Recently a colleague asked me what The Wastelanders is about. I gave my usual short dystopian blurb to which she replied, “Of course.” Now I have a thick hide. Years of teaching middle school will do that to you. However, her response ticked me off, though the moment passed before I could explain why.
I began The Wastelanders before the term Cli-Fi had been coined, before I’d heard of Suzanne Collins or Paolo Bacigalupi (looking forward to The Water Knife!). My colleague thought I was jumping on The Hunger Games bandwagon, of course. What I should have explained was that two very different people influenced the writing of this novel: Stephen King and George W. Bush.
Like me, Mr. Bush is a runner. In fact, one of my goals is to beat his marathon time of 3:44:52. I also respect that he overcame his drinking problem. Now I don’t agree with his politics at all, but he did understand that “action is a unifier.” The quote is Eric Hoffer’s from The True Believer. Hoffer also wrote “there can be no mass movement without some deliberate misrepresentation of facts.” In the years following 9/11 I read a lot of Mr. Hoffer, and in a way I have Mr. Bush to thank for that.
The influence of the Stephen King is probably more obvious. I had reread The Stand when I got the idea for The Wastelanders. Actually, my first title had been The Water Cartel, but my agent changed the name. At first I balked because it sounded too close to The Waste Lands, book three in King’s Dark Tower series, but I was overruled. I had also read King’s book On Writing in which he gives this gem of advice for aspiring writers: write the book you want to read. And that’s what I should have told my young friend. I thought it might be interesting to read a book about power, the nature of mass movements, the dangers of climate change, and through it all, love. Consider it my response to George W and my homage to the old master, Stephen King.