Welcome to another very special installment of Virtual Napkins. This week, we will be chatting with author Meiling Colorado whose novel, Aftermath, has just been released by GenZ Publishing. Full disclosure, Meiling and I are published by the same publisher, which is how we met one another. She is an incredibly interesting person, though, and I am excited to have her here to chat with me a bit about her new novel.
Shane Wilson (SW): I want to start by welcoming Meiling Colorado into the conversation. How are things where you are in the world, Meiling?
Meiling Colorado (MC): Thank you, Shane, I appreciate the opportunity. I feel we are pretty lucky on this side of the world, actually. I live in Spain, on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, Mallorca. Beautiful weather and, while we are in flux like the rest of the world is, and in the midst of a social, economic and environmental crisis, we do have the advantage of being able to put forth community-based solutions at a local level, and seeing how they develop. At least that is what we are working on. The island is small enough that the repercussions of our actions are felt pretty fast, which translates into a very effective feedback loop.
MC: Aftermath is set in a world where the system as we know it has ceased to be, and what is left of humanity has been forced to find alternative means of survival, with everything that entails. The storyline, however, is set sometime further in the future than the actual conflagration, when some of the people are already settled in small communities which, though never completely safe, do give them a certain measure of stability.
Evolutionary upheaval will shatter this semblance of peace, with the ever-present gap between generations becoming a prominent part of the equation.
SW: Post-Apocalyptic fiction is all the rage right now. I have an end-of-the-world novel in the works, too. Where do you think this cultural–almost global–fascination with the apocalypse comes from?
MC: Hmmm…I wonder where we get the idea from, hahaha! One does not have to be brought up in a religious environment to have heard about the upcoming end of days. We are constantly being reminded that all the signs are there. The concept is pervasive, and since it is popular, as you said, it is being marketed mercilessly. Coupled with the fact too many people are stuck in bleak realities which make the very idea of starting anew quite attractive, the trend is actually foreseeable. I feel the fascination stems from hope, maybe many who enjoy reading and watching these narratives unfold want to be told, at a deeper level, that there will be a story to be told and, however scary or dystopian it is, the Apocalypse will not be the end of Mankind. I find that both endearing and troubling. We seem to be focusing on what will happen after the event, rather than working so it won’t happen. Have we given up?
SW: That is a really great question. Maybe we feel powerless to stop it? At least if the systems in place are all torn down there’s a hope we could rebuild those systems in a better/ more fair/ more efficient way. We are pretty spoiled by our modern comforts and our technology. If all of that is burned down, what is the appeal of starting over? Or do we romanticize a return to a simpler time?
MC: From my work in Permaculture I am very aware that individual empowerment has been stripped away from most of us, yes. Or rather, in many cases we have given up our ability to make a change by transferring responsibility for our reality to someone, or something, else. Unfortunately, even if all the systems were torn down, there is a strong possibility humanity would simply repeat the same mistakes unless our species faces personal accountability for its actions. I agree modern comforts and technology are appealing, but the spike in depression and psychological disorders in the population seems to suggest we are not really happy within the confines of that bubble. Do we romanticize, or is it desperation? I really do not know.
SW: Could you talk a little more about Permaculture? I understand it as a type of farming that tries to mimic a natural ecosystem. Is that accurate? What specific work do you do? Is this specific to your community? Or is your whole island a little like this?
MC: Permaculture is essentially a design system, based as you say on replicating natural patterns and following a series of ethics and principles. It is a tool which enables us to build sustainable communities that ideally will have not just a low impact on their environment, but will help regenerate the ecosystem they are a part of. As such, permaculture is not limited to agriculture, but encompasses many other fields, such as building, economy, soil and water management, urban settings, and that great challenge, the social aspects of our society.I work with a non-profit Permaculture association, Permacultura Mediterránea (PermaMed). Our focus is mostly educational, so we set up community events, workshops and design courses. We have several demonstration sites where we work on strengthening community-based projects and relationships.Even though permaculture as a whole is definitely not mainstream we recently found out, to our surprise, that our island is viewed from the mainland as a reference for alternative projects.
SW: I am always interested in a conversation about genre, and I’ve read elsewhere that you have a problem with labeling your writing. I agree completely. I think it’s reductionist. I understand the need for labels–marketing and the like are made easier with labels. What do you think is gained or lost as a result of trying to label art?
MC: I have a general aversion to labels, yes. I too recognize the importance of labeling when it comes to marketing, of course. If an author can carve out a niche for their work in a certain genre, readers who have never heard of them will find it, and it will give the author access to a much broader market. Or not. There is always the danger that readers who might have enjoyed the novel will not read it because it does not fit the criteria of genres they like. When it comes to art, it comes from a place that simply cannot be controlled, so it is difficult to tell where it will take you, or with whom it will resonate. An artist can be asked to produce a piece on commission, of course, but then it might not be a true reflection of that person’s soul.
SW: I’ve read that Aftermath is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel. I also write in hybrid genres. I wonder if you could talk about the elements of fantasy that have found their way into your book. Is this a post-apocalypse set in a hard-fantasy world–dragons and other fantasy fare? Or is the fantasy in Aftermath a bit softer?
MC: I have always been a voracious reader, without ever really checking on the genre of what fell in my hands. This meant that when the question of genre came up, I had to literally look up the definition of each one, and try to figure out where Aftermath fell. Embarrassing, I know. Anyway, there are no mythical creatures involved in this novel. It explores the idea that since throughout our history some people have had what could be deemed supernatural capacities, this could be a potential waiting to be unlocked in the rest of humanity, too.
SW: Could you tell us a little about your writing process? Are you a heavy planner or more of a spontaneous, “let-the-story-happen-to-me” type?
MC: I try to plan, I do. Then the story sweeps me away, and all my carefully crafted notes have to be ditched or heavily revised. I have deep respect for those authors who can write a detailed plan for every chapter, and stick to it, too. My characters have a tendency to turn on me if I guide them too closely, refusing to do anything at all.Good one, Shane. You’ve got me admitting I am bullied by my characters. Rich soil for any psychologists here.
SW: My characters bully me sometimes, too. So, if someone is going to analyze you, they’ll have to come for me as well. How much of a concept do you have of who your characters are when you start? Or do you also let them develop in their own ways? How often are you surprised by them?
MC: Well, I am happy to know I am in good company when it comes to character bullying.I start out with a fairly strong character outline, back stories and so on. That being said, they develop along the way, triggered at times by their own history, and at times by what is going on around them. And yes, they surprise me very often indeed.
SW: When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
MC: I am a mother of two teenagers, and my father lives with us too, so I keep busy. I also give English lessons, translate, and work, a lot, in our Permaculture projects.
SW: And what are you working on next? Does Aftermath get a sequel? Or are you diving into a new project?
MC: I am currently working on a possible sequel. Or it is working on me, not sure at times.
SW: You can find Meiling Colorado on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Also, check out her website and read more of her writing on Medium. And don’t forget to pick up your copy of Aftermath from Amazon!