How I Came to Write This Story: “Zinger” from “Roachkiller and Other Stories”

I guest-posted this today on Patricia Abbott’s loverly blog.

"I eat this wimp's will power for breakfast, John-bo."

WAY BACK IN THE 20TH CENTURY, I had a freelance job writing web site reviews, and I came across a contest for Best Hollywood Movie Pitch. Looking at previous winners, it seemed the funniest entries won. So, I dashed off the first thing I thought of: “A vicious serial killer is electrocuted while at the same time, miles away, a standup comedian electrocutes himself while ironing. Through the wires, their souls get switched! How will the killer deal with being a single dad? Will the standup comedian think hell is funny?” It was so basic and so ridiculous, I was surprised Adam Sandler hadn’t made a movie of it—yet (starting countdown . . . NOW). I won the contest—receiving the ephemeral-yet-ever-lovely prize of bragging rights—but more importantly the idea stayed with me, maybe because it was so basic and so ridiculous. Like a pop song that just won’t leave your head unless you knock it out, some story ideas won’t go away unless you do something with them—or you drink a lot. I decided to do something with it.

So a few years ago I sat down and wrote a story to go with my contest-winning Hollywood pitch, adding names, filling out characters, but removing the whole cliché trip to Hell. (Free advice to writers: “Hell’s been done.”) The idea was still so silly I made sure to put in a lot of humor, something I usually am frugal with when it comes to noir (mustn’t let laughs get in the way of a good murder). The story ended up as an odd mashup of Wes Craven’s Shocker and Freaky Friday (the 1976 version with Jodie Foster, please) and a little of Tom Hanks’s Punchline, which I shall not link to. My girlfriend at the time suggested the perfect title: “Zinger.” Now all I had to do was find the story a home.

But who publishes darkly comic crime fiction with a supernatural twist? I submitted. Horror magazines turned it away—“Too crime fictionish.” I submitted. Noir magazines didn’t want anything to do with slipstreammery. “Just guns and gals, please.”

I . . . All right, I didn’t submit that hard, but it gets frustrating when no one wants your baby. So the story got buried for a long while . . .

But then last year I was looking through my stories to put together my ebook noir compilation, Roachkiller and Other Stories. I had 10 stories ready to go, but I just before I sent them to the publisher I realized one story was noirly, but not as noirly as the others in the book. But if noir=dark, then “Zinger”—even with its scene of a serial killer doing a stand up set—was noir. So I decided to include it in my collection. In fact, it became a selling point, as all the other stories were previously published and may have been already read by my fans (big shout out to both of you!), and this was a story no one had read before.

Now I’m just waiting for someone (Mr. Sandler, I’ll take your call now) to option the story and make it into a great big B movie. I can already picture it at my local video store, with a lurid cover, a giant discount sticker, and starring Louis C.K. (in either role).

You may also want to check out a previous post I wrote on Ms. Abbott’s blog about my short story “Juracán,” which is also included in the Roachkiller collection.

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