I just keep thinking that to myself.
I’ve written eight books in the last six years.
OK. That’s enough. Just breathe and stop the self congratulatory… EIGHT BOOKS!
Let’s try that again, eh?
A Cold Day to Drown started from two separate directions. The first was a set of photos I found while browsing stock photography websites for images to use on book covers. Various images of men, their back to the camera, standing in or near water as clouds and mist rolled across the scene. Those photos inspired the title A Cold Day to Drown, which led through various paths in my mind to the name Talbot Liu. From there, I began playing with ideas of who the character should be. From the other direction, I’d wanted for a long while to write a book that played with a post apocalyptic setting in a different way. Not a dystopia. Not an atomic wasteland. I wanted to play with the idea of a world where global warming and/or disease had gone rampant, beyond the worst possibilities of what could actually happen, and society had been radically altered as a result.
These ideas started to come together into a few essential details…
(and this is the part where I warn you to stop reading if you want the novel to be a complete surprise)
At some point in the future, around 50 to 100 years from whenever you are reading this, the seas have risen, inundating the coastline of the former United States. I say former, because what remains of the population has mostly gathered into a series of corporate fiefdoms. The federal government still exists as a withered husk of its former self, tasked with patrolling the intercity highways and mediating between squabbling corporations. Among those who do not work for a corp or live in the federal territory, the fortunate work for themselves or pay fealty to the gangs, making their living from providing the corporate citizens with food, materials, entertainment, and services which the vertically integrated mega corps can’t be bothered to produce themselves. Anyone else lives on the fringes. If they are somewhat lucky, they may live on the fringes of the cities or hold on to a small piece of property themselves. Else, they often wind up wandering the vast wastes of abandoned territory between the few remaining cities, scavenging raw materials, data drives, and food from the decaying remains of abandoned towns.
How did the world get to this state? How did we go from a society where virtually everybody carried a supercomputer in their pocket and nanotech was moving out of the laboratory and into the production lines, to a world with only about two billion people and few functioning national governments?
A terrible event known as Red Easter.
The seed has already been planted in the early twenty-first century, as corporations grew to rival nation states in power, governments deployed experimental surveillance technology, and civil society found itself under assault from radical social and religious groups of all stripes. The rise of on-demond manufacturing, further bolstered by augmenting 3D printers with production-grade nanotech constructors, devastated the job market for unskilled labor, provoking larger swaths of the population to align with radical special interest groups.
Approximately 20 years before A Cold Day to Drown opens, a group of radical evangelical Christians unleashed a weaponized form of necrotizing fasciitis on major population centers, as well as the coinciding celebrations of Easter and Passover in Jerusalem and Ramadan in Mecca. Their goal was to bring about the return of Christ. Instead, they slaughtered somewhere around 3/4 of the global population.
Whole cities were destroyed as the residents literally dissolved into bloody skeletons in a matter of days. Global stocks of antibiotics, already nearly useless after over a century of bacterial evolution, were depleted. Across the world, people turned against organized religion as their gods failed to save the from the plague. Governments collapsed. Dictators rose. In the Americas, corporatized cities survived in part by converting their six-lane beltways into no-man’s lands where anyone who attempted to cross was gunned down by drones.
Talbot Liu was a contractor with the Federal Army, tasked with monitoring drones and analyzing the imagery they returned. Fortunately for him, he had a mental breakdown while providing operational support for soldiers engaged in establishing a quarantine zone. When he was finally released from the hospital, Talbot discovered that the few members of his family who had not been killed by the plague were murdered defending their church from reprisal attacks. With little left to live for, Talbot wandered the enclaves of civilization, working odd jobs and continually fighting anxiety attacks until a message arrived from an old friend named Tamar. If he could make it to the city where she lived, one of the few remaining east of the Appalachian mountains, she could use his help managing a nightclub.
And so Talbot found himself in The City.
When the work of bouncing drunks and tweaks from Tamar’s club and protecting prostitutes on outings grows stale; when the weight of living grows just too heavy and all the painful anxieties begin to crowd his mind like too many background processes overwhelming a computer, that’s when Talbot leaves Tamar’s club to work as an unlicensed private fixer. Forcing alimony out of deadbeats, putting an abusive spouse in the emergency room, or helping a dumb kid extricate himself from a street gang are just the sort of activities that help Talbot forget how overwhelming his own troubles are, even if they remind him that humanity is still working hard to destroy itself even after the plague.
And then Ethie shows up, needing his help.
That’s all in the past. You won’t read much of it in the book itself, except in small snippets that inform fragments of the culture.
You may have noticed that A Cold Day to Drown is a good bit darker than any of my previous novels.
Yeah, that was intentional.
I’m trying something new. Trying my fingers at writing a twisting, brutal noir novel inspired by cyberpunk, murder mysteries, and a sort of inversion of the typical evangelical novel plot.
When I was a teen, I read 11 or 12 of the Left Behind novels, as well as countless other action thrillers and political dramas based on evangelical Christian eschatology. Eventually I gave them up as I began to realize that they had about as much biblical foundation as a good scifi novel and were on par for hackneyed writing and exploitatively over-drawn plots designed to make you keep buying the series for years. Most of these books eventually devolved into a sort of torture festival for evangelical Christians to enjoy watching people die in terrible ways, with the intent of making said Christian readers feel good about their own salvation and possibly be inspired to save their neighbors.
I enjoyed those books as a kid, but these days I’m less inclined to read The Book of Revelation as a predictive text of the end times than as a metaphorical text generated in reaction to Roman persecution of the early church, part of a vast genre of apocalyptic texts generated by oppressed people of faith the world over.
I wanted a novel set in a post-apocalypse of a different type.
I also wanted to twist the modern narrative of religious extremism, where Islamist terrorists have practically become a cliche. Not that there isn’t a problem with Islamist terrorism throughout the world, or that one can draw moral equivalence between them and snake-handling Primitive Baptists, but I felt that it would be better to subvert both the eschatological and modern Counterstrike genres by choosing a different source of the terrorist attack. The coincidence of Easter, Passover, and Ramadan every thirty-ish years provided a rough timeline for the novel’s date and, combined with my childhood fascination with eschatological thrillers, suggested a motivation for the terrorists.
A Cold Day to Drown isn’t an overtly religious novel, despite all of the above. Obviously my faith has an influence on what I write, but I am not attempting to get a product placement on The 700 Club, though it would be convenient considering that I live less than an hour form their broadcast studio. Frankly, the brutal violence, depraved characters, neutral-to-positive depiction of sex workers, and inclusion of themes which question the nature of the human spirit would likely make A Cold Day to Drown utterly unmarketable to “Christian Publishers.”
Not that I won’t try. Their money is as good as anyone else’s and it would be nice to see Tyndale House or their companions open their doors to faithful writers who are closer to the Madeline L’Engle than Tim LaHaye.
The first draft of A Cold Day to Drown is done. I’ll be putting it on a shelf for about 2-3 months now, then pulling it out to start revisions somewhere around December or January. I know it’s going to need significant revisions, but the hard work of vomiting out 300+ pages of prose is done. The book is about 70% of what I wanted it to be. A month or two of revision will get it up to 90%, which is about the best I’ve ever managed.
Now on to the next project…