ne of the things I’ve always loved about zombie stories is the diversity of settings. How people cope with the Ultimate Monster. It’s not always screaming and running, or barricading the windows and doors.
In 1989 I was a writer/editor for a modest gambling magazine (I would eventually graduate to managing editor and oversee production of two fishing titles and Golf Illustrated). Before the Lotto and proliferation of full-size casinos in the Tulsa area, there was only the Creek Nation Bingo Hall on Riverside Avenue. It was suggested that I go there and write a story for the magazine about the modern face of bingo -- see firsthand what transpires inside a mammoth bingo hall on a Wednesday at, say, 2 p.m.
I arrived with my trusty reporter’s notebook and my Canon, ready to gather details and gauge the quickened pulse of high-stakes bingo. Men and women of all ages lined the long tables, using colored ink daubers to blot away at half a dozen bingo cards. Except they weren’t cards, but pink grids printed on long sheets of paper. There were many patterns to complete to win progressively larger jackpots (“The Kite or “Crazy T”). The Creek Indian caller drew Ping-Pong balls from a Plexiglas hopper and the players all stared feverishly down at their playing sheets, muttering and daubing away, while stuffing themselves with deep-fried burritos, ice cream and soft drinks.
At some point I looked around and asked myself, “If they were all zombies would it change anything?”
The answer was No.
The next day on my lunch break, I started writing “Night of the Living Dead Bingo Women.” A couple of lunch breaks later the story was completed, a black-humored little vignette. I made photocopies of horror markets at the library from the latest Writer’s Digest Market hardback (no World Wide Web yet, friends), and sent it off to a small-press magazine called Thin Ice.
A few weeks later, I received my first acceptance letter, penned on a cocktail napkin by Kathleen Jurgens, the editor. (It was her birthday and she was celebrating.) She liked my little story, and would publish it. They paid in copies and purchased no real rights, but I was excited. Someone thought I could write.
Not long after, I came across The Book of The Dead edited by splatterpunk bestselling writers John Skipp and Craig Spector (The Light at the End, The Cleanup, The Bridge). The anthology contained amazing zombie stories by Stephen King, Steven R. Boyett, Joe Lansdale and other major talents, all set in the world created by George Romero. About a year later I found out that they planned to publish a second collection called Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2. After corresponding with Kathleen, I sent off “Bingo Women” and one evening John Skipp called me at home. I about peed myself. They loved the story and were buying it. My first sale to a professional market. When the book came out in a Mark Zeising slipcase hardback and Bantam Falcon paperback I found that I was sandwiched between such outsized talents as Dan Simmons, Elizabeth Massie, Mort Castle and others.
All these years later, “Night of the Living Dead Bingo Women” is seeing print again later this year in Best New Zombie Tales Volume 3 from writer/editor James Roy Daley. Once again I'm in excellent company.
Here’s hoping the story that convinced me to keep writing makes new readers smile!