Therapy time again… I’m writing these posts just to get them out of my system as I prepare to draw a line under the AUTUMN series. Today I’m looking at book four, DISINTEGRATION. I’ll have a couple of posts about short stories next week, then a piece about AFTERMATH to coincide with the UK release of the final book later this month. To learn more about the series, visit www.lastoftheliving.net.
When I finished writing AUTUMN: PURIFICATION, I thought that was it for the series. Then I realised I still had more to say and wrote THE HUMAN CONDITION (more about that book and AUTUMN: ECHOES next week). Once again, I thought I was through with zombies. But as I finished writing HATER back in early 2006, I changed my mind again and found a reason to return to AUTUMN.
The books were taking a critical hammering. They still do, to be fair, although these days people seem to be a little more accepting of zombie stories devoid of the usual flesh-eating clichés. For every positive comment I received, I seemed to get many more decrying the lack of blood, guts, guns and action in the novels. That frustrated me beyond belief. It would have been one thing criticising me if I’d done blood, guts, guns and action badly, but to have a pop because those things weren’t there seemed a little below the belt. I’m not one to respond confrontationally to a bad review (because we all know where that can lead) but I did need a way to work through my frustrations. AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION was it. I decided to see what would happen if I dumped a group of stereotypical zombie survivors into AUTUMN. I wanted to know how they’d cope.
But there had to be more to the new book than that. It had to be more than just following a group of folks battering their way through the living dead, because that would have made it just another bland, run of the mill zombie tale and I wanted to do something different. It occurred to me it would be infinitely more interesting to pit survivor against survivor: to imagine what might happen when those who’d managed to stay alive by fighting and killing were forced to try and survive alongside those who’d taken a more cautious approach. The potential for conflict was huge. You could argue they’d all chosen the right way because they were all still alive, but who would back down first? With all their lives on the line, would anyone accede?
Once again, bear with me while I exorcise a few more AUTUMN memories. As with previous instalments, there may be spoilers here…
As I mentioned in last week’s post, by the time I’d finished writing the second AUTUMN novel, I was already plotting the third. THE CITY had opened up the story dramatically, and it was becoming clear to me that by killing off 99% of the population by the end of the first page of the first book, I’d given myself the mother of all blank canvases to work from. That said, AUTUMN: PURIFICATION was originally intended to be the end of the series, and it does bring the story of Michael, Emma and the other original survivors to a conclusion, albeit a temporary one.
THE CITY ended with all the major characters in one place (for the first time), trapped underground, and it would have been easy to write something along the lines of Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD. I knew I wanted to take AUTUMN in a very different direction, though, so I needed to get everyone out of the bunker they’d fought so hard to get into. I’d also started to take a fair amount of flack from people who weren’t at all impressed with my take on zombies. They didn’t like the idea of a zombie story without any flesh eating, divorced from many of the usual clichés of the genre. In response, I wanted to open the third book with a bang, hoping to demonstrate that even though my living dead creatures had started off relatively tame, they were now anything but!
A brief disclaimer: as I’ve said previously, it feels pretentious to be writing a retrospective of my own books. I think I’m doing this for my own benefit more than anything else, so please bear with me. It’s some weird kind of personal therapy, I think…
For me, the writing process usually begins when I come up with an ending, then work my way back to the beginning of a story. Not so with the second AUTUMN novel. This time, just to be different, I began with the middle.
I’d been wondering what had happened to Michael and Emma after escaping the farm house at the end of the first book (it wasn’t until recently that I actually went back and filled in that part of their story – see BREAKING POINT over at www.lastoftheliving.net). I had visions of them quickly coming to the conclusion it would be too dangerous to stay in one place, and so electing to base themselves in a mobile home and move whenever the immediate danger became too great. But I knew that in order to move the overall AUTUMN story forward – and it was starting to feel like a much bigger story by that point – they’d need to interact with characters we hadn’t yet met. This meeting – whenever and with whomever – would have to happen almost a month after the initial infection, and yet I wanted these new characters to feel like people we already knew. The best option, I thought – though not necessarily the most obvious – was to rewind time and start from the beginning again.
This may come across as being a little self-indulgent, but I feel a need to do it anyway.
It’s just a few weeks now until the release of the final AUTUMN novel in the UK. Incredibly, it’s more than ten years since the first book in the series saw the light of day as a free download from the earliest incarnation of this site, and unbelievably it’s also five years since the AUTUMN movie entered production.
This summer saw the release of JOE & ME, and those of you who’ve read it will know how that particular story ties into the whole saga (is it pretentious to call AUTUMN a saga?!). There are a few more short stories to share with you – more about them in the coming weeks – but, on the whole, I feel like the AUTUMN story is finally coming to an end and I’m moving onto new things. That’s unless, of course, anyone wants to commission a WALKING DEAD style AUTUMN TV series…
Spurred on by some very kind words about the books recently (thank you Wayne and Rich!), I thought it would be good to look back over the entire story, so that’s what I’m planning to do. I’m aiming to cover one part/aspect of the series each week leading up to the launch of AFTERMATH, and I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the stuff I haven’t talked about before – my influences, the locations which inspired certain books and scenes, the development of the characters, how the plot developed etc. etc. So, to kick things off, click the link below to read a few words about AUTUMN. Be warned, there may be spoilers ahead…