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A Novel Commentary #6: The Thin Line of Life

In 2009 my father and I became writing partners. I was deployed to Iraq and would call home from these little phone trailers. He was developing this story about a guy who lives in Kentucky and serves in the marine reserves during the Zombie War. Back then, it was called, “Redoubt.” In Its early form, Redoubt was going to be on long novel. I was home on mid-tour leave from Iraq and I looked at the two chapters he had developed. Both chapters seemed to tell a complete story, with chapter two ending like the opening 15 minutes of every zombie movie he showed me when I was a kid. It was at that point that Redoubt became a short story anthology.

We took a road trip to this little resort island in Michigan called Mackinaw while I was home. That became the genesis of the second story in the anthology, “The Great Lakes Operations.” Mackinaw was a military fort during the colonial days, and the walls were still lined with ancient cannons along with a barracks that housed soldiers. So I thought, ‘If there was a zombie outbreak in Michigan, this is where the regroup effort would be.’ I remember riding a ferry with my father and developing this my story together with him, but it was within the comfort of his story I could write having the sandbox that he created. It so freeing in a strange way where there wasn't really a wrong answer. If there was, he'd say, “yeah, this wouldn't happen,” because it's his universe. So I would find my own little corner of it and color it in. It was the most delightful fun, driving around Michigan with him, seeing different sites and talking story. This story, this anthology is what would become The Thin Line of Life. In it’s current form, The Thin Line of Life is in two volumes. Originally, it was published in five separate anthologies. Each of the first four anthologies contained five short stories. We spent 2009-2012 developing those stories, and once we had five put together it was time to come up with a new title.

We were at his old house, and he was sitting on the steps that lead to the second floor. He threw out, almost on a whim, “The Thin Line of Life.” It changed my life. With that new title came publication. It was a book where I grew the most as a writer, and I think he did too. Because when we started, he was interested in action scenes. I wanted to put my characters around the table and have them talk about their feelings for five thousand words. (See Veterans of the Belron War.) Neither one is wrong, just an incomplete view for what the book would become. Learning to work together, both of us met in the middle. He began to write romance into his stories, I became more comfortable writing combat scenes.

That partnership would grant us our biggest hit. I remember when the book debuted, and I called him to share the numbers. It was this wonderful feeling, the success of a partnership. With that success brought four sequels, which of course led to spin offs. It was everything I could ever want in a writing partnership. It was a founding pillar of Divided By Zero Books. All tracing back to those phone calls in Iraq, with my father. While our partnership has long ended, I am forever grateful it happened.

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