Friday, August 30, 2013

After the Burn: Having a Blast with Nuclear Armageddon

When it comes to apocalyptic fiction these days, it's all about zombies. The Walking Dead, World War Z, zombie novels, zombie comics, zombie video games... zombies, zombies, zombies. Not that I have anything against the flesh-eating undead. I'm an equal-opportunity monster lover. Plus, zombie apocalypse fiction is  a very popular and lucrative sub-genre now. It's just not my idea of how the earth is going to kick the bucket, with the dead -- reanimated by a virus or demonic possession -- chasing the survivors around, wanting to turn them into a hot lunch.

I reckon I'm just old-school. When I think of the end of the world, it's nuclear armageddon that comes immediately to mind. I grew up during the Cold War era, when the major super-powers -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- were not the best of friends and had nuclear warheads aimed at one another, and itchy fingers poised above the big red button a time or two. I was a child around the time of the Bay of Pigs and "Duck-and-Cover!" and lived with the fear of the Bomb throughout my grade school and high school years. I was twenty-two when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and the Cold War pretty much fizzled and went away. But they are still out there... the missiles. They're not as plentiful  as they were back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s,  but they're still nestled in their cozy little silos, slumbering inactively until someone decides to activate them with the flip of a switch and send them skyward. And we have more folks with nuclear capabilities to worry about; China, North Korea, the Middle East, and a half dozen terrorist groups. Not trying to scare anyone... just reminding you that the threat is still there.


In 1990, I wrote "Flesh Welder", a cautionary tale about life following a nuclear holocaust and how one man -- Doctor Rourke, a hybrid of surgeon and arc welder -- does his best to repair and sustain life in a hellhole that was once Houston, Texas, while his nemesis, the infamous General, does his best to tear it down. After FW's publication, my interest in apocalyptic fiction remained, but was put on the back-burner in favor of vampires, werewolves, and nasty little critters that go bump (and bite) in the South. When the now-defunct Croatoan Press did a chapbook of the reprint of Flesh Welder in 2007, I began to think about skinny-dipping in the radio-active pool again and exploring how a nuclear holocaust might effect our world and, in particular, my native Southland.

AFTER THE BURN (Thunderstorm Books Edition)

It took a few years of turning the germs of a few ideas into full-blown stories, but eventually I ended up with exactly what I was aiming for. In 2011. Thunderstorm Books published AFTER THE BURN, my quirky, ultra-extreme collection of post-apocalyptic horror tales. It contained six short stories and two novellas, all chronicling the aftermath of The Burn, a sudden rash of nuclear detonations around the globe that had no purpose or explanation. As society deteriorates and it becomes every man for himself, the dregs of humanity quickly take over; serial killers, child molesters, the criminally insane, rapists, drug dealers, and cannibals. As radiation alters plant and animal life, horrible mutations begin to take place. Not all of the stories are dark and dismal, however. I took the opportunity to balance drama with black humor through the course of ATB, making it more fun than depressing. Creatively, AFTER THE BURN became my version of good folks versus very bad folks in a post-apocalyptic South.


Luckily, readers took to the collection and it became a fan favorite among my catalog of books. My peers enjoyed it, too. As horror author Brian Keene said "AFTER THE BURN is one of my all-time favorites. A classic, seminal masterpiece of post-apocalyptic survival horror!" The Thunderstorm hardcover of ATB sold out within a matter of days and became one of the most successful of the publisher's Black Voltage line. The book fell "out of print" for a year or so, then was published in an affordable trade paperback by Bad Moon Books. ATB is also available as a digital e-book from Crossroad Press and is available in Kindle and Nook versions.


Of all my projects, since returning to writing in 2006, AFTER THE BURN has been one of the most satisfying and most fun to bring to fruition. It will soon become an unabridged audio book and there has been some interest in turning it into a graphic novel. Also, I'm currently brain-storming on the possibility of doing a second ATB, this time as a full-length novel. Some of your favorite ATB characters would be back -- Waco, Zulu Woman, Dr. Rourke, and Popsicle Man, to name a few -- joining forces against an evil band of mauraders led by the notorious General and his army of Clownies, cannibals, and mutants, as they make a cross-country trek for the mythical, non-radio-active Promised Land.

If you're looking for something different as far as apocalyptic horror is concerned, you might want to check out AFTER THE BURN. This is Ol' Ron's most extreme work to date and I guarantee that you'll get your fair share of goosebumps and belly laughs. Just sit back in your favorite armchair, turn the page, and wait for the flash and Burn!


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