Nathan Shumate has a wonderful imagination, and an interesting taste for the macabre in the artwork and writing he produces. I know Nathan well, having sat on panels with him and shared booth space with him at various Utah conventions. Never would I have thought of crossing Christmas with zombies, nor hoped to pull it off as cleverly as he has.
The Last Christmas Gift: A Heartwarming Holiday Tale of the Living Dead is about an eight-year-old boy who’s father has died in Vietnam and sent him a demented doll with peculiar instructions hidden inside it. When the boy’s grandfather dies of cancer just before Christmas, he decides to use the doll to bring the old man back to life…and accidentally raises the corpses in the graveyard across the street in the process.
This story delightfully blends the horror of an undead uprising with family bonding. It is less about the culture of Christmas holiday traditions and more of a zombie tale that happens to take place on Christmas Eve–something zombie-lovers would enjoy reading any time of the year. The characters are fleshed out–pardon the pun–and I found the relationship between the boy and his grandfather to be sympathetic and dynamic.
There was, of course, plenty of chaos and destruction. The gore was not over-the-top, allowing the relationships and character aspects to really shine through amid the action. The boy’s love for his Grandpap gave this creative story a strangely sweet conclusion.
I liked this book a lot. It’s different. It’s a quick read, quirky but serious, and I think readers who may not normally look for zombie stories due to excessive gore or violence would enjoy this story as well. It really is heartwarming. As heartwarming as a zombie uprising in the back yard on Christmas Eve can get.
You can find The Last Christmas Gift: A Heartwarming Holiday Tale of the Living Dead
On Amazon for Kindle: www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012BYBKWE
In paperback: www.amazon.com/Last-Christmas-Gift-Heartwarming-Holiday/dp/069249670X
For more titles written and edited by Nathan Shumate, check out his website at Cold Fusion Media: coldfusionmedia.us.
I don’t write about non-writing related things in my life very often on my blog, and if I do, I usually try to tie it into writing in some way. I wanted to do something bold and share this thought, though.
A couple weeks ago, I took a vacation to Disneyland with my parents and younger sister. As we are all adults, our busy life schedules don’t always allow us to spend quality bonding time together. We have a tradition of driving down to Anaheim about once a year to visit Disneyland and its sister park, Disney’s California Adventure. There are a lot of really beautiful things about Disney parks, from the background music, to the details on rides and attractions, to the friendly custodians who keep the bathrooms impeccably clean. We’re constantly immersed in stories, enticed to seek refuge from the sometimes painful and unpleasant realities of life, and dared to dream about the power of our imaginations and all the incredible good we can do in this world if we put our minds to it.
Before we left on our vacation, we gathered for a quick family prayer in which my father expressed gratitude for this opportunity and recognized it as a gift from God.
As anyone who has been to a Disney park can attest, the “Happiest Place On Earth” has many visitors, children and adults, who are not happy. From about three to six o’clock in the afternoon, a chorus of emotionally exhausted youngsters under the age of five can be found crying in perpetual surround sound just about everywhere you go. They’re hot. They’re bored of standing in line. It’s past their usual nap time. Mom won’t buy them that churro they were promised today because other things came up instead. Dad said “no” five times to that plush toy and he’s not going to change his mind to reward a tantrum.
On a trip to Disneyland I accompanied with my orchestra class in high school, I observed a random man berate and belittle his weeping son, probably about nine or ten years old, for losing something, then berate and belittle him again for rubbing his nose until it bled and never once offered the kid a tissue. That was probably one of the most uncomfortable parenting moments I’ve ever witnessed.
One of my high school teachers once told my class that, on a vacation he took with his young family, he and his children watched in horror as a group of ducklings pecked and drown one of their kin to death. Even nature cannot be compelled to suspend her bizarre wrath at the Happiest Place on Earth.
I’ve done a fair share of dysfunction things while visiting Disneyland at various points in my life. I have a poignant memory of saving space with my mother along a parade route when I was a teenager. My father brought me an ice cream cone from the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, something I had wanted very much on that trip. I ended up throwing it straight in the garbage because it dripped a constant, melting stream of chocolate. I didn’t want to dribble ice cream all over myself, or have it flow over to people nearby and seep into their bags or clothes. I can’t imagine how much that must have hurt my father’s feelings even though he chose not to take it personally. Never mind the fact that I deprived myself of something I really wanted because I thought my existence was a nuisance to others. It still makes me squirm inside to think about it. I had depression as a teenager, though I didn’t have it diagnosed until I was an adult.
There is a lot of pain in this world that can’t be cured with peppy slogans, or ice cream, or happy thoughts. Being with people won’t always banish loneliness. Getting your way won’t always fulfill the soul’s craving for progress, success, validation, and self-actualization. Hard work isn’t always proportional to our achievements. We can’t fix everything ourselves, and some things don’t mend on their own just given enough time.
I cherish going to Disneyland with people I love, not because it will make us happy, but because it gives us an opportunity to pull our heads out of the isolating pulses of work, and social media, and human drama, to evaluate ourselves, and to draw our focus to each other. Standing in long lines with nothing to do except talk to each other, tease each other, sing, laugh, cry, practice our multi-lingual skills, and ask each other questions as serious or as silly as we’d like is great family therapy.
Fulfillment will never be found in the mere bells and whistles of an amusement park. Paint will peel. Rides will break down. Fireworks burn out, and the music dies away at the end of the night. Eventually, our time at the park draws to a close, and we go home, back to our normal lives. I’m not sure Disneyland will still exist a thousand years from now. But I know my family will because…well, I’m a Mormon who believes families are eternal.
My father quietly pointed out an elderly gentleman on our most recent trip, puttering through the crowds in a red powered scooter with a young child giggling in his lap. The old man was smiling to himself. My father said, “That’s going to be me at the hundredth anniversary.” And that is what Disneyland is all about for us.
As I alternated saving space with my immediate family members this year to see the new Paint The Night Parade and fireworks show that debuted for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, it occurred to me, as I watched cars of screaming people go ’round on the Matterhorn, that I’m in a pretty good place in my life right now. I’m not in graduate school, but I have a great job. I’m not married, don’t have kids, but I can call myself an author and nobody questions it anymore. I can turn back to the me of years ago, who oft contemplated the reasons why the outgoing part of her childhood personality withdrew, wishing she could be more helpful instead of secretly annoying to people, and tell her that even though things haven’t turned out as she planned (and still plans) for her future, God still has a plan, and dreams can still come true.
I first read A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck a couple of years ago, and included it in a post about horror books by local Utah authors. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Dr. Peck, running into him at various fan and writing conventions here in Utah. (Alas, I never knew him while I was an actual BYU student studying geology and biology). I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of his story more recently, and wanted to expand my thoughts on this fantastic gem.
A Short Stay in Hell is about a faithful Mormon man who ends up in Zoroastrian Hell when he dies. Having followed the “wrong religion” all of his life, he is condemned to a giant library (based on the Library of Babel) where he and his fellow deceased must each find the book containing their life story in order to escape.
I like to describe this story as philosophical horror. There is some violence. No monsters really, except for an unsettlingly cheerful demon who greets the protagonist, Soren, at the start. The heart and soul of the horror in this story draws its depth from the irony in the title. Unfathomable eons of time pass, and they pass painfully. The novella itself is a little over 100 pages, compounding the irony of the concept: A Short Stay in Hell.
What makes this passage of time so horrifying is a profound sense that anything meaningful is an illusion which unravels into a truly meaningless existence over time. All relationships and commitments from Earth life have been dissolved, and there is no way to find out what is happening to the people you once loved and left behind. From the maddening tedium of finding one coherent phrase, let alone one real word, in a string of nonsensical letters and punctuation marks among the seemingly endless rows of books. To the homogeneity of the Library’s population in their ethnic makeup, language, “perfect body” age, and overall cultural background. Existence is monotonous, and nothing changes with time. Everything resets the next morning–anyone who has died comes back to life. And the most intimate of relationships are ever-temporary, futile, and literally fruitless. So, there are no consequences. There is no progression. There is seemingly no point to anything at all in existence, no matter how hard anyone tries to create meaning out of of that pointlessness.
There is still pain. There is still hunger. Loneliness and stagnation are the ultimate, entropic principles of humanity in this state. There is no guarantee the Zoroastrian god, Ahura-Mazda, or his demons even care or pay attention to the people suffering in their various Hells. No one knows what will happen if and when they do manage to leave the library.
In a short space, Dr. Peck has created a disturbing and thought-provoking world that tests the meaning of existence–the meaning of meaning. The ultimate Hell in his story, it would seem, is the dissolution of meaning, or a reality in which there never was any meaning to begin with.
A Short Stay in Hell is available…
And just about anywhere else books, both electronic and physical, can be found.
This weekend I attended Salt City Steamfest in Salt Lake City. This cozy steampunk convention has the highest density of people in costume I think I’ve seen compared to other conventions, and it was a blast! (Check out steampunk Ursula poising to stab me with her trident:)
One of my favorite things about small conventions is that authors and artists I know will often recruit each other to fill in last-minute on panels that are missing people or that conflict with other scheduling commitments someone has made. When I’m recruited, this becomes a really fun opportunity to network with new artists and to dive into a discussion, seeing what interesting things we come up with to explore between panel and audience.
I was not able to sign up as a panelist at this particular convention, so it delighted me to be spontaneously included in two panels. One panel was made up entirely of Xchyler-published authors discussing “Writing Steampunk for Fun and Profit,” on what it takes to become a good writer. The other panel I sat on with Scott Taylor, and, for the first time, with Paul Genesse as our fabulous, charismatic moderator discussed “The Science of Steampunk.”
Other authors and artists I had the opportunity to mingle with this weekend included Candice Thomas (author of the Vivatera series), Jason King (author of Valcoria and Lure of Fools), Cody Langille with the Horror Writers of America, Kelli and Carter Reid, Nathan Shumate, Jay and Julie Barnson, Sctt Tarbet, Kelly and John Olsen, and so many more.
I always learn something new, and the circle of familiar faces expands with each event I attend. Thank you, Steamfest-ites, and all you creative people for a lovely weekend. I look forward to seeing many of you again at Salt Lake Comic Con in September!
I love celebrating of the birth of the USA as a nation, and remembering the sacrifices of brave men and women throughout our history. Hoping my fellow Americans got to enjoy some of these very bright and noisy pyrotechnics with their loved ones tonight.
This spectacular neighborhood fireworks photo courtesy of my dad and his awesome new camera.