Aftermath: Tales of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand is SpecFicNZ’s new anthology, available here.
The anthology explores Aotearoa in a post-apocalyptic world. Disasters have occurred around the country and the world. New Zealand, in our isolation down under, may have escaped most of what happened around the world, but it was pretty bad out there. As Kiwis are apt to do, though, we’re “getting over it”. You know, she’ll be right …
This is not just an anthology of disaster stories. The pages are filled with hope in the form of short stories, poems, flash fiction and artwork about what comes afterwards. The contributions are exclusively from SpecFicNZ members and reflect the diversity and breadth of this country we love to call home … even if the edges are a bit torn and tattered.
We’re interviewing all the contributors to the anthology so you can get to know the brave souls who’ve battled zombies, aliens, earthquakes, volcanoes and more to bring you the stories you’ll find between its covers.
Today, we’re chatting with Scott Fack
Aftermath includes a variety of disasters set all around Aotearoa New Zealand. What disaster / location combination did you write about and why?
I usually get a short phrase, song lyric, dream, or image in my mind that inspires the foundation for a story. And sometimes something I see on the news might make those creative wheels in my head start to turn.
In this case, I was daydreaming and saw these huge robot tuatara with glowing red eyes in my mind, and I thought I would have to do something with that image. That kinda answers part of the “why” before the “what”, sorry.
My story deals with the aftermath of a supervillain attack on Christchurch as a part of a larger worldwide superhero versus supervillain war. Specifically, a supervillain named Forger created these large robot tuatara which attacked Christchurch, and the superheroes rushed in to fight it. Poor Christchurch got caught in the middle. But as bad as Christchurch gets it (which is pretty bad) – and we don’t find out how the rest of Aotearoa fares in this piece, but we do know Christchurch gets hit the hardest – some of the rest of the world gets clobbered harder. New York City, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. are specifically mentioned, with the latter two pretty much completely destroyed.
And now to the other “why”: As a survivor of the Christchurch earthquakes, I vividly remember the police, the soldiers, the city being closed. When friends or family asked me about living in Christchurch after the earthquakes, I likened some of it to what I would imagine what living in post-World War 2 Europe was like. The other part was this repetitive, Groundhog Day quality to life. My husband Noel and I relocated our work to Addington (across the city from where we live), and we would drive through the city every day to work once the city was partially re-opened. This street was shut off, that street was shut off, the cathedral had this big gaping hole in the front of it, that building was on a lean… It was the same stuff day to day, and it really had this deep impact on me but only on a subconscious level at first. And I wanted that creeping lethargy among the narrator’s post-traumatic stress to show in my story.
How do you think the Kiwi approach to life after disaster is unique?
I have been through disasters both in my home country of the United States and in Aotearoa New Zealand – my brother Brian sarcastically asked me, “Is there a type of natural disaster you haven’t been through?” and then we had smoke throughout Chicago from a forest fire up in Minnesota – and there is an amazing sense of people banding together to help in both places. I think the difference with Kiwis is that Kiwis tend to come together in a larger scale, even as a country, to help out as much as they can. There’s this real “rally the troops” type of feeling. Recently, we’ve seen it during the Christchurch quakes, the Kaikoura quakes, the Port Hills fires, the terrorist attacks on the Christchurch mosques. Back in America, there’s sometimes a more localised banding-together, or at least that’s my experience of the disasters I’ve been through.
For example, a few years ago, Noel and I were back in Chicago when a derecho hit. (Derecho is your word of the day, kids.) A whole bunch of suburbs lost power, but my hometown was the hardest hit. We weren’t able to get a generator – that’s an example of that localised banding-together – but Brian sourced one from the far southern suburbs where he lived (that was about 80 kilometers south). Since most of the other neighbours could get generators, my parents shared with some neighbours, and those other neighbours who did have generators shared theirs too. My parents live on a dead-end street, so their power wasn’t restored until 3 or 4 days later, so it was this small community spirit that kept everyone’s fridges cool.
Having lived through the Christchurch earthquakes here, I do have to say that Christchurchians for the most part were absolutely amazing. One of the boys down the block was collecting clothes for people who lost everything. We had some friends staying with us because they had no power or water. We had people from the other side of town come visit us or join us for a meal. There was this huge community spirit across the city which was amazing. I didn’t feel as scared knowing perfect strangers would help me if I needed it.
And even people who flew in to help (like the USAR team from the North Shore that checked our work premises and an Australian police officer whose name was Lee Royal, I think, which I found such an appropriate name for an officer) were super kind.
For example, I had said something to Noel about feeling awful I didn’t think to make some hot tea and coffee for the USAR team and bring it with us as some sort of thanks. One of their team thought I meant we had nothing to eat, so she offered me part of her lunch. I found that the most heart-warming gesture and a very Kiwi thing to do. I think about that kindness a lot.
Also, Kiwis tend to be pretty laid back people with a good sense of humour. Look at how quickly everyone adapted the word “munted”. Plus Canterbury had a new favourite game: “Guess the aftershock magnitude, depth, and location.”
It’s a bit strange because in my creative writing course at Hagley Writers’ Institute last year (2021), I was one of the only one of my classmates who was in Christchurch during the quakes, so it felt kinda odd being an American who made Christchurch his home telling other Kiwis about this crazy sequence of events and how it affected my life.
What are your most valuable post-apocalyptic skills?
Being a boy from the big city (Chicago), I think I’d be somewhat useless practical-skills-wise if there was an apocalypse and I survived it. In saying that, I have found I respond to emergencies pretty well, and I’m good at organising people and things. Others have said I’m a kind, compassionate person with a strong sense of justice and equality, and I’m a good listener with good advice. So perhaps that would be my skill set.
I also know a bit about creating and maintaining Web sites and blogging, although it’d depend on if we had power, computers, an Internet, et cetera as if that skill set might be needed.
I think it’s important, as human beings living after a large-scale disaster, that we try to keep our humanity first and foremost. I’d be very vocal about that.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword. Being a writer, you must have lots of pens. What creative use would you put them to in a post-apocalyptic New Zealand?
Documenting what happened and the day-to-day survival after the event would be immensely valuable to any further generations. Whether that would be through an actual telling of that through a journal or series of journals, or a more stylised story, would remain to be seen, I guess.
Maybe even create some stories for people to take their minds off the events that came before. Escaping real life via imagination is an extremely powerful tool and helps people cope in all sorts of situations.
Tell us a little about your other writing?
Well, I seem to bounce between speculative fiction (science fiction, superhero stuff, alternate history, supernatural) and contemporary fiction in my writing. I have been pottering around with creative writing courses and writing for a long time.
In 2014, I decided it was time to take the bull by the horns, and I started writing a superhero novel based off of a wider universe one of my best friends John and I started writing about in high school. (That universe is the same universe my story in this anthology takes place in, so it is loosely connected).
My skills were rusty, so I undertook a bridging course at Massey University and cranked out some good stories there that are still unpublished. I felt really honoured when people who know me said the writing I created was varied and quite moving but distant from who I am as a person (although they did ask me if there was something I wasn’t telling them.)
Late that same year, I got very unwell with a dissociative disorder known as depersonalization. (0 out of 5 stars. Do not recommend.) So my creative writing was on hold for a while as depersonalization is basically anti-creativity.
I did keep up with my blogging, where I documented everything from my journey with dissociation to stuff happening in my day-to-day working and normal life.
Even though I still had dissociation (luckily in near-full remission at that point), I applied for the Hagley Writers’ Institute for the 2021 intake and was accepted within 48 hours of my interview, which was a huge boost to my confidence.
At Hagley, students have to create a portfolio, so I wrote a lot of poems and short stories. Around 16 short stories revolving around a fictional rural Illinois town called Wolfram Grove emerged as the contender for the portfolio. All the stories dealt with being on the edge of fame or infamy, and some dealt with the supernatural as well. I also edited some of the superhero novel, and I started another novel which is related to another short story I wrote, dealing with Little Red Riding Hood and Jack (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame).
(The good news is, my classmates, my tutor Faith Oxenbridge, and the whole Hagley Writers’ Institute experience helped my dissociation basically disappear after 7 long years. So I not only completed an amazing amount of creative work that year but also managed to kick depersonalization’s butt pretty much.)
My final submission ended up being an amalgamation of 3 short stories I wrote for my portfolio; those stories became a novel named Plague, which is my main focus now (and which I discuss further in-depth in the question around what I’m working on now).
What are you working on now?
I mostly completed an early draft of a novel called Plague (which does not deal with zombies or an out-of-control genetically-engineered virus, but rather is named after a documentary called How to Survive a Plague about the AIDS crisis in America in the 1980s) as my portfolio for Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2021. Plague is about a gay teenager in late 80s / early 90s rural America learning to cope with loss and make his voice heard in the time of HIV / AIDS. Pretty heavy stuff.
I applied for the New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship Programme for the 2022 round, with Plague being the project I applied with. I ended up one of 14 recipients accepted out of a field of 134.
Long story short (too late), I am working on Plague with an amazing mentor and also another author who is helping me edit, refine, and tighten it up.
The story moves me so deeply, and some people who have read it have asked if it is a true story. It is not, but I feel that’s amazing feedback to hear because it means I’m probably on the right track.
So I’m excited to keep on working on Plague with such amazing people. I feel super-supported, which is a great feeling as an author. It’s the first novel I’ve gotten this far with, and I want to keep going until I get it published.
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing?
I have two sites readers can find more out about me.
One is my professional site (https://www.scottfack.com) which is pretty basic but documents all my current and upcoming publications (short stories, poems, novels, journalistic articles) and other things I’m involved in (voice acting, Web design).
The other is my personal blog site (https://www.scottyhoaglinsen.com) which deals with both photo blogging via my Instagram page, some Facebook rants, some blog posts, as well as part of my journey with depersonalization and the Christchurch earthquakes.
Right now, I haven’t posted much because, well, writing and editing Plague (and last year, engaging every spare moment into Hagley Writers’ Institute and writing for that) took up most of my spare time.
I’d like to thank the judges and editors of SpecFicNZ’s Aftermath for selecting my story for the anthology, and for giving me the opportunity to be so involved in this process. It means a lot to me, and I’m very excited to see the final product.