Thank you for reading "If Jesus Were the Sheriff." I'm so grateful you did, especially if you took the time to comment.
I'm not a professional writer. As I look back on this story, I find its quality inconsistent. But it's not for lack of thought; I poured over every word. Having established that, I hope you won't find it pretentious if I discuss the story's genesis.
When I first thought of this piece, I didn't realize how hard it would be to write. I wanted to tell a story that hit every note—and every genre—I enjoy watching and reading. "If Jesus Were the Sheriff" is dark and gritty, filled with horror and mysticism. Yet it's shamelessly romantic, full of bold-faced fluff and sentimental characters. It has elements of westerns, mysteries, blockbuster action, religious mythology, and even science fiction.
I wanted to tell a story that was intellectually engaging while remaining great fun. I wanted to ground you in details, bring the world to life, so that Beth could shut down a nuclear power plant without exceeding your belief. But above all, I wanted to provide a transcendent experience affirming my belief that love is eternal. Everyone has lost someone dear to them, and I am no different. Together as writer and reader, I hope we've shared some small catharsis.
What is the story about?
"If Jesus Were the Sheriff" is a meditation on our individual—and collective—cosmic significance. In Chapter 3, Beth sings the Bob Dylan song 'When the Deal Goes Down.' She plants many seeds for the rest of the story with this passage: "We live and we die / We know not why / But I'll be with you when the deal goes down." The story draws on modern religion, ancient spirituality, western esotericism, astronomy, earth science, and prevailing human instincts to answer the simplest, most confounding question in the universe: why?
You can decide for yourselves if the question was answered.
Who is the Prophet?
Edited April 17, 2016
In my initial draft of this afterword, I laid out one interpretation of the Prophet. However, I think it's much better to leave that to the reader. Who or what do you think the Prophet is?
How did Rick survive?
If you reread Chapter 30, you may find your answer.
What we talk about when we talk about love.
This story is very dark. But it's also shamelessly romantic. Oftentimes, I find authors are so worried about being sappy that the romance is cold and unrelateable. I believe in true love. I believe in two people holding hands, whispering sweetly, and sharing tender kisses.
If Rick and Beth didn't adore each other, there would be no reason for this story. For 34 chapters, they fight to protect something beautiful. We should all be so lucky to experience such love.
The devil's in the details.
I wanted this story to be rich in details, as well as subtle references, to foster immersion and promote "re-readability." Here are a few examples.
Nature anchors the characters to beauty, vitality, and hope
- In Chapter 19, Rick brings Beth orange poppies from a field near the prison. In Chapter 30, he sits in a hotel garden, where the poppies are all dead (representing his sorrow and self-loathing, especially as it relates to his mother's eternal life). In Chapter 35, the memorial wall is surrounded by poppies and maples (this shows Rick has made peace with himself and with death).
- In Chapter 35, Maggie talks about opening a flower shop in Nebraska. This is a call back to Chapter 5, when Maggie and Glenn admire the flowers in Mableton.
Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska"
- In Chapter 20, Beth sees Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" in the record store. She observes that its tone is very dark—a stark contrast to their hopes for the actual place. "Nebraska" concepts and references permeate the story.
- In Chapter 25, Maggie wishes she could understand the Prophet's motives. Carol tells her "there's just a meanness in the world." This is a line from the song 'Nebraska.'
- Chapter 34 is titled "Listen to My Last Prayer." This is a line from the song 'State Trooper,' which has chilling parallels to Rick's fight with Prophet. Originally, I was going to have the Prophet sing it. But I decided that humming Rick's and Beth's song, 'Happy,' was crueler and creepier. "Listen to my last prayer" also alludes to Daryl's final moments.
- The song 'Reason to Believe' is a portrait of resilience in the face of misery. That fits very well with the tone of this story.
- In Chapter 8, referring to God, Rick says: "I keep my walkie on if he's got any pointers." In Chapter 34, a voice from his walkie commands him to get up.
- In Chapter 31, Daryl tells Rick: "See you on the other side." That becomes literal in Chapter 34.
- In Chapter 33, when asked if she's up for an impossible fight, Beth replies: "Yeehaw." Rick gives the same response back in Chapter 1. This signals Rick's influence in helping Beth learn to fight, a necessity discussed with Hershel in Chapter 3.
- In Chapter 35, Rick asks Beth how she knew he was alive. She replies: "Because we weren't together." This is a call back to Chapter 21, where she tells him: "Any grave gets dug for you will have to fit two."
- In Chapter 35, Rick adds "Wayne Dunlap" to the memorial wall. In Season 1, Episode 2 of The Walking Dead, Rick and Glenn cover themselves in guts to avoid detection by walkers. This requires that they butcher a corpse. However, before doing so, Rick holds an impromptu memorial. He vows never to forget the man (Wayne Dunlap, according to his license) who made their escape possible.
- In Chapter 35, Gracie reads Peter a passage from "East of Eden." John Steinbeck's seminal book about good and evil was a strong influence on this story. Peter's journey, especially, draws on the character Cal Trask.
- The universe is so vast, incomprehensibly intricate, that we can't wrap our brains around it. That's why I love planetariums. For 30 minutes, I feel ensconced by—a part of—that vastness. I leave feeling I better understand my place in the larger universe. The Fernbank Planetarium, introduced in Chapter 16, is a touchstone for Rick's desire to understand his nature, connections, and cosmology. He repeatedly says that he wished he had the chance to go (and to bring Carl with him) before the outbreak. In Chapter 34, it's the visual representation he creates to comprehend the higher dimension.
- In Chapter 1, I wanted to create the impression that this would be a straight-forward love story with a little action thrown in. My goal was to make more impactful the eventual progression to complexity and mysticism.
- I knew I would lose readers as the story got darker. And I knew people would be shaken by the large number of deaths. But I never strayed from my vision. This was always the story I wanted to tell.
- Very early on, I decided to kill a character "off screen." I've always found it strange that The Walking Dead's characters die left and right during the episodes but survive weeks/months between episodes. Hershel is killed off screen to create tension between chapters.
- Original characters are risky, but I think they're important. They make the story unique—and they fill specific roles the TV cast can't.
- I wanted the story's darkest and most hopeful moments to occur in the same chapter. Hopefully I succeeded. Chapter 34 is gruesome, yet filled with love and light.
- There's some overly detailed descriptions that should have been cut for pacing.
- I wish I'd added more dimensions to Carl's anger.
- I loved writing Beth and Jack in Chapter 34. If I had it to do over again, I'd give them more scenes together.
- I really enjoyed writing Scope's character. I should have introduced him sooner.
Thank yous—and the future
Writing is no fun without an audience. It means so much to me that I had one for this story. Thank you for your kind reviews, thoughtful feedback, and polite PMs asking for another chapter. Rick's and Beth's journey has been deeply emotional for me. It's gratifying to know that it mattered to you, too.
I have a habit of losing interest in what I'm writing, but that was never the case here. I'm very sad this story is at an end. If you have any questions that weren't answered in this afterword, please feel free to PM me. I'm also considering writing a one-shot sequel that looks into the future. Let me know if that's something that would interest you.
Thank you, again, for sharing this two-and-a-half-year journey with me. May you all find or keep a love like Rick's and Beth's.