Updated: Feb 8, 2021
The image above is two of my daughters posing as Mikayla from my novel series Pandemic Dawn. This happens to the the cover to Pandemic Dawn Book III: Day of Abomination.
Over the years, people have asked me, "where do your ideas for your novels, and the characters come from?"
The generation-x and straightforward answer would be my brain. However, I found over the years, with everything happening and the emergence of new generations, my +10 level 99 sarcasm isn't as appreciated as in the '80s.
I like talking about my ideas, and I have grown to love most of the characters from my novels. Many of them seem real to me at times, and I have to remind myself they are not.
I wrote Pandemic Dawn Book I in 2009 and published it in late 2010. It began as an experiment in imagination. I have always loved the post-apocalypse, which is a good thing considering the times we live in and the apparent coming.
I wanted to write a story about an average unassuming man trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world with no friends, few possessions, and integrity and moral standard consistently challenged. For me, this was easy to envision because it was a reflection of myself.
As I began writing, I felt there had to be more purpose than just surviving the wasteland. One of my favorite movies growing up was The Road Warrior. Mad Max, a survivor, a man who could traverse the wasteland and come out on top no matter the odds. However, the trilogy was missing something—a purpose, something more important than just wandering like a lost nomad. Sure, they had things for poor Max to help with here and there, but I felt there wasn't a real personal investment for him. In most cases, he could have just walked away and continued his nomad trek.
At this time, I began to think about my own life and how terrible it would be to have children and take care of and protect them in an apocalyptic world. I mean, younger children would be even worse, dealing with hunger, shelter, clean water. Third-world countries live like this every day in the 21st century, and it is terrible.
So many have no idea of the struggles that take place around the world at this very moment.
My wife and I have six children, mostly grown. I thought it might seem a little too much to have a character running around the fallen world with six children in tow, so I decided to break it down so it would feel more believable.
That has always been a challenge for science fiction writing, to create something incredible and unique while still holding on to some believability. I mean, when I first began writing Pandemic Dawn Book I in 2009, I had only heard rumors and imaginations of quantum computers and the ability to store and process unimaginable amounts of information. Considering I spent a few years in college for robotics, I imagined it would be the perfect artificial intelligence platform. And writing about the virtual world, The Frame, was also believable, especially now in 2021 with VR goggles.
But the trick is to push the envelope of what is easily believable into what could be plausible.
Superhero movies attempt this, sometimes with success. However, in most cases, you may need to stretch your imagination to accept that if a radioactive spider bites you, you will then be able to climb walls and shoot webs from your wrist. My question, if you get spider abilities, wouldn't the web shoot from your abdomen? Maybe the web should have come from Peter's belly button to be more realistic instead of his wrist?
I wanted to push and push until I created a world that was both destroyed and perfectly beautiful. I did this with the real world devastated by virus and anarchy, while The Frame contained what was controllable, perfect, and protected.
I recently purchased an Oculus for my youngest daughter for Christmas. I was amazed at the similarity between your "home" and what I wrote eleven or so years earlier. When I wrote about Mikayla and how she had to discover a way to control her robotic body, I had her imagine an office in her mind. This office appeared as a real office to her, with a desk, chair, computer screens, and file cabinets, even a window that revealed a grassy field resembling the one from her childhood. When I put the Oculus on for the first time and appeared in my "home," it was amazing.
An office setting that I could manipulate and move objects around to suit my needs and a balcony that you could see out into a field of grass and mountains.
It was as if my imagination from a decade earlier was realized, and I had the opportunity to experience what I wrote. I loved it.
So, how was I to write a believable scenario that would put the main character, Taylor, in a dire situation of protecting kids that weren't his, in a way he was invested, and not just a nomad passing through town?
I decided Taylor would search for his missing son, totally investing him into the mission. However, his integrity and moral views would not allow him to ignore the matter of discovering a small group of slaves that needed his help.
This group, consisting of a few younger children, a couple of teens, and a couple of adults, would undoubtedly perish if he ignored their pleas, and at the same time, if he helps them, he will be distracted from his mission to save his son.
As a father, trying to protect children in a post-apocalyptic setting was a worst-case scenario and made a great theme for my series.
So it began with the first of four (so far) novels. I have already started working on the outline for the fifth installment of Pandemic Dawn and hope to have it published this year.
As far as other characters in my novels, and why they feel like real people, is because when I imagine a character and what I need from them for the story, people I know in real life usually come to mind. The last thing I want to do as a writer is to make a carbon copy of someone I know in my books. What happens is, I imagine the character with similar personality traits, or beliefs, sometimes physical characteristics as well, but never, ever, the actual person.
Sometimes this happens, and it isn't even on purpose. I wrote my third novel in the series before realizing one of the characters reminded me of my grandfather. How did I miss that? Pete, the kind overweight tinkerer who takes Taylor in and helps him on his journey, was an image of my grandfather. Which was funny, considering I saw myself as Taylor in the series.
Looking back at some of the situations and things Pete went through, I can see it more clearly now. I am sure there are many others in the 100+ (current count from the first four novels) characters familiar to me. Perhaps this element gives them familiarity with readers, making them feel the characters are so real.
One of the biggest secrets (maybe, maybe not) is all of the locations are real places. I felt this was necessary so they, too, could feel as realistic as possible. In fact, my oldest son was born in the same hospital that Matthew and Diondre first meet Mikayla. Is that a spoiler? I'm not sure.
So, the "realism" I have tried to achieve in Pandemic Dawn is in part from scientific research, knowing many different people in my years, and sticking to locations I have visited.
I believe this realism made Pandemic Dawn different from a lot of science fiction / apocalyptic book series out there. Besides, my books focus more on the people and their relationships in a terrible situation rather than the apocalyptic event itself. But that's another blog post!
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. Happy writing!