Back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, I used to peruse a post-apocalyptic website called Quiet Earth. It was my “go to” website for finding the newest PA films. I’d then talk about it with my fellow scavengers on the old James Axler forum, but that was a long time ago and a story for another time.
Flash forward a few years… after I’d become involved in various PA forums and websites – most of which have become buried by the sands of time, one yet remains – Quiet Earth… let’s take a moment and talk to Christopher Webster, author and managing editor of Quiet Earth.
Hi Christopher, thanks for talking to me today. Let’s begin… please tell me a little about yourself. Where did you come from and how did you get to where you are now?
I was born on a dark and stormy night… if only I were that interesting. I live up in the snowy tundra of Canada, just a few hours shy of the Rocky Mountains. Because it’s cold six months of the year, there’s not a lot to do but watch a ton of movies and write endlessly. That’s likely why I started blogging about movies and then becoming something of a writer. It’s all part of a long-term survival plan.
What sparked your interest in post-apocalyptic fiction?
It’s been my favorite genre since I first watched ABC’s devastating The Day After as a child. Next to Threads, it was probably the most realistic portrayal of life after the bomb that you could have imagine and it was my first exposure to the idea of nuclear Armageddon. It was probably a bit too much for children, but it was a big educational event at the time.
People love to fetishize certain films from the 80’s but, for me, the decade was a true golden age of speculative fiction about life after the apocalypse. Films like Lynne Littman’s Testament that took it all very seriously. Even Red Dawn, in its own way, tried to present the plausible effect on normal people. That stuff was my gateway into the genre for sure and why I tend to put stories like “The Road”, as bleak as they are, on a pedestal.
Let’s talk about Quiet Earth. It’s been around for quite some time now. How did you come to be involved with that site?
Well, for those who don’t know, Quiet Earth started life as a site dedicated to news about post-apocalyptic media – mostly films, but books and TV shows as well. Like most people who stumbled upon the site, I discovered it while looking for a comprehensive list of films of the genre. I was already a film blogger, so after talking with the founder for a while, I came on as the site’s Managing Editor and have been writing there for about 10 years now.
When Quiet Earth started, PA was nowhere near as popular as it is now. This is pre-Walking Dead, it was not a mainstream thing. Zombie films in particular were very much still cult and Quiet Earth’s mission at the beginning was to “make the apocalypse genre mainstream”. I’m not saying that we’re responsible in any way for its rise over the years but, boy, it’s interesting to see how it’s come to pass. The genre is bigger than ever and continues to dominate (though I sense some competition from the cyberpunk community lately).
Anyway, the site grew quite popular and the choice was made about five years ago to diversify our focus to include other genres like horror, sci-fi and cult cinema. But we haven’t lost our roots. PA is still our bread and butter and I hope we haven’t lost any of those early fans.
I understand you’ve written your first book. Please tell me about it.
Yes! It’s called “New Horizons” and it’s a brutal YA survival tale. While it’s not PA in the strictest sense it was written specifically to capture the spirit of the genre. Since dystopian post-apoc was so saturating the YA marketplace a couple years back, I challenged myself to come up with a concept that would send my main character into a PA scenario without setting up a world that felt overly familiar. That’s when the notion of a brutal “brat camp” without adult supervision came to me, which became The Compound in the story.
As a footnote, the story started life as a screenplay which I developed a bit with Mutant Chronicles director Simon Hunter. When the film didn’t materialize, I decided to write the book.
Simon Hunter? No kidding! Mutant Chronicles happens to be one of my favorite films. Tell me, what do you think makes a good story?
Putting regular, recognizable characters into an extraordinary situation and seeing how it tests their metal. That’s what I like. And if you can create a pressure-cooker situation, all the better.
Philip K. Dick was good at this. Stephen King does this a lot; The Mist being a good example. Stories are best served when conflict comes from both an external force and a collision of world views.
Another important thing is character arch. There’s a push in fiction and film right now to introduce audiences to fully formed, morally righteous characters who seem flawless. They start awesome and end awesome. I don’t vibe with that. I prefer to see characters start out a little shaky and have their world views challenged by a journey. Otherwise I’m not sure what we’re doing.
Did you fall into any common traps during your writing? What were they?
Hard to say. I’m not sure what traps are common, but one trap I fall into regularly is being too kind to my characters. I’ve pull punches in early drafts of things, been too nice to them. Just like raising kids, it doesn’t do anyone any good being overprotective.
Tell me one thing you edited out of New Horizons.
I edited out a lot of cultural references that were laced throughout the book. Not that the book was ever a “Ready Player One”, but it was littered with references to movies, music, games and products. That came from me and felt honest, but I realized it would date the book. Some iconic ones remain, but I weeded a lot out for the sake of longevity.
A big thing that changed over development though was the ending. The original ending was really out there, inspired by David Fincher’s The Game. But while I loved it, it posed too many logic problems, so I refined it so readers wouldn’t get whiplash quite as badly when they reached the final page. Ironically, it’s the ending that attracted people to the script. Development is funny that way.
What is your favorite childhood book?
There were three books that destroyed me as a child: “Lord of the Flies”, “Lord of the Rings” and “Catcher in the Rye”. And in an odd way, I think elements of all those books are represented in “New Horizons.” Imagine Holden Caulfield on a Campbellian heroes journey and you get the idea.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block?
Oh yeah, Writer’s Block is real and painful. Some writers like to deny its existence, I don’t know why. Even if you outline, you get stuck, get caught. How well you deal with it is really the key.
I take Stephen King’s advice which is essentially to remind yourself that books are written one word at a time. You just have to give yourself permission to write poorly or slowly until you find a way back into a good rhythm. I walk and think, take long showers…
Any future plans coming up?
Oh yeah, I’m working on a few projects that I’m really excited about.
PostApoc fans will be interested in a choose-your-own-adventure mobile game coming from StoryFix Media called The Pulse. It’s an interactive, text-based adventure where you interact with a character who wakes up in a small town that seems to have suffered some kind of event. I’ll leave the plot there, but I’ll say it gets pretty wild.
The Pulse was designed to reward players for their relationship building as much as their problem solving. Trust and empathy are as important as problem solving. It comes out this summer.
I also wrote an episode of an upcoming TV anthology series called Dark/Web, which will be out soon. It’s in post-production still and being shopped to distributors, so I’m not sure exactly when or where it will land. Somewhere big and accessible I think, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Christopher, I really appreciate you talking with me today and answering some questions I’ve been curious about for some time now. Please, tell us where folks can find you.
Writing about movies every day at Quiet Earth, Screen Anarchy or Bloody Disgusting!
I’m also complaining on Twitter with everyone else and I ALWAYS follow fellow PA fans back, so hit me up.