Last December on a brisk, overcast Sunday afternoon, I moseyed into my Writing Room (I was penning fresh pages on my beloved lap desk in the living room at the time while No Country for Old Men
played on the flatty) to find a Facebook IM waiting from Suzanne Robb. Suzanne and fellow editor Adrian Chamberlin were compiling a new anthology for Wicked East Press
, a brilliant themed collection that would examine the end of the world as imagined through different apocalyptic scenarios, each tale tied to a specific time zone and place. At the very Eleventh Hour, an author who had committed to the book left the editors high and dry -- did I have anything in my idea catalog or file cabinets full of first draft manuscripts set in Islamabad at midnight during the end of the world? If so, would I be interested in sending it along?
I promised I'd get right back to Suzanne just as soon as I ran an eye over my manifest of completed stories. A quick scan showed that I hadn't written anything appropriate, nor did I have an idea sitting in my card catalog of unwritten projects that would work -- the guidelines were that specific. However, they were also that fantastic and I love a literary challenge so, within an hour, the germ of an idea whispered in my ear. I didn't have a lot of time -- the book was due to be turned into the publisher in less than a week. I committed, knowing some of the bylines already associated with Read the End First
, fine scribes like Craig R. Saunders, whose contribution "Red" I'd read first the previous summer during a for-fun manuscript exchange. Other notables included John McCuaig, Patrick D'Orazio, Ms. Robb, David Dunwoody, Dave Jeffery, Emma Ennis, the delightful Darren Gallagher, and the Sniders, Henry and Hollie, great friends and talented writers alike (Hollie has become one of my favorite contemporaries, her tales layered and luscious and always such a treat). One day later, I had the scope of what I wanted to say in my story, "The Midnight Moon," about a young professional man living in Islamabad who laments lost dreams on the night that a shift in the orbit of Earth's moon leads the lone satellite too close to its primary planet, Midnight +5 GST. I wrote the story quickly, fired off my edited draft, and closed that gap in the anthology's twenty-four hour story cycle. End
was just released, and the book -- blurbed and foreworded by a stellar lineup that includes Jonathan Mayberry, Graham Masterton, Joe McKinney, Marianne Halbert, and Joe Schreiber -- not only meets the build-up in anticipation, but mightily exceeds it. A page-turner from cover to cover, I was lucky to get many of my fellow authors (and Gary McCluskey, who created End
's gorgeous cover art) to share the back stories behind their excellent contributions to the end of the world.
on "Elemental Bonds": The idea for “Elemental Bonds” came to me as an
‘anti-love’ story premise. Instead of portraying the main characters in a
loving and deeply profound relationship, I wanted to explore the idea of
revealing people who weren’t even fond of each other. Folks who were opposites
thrown together in life, but more importantly, in death, as well. I had to then deposit the characters into my desired time
zone. In looking up ship tours in the Antarctic, there were some hidden gems.
Not only were there vacation packages for voyages through the area, but also an
ecological research facility called “Palmer Station” with photo’s,
descriptions, history, weather conditions, and even a live outdoor video
broadcast with a fifteen second relapse feed!
I took some liberties, especially with a fictitious cruise line route
that would place my characters close enough to where I needed them to be and
with a hypothesized layout for Palmer Station’s internal structure but
otherwise, that’s how the story came together. The title comes from two places. It indicates the creature
type highlighted in the story and the emotional bond between my characters. It
is also a nod to a quest-line from the World of Warcraft
. It was truly a delight to write my piece for ‘Read the End
First’ and I’m very glad I was able to be a part of a collection of stories
brought together for the purpose of proposing the final moments of Earth.
on "Resisting RagnarÖk": "The Sons of Loki took
the name of the Gods in vain, used us as justification for their murderous
rage. They wish to see the world burn. And burn it will...they have invoked the
slander-bearer of the gods, the Father of Lies, for their own purpose. The world
"One of the joys of participating
in this anthology was being allowed to choose your own apocalypse. I asked
Suzanne for a timeline that crossed Iceland because it's a country that
fascinates me. I originally started posting Icelandic Proverbs as a weekly Facebook
status updates for a giggle: "Pissing in your shoes won't keep your feet
warm for long," and "cultures live and die, but the cheese is
immortal" kept me amused, but then reading more of the country sparked a
love affair with a land I've never visited, and spurred a desire to write a
story using Iceland as a setting. Coupled with my interest in Norse mythology,
Ragnarok was the obvious apocalypse. But a futuristic one? THAT was the
challenge, so the first thing to do was to check out when the next total
eclipse was due: that would be the wolf swallowing the sun. I liked the idea of
a religious terrorist sect that plotted destruction in the name of a Norse god,
and stealing a weapon that took its name from the World Serpent, so the
metaphorical becomes literal. Now I want to visit - I have until 2029 to
save before Iceland
meets the doom I foretold. Should be enough time to save for about four beers
in a Reykjavik
bar, I think..."
Darren Gallagher on "The Only Place to Die": "When I was asked to write a
story for "Read The End First" and only had a few time zones to
choose from, I agreed even though I had no idea what I was going to write
about. Then I remembered an idea that I'd gotten a few weeks before. It was about
a man sitting on a boat in the middle of the sea at night, reminiscing about a
lost love. So with the -11 slot free, it was the perfect setting for my story,
"The Only Place To Die." It was a story I wanted to put a lot of emotion,
atmosphere, and descriptive writing into. And with the backdrop of the Aurora while comets rain
down on the earth, I think I managed to do just that. I hope everyone enjoys
reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it."
Suzanne Robb on "The Barrier Between Here and There": "The idea for this story came to
me many years ago when I was in an Old World Pre-History class at University.
My professor talked about this mysterious wall that at the time was a
point of tension because of land rights. No one could prove how old it
was or how it was made with such exact measurements. There were also
bones found of what archaeologists thought might be some sort of
"rat alien" proving there were settlers there prior to the Maori. I
imagined a whole race of gruesome creatures with strange bones and wondered
what if there had been a war between good and evil and at the end a barrier was
built in order to keep them at bay. What if the barrier broke?"
Henry Snider on "Stormfront": "As
I was drawing a blank as to what to write, I asked Suzanne to give me the
hardest time zone to place in the hopes the location would provide the
story. With only a small cluster of islands to work with and a local
population rivaling that of the typical Walmart on any given day, I ended up
with "Stormfront." Early on, while writing the story, I had
trouble because of constant noise right outside my window. Then, two
sentences later, my problem became the focus of the story. Funny how
things work out that way."
R.B. Payne on "Kaupe, God of the Cannibal Dog-Men": "While in Hawaii,
I became aware of a legend about an ancient god and his army of dog-men that
fought many battles and nearly conquered all of the Hawaiian
islands. In the end, he was defeated but the legend had it that he
still lived in the clouds above O'ahu and was waiting to return. As I sat and
looked across the white sands of Waikiki
Beach, I wondered... what
if Kaupe returned today amidst the tourists, hotels, and shopping arcades? That
was the genesis of the story and I took it to an apocalyptic level where there
were few human survivors left and no communication with the 'outside' world. It
was an entertaining story to write and I hope the readers of Read the End First really enjoy it."
Rebecca Snow on "Best Intentions": "Aside from knowing that Garfield always packed Nermal in a shipping crate and sent
him to Abu Dhabi,
I knew nothing about the area before being asked to write a story for the +4
time zone. With the help of friends who had been there and lots of
research, I was able to piece together a reality the characters could
inhabit. I had a lot of different ideas for an apocalypse, but I was
limited in my knowledge of the people. I restricted the story to mostly
public spaces and something we all have... atmosphere."
Craig Saunders on "Red": “I wrote 'Red' in one sitting
(not including the barbaric edits!) with the barest of research. I hate
research, and when the topic of a time zone came up I nabbed Japan early on,
because I lived there for five years. Any excuse to avoid research! Shinigami (Death)
is a central feature of the story, as is a mysterious disease. I won't go into
too much detail, but I loved setting what was basically a show-down in a wasted
old school Samurai meets the apocalypse, I guess you could say!”
Patrick D'Orazio on "What Rough Beast?": "
When I received my copy of the
book I found myself amused at the commentary that Joe McKinney provided,
because he uses the same poem in his analysis as I did to craft the name of my
story, "What Rough Beast?" He also talks about how the old tales
of the apocalypse would have morphed into new tales, with new beasts, had they
been written today. Well my tale actually takes a step back and is far
from being 'ripped from today's headlines' it actually revisits that baffling
book of the bible, Revelation. I chose Bethlehem
, and more specifically, the Church
of the Nativity, which is built over the place where it is believed that Jesus
was born. So why wouldn't the birthplace of Christianity play a part in
the demise of the world? I thought it made sense, at least within the
twisted passageways of my mind."
Stephen A. North
on "Like a Man": "Had
nothing, no idea at all, until Suzanne told me my time zone. I thought Rio
would make an interesting location, and it would have weather similar to what
I'm familiar with (Florida).
I'd also been curious about the Hollow Earth Theory, and have an interest in
the various species of humanity. While reading up about Rio
I found out that they have a problem with exploding manhole covers. All of
those things came together in my brain, and next thing I knew, Neanderthals
on "That Guy Who Writes Zombie Novels": "That Guy Who Writes Zombie
Novels" is my love song to small presses. I primarily write comic books
and young adult novels, so 2011 was an odd year for me - I spent a good portion
of it writing and submitting creepy tales to small press horror anthologies. I thought
it fitting that my final tale of the year would be very much about indie
publishers and the mindset of a writer trying to make lasting statements
through short stories. There's a bunch of me in R. T. Spike, but he's also an
amalgamation of a bunch of wonderful authors and editors who have worked on
anthologies with me. On the horror side of things, I wanted to tell the tale of
the least fun zombie apocalypse ever. See, the recent zombie craze has had
legions of people imagining the epic kills they'd score if the dead went all
Kirkman - but what if the zombies still had all of their smarts, emotions, and
memories... but just couldn't control their urges? That, to me, is sad as hell.
I hope "That Guy Who Writes Zombie Novels" makes you all sorts of depressed,
while also tickling your funny bone. I like my apocalypse with a heavy heaping
of chuckles, and I hope R. T. Spike and I delivered.
Dave B. Jeffery
on "Ice Rage": “When I was first approached to
contribute to the anthology I found myself stumped for a storyline. Having just
finished several zombie stories for other anthologies I did not want to do
another post-apocalyptic piece using this angle. I mulled it over and, if I'm
honest, came close to turning the offer down as I didn't feel I could bring
anything fresh to the table. As such, the idea for “Ice Rage” came by complete
chance. I watched John Carpenter's The
Thing and Niles'
30 Days of Night within the same
week. I made a decision that a horror story with the savagery of 30 Days of Night and the human dynamics
of The Thing would be something I'd
be interested in writing. Given that both stories were based in frigid
climates, I began to consider this within the context of the anthology and came
up with an apocalypse based on another ice age. That damn 30 Days of Night movie kept at me to the point where I wanted to do
an homage. Vampires were out, of course, so I needed an alternative supernatural
creature; one that could survive -79 temperatures. Well, the Yeti came to mind
almost immediately and then the story just flowed! A bunch of angry Yeties and
Ice Rage was rolling. So, in short, my contribution is 30 Days of Night -- with Yeties!
on "EMP": "Sometimes I feel as though we
take too much for granted, even as I type this reply do I praise the wonder of
electricity and the power of the internet as I stab away at the keyboard? Every
time I open a newspaper I read about a raft of new inventions and ideas
designed to improve our lifestyle. Do you ever wonder if we are pushing things
too fast and too hard? What would happen if one day all technology was ripped
away, how would we then react? Could the majority of us even survive without
our creature comforts never mind the basics of heat and light? E.M.P is a story
of the ultimate experiment gone wrong, mankind is thrown back into the stone
age, and like clockwork, every few hours a powerful wave returns to remind us
of our frailty."
Brooke and Scott Fabian on "Not With a Bang": "In late 2011 the news cycle was
dominated by the story of an Ohio
man who opened the cages of his private zoo before killing himself.
Sadly, the horrific task of catching, and mostly dispatching, escaped exotic
animals was inherited by the local authorities. Images of dead lions and
tigers lined up in neat rows ricocheted from one media outlet to the
next. The whole event had a kind of "end of days" quality that both
entranced and repelled us. We decided right then that our story would take
place at the Anchorage Zoo. There was one problem -- the threat of escaped
animals is not particularly horrifying when the world is dying. Still,
those images of animal carcasses where genuinely disturbing and curiously...moving. We agreed to write a sweet story about the end of the world. Like Life is Beautiful, but in a zoo. It is our hope that Not With a Bang is a toned down apocalypse story that any reader can relate to."
Emma Ennis on "Hammered and Nail": “When the good Ms. Robb emailed me asking for my chosen
timezone for Read the End First, I think I was in the midst of a particularly
bad bout of homesickness. This, I imagine, was the main reason that prompted me
to begin my annihilation of the world in Norway - one simply cannot initiate
the apocalypse from one's beloved home country... well, all excepting Mr. Wayne
Goodchild of course. Henceforth, 'Hammered and Nail' poured its foundations in
For some time I'd had a single word scribbled on a page of
one of my many notebooks, surrounded by a lot of blinding white space -
'tetanus.' It had been on my poor jaded mind for a long time to cook up a tale
as horrible as haggis, with tetanus at its core. This was primarily due to a
grotesque picture I had come across on the web, of the state of 'opisthotonos'
induced by the disease. When Suzanne mentioned the premise of Read the End
there was no doubt in my mind as to how the world would end: Tetanus. It
was that simple. All it took was one Lars Jensen, a rusty nail, and a fear of
needles, and the end was nigh. Hey, don't look at me, blame the Norwegians!
on "The Heavens Reflect Our Labors": "I'm sure many people secretly (and not so secretly) wish
for the destruction of their hometown. With Read the End First, Suzanne Robb
finally gave me a legitimate chance to utterly destroy Scunthorpe
in 'The Heavens Reflect Our Labors'. The title comes from an old motto relating
to the vast steel works that dominate the town, and how the glow from the
various furnaces would light up the night sky. The steel industry and
subsequently the works are slowly dying, so there is less instance of this sort
of thing happening nowadays, and I wondered what it might be like if the world
itself realized this and staged a different type of 'industrial revolution'.
I'm really interested in how people typically despise their place of birth,
even if it's nowhere near as bad as they make it out to be, and
decided to put all those feelings into one man - Dave Moore, the
"hero" of the story. Is he our one hope for salvation, or destined to
be consumed by the new world he finds himself in? Who knows! Well, you will
once you've read the story. OR WILL YOU?"
Sean M. Thompson on ""The Time of the Shaman": "My story was merely an attempt
to find some kind of common theme among Siberia,
and the other regions [in that time zone]. One of the things
I discovered was that shamanism, if you went back far enough, could be found in
most of the regions. So, I went from there.
Likewise, I enjoy writing about the soul. I'm
not sure if I even believe in the concept of a soul, as an
agnostic/hedonist/believer in animism/paganism, but it sure is fun to picture
groups of silent masked people in robes with all sorts of translucent ghosts
flying around them."
on "Blood and Soil": "Blood and Soil" came
to me when I was researching for another story idea involving World War II,
Zyklon B, Nazis and the New York Museum of Natural History. I know, not your
typical story combination. And yes, I'm still working on that one too. Anyway,
the story title of "Blood and Soil" came about from this research and
is an actual German ideology focusing on an ethnicity based on two factors --
descent of people (Blood) and their homeland (Soil). The real theory
celebrates the relationship people and the land they live on, placing more
value on rural than urban living. Naturally, I had to twist this. I'd been
reading a lot on the expeditions to Mars and the colonization theories, and
found out Jupiter's moon, Titan, could be a possible place for human colonization.
So, I figured these Germans are a fanatical branch of the Nazis who want to
cleanse the Earth of anyone who doesn't celebrate the "back to
basics" way of living through an arranged mining accident, then take those
they valued off to a secret colony. People are chosen by these fanatics
for their skill set in forming a new, superior race, not on their ethnic
background. And poor Ethan has the nasty job of setting these wheels in motion.
As for why Yellowknife?
Why not? It's relatively remote, has a great source to introduce a toxin, and
already has some Superfund issues."
And the talented Gary McMahon, on his beautiful cover art: "I have to admit when Suzanne
(that's Ms. Robb to you people) said she needed a cover for a ' for the love
anthology', I thought she meant porn so I said 'yes' right away. Heh,
just kidding, let me start over. Apocalyptic fiction (pre- post- whatever) is probably
my favorite genre of fiction. I Am Legend,
The Stand, even the War of the Worlds are all favorites of
mine. The concept behind Read the End
First couldn't be any cooler for someone like me to illustrate. Suzanne
gave me a few suggestions of what she and co-editor Adrian Chamberlin were
looking for. Mostly they wanted to get the point across that these stories
would run the gamut for end of the world fiction and didn't want to show a
single specific world's ending. The idea was to do this fairly quickly before I
went in for hernia surgery. That didn't happen so much of it was finished in a
Vicodin haze. Hopefully the viewer first sees the bright colors of the Earth
breaking apart. From there my plan was that the viewer would (looking left to
right) see the moon crashing into the Earth and see the procession of midnight
clocks all swirling down to the 'end of time-end of life' black hole.
Originally it was to have Lovecraftian tentacles writhing out of it. That
looked too busy and too specific so it became an Evil Death Skull. Finally, it
needed a title that was bold but again, not too busy. The blocky white type
seemed to work and the touch of destruction in End was enough to fit the mood of the cover. Oh, and it's all
digital, all Photoshop. That's the end of the art lesson for today."