"A government for hire at a combat site."
In response to this month's question for the Apocalypse Panel Angie Lofthouse offered what I think is probably the best response that could be given. I admit to being more than a little bit jealous that I hadn't thought of it.
"A government for hire at a combat site."
No fanfare this week. I’m going straight to this month’s question for the
What defines an apocalyptic story?
The easy answer is that an apocalyptic event at the center of the story is what defines entries to this genre, but is that really the case? More importantly for me, how far can I twist the setting of the story before it no longer falls neatly into the genre?
Most of the classic apocalyptic stories have a distinct science-fiction bent to them, giving me reason to wonder if this might provide the defining aspect. Damnation Alley involves the last of the Hell’s Angels crossing the post-war America and facing giant Gila
Monsters, mutated cockroaches, and rogue biker gangs that rule the countryside. That is what comes to my mind whenever an apocalypse is mentioned.
Then you have stories such as Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East which is set in a future where, through science, a nuclear war is averted and magic is introduced into the world. Even though that sounds like science-fiction the first book reads like fantasy. Is this an apocalyptic story? If you want to pick nits, then yes. Unlike the movie Wizards, which has a strong blend of science and magic to create its apocalyptic world, I feel that Saberhagen’s novel rests squarely in the realm of fantasy.
Reign of Fire is clearly an apocalyptic story set in the modern age, but is caused by the resurgence of dragons. Perhaps my thoughts that stories in this genre must have a sci-fi element are ill-conceived. What makes this movie work in a genre that seldom features fantasy?
During recent years, a new element in the genre has risen in popularity. Zombie apocalypse stories have brought clear horror elements to what was once a sci-fi haven. World War Z uses a science-fiction storyline, but treats it as a horror story. Don’t get me wrong, I love this. Blurring genre lines opens all sorts of wonderful options to the
With fantasy and horror both represented as part of viable apocalypse stories, perhaps the key element that defines this genre is—us. Only those tales that place us in the path of disaster seem to fit. Either in the present or in the reasonably near future, as long as our society can be recognized amid the destruction that ensues it appears to qualify as an apocalyptic story.
Now that I have that resolved, maybe I write an article on blending some
non-traditional elements into an apocalyptic story. Doesn’t that sound fun? Oh,
I can hardly wait to experiment with that concept. See you all next time.
Last week I discussed:
What is the most important element in an apocalyptic story?
Here are the responses from the rest of the panel.
Tim Malone offered an excerpt from his upcoming book, Red Sky, that involves meteors striking the Earth. I felt that the following section summed up an important element of an apocalyptic story.
“There won’t be any help,” David said when Stan came back.
“What do you mean,” Cynthia said.
“There are way too many scenes like this all over the city. Think of the movie theaters, the restaurants and pizza parlors. What about the malls, the people at the baseball game, in the hotels, the homeless on the streets, the tourists and the private
Any decent apocalypse is going to leave people in a position where they have to save themselves. And maybe that is really the heart of this genre—self-reliance. That’s scary if it were to actually happen to us, but it makes for great reading.
I recommend that you follow the link over to Tim’s blog and read the rest of the excerpt for yourself.
Wayne Roux suggests that it is the “reminder of the insignificance of man.” Wow. That’s some pretty heavy thinking right there. Are apocalyptic stories just updated fairy tales that teach the proper place of man in the universe? Man may think that everything revolves around us, but the truth is that we are just one small speck in the cosmos.
I think Wayne did a great job of answering the question on his blog. Check it out.
Angie Lofthouse summed it up in one word – Hope. And that is certainly the reason I wrote The Gathering: End’s Beginning. During the troubled times we are currently facing
and will be facing, I want people to have hope.
Check out what Angie had to say on her blog. I think you’ll enjoy it.
What do all of you think? Feel free to leave a comment that answers this month’s question. I’d love to hear a few extra thoughts on the subject.
Have I mentioned that I love apocalyptic stories? Fractured worlds of high imagination. Unique societies built on the bones of fallen civilizations. And the well applauded end of reality television. It almost makes you root for horrible disaster on a scale never before seen.
Maybe not. But it is time for the Apocalypse Panel’s next question.
What is the most important element in an apocalyptic story?
The obvious answer to this is—character. At the heart of any great story is a protagonist with passions, principles, and a problem. We experience the story through the characters. But since this applies to stories of any type I will pick something else.
Another important element in any story is—setting. It provides the peculiar flavor for the tale being told. Some days I might be in the mood for a good zombie apocalypse, full of dark city streets clogged with the animated husks of humanity. Or I might crave a journey among the mutated remnants of mankind a thousand years after the world is ravaged by atomic war. Setting is the main selling point for a novel since it will determine what differentiates this story from all the others in the genre.
I think that the key element of an apocalyptic tale is how the disastrous event has molded the society in which the story takes place. A good author will reflect on the nature of the apocalypse and infuse its very essence into the plot, into the characters, and even into the voice of the story itself. As weird as this might sound, each disaster has a unique personality of its own and affect all the other elements of the story.
Next week we will see what the other authors on the panel have to say.
It’s been five months since the release of The Gathering. Since then I’ve done a fair amount of marketing. Dozens of people have asked me to classify the story. During my last book signing a little ditty started running through my head whenever someone asked me what kind of book it was and it goes something like this.
(Sung to the tune – House of the Rising Sun, but The Animals.)
Oh, authors, tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Set your book in an off genre
And marketing won’t be fun
I have struggled to define the correct category for The Gathering. Here are the genres in which it might fit with a few comments about each. I’d love some suggestions from my readers.
General Fiction – This seems to be the category that books are placed in when no one is sure how it should be labeled. It’s a generic pool of titles without much in common other than the fact that they didn’t fit anywhere else. I’m just not convinced that The Gathering is the sort of book people are expecting when they peruse this category.
Speculative Fiction – For the most part this the how I’ve classified The Gathering. It
definitely fits into the Speculative field. One reviewer listed the book as “Reality Speculative Fiction” and that is probably the most accurate classification that I have found so far. The problem with that it is not really an accepted category and then I have to explain the genre as well as the storyline. In a way this feels like the General Fiction version of the Sci-Fi world.
Sci-Fi – I love this category. This is what I normally write and The Gathering contains
some slight element of the genre. The story is set in the future—albeit the near future—and is in fact an apocalyptic tale in the making, which falls into the category of Sci-Fi. Unfortunately, without any aliens from another dimension, space ships, or high-tech gadgetry that hasn’t been invented yet my book doesn’t read like Sci-Fi.
Action / Adventure – My normal writing style includes a lot of action and a fair amount of adventure. The main story of a typical family in a tough situation doesn’t really cry out for this classification, but the Calvin McCord storyline does. My concern for using this genre is that readers may expect a fast-paced trek through exotic locales and that is not what they will get.
Christian Fiction – Since the story involves an LDS family as they respond to the prophesied events leading up to the Second Coming this is a fair category to place The
Gathering. But does this label set an expectation of a story that has a lot of warm-fuzzies intermixed with a 300 page sermon? While there is nothing wrong with that my intention was to get my readers to think about how they would react to an apocalyptic event.
Thriller – The definition of this genre is a story that uses suspense, tension, and excitement as its main elements. Guilty as charged. At least, that was my intent when writing The Gathering. Here again, I feel that readers will have a different expectation when they see mention of this genre. Perhaps I’m doing myself a disservice by comparing it to North By Northwest, Cape Fear, and Play Misty For Me, but I don’t feel comfortable placing it in this category.
Pre-Apocalyptic – Since The Gathering doesn’t fit nicely into any of the categories that are available I decided to make a new one. Imagine that—me making something up. This brand new category deals with stories that take place in the days and years prior to an apocalypse. In this case it involves an event that hasn’t happened yet, but I think it would work just as well with great tragedies from our past. A tale of a Jewish family in
Germany just prior to WWII would be an example. Even though I created this category
specifically for The Gathering I feel that it could work as a legitimate genre. Post-Apocalyptic tales already exist so why not this?
Have an opinion on what I said? Leave a comment
Since Sunday was Mother’s Day I felt it appropriate to interview Becky Williams. Not only is she a viewpoint character in The Gathering, she is the mother of six children: Robert, Sarah, Lucas, Jesse (twin 1), Elizabeth (twin 2), and Cody.
Q1: What is the best thing about the Apocalypse?
A1: Really? Does your mother know you ask silly questions like that? If I had to pick one positive element out of this horrible situation it would be that it forces you to think about what is truly important in life. Everything else gets cast aside.
Q2: Several readers have mentioned that you are some sort of Super-Mom; strong, selfless, and highly spiritual. Are you too good to be real?
A2: Of course not. I think the novel just happen to capture me at my finer moments. What the readers didn’t get to see where the times when I broke down and cried over some minor problem because I was having a bad day. I mean, in a book about the apocalypse who wants to see me dealing with bickering kids, a dirty house, and a migraine?
Q3: You and Sarah look a lot alike. Does anyone ever get the two of you confused?
A3: * Do you mean other than you? Yes, it happens all the time. Sarah is the child that is most like me. She is very strong-willed and definitely her own person. That can be good if you are pointed in the right direction because you allow yourself to be sidetracked. But it makes it difficult to change your life around if you’re headed the wrong way.
* I swapped the names for Becky and Sarah when my beta readers mentioned that Becky worked better as a name for an adult woman.
Q4: Now the big question. Which of the kids is your favorite?
A4: I bet you’re expecting me to say “all of them” and I do, but that’s not my answer. It really depends on the individual day. When I got letters from Robert while he was on his mission then Robert was my favorite. Two weeks ago the twins stopped bickering long enough to arrange a date night for John and myself. On that day—no, for that week—they jointly held the top spot in my heart. Each of my children has their moment in the sun where they shine ever so brightly. When they do my joy in them is truly full.
If you have any questions for Becky that you’d like answered just go ahead and post them in the comments section and I will make sure she gets to them as soon as her busy schedule allows.
The post is a couple of days late this week. Did that make you wonder if
the Apocalypse had started? Probably not, but maybe next time you should.
Okay, on to this month’s question.
Other than your own stories which is the best apocalypse movie or novel out there?
Angie Lofthouse, who I had the pleasure of meeting at LDStorymakers last month, listed the best novel of an apocalyptic nature as Folk of the Fringe, by Orson Scott Card. If it wasn’t also one of my favorite stories on this genre I might wonder if it had anything to do with Card being the keynote speaker at the conference.
The truth is that Card put together a wonderful story of hope as normal people have to face catastrophic aftermath of a nuclear and biological war. I happen to have an autographed hardback of it that is the prize of my book collection. So, good job Angie.
Margot Hovley sent me this response:
This is a really hard question for me!
Instead of trying to pick an overall best, I'd like to mention three works I read as a child that really influenced me. The first has come to be known as The Tripods, a trilogy by John Christopher. The second I'll name is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engel, and the lst The Giver by Lois Lowry.
I'm not calling these out as the best ever--or that they are even examples of apocalyptic stories--just that I happened to read these particular books while a young
girl--by chance--or good luck--or ? These books made me think a lot about how I would react if caught in an apocalyptic situation--about how I hoped I'd react.
Reading these while young sparked my imagination and got me thinking about what might happen in our future. Since I lived very close to a nuclear facility, growing up during the Cold War, I spent a lot of time worrying about a possible apocalypse.
It seemed like it weighed heavy on everyone's mind. Between the drills at school and the frantic gathering of food storage in my Mormon household, I felt pretty much on
I was fascinated by the history behind the War of the Worlds radio program and thought it fascinating that it caused such an uproar as people assumed it was portraying a real occurrence. I thought it so interesting to see how people would
react in a situation like that.
Now, when I read stories that are attempting to describe post-apocalyptic settings, I find myself being overly critical, perhaps. I watched the TV series Revolution with a lot of enthusiasm at first, but finally gave up on it, as the violence really wore on me. And books like Divergent, while wildly popular with others, hit an off note for me because I couldn't picture government evolving into something like what's described there. As much practice as I've had with suspending reality (after all, I love Star Trek, etc.), I
just couldn't get past the unbelievability of that political setup. Obviously I'm a minority on that.
Wow! I didn’t even know anyone else knew about the Tripod series by John Christopher. Good choice. I loved it as a kid. I am reading it to my children now. Written for youth, it an apocalyptic tale of alien invasion set many years after Earth has been conquered by a strange race of three-armed, three-legged aliens.
A really great response from Margot. I had the chance to meet Margot for the first time at the LDStorymakers conference. On her website she blogged about teaching classes at the conference. While not the end of the world, it is an interesting read none-the-less.
Unfortunately, the rest of the panel were MIA this month. In Wayne’s case I hope that is not because an ancient virus has been let loose in South Africa. But since there hasn’t been any news about such an event in the media we’re probably safe.
Or are we?
Not really the statement you want to hear when dealing with the topic of the Apocalypse. However, this time it’s just a matter of being a week late with
the next question for the panel. Last week I was attending LDStorymakers 2014. While I was there, I had the chance for some face-to-face discussion with Margot
Hovely and Angie Lofthouse. (I hope that isn’t one of the signs of the
Enough of the chitty-chat, let’s get to this month’s question.
Other than the stories you have written which is the best apocalypse movie or novel?
How do you define best in this category? Is it the best depiction of an apocalypse setting? Is it the most thought provoking scenario involving a great
destruction? Or is it simply a matter of what story I liked best?
I guess it doesn’t matter, because I am going to look at all three.
The best depiction of an apocalypse setting, in a novel, I think goes to The Postman—the novel by David Brin not the movie with Kevin Costner. It was realistic. It dealt with the challenges of rebuilding civilization after a cataclysmic event. And it was memorable.
Honorable mentions to go: The Stand by Stephen King, The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card, and the War of the Worldradio broadcast by H. G. Wells.
The best depiction of the apocalypse in a film is, in my opinion, Silent Running starring Bruce Dern as the lone attendant to all of the Earth’s eco-systems—in space. This came out during the 70s when so many of great anti-establishment films were made.
Honorable mentions go to: Mad Max, Terminator, and Reign of Fire (for anyone who likes a little fantasy element thrown into their apocalypse stories).
The most thought provoking scenario involving a great destruction is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and
involves a twist on the vampire legend. Unfortunately, this element of the story failed to be effectively covered in any of the movies. Although, Omega Man with Charleston Heston
probably covers it best.
Honorable mentions go to: War Day by Whitley Strieber, Alas Babylon by Pat Frank, and World War Z by Max Brooks.
In film, I think have to give this to Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Yep, it’s wacky. But I think that it takes a look at a very serious subject in a way that uniquely stands out.
Honorable mentions go to: The Matrix (a close second), Planet of the Apes, and Night of the Living Dead.
The final category is what apocalyptic story I liked the best. As I’ve mentioned before, Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny is the first book of this genre that I read. It has flesh-eating cockroaches, giant mutant Gila Monsters, and ravaging biker bands. What isn’t there to love about this story.
Honorable mention goes to: Hiero’s Journey by Sterling E. Lanier, Battlefield Earthby L. Ron Hubbard, and Recall Not Earthby C. C. MacApp.
My favorite apocalypse movie is Escape From New York with Kurt Russell. It is dark and gritty. Carpenter was at the top of his form for this film. It
spawned a sequel that was disappointing and pretty much a rehash of the original.
Honorable mention goes to: The Blood of Heroes(which also qualifies as a sports movie) and Planet of the Apes (again).
Next week we hear from the rest of the panel about what they think are the best stories in the apocalyptic genre. I can hardly wait. See you then.
Last week I announced a new feature – Bonus Gatherings – and today I want
to present another one: Behind The Gathering. The idea for this feature is to
share what went on behind the scenes as I wrote the story. Since a lot of this
may necessitate trips into my mind it may be a scary segment to read.
The question I’m asked most often at author events is whether the characters in my stories are based on real people. That is followed by looks of disappointment when I tell them that they are not. My characters are fully figments of my imagination.
I suppose it doesn’t help that I continue on and explain that my characters start off as nothing more than a plot need. If I’m writing about an LDS sponsored space program intended to kick off the last great pioneer trek then I might decide I need a character that promotes the thrill and excitement of exploration. I’d make it an energetic tween, probably a girl because both of those choices open several interesting story possibilities.
Apparently, that is not what my fans want to hear. Perhaps they are hoping they can meet the real-life inspiration for the characters in my stories. And in the future I might start doing that. Maybe I should just avoid sharing my very clinical approach at character creation or at least focus on the thrill that I get as I watch how the characters develop during the writing process to become what passes for actual people.
Calvin McCord is a good example of this. He started out as a need. I needed a character with a top-down look at the situation. I needed a character who would know what was going on not only in the United States government, but the political and military institutions around the world. So I made him the Secretary of State.
Once I had a character in place to observe the destruction of the Constitution and the quick unraveling of civilization I needed to mold him into a heroic figure that my readers would root for. Not only did I make him an old soldier still wanting to serve his country, but I did my best to craft him as the last honest politician.
Then I gave him friends, interests, personality, and some history. Most of that flowed out of me a piece at a time as I need the information to complete a scene. In the end it all adds up to a reasonably life-like representation of a person.
Of course, the follow-on question about characters is normally: If I had authorization to cast all of the characters for a movie version of The Gathering, who would I pick to play Calvin McCord?
The first image that came to mind was Lee Marvin. His voice and his demeanor are all I could hope to expect from my favorite character in the story. But that was really a predictable choice.
As I thought about it more, I liked the idea of using Brian Cox. Especially as he appeared in The Bourne Supremacy.
And there is this month’s behind the scenes look at The Gathering. I encourage you to leave a comment and let me know what you thought about this segment. Do you want more? Should I stop? Does this shatter your impressions of my characters? Or do you have someone specific that you would like me to discuss next time?
I have several new features I plan to introduce over the next few weeks. The one for today is Bonus Gatherings. It may sound like a contest for my readers to run about nilly-willy collecting bonuses where ever they might find such things, but in reality these will be short bits of fiction that are not found in the book. They are a bonus to my readers to help tide them over until the second book in the series is finished.
As soon as I decided to do this, Calvin jumped right up and asked to be first. And so he is. This is a small slice of life that takes place during the six months between the two novels. Enjoy.
Small white clouds of vapor puffed away from Calvin. They seemed out of proportion to the slow, labored steps he took. This was supposed to be jogging, but it felt more like a fast-paced walk, with all the pain of full-out sprint thrown in at no extra charge.
Too many hours behind a desk had packed on pounds that he wanted to shed. His doctor kept telling him to give up the tacos and beer lunches, but Calvin rejected the advice. Some days, that was the only thing that got him through the endless hours of politics he had to wade through in his service to his country.
A twinge shot up from his knee with each step he took; a souvenir from his time in Panama. He liked to tell everyone that it was an old battle-injury, but the truth of the
matter was that he had twisted his knee running out the back entrance of an off-limits cantina. Thinking about it almost brought a smile to his face. That had certainly been a better time in his life.
Behind him, the twin echoes of his Secret Service escort slapped in rhythm with his own steps. They reminded him that he wasn’t alone. Where ever he went the black-suited agents followed him. As much as Boggs insisted that they were there for his protection, Calvin couldn’t shake the feeling that they were more spy than defender. In fact, the two agents, more than anything else, were responsible for the early morning jaunts. The constant surveillance of him drove Calvin to seek confirmation of his goals.
As if on some cosmic queue Calvin ran past the last of the buildings that blocked his view of the Washington
Monument. Another couple hundred and
he panted to a stop. Tall. Slender. Majestic. It pointed towards the heavens.
The pain in his knee and the struggle to catch his breath both dropped from his
thoughts, replaced by the sense of wonder that seeing this monument always
instilled in him.
The Founding Fathers had certainly gotten it right when they decided, “In
God We Trust.”
Here are some of my recommendations for books dealing with the end of the world.