Exit Kingdom is a prequel to your last book, The Reapers are the Angels. How did you come up with the idea for Reapers? What was your inspiration?
Reapers came about because of my lifelong love of zombie movies. But many post-apocalyptic stories are too nostalgic for my taste. They are origin stories that concern themselves with how the world came to this sorry state – focusing on characters who are driven by grief and nostalgia over the lives they have lost. Instead, I’ve always been fascinated by what post apocalyptia would look like once it has been around long enough to become normalized (like, perhaps, Road Warrior or The Book of Eli or the video game series Fallout). So I wanted my main character to have grown up in this new world – to have no memories whatsoever of the pre-apocalypse. I wanted her to be comfortable in all the situations we would find so devastating and horrific. She sees beauty where we wouldn’t even think to look. I like that tension between beauty and horror – so, in Reapers, it was my idea to exploit it as much as possible.
Do you miss Temple, the protagonist from The Reapers are the Angels?
Definitely. But I don’t believe in returning to a character or place or story just because I liked it a lot the first time around. I would imagine it’s difficult for writers to do a book series without it becoming a dog and pony show, without falling back on old tricks. I would be afraid of attenuating Temple. Sometimes the best way to show respect for a character is to leave her alone.
What was your favourite scene to write?
For all the running around and zombie-killing in this book, my favourite scenes are the quiet ones. The action in the book isn’t the point for me – it’s just the context. It gives a framework for all the late night conversations between rough men and holy men and insane men and deceptive women and even the taciturn dead. All stories, in one way or another, are about people trying to puzzle through the mysteries of the world around them. The adventurous efforts of humanity to make sense of a chaotic universe, to give order and meaning to the void – those are the struggles worth writing about. And they happen mostly in the noiseless interstices between action.
How easy do you find writing? If you had to compare yourself to a composer, would you be Mozart, who effortlessly turned out symphonies with little revision, or Beethoven, who famously agonized over each note, going back and rewriting over and over again until he was eventually happy?
I’m no Mozart – but it’s true that I don’t do much revision in my writing. I tend to start at the beginning of a book and write it straight through to the end in scene order – and I almost never look back more than a page or two during the process. It’s not that I feel my words have any kind of holy sanctity but rather that once I’ve created those scenes, characters, events, it’s hard for me to go back and re imagine them. They become absolutely real to me, for better or worse. I think there’s probably a flaw in my imagination that makes writing akin to glassblowing. You have to work fast and do a decent job the first time, because there’s no reshaping it later – and if it’s no good, you just end up with a twisted, ugly paperweight. Believe me, I’ve produced plenty of those paperweights.
Had you always planned to write a prequel to The Reapers are the Angels?
No. Reapers was meant to be a stand-alone book. But, after I had spent some time away from it, I discovered I had a little more to say about that world. Also, I was intrigued by the idea of approaching the same landscape from a different perspective – taking a secondary character from Reapers and turning him into the primary character of Exit Kingdom. If I were to write a third book, I think I would do the same – maybe telling a story from the Vestal’s perspective.
**These questions are taken from part of a longer interview with Alden Bell in the back of Exit Kingdom**