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My husband works at a treatment facility for youth with emotional and behavioral issues. He reports that his students love films and novels about the end of the world. They fully believe the world as they know it probably will end, whether it be by war, climate change, or economic collapse. They aren’t afraid of this, though. What they love about these narratives is the idea of being a survivor, of seeing the structures of the existing world crumble, of creating a society full of fellow survivors who will create a new world the right way. Who can blame them? They’ve already been failed by family, school, and social services. For them, and many disenfranchised people, the idea of collapse comes as a kind of relief. The world is bad. Perhaps destroying it and starting over is the only way to create a better future. Apparently, my husband’s students are not alone.  Apocalyptic narratives are all over current popular culture, from films like World War Z to Noah to the wildly popular series The Walking Dead on the small screen.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 7.37.52 AMEdan Lepucki’s characters in her debut novel California are living during a time of duress. When I met the author, so was I. Cal and Frida coexist alone in the woods after the collapse of civilization. When Frida gets pregnant they go in search of others, but the community they encounter is full of secrets and peril. My catastrophe occurred when my writing mentor committed suicide. Personally, I was devastated, and professionally, I was lost, until a friend led me to Edan. She gave me a safe place to write again. I signed up for classes with Writing Workshops LA, the company Edan founded and runs from her home in Berkeley. A staff writer at The Millions, she previously published the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and her stories have appeared in magazines like Narrative and McSweeney’s. While being smart, witty and outgoing, she is kind and generous to emerging writers. I promised Brad Listi this interview would entail “two blonds talking about death and destruction,” since California takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. He was all for it. Don’t tell him, but when Edan came over to my place for Brown Butter Peach Bars (like Frida, I like to impress people with my baking skills), the conversation never grew dark. In fact, we hardly quit laughing. This is that interview.

Darci Picoult headshotPlease explain what just happened.

I heard children playing outside and a classical piano playing next door. Now there is a horn beeping. A man laughing. Life.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Seeing a lion on the wall of my bedroom and screaming for my brother to kill it. He made it vanish (with his fist? mind? a combo of both? don’t remember) and I thought he was a hero. Still do. A few years later I yelled to my sister that a cow was outside my window. She didn’t believe me until she looked and alas, saw it too. It wandered up the road from a nearby farm. We both had a hard time getting it to leave. Called the police who thought we were drunk and at a bar. “A cow outside your window?” I was maybe 12 years old. Finally the owner came and wooed the cow back to pasture

Walking Dead Season 3As season three of AMC’s The Walking Dead wraps up, it’s a good time to think about some of the much-maligned female characters in this series, starting with the most notorious example, the “adulterous” housewife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). Any visit to a Walking Dead-related message board will inevitably confirm the broad animosity viewers have toward this character. This is partly because viewers tend to, still, find adulterous women far more offensive than adulterous men (never mind that “adultery” seems an unnecessarily harsh word for Lori, a woman who thought her husband was dead). This is also partly because the first two seasons and opening episodes of season three were dominated by episode after episode of the love triangle between Lori, her husband Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and his best friend Shane (John Bernthal). Like many TV love triangles, this one grew stale quickly.

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Being a parent is hard. We all know that. Sleepless nights, hours spent elbow-deep in vomit, pressure to do the right thing by your kids every waking hour of the day. You love them unconditionally, but you’re never off the clock. Most days you’re lucky if you find a minute to sit down and breathe.

But if you think you’ve got it hard, spare a thought for the characters in AMC’s hit TV show The Walking Dead. Scheduling nap times can be a bitch, but it’s a virtual impossibility when you’re dragging your kids through a violent post-apocalyptic hell, populated by looters, homegrown gun-toting militia, and flesh-eating corpses. You may fret over how much TV your kid should watch, but trust me – you’ve never encountered a true parenting dilemma until your son has helped deliver his baby sister in a prison block, then shot and killed his mother to keep her from turning into a slavering people-eater. Suddenly an extra hour of Sesame Street doesn’t seem so terrible.

Please explain what just happened.

I just read your question.  No, wait, I just answered your question.

 

 

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is probably watching the film Gandhi in a movie theater and having no idea what was going on but knowing that I thought the whole idea of being at the movies was awesome.

As the election results came in last November, I found myself empathizing with the hero of The Walking Dead; small town sheriff Rick Grimes had newly awakened into a world where large swathes of the populace have been zombified, all mindless hunger and gnashing teeth. At the end of the pilot episode, which aired just two days before election day, Grimes found himself cowering in an abandoned tank that was about to be swarmed by the invading undead. Watching the television maps of the House of Representatives become as red as a tenderloin on the butcher’s table, I couldn’t help but think of the expression on Grimes’ face before the closing credits came on: helpless indignation. I mourned the sense of hope I (and many of my fellow voters) had experienced only two years before.