THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Jake Kerr

This interview was conducted by Andrea Johnson.

Sam is experiencing some intense survivor’s guilt.  In apocalyptic situations, how endemic do you think survivor’s guilt would be?

Survivor’s guilt is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder, and, as such, I would anticipate it to be common. Think about it—surviving trauma—and think about an apocalyptic scenario. The connection is not an accident, and it is one of the things that I think makes apocalyptic fiction so powerful—at its best it provides us with a window into the pain of others without having to experience it directly. It teaches us empathy and, hopefully, compassion.

Sam never harms anyone,and is in no way responsible for what happened. But the guilt is eating him up inside. Don’t you think he’s being just a little hard on himself?

We’re all too hard on ourselves.

What inspired “Penance”? Was there anything particularly challenging about writing this short story?

From the moment John approached me about taking part in the Apocalypse triptych and setting my stories in the world of Julian Prince I wanted the second story to be about someone on a ship halfway between death in North America and life in Europe or Africa. The symbolism of that location spoke very strongly to me, and is just so perfect for a story set while an apocalypse is happening. Do you live or do you die? Is there a more relevant question to this entire genre? Once I knew the setting, I considered which character would be the most compelling to be placed in that setting. Who would find such a position terrifying not because he or she was facing death but because both options were horrible? I was drawn to writing that story, the one of someone haunted in life but still afraid of death. The idea of a lottery counselor came quickly, but illustrating his mental state did not. I completely rewrote the story from scratch to better illustrate the faces that haunt him, so much so that he can’t even look at any of his fellow survivors without experiencing traumatic flashbacks.  That was ultimately the most challenging part of writing the story—creating a narrative with in-scene flashbacks that illustrate mental instability without confusing the reader.

What are some of your favorite apocalyptic novels, short stories, or movies?

My absolute favorite is Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. It is such a rich and powerful illustration of the father-son bond combined with the indomitable spirit of humanity to move forward and survive in spite of the darkest circumstances. It is such a personal book and one full of love, yet the setting and circumstances are so devoid of both those things. The Road reminds me a lot of Roberto Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful. While set in a concentration camp, it has all of the facets of an apocalyptic piece. And, really, for a Jew in Nazi Germany it truly was an apocalypse. Benigni’s film also examines the triumph of humanity over unfathomable darkness, one of the core themes of the entire genre.

What is it about apocalyptic fiction that so often gives it that “can’t get enough of it” allure?

There are a lot of reasons, and they are all different for each person. Some will like the violence and excitement of destroying zombies. Some will like the resourcefulness of scientists saving the planet. Some will like humanity overcoming the impossible. All of those things illustrate the core appeal: The apocalyptic genre is as big as fiction itself. It is canvas without limit. For me, the allure is distinctly personal. The idea of examining one’s own feelings while reading about certain impending death provides at least a small glimpse into our own bravery while facing mortality. This goes for all of the other apocalyptic scenarios as well. How would we handle helplessness? How would we feel when forced to make a horrible decision affecting life and death? Is simply surviving enough or is it its own curse? The themes and the plots are endlessly compelling.