Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?
A gang of aliens shows up on earth with an edict: at an appointed time in the very near future, the planet will be vaporized. At that moment, everyone still alive will be transported across the universe to a heavenly paradise. But of course, there’s a catch. While they wait for the end of the world, humans are required to go about their usual business, and do nothing out of the ordinary—as the story says, “no end-of-the-world parties, no apocalyptic adventures, no doomsday loss of decorum.” A lottery is held, and the unlucky winners are appointed as enforcers, whose job is to seek out violators and execute them on the spot. Our narrator is one of these enforcers. As she struggles to obey the edict herself, she begins to wonder what the aliens are really up to—or if there are even any aliens at all.
What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
I’ve always enjoyed apocalyptic stories, particularly ones that occur in that awkward time just before everything completely falls apart. Since I love reading them so much, I thought it would be fun to write one, but I also wanted to come up with my own twist on this classic theme. My mind was wandering on the topic when the plot of this story and its first and last lines popped into my head, pretty much complete. That happens sometimes. I scribbled down the opening and the story’s basic outline, but didn’t complete a draft until fully a year later.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
It took me a while to get the voice right, which is part of why I didn’t finish the story for a year. When I began, the narrator wasn’t ringing true to me; she was so obviously a stock character, the kind of jaded and cynical, tough-talking “chick” that typically ends up being the woman wielding the weapons in a sci fi story. (Some might describe this stock character as “a man with tits,” though I don’t know if that’s quite fair.) Anyway, I realized I was hiding behind this stock character and her jaded voice; she wasn’t really a warrior, but just an ordinary woman in a very un-ordinary situation. Her toughness and her sarcastic quips were protecting me, and the reader, from the horror of the situation. So I put it aside for a while until I could find my way into it again with a voice that felt more authentic and raw.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
Hmm. I guess I’ve had some up-close-and-personal experience with the sick systems that can arise when toxic beliefs are allowed to take the wheel. I’ve also gone through the experience of losing my faith. I think that’s what this story is really about.
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
No real research per se, but I did have to do some writer math, which is nearly as bad.
What is the appeal—either as a writer or a reader—of stories that take place BEFORE an apocalypse?
I think it’s because we, as a society, sense that we’re teetering on the edge of something vast and catastrophic. Some people would say that the human race always feels like that. Of course, some other people would say that’s a pretty poor attempt to trivialize the severity of the challenges we face right now, whether or not we expect to continue our current way of life.
I’m very fascinated by this idea—the sense of standing at the edge of a precipice and not really knowing it. I think part of the reason it fascinates me is I believe that as a rule, humans are actually pretty blind to the larger forces sweeping toward them, and pretty apt to discount the warning signs and ignore the fault lines opening up just around their feet.
Someday I am going to write a very long novel about this.
What are some of your favorite examples of pre-apocalyptic fiction, and what makes them your favorites?
Larry Niven’s 1971 short story “Inconstant Moon” comes to mind. It’s not a perfect story, but the idea behind it is absolutely unforgettable. On one particular night, the moon glows incredibly, unusually bright; while others around him “ooh” and “ah,” the scientific-minded narrator realizes that the brightness signals an angry, destructive sun. He assumes his side of the world will be bathed in fire as soon as the sun rises and, together with his lady friend, prepares to spend his last night on earth. There’s just something so poignant about it—wanting to enjoy those precious ours, without causing undue alarm or giving in to despair and anguish. And yet I can’t help but feel sorry for those poor chumps the narrator leaves to die in blissful ignorance, with no control over how they spend their final hours.
Another short story I consider pre-apocalyptic is Michael Swanwick’s brilliant, brilliant “Radiant Doors.” This story freaked me out so much I’ve never really been the same. I’m not going to say anything about it, except that you should seek it out and read it. It’s horror of the very best kind.
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