Six Reasons to Write and Read about the Apocalypse

This week, three of the Apocalypse Weird books are on sale for 0.99 cents including Immunity by E. E. Giorgi, The Serenity Strain by Chris Pourteau and my Reversal. The sale only lasts until May 10th, so if you are missing one of these Apocalypse Weird novels for your collection, now is the time to pick it up.

For Children's Book Week, I am also participating in sponsoring a rafflecopter draw to win a Kindle Fire HD Kids through Mother Daughter Book Reviews who did such an amazing job reviewing A Pair of Docks. Giveaways also include a $200 gift card. The requirements to earn entries are pretty darn easy, so hurry on over to Mother Daughter Book Reviews and enter to win (only until May 15th).

I will also have other announcements and a cover reveal coming up in a week or two. Stay tuned.

This week’s post focuses on why people like to write and read about the apocalypse.

As those of you who have read my work know, many of my novels have post-apocalyptic or dystopian undertones and are set in part, or in whole, in the future. Writing about the apocalypse has long been a practice in literature, and the last decade has seen a flourishing of post-apocalyptic fiction in both the traditional and indie published world from The Road, to The Dog Stars, Station Eleven, The Old Man and the Wasteland, Wool and Pennsylvania.

I'm struggling a bit with the third draft of my novel Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist (which is due out in early June). I say struggling, not because I don’t think it’s turning out well, but because the final plot decisions are more challenging than in any of my other books.

Why is that? It is in part because it is the first of my novels that does not have significant apocalyptic or dystopian leanings. It has some, as my main characters are certainly considering the need to prepare for an environmental apocalypse. But it is set in the present day and everything is “fine” (or as fine as things currently are—I know we probably all have different perceptions on that front). I am confident that Confessions will turn out great, but not writing about the apocalypse is surprisingly more difficult in some ways that I will discuss below.

Why Write and Read about the Apocalypse?

In my mind, there are six reasons that people like to write and read about the apocalypse.

1) Many apocalyptic things seem to be on the verge of happening (and probably always have) and we all need hope.

If you follow the news at all, you will know that the human species seems constantly under threat from war, earthquakes, economic collapse, extinction events, climate change and a whole host of other threats. This was probably always the case. The bubonic plague and cold war probably seemed pretty potentially apocalyptic at the time. Post-apocalyptic stories help us face our fears and imagine potential futures. They also allow us to focus on the values—love, friendship, and courage—that reaffirm why we struggle to survive and keep our world intact (or intact-ish) in the first place. Most apocalyptic novels are dark, but they also contain a shred or kernel of hope, and it is that hope that is really the point of the book, because in our non-fictional world, sometimes that hope is harder to find.

2) The stakes in apocalyptic fiction are higher and clearer and more interesting.

In our regular lives, we often face a lot of…let’s face it…really low stakes decisions, and really unclear stakes decisions. Some of them are super low stakes. What should I make for dinner? Should I watch Breaking Bad or Dancing with the Stars? Should I wear my hair long or short? Who should I invite to my dinner party? Some of them may seem high stakes at the time. What car should I purchase? Should I plant a garden? Should I marry this man or not? But compared to the decisions that we may have to make in a post-apocalyptic world, they are low stakes. If I am being chased by zombies, I am not going to be worried about whether my hair is long or short or whether I bought the new Elantra or Tundra. However to exist in this modern world, we often have to focus on these low stakes decisions at least a little bit. If I am not attentive (somewhat) to my appearance, my friends will think I am strange, or have become crazy writer bag lady. I need to think about who I am inviting to my house for dinner because I don’t want to offend people, and I probably owe a lot of people dinner. These are real decisions that I have to make on a day to day basis. In the modern world, it is okay to be a bit serious and focus somewhat on high stakes decisions (should I build a bunker or not), but to fit in and not be perceived as odd, we are also expected to be somewhat frivolous, happy and superficial at least on occasion. Die-hard preppers and contemplators of apocalypse are often viewed as killjoys. Just as it is sometimes hard to strike this balance in real life, it is hard to write characters who strike this balance in books set in the modern world. Setting your novel in a post-apocalyptic world makes the stakes automatically higher and clearer (and because they are about life or death and characters pushed to the edge, often more interesting) and our day-to-day worries irrelevant.

3) Apocalyptic fiction can be cautionary and serve as a guide for change.

Apocalyptic fiction is a way of raising awareness about real and serious issues in our world in a more entertaining and potentially change-provoking manner. Many of us will not wade through a dry non-fiction account of how climate change could destroy our planet, but will watch The Day after Tomorrow or read The Year of the Flood. By making people more aware of potential future scenarios, apocalyptic fiction can perhaps create change.

4) Apocalyptic fiction can make us more grateful for what we have.

One way to emphasize all of the amazing riches of our lives is to explore their absence. Writing about the loss of things that we value, such as a gorgeous blue-bird day, a ride in a sunlit car holding a cup of coffee listening to tunes, digging into a divine meal, knowing that there is a staffed hospital across town, or connecting effortlessly with someone around the world, can remind us how much these things enhance our lives. One of my favorite cut scenes from my dystopian novel In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation, was when the characters talked about what they missed most from the world that they had left behind.

5) Plausibility becomes more important than accuracy in apocalyptic fiction.

Because apocalyptic fiction takes place in imagined future worlds, the writer must imagine how things would be—how people would interact, what threats they would face, what the landscape would now look like. In all cases, their imaginings must be plausible, but there is still a freedom to create and invent. In non-post-apocalyptic fiction, as I am discovering, there is a greater requirement on the writer to be accurate. In Confessions, which is set in the modern real world, I am writing about a mine proposal in a watershed. I need to know about current water policy, current mining policy, current local government legislation, and the structure of corporations. This requires a lot of research and I have to shape the story in accordance to what would actually happen in the real world. Apocalyptic fiction does not face quite the same restrictions, which is very freeing for the writer.

6) Apocalyptic stories are often big stories.

Since they are dealing with well…the apocalypse, and the stakes are therefore almost automatically high (see above), most apocalyptic stories are not quiet stories. They are packed full of adventure, risk, heroes, heroines and general mayhem. This is often what makes them fun to read…and fun to write.

So if you are interested, go pick up the Apocalypse Weird novels on sale this week and enjoy a wild apocalyptic ride, and don't forget to sign up for my mailing list if you are interested in giveaways, ARCs and industry insights.