This is a fresh look at the end of the world; how did you get there? What problems did “Leaving the Dead” present for you that other stories didn’t?
I guess the story arose out of the knowledge that we’re all dying all the time, though we like to remain scrupulously unaware of it. To know it, like Darwin, ironically is to be more alive, not less. That idea met up with zombies, a trope I’ve never liked. In my experience, the dead remain dead. It’s the single most distinctive feature of death—its permanence. I think of “Leaving the Dead” as an anti-zombie story. One thing you can count on in this tale is that no one is the living dead. Dead is dead.
You change inner views from Darwin, to Gabriella, to even Elvis. What prompted this choice?
Gabriella demanded to be heard immediately. Elvis too. I’ve never had such delightfully assertive characters before. I suppose in a world in which they’re the only life not on autopilot, their views define the world. They’re all three creatures whose thoughts go largely ignored and usually don’t have a voice. The story gives them one.
At the story’s open, Darwin says regarding the end of the world “It seemed to happen gradually. You know? Everyone dying a bit every day.” How did this notion inform the story, as it doesn’t seem to be a huge stretch to suggest that even in our world we are dying a bit, every day?
Not a huge stretch at all. The speech echoes one by the doctor in the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of my favorite SF films. Even though he knows that the takeover is the result of an invasion, he still laments how we’ve invited this somehow by living, especially loving, less and less. Darwin experiences the invasion of mindlessness gradually.
There’s a lot of optimism in this work. Was that hard to maintain, given the subject matter? Can you tell us why you chose the optimism, as opposed to, say, a cautionary tale?
Last man, last woman (and dog) is also first man, first woman, so there’s more optimism in the premise than was first apparent to me even as I set out with them. They were all so delighted to find one another, that once they resolved to leave the dead it was easy. Cautionary tales, focused as they are on the horrible future and how we fucked up in the past, distract from the most effective remedy to lifelessness: Be here now.
What can we expect from you next?
I’ve been working a lot on short stories, enjoying the form a great deal, and am working toward a short story collection. I have a story coming out in April, “Christmas in Hollywood Cemetery” in Remapping Hallowed Ground, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and art responding to the Civil War Sesquicentennial in Richmond.