warmth of her beside him as they finished the packing together.

They had gone in the summer, and on the first night of their journey, as they laid out their bedding beneath a stand of terebinths, the cicadas in the branches made a roar with their wings, a droning that drowned out all the world’s other sounds, wrapping husband and wife in a hum of privacy, the two of them alone together in the summer night. He remembered the gentleness of her kisses on his throat, the soft noises they had made together, the way she lay in his arms afterward and dreamed with him of children.

But Death Has Come Up into Our Windows is also the tale of a city devoured by the ravenous dead, a city in which the living and the dead hunger and love can scarcely survive:

A few unclean dead, or many (their number grew so fast), were hunting in the alleys. He thought of the shambling corpses, their hands scratching at doors, pulling at the fragile wood. A few months ago, he had seen two—one had been a priest, a priest, one of his own caste, still clad in the simple white robes of the levites who kept the Temple—he’d seen those two tear down a door and drag a woman out into the street. He had run at them, crushed one’s head with a shovel he’d taken from a worker at the wall. But the other—the priest—had sunk its teeth deep into the woman’s shoulder. He remembered her cry of pain, the wildness of her eyes, her terror. He remembered the way the walking corpse that fed on her looked up at him when he came at it, its eyes with nothing in them but hunger and animal hostility. He remembered its wavering moan.

“People do not feel safe in their own city. Miriam, my Miriam, there are children starving, alone. Easy prey for the dead. And there are more dead in the city than we think.”

In December 2011, Death Has Come Up into Our Windows spent 3 weeks in the top 7 bestselling horror novels in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Today, you can read this story of love and loss and zombies on your kindle, or in paperback … or listen to the audiobook. I hope you will find the read both surprising and moving.

Stant Litore

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No Lasting Burial

Cover: No Lasting Burial

A first-century Israeli village lies ruined after zombies devour most of the coastal community. In their grief, the villagers threw the dead into the Sea of Galilee, not suspecting that this act would poison the fish and starve the few survivors on land.

Yeshua hears their hunger. He hears the moans of the living and the dead, like screaming in his ears. Desperate to respond, he calls up the fish.

Just one thing:

The dead are called up, too.

No Lasting Burial ushers readers into a vivid and visceral re-interpretation of the Gospel of Luke and the legend of the Harrowing of Hell. The hungry dead will rise and walk, and readers may never look at these stories the same way again.

Buy your copy here.

Here’s a taste of No Lasting Burial:

Some days, out on the sea, they would haul up one of their too-empty nets and feel some weight in it, and looking down they would see rising out of the deep, one of the dead tangled in the net, its face lifted toward them, eyes pale and white like those of a dead fish. Already reaching a hand toward the surface, its jaw opening.

And when that happens…

Shimon took up an oar and leapt on the gunwale and spun the wooden blade in his hands to give it momentum and force. Slammed the blunt wood into one of the pale faces. The corpse lost its hold on the net and was hurled aside into the waves, where it sank as swiftly from sight as a dream upon waking. Then, roaring as though furious at the dead and at the sea and the sky and Mighty God himself, Shimon spun the oar, slamming it into one face after another, dislodging the dead, in one case crushing the corpse’s skull so that its body went limp as he sent it back to the sea.

In 26 AD, the whole world has become sharp and brittle with the memory of violence. You just met Shimon, the fisherman out on the waves. This is Kana, the zealot:

Memories crowded upon him–that day of ambush on the high Adummim last summer; the sweat and heat of his long night’s battle at the synagogue door fifteen years ago; the scream of Ahava, his beloved, dying as the teeth of the dead tore at her; his encounter with a dead child in the alleys of Yerushalayim, its empty eyes and wild hiss, a tattered doll still clutched in its hand. Kana shoved the memories away, hard; he had no time for them. Every bone, every beat of his heart, every breath had to be focused on this moment, on the slide and shriek of his Roman knife, on the lurching, groping movements of the enemy he faced. On killing.

And this is Yeshua, the stranger who comes to their town:

“My mother . . . she told me once that our father did not promise a life without pain,” Yeshua murmured, closing the woman’s eye. His words were slow and spoken with terrible clarity. “Not without pain. Only that he would weep with us. Only that his heart would break. Only that he would take each moment of suffering, each death, each, and hold it in his hands, and . . .and bring from it something, something even more beautiful than what was lost. A forest of cedar grows from a field of ash, and each seed, every seed must fall to the earth, fall and crack open and die before it can become a barley plant.” He touched the woman’s hair, stroked it a moment. His gaze never left her face.

And there is a love story, love in the midst of great pain, between young Koach and Tamar:

Then she did something he did not expect. She let the blanket slip from her shoulders, let it settle to her feet, gently as feathers. For a moment, she held her arms across her breasts, then let them fall to her sides and she lifted her chin though her face burned. She let him see her, all of her, her beauty and her bruises. This gift of herself. Her father might strip her or beat her, but he could not take this from her: her right to open her heart and her body to one whose heart called to hers. Koach held his breath. All his life, he would remember this moment. His first sight of her. The memory would be holy to him. As though her rooftop were the place where God touched the world and created beauty.

Buy No Lasting Burial today. Seriously. Do it. You’ve never read a novel quite like this one. Go read it, and I will see you in the Galilee.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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A Response to “Zombie Jesus”

Easter season on the Internet brings a flood of “zombie Jesus” memes. As a novelist who writes about zombies and the Bible, I’ll offer a response.

To me as a zombie fan, the beauty of the old story — whether you approach it as an atheist, a religious man, or an agnostic — is that it IS a story about resurrection and feeding. The story casts Jesus as the potent opposite of a zombie (and thus zombies as the opposite of him). One rises from the dead and feeds you — with his own body and blood. The other rises from the dead and you feed it … with your body. One feeds you; the other feeds on you. Jesus isn’t a zombie story; Jesus is a story in which all the rest of us are zombies: all of us feeding on, consuming, and devouring each other.

Zombies frighten us and fascinate us because they are the ultimate extreme of what we already are or what we fight not to be: those who consume and devour.

In What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, Polycarp describes the hunger that turns us all into zombies, the hunger that does not let us rest content even after death:

“All our lives, we feed on what leaves us hungry, drink from what leaves us thirsting. Because we are always left hungry and always thirsty, we begin to think that those visible objects of our hunger are what we need most. A loaf of bread, a pouch of coins, the respect of others, success, a woman’s body, or a man’s. Or even a person or a thing from times past, something lost and remembered that we crave. But it is not so. These are not what we need most. Our hunger thieves us from our true selves. Like a violent fever, the hunger eats away mind and spirit. In the end, everything that we truly are is gone. Only the hunger remains. Even other men and women are no longer anything but food to us, meat for our desires and obsessions. Then we are lost.”

In another place, he says:

“We can feed on each other, or we can feed and sustain each other.”

That’s the essential and defining choice of how we live our lives (no matter what religion we call our own, if any), and it’s the beauty of the Christ story: the story asks us who we feed on and who we feed.

Writing zombies into the story allows us to throw these questions into sharp relief. That’s part of what I do.

The old Jesus zombie jokes don’t offend me, but they show that someone doesn’t really understand either the Jesus story they’re parodying or the zombie story itself. The point of the zombie story isn’t something rising from the dead. The point of the zombie story is being eaten. It’s a hunger so great that even death can not end it, and how easily we can become mindless, hungering eaters of others. That’s perhaps the most terrifying thing in the world.

If the Christ story is worth telling, it’s because it’s a story that hopes (and insists) that love is stronger than hunger.

I hope that is true — that hunger is not the defining fact of our existence, and that “people devour people” isn’t the defining fact of our future (even if it might be a defining fact of our history and our past). I hope that a descent into all-devouring, decaying-even-as-we-walk zombieism is not our fate (as exciting as that may be to watch on TV). I hope it passionately enough to write about it.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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The Art of The Zombie Bible

I wanted to give you a close-up look at some of the stunning art that has gone into the covers of The Zombie Bible.

This painting by Scott Barrie depicts a zombie against the fiery backdrop of the burning of Walls in Strangers in the Land.

Stant Litore's The Zombie Bible

It is a truly desperate moment in the series:

Then the men were lighting the house to the left, and Devora could hear the moans of the dead within. The dry cedar cracked and sang its fierce death song as the fire spread faster than tears or prayer. The roof of the first house cracked open with a clap of thunder, then crumpled inward, and the moans within fell silent, buried beneath the broken timbers that crushed them down and covered them like a cairn of wood and charcoal rather than stone.

Devora spun in a slow circle, taking in the gray, filthy ash drifting down from the blazing rooftops, dark against the firelit air. Some of it fell on her arm and burned her, and she cried out, not knowing whether the ash had come from a burning bed or from one of the bodies of the People. She gazed in horror at the sky, dark with smoke.

Strangers in the Land

This depiction of Father Polycarp’s gaze in What Our Eyes Have Witnessed is the remarkable work of UK photographer Danielle Tunstall, featuring the model Martyn Dalzell. It appeared as the front cover of the 2011 Dante’s Heart edition of the novel, and appears as a frontispiece in the 2012 47North edition.

Her eyes opened to him, and he gazed inside the rooms of her heart. He saw rooms that were locked and chained; he could almost hear the screams behind those shut doors. He saw other rooms that were vast and wide as oceans; in one, her love and faith in him, a faith so profound and unshakable that it shook him to see it.

What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

And here is Scott Barrie’s cover for the novella Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, the opening salvo in the series:

At the well’s bottom, Yirmiyahu lay without waking, his body wracked with cold and dryness. In the city above, the walking corpses fed and felt no remorse for the cries or the panic of the living. This was a night of the dead, in a city of the dead. He knew it, he knew it. Surely God had left the city, fled the People who’d forsaken her, left them to lie in their darkness, lost and faithless. Surely everything above him was dead. In this well, in this clammy dark, he couldn’t know if there were any breathing people yet above him. If he were to cry out now, would the guards hear—and ignore—him, or would only the dead hear the cries of God’s navi? He couldn’t know.

Death Has Come Up into Our Windows

Litore_NLB_smallAnd, most recently, here is Jeroen ten Berge’s evocative cover for No Lasting Burial, the novel that brings The Zombie Bible to the New Testament!

“And some days, out on the sea, they would haul up one of their too-empty nets and feel some weight in it, and looking down they would see rising out of the deep one of the dead tangled in the net, its face lifted toward them, eyes pale and white like those of a dead fish. Already reaching a hand toward the surface, its jaw opening.”

No Lasting Burial

Scott Barrie, Danielle Tunstall, and Jeroen ten Berge — three remarkable cover artists. Also contributing their creativity to this ongoing series: the 47North design team, consisting, I assume, of veteran mapmakers who help me map and remap well-known biblical lands as sites of zombie apocalypse.

For example, here is the map for No Lasting Burial:

Litore_NLB_map

And one of the maps for Strangers in the Land:

Map1

And here is a close-up of a detail from the map of the siege of Refuge, also in Strangers in the Land:

TZB_Sitl_Map3

My work has been blessed by some truly amazing artists and designers! If you are new to The Zombie Bible, I hope you will check out the series here.

Stant Litore

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Newness of Life

In honor of Easter and newness of life … wow.

The pervasive rhythm of our lives is that of resurrection and rebirth: all around us, each day, we encounter things being born, things being made new. Even though some days, some years, we see only the deaths. Here is a truly breathtaking moment.

I think what struck me about this image of the tadpoles is: all of these young, new living beings rushing together, as one, toward something sunlit and beautiful, though they scarcely know what it might be; they still live in the murk of the water, but they can sense the nearness of the sun and the possibility of another, different life to be lived.

Happy Easter, dear readers. Thank you for being with me on this journey that is The Zombie Bible.

Here’s to another year of faith, hope, and stories that move the heart.

Stant Litore

(Photograph: Tadpoles swimming through a forest of lily stalks. Photo: Eiko Jones. Available as a full-size wallpaper download from the National Geographic.)

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Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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What it Meant to Read a Book in the Year 748 AD; What it Means Now

A little perspective.

In the year 748 AD, if you wanted to read a book, an honest-to-God book, with words in it and maybe a story … you had to be one of the fifty literate people within 500 miles. Then you had to trade something or sell something to get the book (which probably took some illiterate monks up to 2 years to copy for you). A sizable tract of land might do, or a prized war-horse, or possibly your second daughter. Then you would have: a book. One book.

It is the year 2013 AD. You have Wikipedia. You have Google. You have streaming TV and movies with low-cost memberships. If you’re into ebooks, you can buy a kindle for $79, spend an hour loading it up with 100 free classics of great literature, and you have your own library, a little larger than a wallet. If you’re not into ebooks, you can probably get a good story to read for a few dollars at your local used bookstore. Or, for free, you can visit the public library and be surrounded by more books than the total number of people that your ancestors in 748 AD saw in their entire lives.

That ought to be awe-inspiring.

Really step back and consider that for a moment.

You can afford … unlimited stories. Even if you’re broke and can’t afford FOOD, you can afford unlimited stories. You are the only generation in human history that can make such a boast.

Take a moment and think about just how incomparably wealthy and lucky and blessed that makes you.

Your ancestor of 748 AD might have been willing to sell one of his family into slavery in order to purchase the smallest literary crumb from your table.

You ought to be awed.

No matter what tragedies are besieging your life, whether financial, medical, or other … this is something to be awed about. This is something worth sitting back for a moment and thinking, “Wow.”

I am thankful to be alive and literate in such a time. We have a lot to deal with in this century, and it’s damned scary. But this…our free or low-cost access to unlimited stories…this is our biggest Wow.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!