With the short story anthology Endless Apocalypse all set to hit bookshelves this month, it’s time to hear more from the book’s authors for the second part of their Q&A! In our last blog, they shared details of the inspirations behind their featured story; here, they reveal treasured tales from the genre that have stayed with them, and the various methods they use to create their own work. As with other anthologies in the Gothic Fantasy series, the collection features classic tales too: this time the likes of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and William Hope Hodgson, as well as a retelling of an ancient Babylonian myth, sit alongside the contemporary authors in their stories of thrilling voyages through and beyond the end of the world.
What are your favourite stories from this genre?
N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy is a master class in apocalyptic fiction. For zombies, I love Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series. The apocalyptic future of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books, published in the 1990s, seems terrifyingly plausible today. Ursula K. LeGuin’s Always Coming Home offers hope that, post-apocalypse, humanity can create a better future for itself. But for pure righteous rage, you can’t do better than Sunny Moraine’s story ‘eyes I dare not meet in dreams’.
Who can forget the crumbled Statue of Liberty scene at the end of Planet of the Apes? For me, though, the most unforgettable (near) end-of civilization story was 1953's The War of the Worlds, which I saw when I was twelve. Oh, those Martians! Otherwise, I liked Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, where history is portrayed as a repetitive cycle rather than linear, and Asimov's Foundation series, which presents the long day after as linear.
I'm a member of the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club, a group that devours end-of-the-world and dystopian fiction. There are too many to choose from! The Road nails the reason I'd prefer to perish in the first wave of whatever it is, whereas John Wyndham's apocalypses (apocalypsii?) are rather more cosy. Not that I'd still fancy my chances, since I have zero survival skills.
I love humorous, tongue-in-cheek type zombie stories like Shaun of the Dead. Other apocalyptic works I've enjoyed include Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, and City of Savages by Lee Kelly.
Swan Song by Robert Mccammon, The Stand by Stephen King, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, ‘A Case Study of Natural Selection and How It Applies to Love’ by Eric J. Guignard, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, The Last Ship by William Brinkley, Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, and so many more.
In this type of scenario, Damnation Alley is always at the back of my mind, an archetype really. I find modern SF art to be a great stimulus too – I looked at digital studies of great vessels in angry skies, and that motif of the vast ships on their genesis mission just gelled. The apocalyptic paintings of Bruce Pennington are always an inspiration – futuristic buildings rising from searing deserts.
There are so many good horror short story anthologies at the moment, it's hard to choose! I have to go back to an old one – Stephen King’s Quitters Inc: it's so unsettling and well written. I loved both the book and film of M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts.
One of my favourite post-apocalyptic stories is Laputa: Castle in the Sky by Hiyao Miyazaki. This wonderful story really captures the feeling of a lost world and a people who have moved so far past it that the wonders have become legend. Miyazaki does a lot of work set in post-apocalyptic societies, illustrating how people survive and adapt.
Now that's a tough one; picking just one favourite post-apocalyptic story can be a doozy, so I guess I'll stick to the ones that helped with my story in this anthology, so here goes: There's The World, the Flesh and the Devil, which, along with Quiet Earth, established the cliché of ‘last man treads the empty earth’ and also ‘steals cars and runs through empty highways’ and also ‘being crushed by unfathomable loneliness’ – both deeply sad and cynical films that will just ruin your day; Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore, which may be a bit cheating since it's pre- and post-apocalyptic at the same time but it's a story about killer grass and it set up all the clichés you know and love about environmental disaster films today; the often overlooked Panic in the Year Zero! and the first two seasons of the TV series Last Man on Earth, which made empty Earth road-tripping a sexy alternative to optimistic vacation; and, finally... Mattheson's I Am Legend, because we can all try to be cute and play at it like we're original but let's face it: the man made post apocalyptic survival scenarios the big, roaring thing they are today and we owe him big time for it.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
Between a full-time job and two young kids at home, my writing process amounts to “I write when the stars align”, which is to say, when I happen upon the perfect confluence of free time and energy to spare. When I do write, I tend to produce short fiction in batches, three or four stories at a time. I workshop them until they're publishable, then focus on selling them off until they've all found homes somewhere, at which point I start the process over again. I try not to spend too much time on things I feel are bound for the trunk, since the idea is to keep my name out there and produce a large body of published work.
It starts with an image. I may see a painting, a statue, or a landscape. Sometimes it starts with a dream. Often my first step into a story comes from a visual cue. I see something, and want to write the story behind it. Or, in some cases, a title, phrase, or character pops into my head. I usually wing it, do some research or related reading or viewing, and chip away at it. Every piece is different for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m weaving a tapestry. Other times, I’m carving something, or painting something. The craft part comes in when I know stories need certain elements to work. Plot points, tension, etc. That said, my story ‘Bleed the Weak’ had a very unique start, that began with a sort of lucid dream.
Because of my dayjob schedule, my lunch hour is the only guaranteed writing time I have. That’s a blessing and a curse. As soon as I punch out for lunch, I set a one-hour timer. Ten minutes of that is for eating. Five is for checking social media, because if I don’t do it all at once, the temptation to pop in is too great. And then, it’s time to dive into the story. I turn on my RainyMood app (which is FANTASTIC if you don’t have it. Endless looping rainstorm in the background). Then I turn on Spotify or Amazon music, shuffle my writing playlist, and GO. It’s been great exercise, because I no longer have to wait for inspiration, wait for the words to come, find the story hook. I have to GO. This is the only time I have and I attack the writing until the bell rings and I have to pack it in for a day. I don’t worry about word counts, I accept that there will be editing to be done later (which is true no matter how fast or slow you write). If I’m lucky, after work in the evening some free time will present itself, and maybe an hour or two on the weekend. Wherever I stop, I type in the letters DFDF followed by any notes I have to bring me back into the writing the next day. When I hit the chair to start writing, I do a search for those letters, the screen jumps into place, I read the notes, and GO. The secret to writing, just like sports, or weight lifting, or music, or anything, is to get your reps in. Do the work every day, and don’t be satisfied that you’ve done enough. You are Sisyphus and the story is your stone. Your goal is not to get the story to the top of a hill – your goal is to push the stone. Every day. GO.
It seems to be rather hit and miss. I'll go months or years without writing much in the way of new words and then some switch will flip and I'll write a lot for some weeks or months and then the switch flips back off. I like to write first drafts quickly – the 90-minute timeframe for Liberty Hall was great for that! – though sometimes it's a challenge for me to get back into the groove of a specific story when it's time to go back and revise it. I'm sure I've got a couple dozen first drafts sitting around that I've never revisited. Maybe someday!
I do well with deadlines, so I always try to give myself one. For interactive fiction, I need my desk and papers and as many cork boards as I can fit around me, but for anything else I can work pretty much anywhere. Cafés are usually productive, as the ambient noise gives me something to concentrate against. At home, I replicate that with apps like Tide or Relaxio. Handwritten notes, drafts on Scrivener.
My writing process is bipolar: feast or famine. I have two young kids, both with special needs. They consume so much time and energy that writing only happens in the margins, and often doesn't happen at all for months at a time. Then I'll have fits of productivity where I do nothing but write, breathe, and make sure my kids get fed. I desperately want a more balanced process, but we have to make do with what we're given. I'm just happy that I find time to write at all.
I unfortunately don't have a regular writing process but there are certain things I prefer while writing: plenty of sunlight so I don't feel restless, and a table or desk! I find that music tends to influence my mood and writing quite a lot so I usually prefer my environment to be fairly quiet although there are times when I can work really well in a busier environment like a cafe. I do tend to write in spurts rather than regularly but when I find myself really engrossed in a story, I can spend all day writing. I'm a fairly slow writer, though – I find that there's a lot that my subconscious mind is processing while I'm writing so it takes time for the thoughts to make it onto the page, but the result is better!
Endless Apocalypse will be released alongside another volume of short stories: Alien Invasion. Watch out next week for the Q&A with that anthology's authors!
- You can buy Endless Apocalypse through our website here.
- Take a look at the full list of authors in the anthology here.
- Looking for Part 1 of this Author Q&A? Find it here.
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