C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

See all my books at AllThatChazz.com.

All of Us Are Wondering

The pandemic has altered our perceptions of what makes society’s gears turn. At their wit’s end, many people are exhausted of the fight against COVID-19. Not all changes are bad. I think the Great Resignation is a hopeful indicator that we’ll see more activism by labor in the future. However, the pandemic has also laid bare ignorance and institutional vulnerabilities. Watching the occupation of Ottawa, multiple failures have given birth to something ugly in the zeitgeist. I guess that ugly subtext was always there, but now that it’s out in the open, I wonder how these grotesqueries will change what we create in the next few years.

In my 20s, a friend often called me Mr. Cynical. After witnessing how a large contingent prizes convenience over the safety of others, I wasn’t cynical enough. A friend once insisted that people would come together in an emergency. Most will answer that call, sure. Others are too selfish to protect the vulnerable. I was cynical, but I did have higher hopes for us. George Carlin nailed it when he said, “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”

What does this mean for writers and readers now?


I have a new book out, and like Endemic, the world at large has influenced my writing.

Our Alien Hours is about how humans react to the arrival of interstellar conquistadors. My editor made an interesting comment. “This is an unusual move for you. It doesn’t offer sunshine and lollipops.” She has a point. I always offer a bit of hope at the end of the journey and there are usually lots of jokes in the mix of action, suspense, and adventure. Always, that is, until Our Alien Hours. Offering too rosy a vision of alien invaders didn’t ring true to the scenario I posed. Resisting attackers who have the technology to cross the galaxy sounded so optimistic it was silly. Getting grim made more sense in this case. It’s that feeling you get when you watch the Korean sensation, All of Us Are Dead: Oh, no! Not her, too!

(Hint: The first episode of All of Us Are Dead is a hurdle, but after that, the series really picks up. They take the zombie genre in unusual directions that will be familiar to lovers of This Plague of Days and AFTER Life. I gotta love that.)

You’ve seen the memes. Does future lit have to be dumber?

“Zombie books of the future must have a scene where people run toward the zombies to get bit as they proclaim it’s all a hoax.” And, “We owe horror movie writers an apology. When the killer is breaking down the front door, a certain percentage of victims will definitely run upstairs instead of out the back door.” Heck, the human inclination to wish our problems away is the whole point of the Oscar-nominated Don’t Look Up! Given all we’ve seen, it’s hard to shake the feeling that plenty of idiots are in charge, or at least our leaders are willing to cave to the mob’s whims.

We want our fiction to ring true, but when there’s no one to cheer for, I’m out. I just don’t care for that at all. As writers, we’re going to have to strike a balance even as we endeavor to provide authenticity and a context of verisimilitude.

Here’s how one franchise failed in my estimation:

I find The Walking Dead‘s tone so relentlessly grim that survival seems pointless. I abandoned watching it because it seemed like so much rinse and repeat. It left me wondering why the survivors were fighting so hard to live since doing so seemed so joyless. There is a follow-up to TWD. It’s basically, TWD, The Next Generation. I couldn’t detect any fun to be had in that enterprise, either.

Train to Busan is brilliant, and the staging makes for an awe-inspiring film. However, if you stretched it over eleven seasons like TWD, it would surely wear out its welcome, too.

What are our options as writers?

Well, we could give in to despair, steer into the skid, and admit that the inspiring utopian Star Trek future we dreamed is beyond our reach. I don’t think that’s the way to go, though. Of course, in horror, readers demand the icy finger of grim reality delivering shivers down their spines. Those readers aren’t looking for Margaret Atwood-level character development from the villain. The maniac who dips his victims in hot wax isn’t that complex or worth knowing beyond a gesture toward a bad childhood. We’re in the entertainment business and that market wants to know how the victims react. Horror villains from Jason to zombies to vampires are rarely real characters. Instead, they usually represent Mortality itself as a force of nature. The entertainment value is measured differently in that genre. We don’t need to know the complexities behind the killer clown in It. We resonate with the kids he drags into the sewers.

Note to all fiction writers about educating readers versus entertaining them! Please, whatever you write, set out to entertain first. If your primary goal at the keyboard is to educate, stick to writing textbooks. Thanks!

Now, where were we?

Next option:

Balance out the horrors of grim reality with happy escapism. Write more romances where quirky people somehow get married to their frenemy accidentally. Ooh, the storm is here, the bridge is out, and golly gee! This romantic little B&B only has one room left and look at that queen-size bed! Romance has always been the most reliable powerhouse of genres. To get us past the pandemic so we finally arrive intact in the New Roaring ’20s, writing fiction that looks the other way is a sure bet. A hundred years from now, if there are any historians left, they won’t be combing old romances for clues to how we dealt with COVID-19. And that’s a good thing. I’m all for getting your comfort wherever you can find it.

Don’t forget hopepunk. It’s not a big genre, probably because it is so difficult to execute with authenticity. Go this way and who knows? To counter the difficulties of the pandemic, it could be the genre that explodes in the next couple of years.

Or, we could reflect reality.

Remember The War of the Worlds, the Tom Cruise movie from 2005? It’s an alien invasion story, but it’s really about how war affects refugees. Both the film and the book explore our foibles, failures, and vulnerabilities. Survival is the goal, but the journey rotates around heroism, family, commitment, and communication.

In Our Alien Hours, I didn’t look away from doom. The book is about communicating the experience of facing death and danger. Heroes and fools both make interesting choices. The phrase “the human condition” has always sounded empty to me, but after writing Our Alien Hours, that’s not true anymore. The outcome may sound grim, but the trip offers noble and true moments as we face mortality together.

My next book will offer more hope for the human race, but it won’t get there dishonestly. Salvation must be earned. I hope by the time I publish my next book, we’ll be at the other end of this pandemic. We have a long way to go yet.

~ Our Alien Hours just launched. For a gritty but not gory alien invasion, you can pick it up here.

For links to all my books, head over to my author page at AllThatChazz.com.

Filed under: pandemic, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. acflory says:

    Another disappointed idealist here. Grats on your new book though. 🙂

  2. If you don’t entertain the heck out of people, they’ll never get to your message; you actually have to write better, the more message you plan to sneak into their brains.

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