Friday, October 14, 2011

The Apocalypse is Nigh, Or: Confessions of a Slacker

Confession: I chose this week's theme "Work in Progress" because I'm lazy. I thought it would be easy enough to open up one of my files, copy and paste some text, write, "This is what I'm working on" and my OGGbligation for the week would be met. I'm a slacker. I suck.

Confession: I am contemplating participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. Insane, I know. I don't even have the time to write my weekly OGG posts and I'm thinking about writing a novel in a month.

Confession: I went into my files and counted no fewer than 21 unfinished stories, novels, essays and other unnamed projects (including lyrics to a song). Some of them were thousands of words and hundreds of pages long, some of them were little more than rough outlines and character sketches. Some of them were untitled, some had titles that were better (and more intriguing) than the words that followed. A lot of those unfinished projects are crap, some of them are worth a second look-- and maybe completion.

Confession: At first glance, I couldn't find anything I wanted to share. Then I happened upon an untitled project I started in Winter 2010, shortly after Patrick was born. I've always had a thing for apocalyptic fiction-- I grew up in the 70s and 80s, after all-- and being homebound with a newborn felt a little apocalyptic to me (or reminiscent of The Shining-- in either case, not a good thing). I blogged about my apocalyptic obsession in a post titled Only the Strong Survive. Because, you know, being alone with a newborn and dealing with postpartum depression and a husband who was deployed felt like an exercise in survival. And I did survive. Sort of. I probably lost a little bit of my mind in those months, but hey, there are worse things, right? At least I kept my sense of humor:

A couple of people joked that I was preparing for having a baby as if it was the apocalypse. I’m not embarrassed to admit that’s partially true. I stock-piled frozen meals and paper products like I was planning a six-month sit-in. I don’t regret it. Trust me, there are certain things you don’t want to be without when life gets hard. Comfort food and toilet paper are two of them. If you have cats, you can add cat litter to that list. You do not want to be stuck in a house with cats when you run out of cat litter. Trust me. (Of course, if I was really preparing for the apocalypse, I’d stockpile guns, knives, homemade weapons, gasoline, kerosene, batteries, duct tape and bottled water. The fact that I have not shows I’ve gotten rusty matured.)

So, I went into this motherhood experience as prepared as I could be. It’s not quite the apocalypse, but it certainly is one of those major life changes that makes you see things differently. Suddenly, there is someone else relying on me for his survival. Someone I have to take care of and think about when the mutants are knocking on the door looking for food. Someone to slow me down when the giant scorpions are chasing me. Someone to cry and give away my hiding place to the aliens. Having a child is probably the worst possible thing you could do when it comes to surviving the apocalypse.

Unless you’re Sarah Connor and your son is going to save humanity. Then I guess it’s pretty cool.

(Note to Patrick: Yes, I have high expectations of you. Sorry, kid.)

That blog post triggered an idea for an apocalyptic novel and I typed out a few scenes during baby naps last winter. Then spring came (and baby started sleeping through the night and the cloud of depression lifted and Jay came home, etc...) and I forgot about it. But here I am, scrambling to find something the fulfills my own theme, and that apocalyptic idea is tick-tick-ticking again. (The fact that I just had baby #2 a few weeks ago is only a coincidence, I swear.)

In plotting my untitled apocalypse, I'd even come up with a partial soundtrack of music that either felt apocalyptic or reminded me of my plot. (I never do this. The only music I listen to while writing is the current Starbucks soundtrack.) Now, I will admit that my apocalyptic novel soundtrack might not be your apocalyptic novel soundtrack, but here's a sample: "Save Tonight" by Eagle-Eye Cherry.

I know, not exactly what you think when you think apocalypse, right? But it meshes with a very specific scene in my mind:

Go on and close the curtains
All we need is candlelight
You and me and a bottle of wine
Going to hold you tonight

We know I'm going away
How I wish...wish it weren't so
Take this wine & drink with me
Let's delay our misery

Save tonight
And fight the break of dawn
Come tomorrow
Tomorrow I'll be go

Here's another one that's maybe a little more apocalyptic-feeling. "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence.

This song is connected to my idea about the heroine's knowledge and training that might offer hope to the survivors in an apocalyptic world:

How can you see into my eyes like open doors?
Leading you down into my core where I've become so numb
Without a soul my spirit's sleeping somewhere cold
until you find it there and lead it back home

(Wake me up)
Wake me up inside
(I can't wake up)
Wake me up inside
(Save me)
call my name and save me from the dark
(Wake me up)
bid my blood to run
(I can't wake up)
before I come undone
(Save me)
save me from the nothing I've become

Obviously, this idea for an apocalypse story inspired me. And yet, there it is, buried between a bunch of other unfinished ideas, 95% of which will never see the light of day. So here is my "work in progress"-- a little piece of an apocalyptic novel that was inspired by all those great 1970s apocalyptic films and an emotionally trying winter with a newborn.

(Caveat: This is a first draft and more stream of consciousness backstory than actual novel scene.)

Something was out there.

Or someone.

She hoped it was something. An animal—even a mountain lion or bear—would be preferable to anything human. Because whatever was out there in the desolate, snow-covered woods probably wasn’t human even if it looked it. Not out here in the wilderness.

The government referred to them as Seconds—second generation victims of the War, the offspring of those who had been exposed to the nuclear fallout in a dozen major cities. Most of the first victims had died immediately or in the days following. Those who survived for weeks or months… well, they were never quite the same again. The price for their survival was insanity, deformity and, ultimately, death.

No one within a fifty mile radius survived more than a year after the War. The Seconds were the children of the pregnant women who lived long enough to give birth or those who were conceived in the early weeks post-War when it seemed as if the survivors had truly survived. But then the sores and boils not only failed to heal, they spread. And as the physical marks of war spread, so did the madness. The fact that babies were born and survived was a miracle, some said. Mara saw it for what it was, a nightmare.

The male survivors were slaughtered in the streets. The government commissioned bounty hunters to bring the female survivors and their children in for “rehabilitation” and they were sent to facilities that were little more than concentration camps. Within months, the once-great cities were vast wastelands devoid of human life.

The women and children died off over the months, but the babies born post-War survived. The government called those babies Seconds and relegated them to life in orphanages on the outskirts of the cities where their mothers had lived. The orphanages were run like prisons, with gate guards and razor wire. The population was told it was necessary to protect the children from any survivors who might still be living in the abandoned cities. The truth was, the Seconds were not free of the insanity that claimed their mothers. Keeping them in orphanages was an attempt to protect the population that lived away from the epicenters.

The government could call them Seconds, but Mara thought of them as the slang word that had spread like the insanity that had claimed the victims of the War. Mutants.

The babies were babies no longer. They were young, able-bodied adults immune to disease who escaped their orphanages and preyed on a population made weak by two decades of post-War radiation sickness that spread through the air and water and seeped into the earth. Now, to be healthy was to be suspect in a world overrun by disease.

Mara was a decade too old to be a Second and too healthy to be considered normal. She was something else entirely. She peered out into the gloom and hoped that whatever was out there wasn't human. She was tired of killing.

I'm still debating NaNoWriMo, but if I fling myself into the fray and participate, I might dust off this idea and finally write my apocalyptic novel. One of the rules of NaNoWriMo is no writing before November 1, so I'd have to scrap what I've already written and start over-- which wouldn't be a problem since I don't have much to start with. But winter is coming and the apocalypse is nigh--if only in my imagination.

One last confession: I spent far more time on this post than I ever expected to when I cleverly chose a theme that involved copying and pasting a work in progress. So much for taking the slacker way out.


  1. I sure understand Confession #3 about looking through "unfinished works." I have a folder of them (several, really,) some which have potential, some not so much.

    Anyway, both the idea, and your back story for the post-apocalyptic novel look very promising. I hope you'll continue to see it through, NaNoWriMo or not...

    I'm glad you failed at being a slacker. This was a great post.

  2. I have no clue how you consider yourself a slacker. When my kids wer born, I thought taking a shower was a major accomplishment.

  3. It's always a great fun to read these online confessions and like to spend this time online in a funny way... come on guys you have something more to share here?

  4. Thanks, Craig and Kathleen!

    Craig-- I think of those unfinished projects as writing exercises. Sometimes just getting some words down on paper feels like an accomplishment.

    Kathleen--I'll tell you a secret: some days I don't even manage to take a shower. ;-)

  5. Hey, Kristina,

    Well, I do think you're insane to be considering NaNoWriMo. However, I know that won't stop you.

    I like the little bit of the apocalypse you've shared. You've already piqued my curiosity.


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