Following the dictum, “Write about what you know,” the author has worked at many of the same jobs, professions and avocations as his characters – bartender, homebrewer, land surveyor, civil engineer and land developer – and he’s done a few things they have not (artist and newspaper man among them). Most importantly, he’s from Missouri, the land of Mark Twain, Edwin Hubble, Yogi Berra, Robert A. Heinlein and many other memorable Americans, so he knows the inhabitants of his books intimately. Mr. LeMay currently lives in the Denver, Colorado metropolitan area with his wife, Nyla.
Hope you enjoy learning about him on the first day of his three-day blog tour.
- GWN: You’ve chosen to write a series of post-apocalyptic novels, which is difficult, depressing and often a necessary message to help us wake up from our dream world way of thinking. Without offering spoilers, tell us about your protagonists and what they’re up against.
Jim: In 2072 a bacterial infection that doesn’t respond to antibiotics kills 80 to 90% of the earth’s population. No one knows exactly how many died. Too few people survived to maintain civilization, let alone keep track of the death rate. Many of those who remain succumb to starvation, disease or violence. The story, beginning thirteen years after the pandemic, follows a group of men who’ve found a way to make a living. Known as scroungers, they scavenge for goods among the vast ruins which they sell in the few small communities of survivors.
Despite the novel’s grim theme I hope the reader finds a bit of humor along the way. Relief from tragedy, however brief, often gets us through turbulent times.
- GWN: What do they hope to achieve during mankind’s darkest days?
Jim: A sense of loss and despair haunt the older gang members. They and the other survivors with whom they deal try to make sense of their desolate world. The orphaned youth, John Moore, the youngest gang member, born while the disease raged was affected less by it. He’s fascinated by the world before the pandemic. Its wonders, from flying machines to talking billboards, sound nearly magical. Through his eyes we learn what the lost world was like and what its survivors believe about the causes of the pandemic.
- GWN: Does “A Shadow over the Afterworld” deal with the same characters, setting, and challenges as your first novel “The Shadow of Armageddon?”
Jim: Yes. Many of the same characters and some new ones. Before I wrote the first novel I wondered what kind of dystopian world would result from a pandemic that killed nearly everyone. I wrote The Shadow of Armageddon to find out. After I finished it, though, I realized it wasn’t enough. It didn’t describe the new world in enough detail and I wondered what happened to the characters next. They had mentioned other places they had visited. I wanted to see those places. By the way, though the second novel has a lot of the same players it takes place later and neither book depends on the other. They can be read separately.
- GWN: What inspired you to write about antibiotic resistant bacteria?
Jim: A newspaper article some time in the mid-90s got my attention. It told about a teenage boy in Mozambique who got bubonic plague. Wait a minute, I thought. Didn’t antibiotics wipe out bacterial infections once and for all decades ago? Maybe this happened because of less than hygienic living conditions. Fortunately a cocktail of antibiotics saved the kid. But I began to see other articles about antibiotic resistant bacteria. By shortly after 2000, infections by antibiotic resistant bacteria were clearly on the rise even in the developed world, especially in hospitals, diseases like MRSA (methecillin-resistant Staphlycoccus aureus), enterococcus, MDR-tuberculosis and many others.
Other post-apocalyptic novels rely on Lost Man themes, zombies or invented diseases. I wanted to concentrate on this extant, increasingly virulent disease. (It’s true that Connie Willis’ great novel, The Doomsday Book, concerns an actual disease but her protagonist had to travel over 650 years into the past to confront it.)
Let me add that I don’t really expect a pandemic as disastrous as the one I write about. Our lives will most likely return to the way they were in pre-antibiotic times which was less than a hundred years ago. That will seem horrific enough for a couple of generations. Mortality rates among women giving birth will rise. Few will choose to have elective surgery because of the danger of infection. But we’ll adapt. After all, we lived without antibiotics for our first couple hundred thousand years as Homo sapiens.
- GWN: Did you use medical or scientific journals for research on this subject?
Jim: I did. Though these two novels are my first ventures into fiction, writing non-fiction taught me to ensure the accuracy of everything I put down. I started out reading articles and books targeting laymen interested in science by Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould and others. I returned to some I had read before to review the portions pertaining to bacteria. One book that gives a very detailed history of the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria is Stuart Levy’s The Antibiotic Paradox. Then I checked pertinent governmental agency websites produced by the NIH, the CDC, the FDA and others. One site that gives a lot of good information as well as an invaluable bibliography of medical journals is that of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths or RID. I must admit that when I read medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine I had them open on one half the computer screen with the dictionary open on the other.
- GWN: Do you believe that pharmaceutical companies are going to be able to create antibiotics that can defeat these sophisticated bacteria or are we going to have to find a different type of cure?
Jim: Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have slowed development of antibiotics to fight these new dangerous bacteria. They favor fighting more newsworthy diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. You see, as antibiotics become more sophisticated bacteria are quick to evolve new defenses to combat them. Companies are reluctant to spend billions of dollars in research if a virulent variety of bacteria evolves resistance in a short time. Bacteria in an environment rich in nutrients double in number every 20 minutes. A single resistant cell can become over a billion sister cells in ten hours.
Though I didn’t mention it in the novels there are other promising areas of research. One is the use of bacteriophages, viruses existing in nature that infect and destroy bacteria. Some scientists are exploring the possibility of developing bacteriophages specific to selected types of dangerous bacteria.
- GWN: How do your characters cope with this unsurmountable challenge?
Jim: Fortunately for victims of this infection, as is the case with many other diseases, those fortunate enough to survive tend to be immune to it.
- GWN: How does it affect the society of the future?
Jim: Civilization collapses because too few people remain to maintain it. Institutions, including governments, disappear. Cities become uninhabitable ruins. Plugged drainage facilities allow rain, snow and water from frozen, burst water mains to turn streets into swollen rivers. Abandoned nuclear plants spew radiation for hundreds of miles. Volatile gases blow up chemical plants or escape to poison the air. I believe a centuries-long dark age would follow such a pandemic. Far less disastrous calamities have destroyed many cultures before.
- GWN: Your first book was published by Silver Lake. How did you go about getting this book published? When will it be available and where can it be ordered?
Jim: Silver Lake published The Shadow of Armageddon in 2004 in trade paperback and ebook formats. By the time I had A Shadow over the Afterworld ready for publication a couple of years later the company was no longer in business and I couldn’t find an agent or publisher. Last January I self-published both novels as ebooks at Amazon and Smashwords. The Shadow of Armageddon, by the way, is free.
- GWN: What means of promotion have you decided on?
Jim: Several years ago I created a website that discussed two increasing dangers, that of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the infection rate in American hospitals. I haven’t updated that website for a long time. I intend to do so and keep it up to date. I will also develop a blog.
- GWN: What are you currently writing?
Jim: I’m working on a novel in the same milieu but set over 600 years later. I wanted to see if the dark age that I suspected had indeed ensued and wondered what different levels of society would evolve. Tentatively entitled Shadow Jack, it should be ready for publication in a few months.
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Interview by Denise Fleischer (Netera@aol.com)