THE END IS NIGH Author Interview: Jake Kerr

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

My hope is that readers see it as a story about a number of things. It’s about the practical politics and difficulty in saving an entire continent. When it is impossible to save everyone, what would a government do? The result is meant to be fair. Monstrous and horrific, of course, but fair. But is it fair? Can any situation where people need to die, especially at such a scale, have a satisfactory solution, a fair solution?

The story is also about bigotry and selfishness. Families are allowed to win the lottery, but the selfishness of others ruins it for those that want to marry on their own terms and time frame. Prefacing all this is a horrible spirit of bigotry that calls into question the entire fairness of defining what a family is. It is not an accident that when marriage equality is achieved in the story it is so late that those that take the time to marry in a traditional ceremony are left behind. So the story is overtly and unapologetically political.

Finally, it is a love story. It is about a woman who needs her partner to make things right, who sees the horror and everything that is going wrong and struggles for practical solutions when the reality is that there are none. It is only when she is truly powerless to avoid death and her partner has all the power in the world to avoid it that she realizes what a wonderful thing their love is. There is a moment when she can’t understand it. It is almost too alien to her—the escaping is important; having her partner free to live her life is all that makes sense. But she sees it in the end—it’s the love itself that matters. Being together through good times and bad, through weddings and apocalypses. In the end, when they achieve the one thing they’ve always wanted, everything is beautiful around them, even the instrument of their impending death.

What was the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

In 2013 Lightspeed published a story of mine entitled “Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince.” The story is a collection of bits and pieces about an author living through a near-apocalypse. John Joseph Adams asked me if I was interested in taking part in The Apocalypse Tryptich with the idea that I would expand on this apocalyptic world that is only seen in the glimpses of Julian Prince’s life. I had been thinking of this myself, so the timing was fortuitous.

One of the things that immediately struck me was examining the horror of a lottery choosing who lives and who dies. This is a core piece of my story in Lightspeed, but it is not addressed directly or given a very personal perspective. So the first piece of putting “Wedding Day” together was the idea of focusing on the lottery. At the same time, I really wanted to embrace social issues in my writing, something that I’ve ignored in the past. I have been very disappointed at my lack of courage in using art to not just touch the heart but also present a moral message.

Putting the two pieces together gave me the initial framework of the story: A lesbian couple that are torn apart by a lottery that is symbolic of society keeping them apart. As I thought over the narrative I added some plot twists that took a simple story about human rights and equality and made it more personal. As a result, I’m quite happy that I was able to create a story that achieved my goal of taking a moral stand while still creating a very personal story, one about two people who don’t let anything get in the way of their happiness, even an apocalypse.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was challenging in that the characters of Lynn and Emma were so strong in my mind that I had written a lengthy back story that went over their engagement and other parts of their life. So when it came time to actually weave a short story around the raw material I struggled to take all this wonderful character history and distill it into something more defined. I cut nearly fifty percent of the story during that process, including some of my favorite scenes. In the end, however, I came to the realization that Emma’s and Lynn’s story was defined in the parking lot of the Expatriation Office, not a romantic evening with one of them on one knee.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I don’t know if I can write any other way. I prefer examining things like loss, relationships, and acceptance in my writing. This story is no different, even though there is a political statement that is made, and I guess that’s what makes this story personal to me: So many people see things like marriage equality as a political or religious issue, which makes it easier for them to examine their beliefs in terms that are specifically non-personal. But the pain, the suffering, and the loss is real, and it is personal. Hopefully my story was able to provide at least a small glimpse into the personal beyond the political.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I sent the story to Doctor Michael Brotherton, astrophysicist, and told him to save me on the science. I also looted some facts on the difficulty in moving an entire continent of people from North America to other parts of the globe from the Escape Pod forums where they discussed that fact in “Biographical Fragments in the Life of Julian Prince,” and, finally, I argued with Hugh Howey over global shipping and airline infrastructure. He won.

What is the appeal—either as a writer or a reader—of stories that take place BEFORE an apocalypse?

We all face the ending of our lives, whether it is days, months, or years away. So examining that anticipation in an anthology like this cuts right to the heart of what it means to be human. Beyond that, we all face situations that we know will end in a way that we don’t want. Examining the approach of an apocalypse is also a way of examining these moments, as well. Acceptance, anger, denial—all these and more are faced by us on a daily basis. Reading about them in an anthology like this reminds us that we aren’t alone in facing them. They don’t make us helpless. They make us human.

What are some of your favorite examples of pre-apocalyptic fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Ben H. Winters, who I am delighted to see in this anthology, has produced one of my favorite books in this genre—The Last Policeman. What I love about Ben’s book is the way that people continue to make the best of their lives despite their imminent doom. It’s a simple triumph of the human spirit. Beyond that, my memory is failing me, however, and I can’t say that I’ve come across very many films or books that actually address the moment before an apocalypse. About the best I can recall is the movie Sunshine, which I think does a marvelous job of addressing a mission that has the highest possible stakes and what that does to people.