Monday, August 18, 2014
When the "cure" is only the beginning: author Deirdre Gould's talks about war, guilt, and the inspiration behind her books
There are many zombie and post-apocalyptic books out there, yet very few ask the following questions: "How do people live with each other after doing horrendous things to each other?" Especially when those "horrendous things" weren't meant, as if, for example, enforced by a disease. What if the "zombies" were cured and suddenly realized they had killed and eaten other human beings?
Author Deirdre Gould addresses these and many other questions in her books After the Cure and The Cured. Deirdre is an anthropologist whose novels were inspired by "a severe addiction to Post-apocalyptic literature combined with a lifetime of a very rural existence, first in central Maine and now in northern Idaho," as she herself states in her biography. And, also quoting from her bio, she says: "Though fiction can never come close to the reality of living with atrocity, it can help us ask important questions about our world and our treatment of each other." I was so intrigued by these ideas that, after buying Deirdre's book, I knew I had to have her here on Chimeras for an interview.
EEG: Welcome Deirdre! Let's start from your background: what prompted you to study anthropology and how does this inspire your stories?
DG: I studied anthropology because writing, husband and kids weren't part of THE PLAN (you know, the one you think your whole life is going to follow perfectly). I went to college to study war. Not how to fight it and not the history of war, but why we as a species seem to have a perpetual need to fight. And not the way an animal fights. We fight over the same things that animals do: territory, mates, and resources, though we dress it up in more complicated reasons. But we take it farther than other animals. Most animal fights don't end in death (some will, but most don't). One animal capitulates and to the victor go the spoils. And the fight is done. We don't do that. Our wars cost more. We're cruel to one another, we do terrible, terrible thing to the losers in war, even today. Enslavement, torture, genocide. And I wanted to know why. I wanted to know why so I could help stop it. I'm not crazy and I'm not isolated- some colleges even have Peace and Conflict Studies majors. Most of these recommend political science classes as their core. But during my freshman year I happened to take an anthropology class on Postmodernism and Development (which is a fancy way of saying that because of terrible things like slavery and war and colonialism in the past, some countries are at seemingly permanent disadvantages to others) and it struck me that studying man as a species, how we act and why we think the way that we do both as individuals and as societies was going to get me much farther in understanding war than any obscure law on international trade ship flags ever would. That's not to discount international law and its importance, it's a vital tool in ending and preventing wars. But anthropology was like studying the face behind the mask of government, the why instead of the how.
Obviously, anthropology and warfare are heavily present in my stories and in my own reading lists. It colors everything from how my characters think and act to their societal setting and the long running themes of all my stories (even the children's book!) though a lot of the time it's more of an unconscious way of exploring those things than something I set out to do (I try not to be preachy).
EEG: Your book's premise is novel and fascinating: a cure has been found. For most books, this would be the ending. Yet you take it as the beginning point and ask the question: "What now?" When did you get the idea and how did it evolve into After the Cure?
DG: After the Cure started as a mash up of me reading too many zombie books and studying warfare as mentioned above. I was on the gazillion and first zombie novel I'd read (I love em, all sorts, can't get enough) and it struck me that of all the causes of zombieism, I hadn't read any that started with a bacteria. Viruses, chemical spills, radioactivity, weird signals, all kinds of stuff, but no bacteria. And I started to wonder why. It struck me that there is no cure for a virus. Vaccines, yes, cures, no. But a bacteria could have a cure. And I thought, what would a place that had cured zombies look like? (this was before In the Flesh by the way so I had no guide!) The story would have to have certain rules: 1. the "zombies" couldn't be undead, just normal people that got sick, 2. it had to be the sickness that caused the violence, not people's will, and 3. I wanted my zombies to be able to remember. Without that third rule, the story would become a dystopia, sure, the healthy people would never trust the ex-zombies and would treat them as second class at best. And without memory it lacked what real war sometimes also lacks: Guilt. With a massive "G" Because this world would be very much like a country that had been at war and had certain groups commit atrocities during that war. Think Germany after World War II, Rwanda, Serbia and Croatia, Cambodia, the U.S. after slavery and forcibly confining Native Americans to reservations. These people who had done terrible things, for the most part, went back to their daily lives afterward, with their victims as their neighbors. And that is both fascinating and maddening to me. So I got to arrange a little Karmic justice and complicate things even a little more. The ex-zombies in After the Cure remember, whether they want to or not, both what they have done while they were ill (which in many cases included killing and consuming loved ones) and what has been done to them (being hunted or in Henry's case in the next book, The Cured, being used as a guard dog or for other purposes by healthy people). Unlike some real atrocities, nobody in this world is innocent. The innocents are long dead. Everyone has killed or thieved or left someone else to die in order to survive. And the memory is what makes them accountable to each other. Sure, the ex-zombies are still treated as semi-second class, but they aren't hunted down and an uneasy peace exists, at least within the City. And absolutely everyone is walking around with this massive weight of guilt for what they have done, because the memory still exists. They can't deny what's happened. There are witnesses. And the fact that everyone is involved makes those witnesses undeniable and undismissable. Of course, this is fiction and no fiction can ever come close to what people have actually suffered in the world, but maybe it can help people think about how personal guilt can perhaps lead to healing, about the impact of war, and especially about blame. At least, I hope it does.
EEG: What's next in the series? How many books do you have planned?
DG: The next book in the series will be called Kríses and is the third book in what is planned to be a five book total. It will introduce a few new people but readers will also see a few familiar faces from After the Cure as well. I'm working hard at it right now!
EEG: You've also written a children's book. What was the inspiration behind The Moon Polisher's Apprentice?
DG: The Moon Polisher's Apprentice is completely due to my daughter, Laura. The Moth Queen is the first of four parts. I needed something to escape from the grim post-apocalyptic stuff I was writing too, so this is a nice change of pace :) I wanted something that would give her something to reach for as an early reader but would also be entertaining when she was older. She wanted a "real" book so I worked very hard to make it something that would appeal to others as well. It's about a little girl who has to save four versions of the moon from thieves. The next part will be The Mist Pirates and I will be working on it as a break after Kríses.
EEG: Ooh, I love those titles! What else are you working on besides the next installment in After the Cure?
DG: I just finished a story for the Robot Chronicles and a part of a collaborative story for a box set, and aside from The Moon Polisher's Apprentice episodes, that's probably all I will schedule myself for besides the Cure books this year. I do have ideas percolating away, so if I get a chance to work on things between, I will be doodling away on those, but probably nothing serious yet. Once all the kids are in school, I will hopefully be able to be more ambitious!
EEG: Oh, yes. I too have been waiting for school to start ever since the beginning of summer! ;-) Best of luck with all your writing and thank you for sharing your thoughts on wars, guilt, blame and human nature.
DG: Thanks for inviting me to do this Elena!
To connect with Deirdre Gould and learn about her forthcoming books, follow her on her blog, Twitter and Facebook.