My first writing sale, as in "I send you a story, you send me money", occurred two years before I sold Generation Dead. Although I had a number of stories "on the street", it was the only sale I made that year. I was paid seventeen dollars and thirty-one cents; the publisher paid by the word, much like the pulp magazines of old, a detail that somehow made the transaction seem more concrete and legitimate to me. They paid me on publication via Paypal, so I didn't have the thrill that I've often read about of making the lonely trek to the mailbox on the corner and finding the payment envelope within, but Then again I had the money. I then set for myself a business goal for my writing: I would try and double my writing income every year, so that the following year I would need to make $34.62, the next $69.24, then $138.42, etc. Doing the math out for ten years helped me feel like I had a pretty spectacular career on the horizon. I sold some horror stories and a horror music column the following year, enough to beat the $34.62 goal, and the year after that I was given a contract for Generation Dead and Kiss of Life, a contract that was worth quite a bit more than $69.24, so hooray for setting goals.
While working on those two books, I did not write any short stories. I wrote a few ideas down--I've got a roomful of story idea featuring GD characters-- but it wasn't until I was invited to submit a story to the Kiss Me Deadly anthology that I actually wrote one. I was thrilled with the way "Many Happy Returns" turned out, and writing it rekindle my passion for short stories. Writing the stories that ended up being included in Stitches was a pure pleasure, a nice break from working on novels, and a great opportunity to write different types of stories (one of the Stitches is a straight-up horror story) as well as explore some of the character relationships in a deeper way than I was able to in the novels.
"How's Life", the first story in the collection and the first of the four that I wrote, comes directly from that impulse to explore relationships. One thing that nagged me in the novels was that I didn't take more of an opportunity to work with Margi, especially how she worked to overcome the fear and loathing she has at the start of the series for zombies. It doesn't come out on the page as much as I would have liked, but in Kiss of Life especially I wanted to juxtapose Phoebe's instant acceptance of Adam with Margi's initial rejection of Colette. "How's Life" is a story of the emotional work that friends sometimes have to do to strengthen their friendships.
There was a song echoing in my mind when I was writing the story, "What is Life" by George Harrison. Perhaps wrongly, I've always assumed that song to be about the love between friends and not romantic love, and its tone and the sentiments express match closely what I hoped to convey in my story. Catch me in the right mood and I get all choked up listening to that very beautiful song.
I almost used his title as my title, but then I thought that "How's Life" was something Margi or Colette would be more likely to say to each other. I instead adopted George's no question mark technique in the title; omitting the question mark makes his song a declaration and I've always been in love with that semantic nuance.