Updated: Sep 12, 2022
I have a book coming out in September.
Even as I write that sentence, I have a hard time believing it. I began writing Vagabonder back in 2012, when the world was very different. And yet it wasn’t. Perhaps the real difference is in me.
In 2012, I left an extremely toxic work environment and started working in a slightly less toxic one. We were living at the height of the zombie craze. 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and the series The Walking Dead had launched an obsession with the undead, the possible consequences of science run amok, the aftermath of worldwide plagues. All building blocks of great science fiction.
Zombies are bad, generally. They look awful, for one thing, and probably smell terrible. And they eat you. Whether they’re fast or slow, intelligent or stupid, manic or depressed, they thirst for human flesh and will do anything to get it.
Many good stories begin with “What if?”. What if a mysterious plague turns everyone in Philly into a zombie and Brad Pitt has to save the world by infecting himself with a deadly pathogen? What if a mysterious plague turns everyone in London into a zombie and Simon Pegg has to save his chums by holing up in a local pub? What if a mysterious plague turns everyone in Georgia into a zombie and a bunch of selfish assholes have to go to war with several other groups of selfish assholes while the zombies hang out hoping to catch a meal here and there?
What if a mysterious plague kills a lot of people and turns others into…something nicer? A Nice Zombie that is more than human. Stronger. Faster. Smarter. Nicer.
It was this “what if?” that started the first draft of my book (working title Nice Zombie) in 2012. Fresh off the worst job of my life, I craved hope, honesty, integrity. I wished for something to happen that would cause people to become better versions of themselves so that we could move past the ridiculous things we argue about and turn our attention to what matters. If a terrible plague could turn people into monsters, why couldn’t one also turn them into angels?
I set out writing, and eventually I had on my hard drive a book about the aftermath of a viral pandemic that kills billions and transforms survivors into a new hominid species that is in many ways superior to homo sapiens. How does humanity react to this new situation? (Spoiler alert: Not well.)
Publishing is a long game. How I got my wonderful agent, who found an interested publisher, is a story for another blog. What none of us expected was an actual plague to hit just as my book was on track for publication sometime in 2020. Everything ground to a halt as an actual viral pandemic killed millions and transformed many of our fellow Americans into science deniers and conspiracy theorists.
No zombies, but close enough.
My little book seemed even more fantastical than before. The evidence was clear: A mysterious plague doesn’t move people to become a better version of themselves.
Quite the opposite, in fact. There is a lot of anger and grief swirling about during this Long Hot Summer of 2022. I’ve felt it myself for a while now. Anger that my status as an autonomous human being has been undermined. Anger that our “leaders” aren’t doing anything to combat gun violence or systemic racism or the impending climate catastrophe. Anger that oligarchs control our institutions.
Grief over the loss of my brother Rick and two dear cousins.
I edited the final version of Vagabonder with all these thoughts and feelings swirling around me. My little “Nice Zombie” book became a commentary on the real aftermath of a viral plague. How callous people can be, how “othering” leads to violence, and how people are afraid to stand up for others. How people get comfortable with their privilege to the point where they don’t recognize it. How we try to help others by taking over instead of listening and following. How we aren’t speaking the same language, and how we can’t because language is related to experience.
How love is the answer to it all.
I’m not a mushy person by nature. I like a good tearjerker here and there, and I go for quality rom-coms, but my go-to is science fiction. Some sci fi fans might argue that there’s no place for a concept as enigmatic as love in the genre, but I disagree.
If I’ve learned anything in the 10 years since I began writing this book, it is that love is the only thing that endures and the only thing that really matters. Love for a parent, a child, a brother or sister. Love for a human being in pain or crisis. Love for the beauty in the world. Love for what could be if we recognized that we’re all in this together.
Vagabonder is a snapshot of our world over the last 10 years—the good, the bad, and the ugly—set 200 years in the future. A pandemic novel written before the pandemic and edited as corporations grew more powerful, fascists and domestic terrorists grew bolder, and workers grew more frustrated. A novel about loss and love, courage and cowardice, despair and hope.
The labor was long and intense, but I finally send my book baby out into the world this fall. I hope you pick it up, and if you do, I hope you like it.
*We have revamped the website in preparation for the release of Vagabonder. Our contact list transferred to the new site. Subscribe to get the latest news and musings by R.T. Coleman!