Wolfe’s story for Wastelands, “Mute”–which first appeared in the program book for the 2002 World Horror Convention, where Wolfe was guest of honor–was inspired by watching a muted television, Wolfe said. “I generally mute commercials, and often mute shows,” he said. “At times, it can be interesting to try to figure out just what is going on, and it spares me from the canned laughter of the sitcoms.”
“Mute” is about two children who return home, find an empty house–and their father dead–and are forced to grow up in a hurry, Wolfe said. “Jill is a girl who will probably begin menstruation within a year, an intelligent and resourceful child still very much in the shadow of her older brother,” he said.
It is a considerable challenge to write an honest story in which the principal characters are as young as Jill and her brother, Wolfe said. “Children are not angels, devils, or short adults,” he said. “There is a breathtaking simplicity and purity. My research consisted largely of observing children, talking to them whenever possible, and occasionally questioning teenagers about their childhoods.”
In writing “Mute,” Wolfe drew upon his own childhood a great deal, he said. “People today almost never leave small children alone in the house,” he said. “It wasn’t like that when I was child. My father was away from home almost every week from Monday morning until Friday night–he was a salesman covering an enormous territory–Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana–by car. We had no relatives in Texas. My mother often left me alone in the house for half a day or more while she shopped, went to the dentist, or whatever. On weekends, my parents would play bridge at the house of some other bridge-playing couple; I was often in bed and asleep by the time they returned.”
The Appeal of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Wolfe said that, to him, power is the chief appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction. “Most of us have very little control over our lives and our environments,” he said. “We must work to eat, and take whatever jobs we can get. Our votes do not matter because the men and women who are supposed to represent us could scarcely care less about our situations or opinions. We must live by the mores of our society–mores we cannot reshape; and we long at times for a simpler, rougher age.”