I’m reading the novel “Boy’s Life” by Robert McCammon. Early in the book, the titular boy is helping his father deliver milk in the 1960s. The son and his father are talking about what they’d like to be when they grow up, and the boy says “I’d like to be everybody in the world. I’d like to live a million times.” It makes me think of the often-used quote attributed to George R.R. Martin: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” It’s one of those quotes that I see everywhere but that I’ve always discarded because while a reader might have a powerful experience in the pages of a book, do they really “walk a mile in a person’s shoes?”
In the past year, something clicked, though. I think it was reading memoirs like “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer and “Ranger Confidential” by Andrea Lankford. In these books, I very much felt like I was walking in the shoes of other people. Which, duh? Right? “Into the Wild” is focused on the life of Christopher McCandless and the people he meets along his journey. In reading it, I was literarily if not literally walking in the man’s footsteps. And Ranger Confidential is a collection of WTF stories about the lives of National Park rangers.
Other memoirs followed, and then I gently returned to fiction: “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “News of the World” by Paulette Jiles. While not memoirs, these books dropped you into the middle of the lives of fiction characters who felt very real, whether it was a slave on a floundering Virginia plantation or a world-weary, news-reading traveler in Texas in the late 1800s. Their fictional worlds felt real. The writers spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that the reader was transported to specific places with specific people, and I really appreciated the results of their work.
So yeah, I’ve come around to the George R.R. Martin quote. Readers live thousands of lives. Whether it was George Takei’s life growing up in internment camps for Japanese during World War II, Helen MacDonald’s attempts to train a hawk to hunt, or the Gideon’s and Harrow’s discoveries in the death opera/space opera Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth, I’ve participated in their lives. I’ve absorbed their perspective. Sometimes they’ve made me laugh, and other times I’ve yelled in frustration.
To bring this full-circle, to a certain extent I feel like the boy in Boy’s Life who is trying to live a million different lives. For the past five years or so, I’ve been sharing the life of a woman who trains dogs to hunt zombies. She is a specific person who becomes more unique the longer I write about her. But also, I’ve added other characters like Santa Anna, the curandero, Cut, the HPD officer, and in the latest book, 19-year-old Justice of the Peace Jim Lacy.
But there’s one other character these books has brought, and that’s the zombie hunter himself, Murder. Zombie Dog and Ghost Dog both featured sections, and then chapters, from his perspective. Murder Dog will be almost completely told from his point of view, and as I’m revising, that perspective is where I find most of my fine tuning. I want to get it right as best as I can. I want you to know this dog and how he perceives the world around him. Writing him hasn’t always been easy, and sometimes it’s been very challenging. How does a dog interpret human behavior? When the main character uses body movement as his main source of communication, how do you handle thoughts?
I won’t know if I succeed in putting a reader into “Murder’s shoes” (perhaps more appropriately, Murder’s paws) until the book is released and people are reading it, which is probably why I’m eager for it to see daylight (even though the idea of this book out there gives me butterflies). Because of all the lives I’ve been living, I really hope that it gives readers one more soul to inhabit and one more life to live. As the father in “Boy’s Life” says, “Well, that would be a fine piece of magic, wouldn’t it?”