THE END IS NOW Author Interview: Charlie Jane Anders

This interview was conducted by Rachael K. Jones.

I thought the descriptions of Rock’s films in this story were spectacular, and I found myself wishing I could track these movies down. What films, directors, actors, or stunt people provided the inspiration for Sally and Rock’s work? Do you have a personal connection to films like this?

I really wanted to do something about slapstick, especially after I’d written a lot of stuff that relied more on verbal humor and quips instead. So I spent a lot of time watching Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies, plus Jackie Chan and other more recent physical comedians. I grew up watching tons of Keystone Kops and Laurel & Hardy cartoons, so this was a great refresher course. The big surprise was discovering Harold Lloyd, whom I’d never watched before and whom I now consider one of the all-time great movie stars. I do feel a personal connection to this material, partly because I was always accident-prone and kind of hyperactive when I was a kid.

Rock seems like a much more subdued person when this story begins compared to “Break, Break, Break.” How much of this change is the result of maturity, and how much a result of the trauma he’s carrying?

It’s the trauma. The three-part story in the Apocalypse Triptych is actually carved out of a longer work, and in the longer version Rock actually has a nervous breakdown after the protest and the death of Raine. I feel like that comes across here, but it was much more emphasized in the longer version. Rock and Sally both have a year or so where they don’t really make any of those silly movies, either together or apart. But they finally realize they need each other, and Rock sort of drags Sally back into making the slapsticky movies instead of the serious art movies she’s making for school. Unfortunately, Rock can’t get rid of his trauma that easily—now that he’s seen real death and serious violence, he can’t ever treat the playful comedy version as lightly.

Many of Rock’s filming sessions walk the line between fantasy and reality, and oftentimes go from choreographed to truly life-threatening within seconds, such as when real rioters join the extras in throwing bricks at him. At one point, Sally calls slapstick “the new realism.” Can you comment on this relationship in the story? Do you think this relationship extends to the apocalypse genre in general?

The starting point for this whole story—which I think works way better as a three-part novella than it did as a novel—was to explore the relationship between slapstick comedy and violence. How easily one can look like the other, and how easily one can turn into the other. We laugh when someone falls down, and how is that different from feeling okay with watching, say, a police officer knock a protester down? But the more I worked on this story, the slipperier it got—and the more it seemed like the slapstick mayhem was actually commenting on and critiquing the real-world violence. It’s no accident that Sally and Rock’s movies become popular as society is descending into fascism and chaos. (In fact, you could argue there’s been a connection between slapstick and fascism in the past, but I’d need a lot more research to back that up.)

Throughout the story, there are several memorable times when a sense of orderliness and normalcy gets imposed on chaos, first with Rock talking down Reginald, then Janelle’s insistence on a script, and finally Rock’s choice to open the convenience store even when people were looting. Can you tell us a little about this theme?

That’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about that. I think the common element in all of those things is that Rock is trying to find some logic and consistency in a world that’s going nuts—he’s gone from being the instigator who’s always making authority figures miserable to being a voice for stability. And I think that goes back to the fact that he’s been through some trauma and gotten a lot closer to the abyss, so he no longer has the same carefree attitude.

Will Rock Manning ever get to make that love story film he keeps asking for?

Umm… I guess that’s a spoiler for the third part!