I don’t know, I’m asking you!

I always have a legal pad next to me at my desk when I’m working so I can take notes, etc. and from time to time these pads (and any other bits and scraps of paper) become repositories for story ideas. I honestly don’t know where these come from or what inspires them. I’m not sure anyone does. And though you’ll always find me firmly on the side of science, knowledge, and reason, sometimes I think we shouldn’t know where ideas come from.

It’ll be like Asimov’s psychohistory, or Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Once the man behind the curtain is revealed we start telling him what we think he wants to hear. If we somehow discovered the Creative Wellspring some corporation would cordon it off, sell access to it, and destroy everything about what it means to be human. And they’re already doing a good enough job of that with health care, education, and shelter, so let’s not give them another weapon.

That leaves me with no clue where this “gem” came from, but back to that legal pad. What was I doing? I was talking to someone on the phone—it may have been my mother—and started doodling. I don’t normally doodle a lot but anyway I ended up with a masterpiece of fantasy illustration, my awesome zombie.

Jim Zombroni, Undead Contractor

Jim Zombroni, Undead Contractor

The phone call must not have been terrible engaging (sorry, Mom) and I started thinking about this zombie and decided he needed a name. Zombroni was funny to me because it was the most obvious, and his first name had to be Jim because no one named Jim has ever been scary. Even Captain Kirk, when he wanted to seem intimidating, called himself “Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise,” but to his pals and to the ladies he was Jim.

So now I have Jim Zombroni, but a man ain’t no kinda man unless he gots a job (where did I hear that?) so hmm . . . He’s wearing cut-off jean shorts and work shirt. He looks like a contractor. And being a zombie, that makes him an undead contractor.

I was so pleased with myself then, but expected it would stop there but then the story appeared in my head fully formed.

It was just all of a sudden there.

Jim Zombroni had a plan., Jim Zombroni’s plan put him into conflict with another character, and Jim Zombroni came to a happy conclusion. All three acts done, done, and done. I couldn’t write it down fast enough for fear of forgetting any part of it, so if you can’t make out my handwriting, it’s:

People hire him via Angie’s List

He shows up, eats the people, doesn’t do work

Gets on their computer and leaves an A+ rating on Angie’s List

This is how he finds victims


One day he shows up to a job and the “person” who hired him is a zombie who uses fake home improvement projects to lure victims to her house to eat them

They fall in love.

I’ll admit, it’s not much of a story. The world will not one day see human history as “Before Zombroni” and “After Zombroni.” The resolution may be predictable. The whole thing isn’t terribly original, but what’s interesting to me isn’t the goofy little drawing or the even more goofy name and the goofier-still story outline, it’s how do these things actually manifest?

I have religious friends who might say that God put it there. But assuming there is an all-powerful creator of the universe, I have to believe He’s got better things to do with His time than implant ideas for stupid comedy zombie short stories in my head.

Come to think of it, this feels a bit more like the Devil’s handiwork!

Or is it just the way my mind works after a lifetime of storytelling? I draw a picture, then am compelled to add to that . . . I honestly don’t know.

But advice for writers out there: Make sure you have paper and a pen or pencil with you at all times. If you feel like doodling, doodle. If you get an idea for a story, scribble that idea down.

I might not ever write this story . . . though I really want to. I have hundreds of these, believe it or not. I’m pretty old, so you may not have that many yourself, but if you don’t have hundreds of them by age 50, I can’t imagine all the stories you should have remembered, should have thought about more, and should have written but didn’t, just because you didn’t jot it down, even if it’s in your worst handwriting.


—Philip Athans




About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, comic books, creative team, horror movies, horror novels, how to write fiction, monsters, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Writing, writing advice, writing horror, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Jeff Garvin says:

    What a great post! I hope you write the story. Henceforth, I’ll avoid contractors named Jim.


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