Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
What it Takes to Survive
by Eric Walters
An airborne computer virus simultaneously infects and disables every computer in the world. In a split second everything operated by computers is unable to function. No cars, trucks, or airplanes. No phones, radios, television, or Internet. No electricity to power lights or water pumps. The veneer of society and civilization is quickly peeled away and the rules that we all live by and allow us to co-exist are immediately thrown into question.
How do people react when they are frightened? When they don’t have the necessities of life? How do they act when there is nothing to hold them back? Or to provide safeguards? What would it be like to walk down the street not knowing what’s out there, but understanding that there are people who want what you have—need what you have—in order to survive?
The Rule of Three (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) is titled after a survival maxim—you can go three minutes without air, three days without water, and three weeks without food. At the root of who we are is the basic instinct to survive. The question is: What would you do to survive?
The novel starts in a computer lab at a high school. The main character, Adam, is suddenly part of the power outage that hits his school. As the story evolves, so does the teen’s knowledge of the situation. Helping guide Adam is his mother, the captain of the local police station, and his next door neighbor, Herb, a retired government employee. Their neighborhood soon becomes more than the place where they live; it becomes a place they must re-create if they hope to survive.
Adam’s neighborhood is familiar to me because it’s my neighborhood. The streets, houses, schools, stores, streams, and bridges are those that are outside my door. When I was writing the scene where Adam wanders the streets at 3:00 in the morning, I went out and walked the streets. It made the story very real—and very unsettling.
The Rule of Three is the first of a trilogy that will run just over 1,200 pages. If a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step, then a trilogy that length begins with an inkling of an idea. I think that, in part, this story arc started forming when I was writing Shaken (Doubleday Canada, 2011), about a Haitian earthquake, and Wave (Doubleday Canada, 2009), about a tsunami, in which a part of the world is suddenly destroyed in a matter of seconds.
Later, in my experiences in Kenya over the years running a children’s program (www.creationofhope.com), I witnessed the ways people reacted when resources were so limited that not everyone could survive. I saw at those times the worst, and the best, in people.
The story begins with the spark of science-fiction—the air borne virus. After that the actions, reactions, feelings, and fears of the people are what I believe would really happen. The question for you is: what would you do if this became your world. Could you survive?
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This text may not be reproduced without the expressed written consent of Eric Walters. All images courtesy of Eric Walters.