• Featured Novel: 'A Journal of A Crazy Year' by Forrest Carr

    Forrest Carr's post-apocalyptic sci-fi, A Journal of A Crazy Year, is about a doomsday that involves a mysterious zombie-like plague and comet. I've had a wonderful time reading this novel last year. You can click here to read my full review. But this isn't just your typical zombie apocalypse novel; although the plague victims exhibit many traits you'd expect from generic zombies, they aren't "dead" here. Because they're alive, they have certain rights and this presents certain legal and moral problems for the protagonists.

    Carr spent 33 years in the TV news industry, and in the last couple of years, he started noticing that human behavior was becoming more and more strange. He and his reporter friend began keeping a clipping file of weird stories, which made him wonder how things would look if these trends were to continue and develop into a "worst case" scenario.

    Here's what Carr said about the weird events that inspired his work:

    I am a fairly serious student of what you might call “weird coincidences and strange happenings”—events the famous psychoanalyst and scientist Carl Jung labeled “synchronicity.” I wrote both my novels after receiving strong premonitions that my health was about to take a turn for the worse. In fact, I was so concerned, even though I was suffering no symptoms at the time, that I took a career break to get them written. Just after I finished A Journal of the Crazy Year, the premonitions came to pass, and I had to undergo some quite serious surgery (from which I have recovered, and I am no longer in any imminent danger). I would have been very unhappy with myself had I not listened to those premonitions; writing fiction is something I’d always wanted to do but for which, due to the demands of a very stressful profession, I had never found the time.
    And along the same lines, here’s something else interesting. As noted, some of what I predicted seems to be coming to pass already. (As Kirkus Reviews put it, the novel makes a great case that “the end isn’t nigh—it’s already here.) Three of the main plot elements are plague, hyperviolence, and the appearance of a mysterious comet that may or may not have some connection to both. The comet makes a close approach to Earth that’s unprecedented in human history. So, one day in October, I pick up my real-life morning newspaper, and what do I see: headlines about the usual violence, a plague (in this case Ebola) and a comet that is making a close approach to Mars that’s unprecedented in human history. My head swam. It was like I was reading my own novel, right there in the morning paper. Just coincidence? Probably. Let’s hope so. But when I say that A Journal of the Crazy Year has a “ripped from the headlines” feel about it, this is what I mean.
    Interview with Forrest Carr

    Why do you think the zombie apocalypse in "A Journal of the Crazy Year" could actually happen?

    In 1917, at the height of World War I, a disease appeared in Europe that put its victims into a profound sleep. It could strike at any time—the victim could be in bed, walking down the street, working at a job, chewing food—it didn’t matter. Many never awoke. A small number of those who did went violently psychotic. Hundreds of thousands had to be institutionalized. The disease, which was dubbed encephalitis lethargica, spread globally and claimed about a million victims. But then the Spanish Influenza hit, and it infected 500 million, killing 20 to 50 million of them. No cause was ever found for EL—no germ, no virus, no fungus, nothing. No method of transmission was ever discovered. Not so much as a test for the disease was ever developed. And then an amazing thing happened. Without any human intervention whatsoever, EL simply disappeared from the face of the Earth—and then in the shadow of the Spanish Flu was largely forgotten. As it turns out, EL had appeared once before, late in the 19th century. The second outbreak was much worse than the first. So, if you allow me the leeway to suggest that this disease, or one like it, could reappear again in an even more virulent form—which it certainly could—then yes, the apocalyptic plague outlined in the novel could happen.

    The fictional victims, of course, are living, not “undead” zombies in the classic sense. But the hyperviolence some EL victims displayed in the second outbreak, if taken to the extreme (remember, we are assuming a much more virulent plague) does fit the characteristics of what you’d want for your zombie tale. And how’s this for sending a chill down the spine of zombie fans: in its first outbreak, EL was known as “The Living Death.”

    If there's one message that you'd want your readers to get from your novel, what would it be?

    Believe or not, despite the fact that this is an action/adventure novel, there is a spiritual element, and it has everything to do with the meaning and purpose of life. I wrote it all in the shadow of being worried about personal health issues that have put a question mark on my future. And then what happened? I wound up writing a story about the end of the world! The message is this: you really don’t know how long you have. Why are you here? What is it that you want to accomplish? What are you waiting for? Savor every moment. Be the person you want to be remembered as every minute of every day. Not only is tomorrow not promised to you, neither is the next tick of the clock.

    Do you believe our society is heading to the kind of future your novel is portraying? Do you think your novel is "prophetic" in a way?

    You know, I had intended A Journal of the Crazy Year only as escapist fiction, but with a purpose: to show what the world could look like if current news trends continue. I never claimed when writing it that the novel would be prophetic. But now I’m not so sure. By February of this year, what I’d said in the book already had turned out to be prophetic enough that it landed me an invitation to discuss the book and its implications on the well known radio show, Coast to Coast AM, where I got to talk about the zombie apocalypse with 3 million late-night radio listeners for nearly two hours. That was a trip.

    But even I was not prepared for what happened next. One month later (last week, as I type this), news stories broke in the same week about a homicidal airline pilot deliberately crashing a jetliner for personal reasons, and also about the appearance—or perhaps the reappearance—of a sleeping sickness eerily similar to encephalitis lethargica, which has not been seen in nearly a century. Both scenarios are major plot elements in my novel. That certainly got my attention. It got a lot of other people’s attention, too—book sales surged, and some existing readers contacted me saying that those news events immediately made them think of my novel. A lot of action/adventure authors aim for a ripped-from-the-headlines feel. With A Journal of the Crazy Year, it’s shaping up to be the other way around—real life events are ripping headlines from the novel.

    Do I think our society is heading toward the future the book lays out? I have to say that yes, I do. All of this is driven by population pressure, which will only get worse until at some point down the road it will reach a tipping point, a point of unsustainability. Increasingly mindless violence will be a part of that scenario. Disease will be a part of that scenario. Whether we’ll have a single killer plague—a sequel to encephalitis lethargica or something equally devastatingor whether it’ll be a series of smaller pandemics, I can’t say. But I do not see good things ahead.

    If you really want to lose sleep, look up the works of Thomas Malthus. So far the human race has been able to put off the catastrophe he predicted. But it’s still out there somewhere in the future waiting to happen unless we get control of our population growth. My favorite author, Robert Heinlein, believed in this, and that is why he and other classic sci-fi authors like him were so anxious to see mankind expand into space, and why, with his writing, he tried to inspire us to do it.

    I don’t claim that anything paranormal is going on with my authorship of the novel. That said, throughout my life I have had a series of very strange and hard to explain coincidences that may or may not have been paranormal in nature. Last year I began blogging about those (you can find the entries on The Bashful Bloviator blog). These events were remarkable but I don’t claim any special ability; the famous scientist Carl Jung believed such occurrences were a basic part of the human experience.

    How would you explain the strange events going on in this world? Do you think your novel provides an answer to them?

    As noted above, I think population pressure explains just about everything bad that’s happening in the world today.

    As for the novel, it’s a lot like real life: It brings on the crazy, but does so without much of an explanation. The Prologue, which is non-fiction, does lay the foundation for the plague that appears in the novel. And there are some fringe scientists who are running around as part of the plot saying that a big approaching comet may have something to do with what’s going on, although they offer no real proof. Aside from that, the book gives you the same explanation you get when you see the craziness unfolding in your morning newspaper or on your favorite news site—which is to say, none at all. That approach may, in fact, be the book’s most realistic touch.

    Are there particular news events that you wish to write about in the future? What are you currently working on?

    I’ve written two novels so far. Only one of them is sci-fi, but to my surprise, both of them have had spiritual elements. Right now I’m 99.99% finished with novel #3. In it, a team of explorers will take an incredible space flight. I’m fan of old-school science fiction, but by no means have I read every science fiction novel out there. That said, I’m pretty sure the type of voyage I’m writing about has never been covered before—and if it has, certainly not in this way. I don’t want to say more at this time because I don’t want anyone to beat me to the punch! I will say that the genre will be space flight/sci-fi/horror—think Arthur C. Clarke meets Stephen King. And I was lucky enough to find a NASA researcher willing to help me make sure the science part of the science fiction in the story is reasonably honest. By the end of the novel, some of the characters will find God in a way they did not expect. I’m not sure when this one will be out; I may spend some time seeking a traditional publisher for it, if my health holds.

    What subjects did you like to research in particular when writing this book?

    I stumbled upon enchaphalitis lethargica as the model for the plague in my book because I was specifically trying to answer this question: Has there been any disease in modern history that suggests a real-life zombie-style apocalypse could happen? I was looking for it because I wanted to “keep the novel real.” There is nothing wrong with a classic horror-style zombie tale. But since I was basing my book on current news trends, I wanted everything I say in the book to be plausible—or in the very least, possible. I found EL in the course of my medical research, some of which was conducted in the medical library of a major university. A half dozen of my leading characters have backgrounds of mental illness, and I wanted to get their stories right, so I added mental health to my research list. Also, a comet plays a major role in the plot. The comet may or may not have something to do with what goes on in the book, but some of the characters suspect that it might. That led to a great deal of research on comets. (Did you know that up to 25% of the bulk of some comets might be made up of organic chemicals that are completely unknown to us? Did you further know that you breathe in comet dust every single day?) And then, the fact that human civilization might be ending raises this question: has this happened before in human history? There’s substantial evidence to suggest that yes, civilization-ending catastrophes have taken place in the past. So I added the subject of lost civilizations to the research list. I was at it for quite a while. As a result, everything I say in the novel about those subjects is fact-based and reasonably accurate.

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