Five Questions with Will McIntosh

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This interview is part of the Codex Blog Tour.

Will and I both belong to Codex, but strangely enough, the two of us not only share the same publisher, but the same release date for our debut novels. Will's Soft Apocalypse is now available widely in both print and eBook formats. You can find out more on the Soft Apocalypse page of Night Shade's website.

I first grew interested in the book because of our shared connections, but I became very intrigued by the book's premise. Climate change and the coming fallout from it is a subject that interests me greatly, and in Soft Apocalypse, Will puts a unique spin on the apocalypse, namely that it doesn't happen in one fell swoop, it happens rather over a long period, in slow increments. We are dying a slow death in Will's book, and it puts an ever increasing strain on humanity. This is what intrigues me the most, the pressure cooker in which humanity finds itself.

Just take a look at the incredible review Paul Goat Allen gave Soft Apocalypse over at the B&N blog. In it, Mr. Allen closes with this eye-opening claim:

Replete with extraordinary post-apocalyptic images (dogs pulling the skeleton of a car with a cardboard Taxi sign taped on the front) and provocative subject matter (a virus causing euphoria called Doctor Happy, bioengineered bamboo forests, etc.), McIntosh’s debut is a distinctly unique apocalyptic novel – with an equally unique ending that is ripe for speculation and/or discussion.

Bottom line: If Soft Apocalypse isn’t nominated for a Hugo or Nebula Award, I will eat the entire book page by page…

If you're up for a realistic take on apocalyptic fiction, give Soft Apocalypse some serious consideration. I wanted to talk to Will a bit more about the book, so I'm glad he agreed to do this short interview with me.

Soft Apocalypse is described as portraying our world ending "with a whimper instead of a bang." This seems like a different approach to an apocalypse than we normally see, or at least the movies and books that I've been exposed to. What was it about this approach, a slow decline, drew you to this story in the first place?

I got to wondering what an apocalypse would really look like, based on the conditions in the world right now.   This is what seemed most likely to me.   We as humans seem to have a capacity to adapt to the current conditions.  If the changes are slow enough, it seems as if there’s never one moment when people stop and say, “Wait a minute, things keep getting worse.  We need to do something NOW.”

It seems to me that writing a book like this could either be cathartic or spin you into a bout of depression. Which was it for you, and why? Or is there a choice C?

I’d have to go with a choice C.  I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalyptic novels because it’s interesting to see how characters respond and cope when things get really bad, and there’s nowhere to run.  Although I think there’s some chance that we might manage to bring about this sort of slow collapse, I don’t see it as inevitable, or even likely.  It’s just possible, so while I was writing I was just having fun with the possibilities, without getting too emotionally invested in the realistic threats that underlie the collapse in the novel .  That’s not to say I don’t get depressed reading about humanity’s actual responses to the these threats.

Which writers have had the greatest impact on your writing? In what ways?

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, because I think he’s so good at writing page-turners without skimping on character and setting.  I grew up reading his stuff, and I think I developed my sense of how novels should be paced while reading and enjoying his work.  I love Nick Hornby.  I’m fascinated by depictions of people forming romantic relationships, and also of people failing miserably in their attempts to do so, and Hornby is so good at both.  On one level Soft Apocalypse is about a guy failing miserably at finding love while the world is just plain failing miserably, and Hornby definitely contributed to my interest in taking an apocalypse novel in that direction. 

And a slightly different question: what writers have directly helped you the most in your craft? In what ways?

The writers who have helped me most fall into two general categories.  First, the teachers at the two workshops I’ve attended.  At Clarion in 2003, it was James Patrick Kelly, Maureen McHugh, Nalo Hopkinson, Howard Waldrop, Richard Paul Russo, and Kelly Link.  Then at Taos Toolbox in 2008, Walter John Williams and Kelly Link again.  The teachers in those two workshops taught me a ton.  Second are other writers who have critiqued stories and novels for me.  It probably varies from one writer to the next, but I benefit tremendously from critiques.  Many writers have been kind and generous enough to give me feedback, but a few really stand out: Joy Marchand, Sara King, and Ian Creasey have each in their own way been remarkable in opening my eyes to what I needed to do to improve my writing.  And Laura Valeri, an award-winning literary writer who teaches at the same university as me, critiqued both of my novels and gave me a very different and insightful perspective on writing fiction.

Tell me a little bit about Deadland. Is this novel related to Soft Apocalypse in any way, or is it a new story in a different world? Beyond the plot, what drew you to write this story? I understand that it's in your agent's hands. Is there any new news to report on it?

Deadland is an urban fantasy about a cartoonist who becomes possessed by his late, angry grandfather.  He has plenty of company, though, because half a million others in his home town of Atlanta have also become possessed by the dead, including an aging rock star and a woman who may be sharing her body with the cartoonist’s late wife. 

I just got confirmation from my agent, Seth Fishman, that the deal is official: Deadland will be published by Night Shade next year.  It’s been a pleasure working with Night Shade on Soft Apocalypse, and I’m looking forward to continuing that relationship in 2012.

Great news about the next novel, Will! Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck with your debut!

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