“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free reign so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
We are happy to welcome Megan Crewe, author of the highly anticipated Contemporary Speculative Fiction YA novel The Way We Fall, a book about a viral epidemic spreading in a small community. The book is out today (we will be posting our review later)and we invited the author to talk about her inspirations and influences.
Please give it up for Megan!
I’ve recently been talking on my own blog about books that inspired THE WAY WE FALL, starting with the combined effect of Stephen King’s THE STAND and Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, which convinced me via nightmares that I was more afraid of epidemics than anything else in the world, and therefore I should write a story about one. If that reasoning sounds a little strange, well, authors can be a strange bunch. The way I figure it is, if I’m strongly emotionally affected by what I’m writing about, I’m more likely to write something that’ll emotionally affect readers.
As I was developing this idea from a vague “something about a killer virus” into an actual book, though, I had to figure out *why* I, and many other people, find epidemics so scary. And I think there are some pretty good reasons…
1. Epidemics are real.
H1N1. SARS. Bird flu. Just in the last ten years, we’ve seen a number of minor epidemics start to spread in North America and other parts of the world before being contained. Horrific viruses like Ebola continue to ravage African communities, and have managed to travel across the oceans as described in nonfiction accounts like Richard Preston’s THE HOT ZONE. So unlike supernatural monsters and dark magic, a deadly illness is something the average person might actually encounter. And the reality of viruses and other microbes that can make us sick is even more frightening than most of us imagine. Researching diseases and how difficult it is for scientists to protect us from them made me even more scared than I’d been before!
2. Viruses are mysterious.
Scientists have been aware of the Ebola virus for more than 35 years, but still haven’t definitively identified its natural reservoir (that is, the animal host it lives in without killing, from which it jumps to other species with more deadly effects), which means they’re still not sure how to prevent new outbreaks from arising. Flu viruses are constantly mutating, faster than vaccines can be produced. We’re not even quite sure *what* viruses are–they’re not exactly alive, but they reproduce and genetically evolve like living things do. The unknown is always creepier than the known, because it’s harder to predict and prepare for. There are very few things people interact with as often as viruses, that we also understand so little about.
3. It’s hard to fight what you can’t see.
Most threats we might encounter, from imaginary ones like vampires and zombies to at least somewhat realistic ones like serial killers and natural disasters, have a highly visible form. We can see the danger and look for ways to defend ourselves. But viruses, bacteria, and other infectious microbes are so small, you could be covered with them right now and never know. (In fact, you probably are covered with relatively harmless ones.) You can’t stake a killer microbe or shoot it, hide from it or run away from it, because you don’t know it’s even there!
4. Diseases attack from the inside out.
By the time you do know you’re under attack by a deadly microbe, it’s already inside you. Which means to fight it, you basically have to fight yourself. (Ever notice how many side effects most medications have? That’s because they’re hurting your healthy cells as well as the invaders you want to destroy.) Even scarier: that disease can turn you against yourself. It may weaken you, skew your perceptions, and muddle your thoughts. How can you feel safe when your own body and mind are no longer under your control?
5. Sickness can turn friends into enemies.
Just as a disease can put you into conflict with your own body, it also makes you a threat to others. You are the vehicle by which that virus is trying to spread–you have become an unmeaning weapon against everyone around you. If you’re sick, then just being near family and friends could mean killing them. If someone you care about is sick, you can’t stay by their side without putting yourself at risk. In times of crisis, we want to band together with people we love and trust. An epidemic takes away even that small comfort, putting us in the position of constantly having to consider how much of a danger those loved ones are to us, and we to them.
All of those ideas came into play as I was writing THE WAY WE FALL. If they scare readers even half as much as they scare me, I’ll consider it a job well done.
Megan Crewe is a young adult author. Her debut novel, GIVE UP THE GHOST, a paranormal YA, was published by Henry Holt in September 2009. Watch for her second YA novel, the contemporary dystopian THE WAY WE FALL, coming January 24, 2012 from Disney-Hyperion. You can learn more about her books HERE