The Big Idea: Joe Beernink
Posted on August 25, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 20 Comments
You know what? You’re busy. Sometimes you miss things. Sometimes they’re important things. But in Nowhere Wild, author Joe Beernink posits what happens when you miss something really really really important.
When I started writing what would become Nowhere Wild, I had one central theme in mind. What if civilization as we know it ended, and you didn’t know?
How could you not know civilization had ended? Were you in a coma? Well, that’s been done. Or maybe you were on a long trip to outer space, only to come back to a world devoid of life? That’s been done, too. A lot. But, what if the character, let’s call him Jake, has been in an location here on Earth which is so isolated, that he hasn’t even heard about the end of the world as we know it? What if that place wasn’t some remote desert island, or some deep jungle of South America? What if it were a place that regular people go to vacation—to get away from it all?
As it turns out, there are places right here in North America which are so isolated, where this might just occur. I spent a lot of my childhood reading about life in these types of harsh locations. Farley Mowat’s Lost in The Barrens, and Jack London’s Call of the Wild always top my list of books to give to people who want their kids to read great adventure stories. They’re written about a different time in history, but some of those remote places still exist, relatively untouched by man. To live there today, for most people, requires modern technology like airplanes and satellite radios. When those tethers to civilization go away, and go away suddenly, what would those people living there do?
What if Jake was in the wilds of Northern Manitoba when the world fell apart, and all he knew is that his ride home had never arrived and that no one would answer his calls for help?
That was the scenario I started with when I began the first draft of Nowhere Wild so long ago: a boy, alone in the woods, who knows exactly where he is, but doesn’t know where everyone else has gone. Besides the obvious physical challenges of survival–traversing hundreds of miles of bush, swamp and open water, finding shelter, food and water—Jake would have to deal with the emotional aspects of survival. Fear. Loneliness. Self-pity. Frustration.
As the author of this story, I often had to deal with the same emotional challenges: the fear that this story, one that begged me to be told, would never come together. The loneliness of spending months—years even—writing and rewriting the story until everything fell into place. The self-pity and frustration of having put myself in the position of writing a novel where there was but one character. No one for Jake to talk to. No conflict but Jake’s struggle against nature and his own body. Conflict of that sort is constant and relentless, but it can admittedly make for some slow reading.
In the earliest drafts of Nowhere Wild, I introduced a minor character in the last few chapters of the story. When I say minor, I mean really minor. Izzy had maybe five or six lines of dialog. But as it happens, everyone who read those early drafts wanted to know more about her. Where did she come from? How did she survive so long? They wanted her story told as well. At first I ignored those pleas. The story was about Jake and his struggles. But as more people read it, I realized that her story had to be told, not just for the mechanics of the book, but because her story, though much different than Jake’s, was also about survival.
What would Izzy do if she knew that society was gone, and there was nothing left to go back to, but that was still better than where she was?
That is Izzy’s struggle. She’s seen the worst of what happens after law and order disappear and society breaks down. She’s survived the initial struggle, and she’s not alone. But she’s not safe either. What if the one thing she knew could kill her, was the one thing she needed most to remain alive?
Nowhere Wild – USA: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | kobo| Powells | iTunes
Nowhere Wild – Canada: Amazon.ca | Indigo
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
The “Read an excerpt” link goes to an overview of the story, not an actual excerpt. Too bad, would like to check out his writing.
Interesting concept, but raises several disturbing questions, I guess. What happens if a father and his daughter were the only people left alive? Would the organism let itself go (die away) in favour of propriety or does it still yearn to multiply? Even otherwise, as a single person left alive, would that person want to live at all? Or would it hope to search for another of the species in order to survive and breed? Disturbing thought.
I know I’ve said “Congratulations” several times before, but I don’t mind doing it again. This is awesome, and I’m really happy for you!
Tto anyone else reading this: I had the pleasure of reading some of those early drafts, and can vouch wholeheartedly for this book. It’s a dark book. It’s a book that will challenge you to look at things that are not always comfortable to look at. But it is also a book that addresses its subject matter with an unflinching honesty that is just as relentless as those physical challenges Jake faces on his trek.
And it’s just damn well written. Which to me, anyway, counts for a lot.
‘Ray rude-ass yankee’, don’t forget that if you’ve an Amazon account you can read a sample on your Kindle or Kindle app.
Sounds intriguing enough to give it a try. I’ve been to some of those remote places and can imagine how it would begin.
On September 11th of 2001 Dad was on a backpacking trip in the Sierras. He didn’t come down from the mountains until that Friday. The whole way home he was wondering what was up, until he finally saw the newspapers and news magazines.
Tejaswi, that’s a story for a different book. Why not try sketching something out yourself? The urge to want to know what might happen if … is often the urge that starts people writing stories.
“But, what if the character, let’s call him Jake, has been in an location here on Earth which is so isolated, that he hasn’t even heard about the end of the world as we know it? ”
so then he deletes all his social media accounts, disables the wi-fi
There are places in my house and place of employment I can’t get phone signal, Icarus. There are certainly plenty of back-country camping spots you can’t get technology to work.
Tejaswi, interesting premise but I think you’d need a few more people, even if they are closely related, before re-population becomes remotely possible. Now if you focus on the carnal and/or emotional needs that could be a story in and of itself.
Mojohand (and anyone else, as a heads-up), I downloaded the Kindle sample from Amazon (USA). It consisted only of the front cover, title page, dedication, and table of contents.
The Look Inside feature on Amazon gives a little more, but only the first several paragraphs of the first chapter. What’s shown is a good start but not quite enough for me to commit to the book.
@ Tejaswi , the difference between us and animals is that we can make a conscious choice. Many people go through life living and eventually dying without feeling the urge to pass their genetic heritage on to the next generation.
The continuation of the species is not our top priority. On the other hand companionship is. I am not talking about sex, that is a bonus not the everything. No, I am talking about sharing with others, your triumphs and tribulations, wonder and disappointment. The internet is both a blessing and curse in this as it allows us to easily reach out and form new connections and friendships with each other. But at the same time it has magnified our fear of stranger danger through the constant fear mongering of the mass media.
The necessities of life are food shelter safety and sex, but for humans it is also companionship. We can get by with the first three, but without the last one its pointless.
Sounds like The Martian in the boreal forest …
BW, I had the same experience, Obviously some sort of glitch, because on the last page of the sample (which was the table of contents), it said that I was only 38% through the sample, but I couldn’t progress any further. And that page was page 74, but if you click on “Go to Page or Location”, there’s supposed to be 195 pages in the sample. I’m going to wait a few days and try again. Hopefully the problem will be fixed soon.
As someone who spends a lot of time alone in the wilderness, this possibility has crossed my mind. Now I’m really looking forward to seeing what Joe has done with the idea :)
Hi all – A quick note just to let you know that the excerpt is now available at the link above! Our sincere apologies for the issues you were having yesterday. We hope you enjoy!
What to do when humanity is destroyed, and only a man and his daughter survive? It’s not an original story concept. See Genesis 19:30-38.
Doggone it….I’ve been refraining from Big Ideas to avoid overpopulating my to-read list.
I dunno, it starts right out with tropey-triggery-things-happening-to-female-characters-we-don’t-even-meet-soley-to-create-urgency in the first page… that kinda destroys a lot of my interest right there. Too bad, because the actual concept sounds right up my alley. The author really couldn’t think up a more original way to cut off Izzy from her support system and short-hand the destruction of society?