THE END IS NIGH Author Interview: David Wellington

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

It’s a story about how we as a society have stretched ourselves very thin, how our reach has exceeded our grasp. That’s a theme that gets developed quite a bit more in the upcoming stories that build on this one. It’s about how sometimes the end of the world is less frightening than what it would take to prevent it.

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

I’m a zombie fan, and I do a lot of research on the topic. One thing I’ve been hearing recently is that a zombie outbreak wouldn’t actually be the end of the world. A bunch of very smart people have run the numbers, and it looks like the zombies just couldn’t win—they can only spread their infection through biting, while our armed forces are a lot more deadly, so in a shootout we would come out okay. But I got started thinking about how to even those odds—and also what it would mean, both morally and philosophically, if we ever had to fight that battle.

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

It took a lot of research for something so short. As usual, when you research a topic for a story you end up learning ten times as much information as you could possibly fit in. That was definitely the case here. It was tough research, too. There’s nothing quite as scary as reading about real-life diseases and epidemics.

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

Well, it’s personal in that I had to wrestle with it, with the nightmare I was creating, but also because it represents a new step in the evolution of my ideas about horror and, yes, the apocalypse. I’ve started worrying a lot lately not about the end of the world, which I think is a long way off, but about the people who are convinced it’s right around the corner. I worry when I hear that teenagers are eating up apocalypse stories as fast as they can get them. What does that say about our future, when the next generation is convinced there won’t be one?

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

I spent days going over articles on just what a prion is, and what prion disease means. The concept is central to the story and I wanted to get it right. Which of course means that nobody can actually agree about the details. There are scientists out there who still don’t believe prions exist, and others who just want to debate whether they are living things or not. It’s pretty fascinating, but maddening when you just want to know what the incubation period is!

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

Surely it’s the ultimate kind of story for a writer. When you think of an idea for a story you need to know why it’s important. What’s at stake. Pre-apocalypse has that already built in. The stakes are everything! For a reader I think it’s the perfect horror moment. You know something truly awful is about to happen—well, that’s the essence of horror. We can all imagine ourselves in that situation, of knowing that something terrible is coming and the odds are against us. Like all horror, I think the purpose is to allow ourselves to feel that anxiety and then release it knowing it was all just fiction.

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

It’s a tough call, because what counts as pre-apocalyptic? I think On the Beach is probably my favorite, even if it’s cheating a little. Greg Bear’s Blood Music was great, too. He wrote a short story and then expanded it into a novel, but the story, which is all pre-apocalyptic, is the best part. Really nasty stuff.