How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Idea of a World Without Humans

In the last couple years, I’ve become pessimistic about the future of humanity. Every day seems to bring something else to worry about, some new and terrible demonstration of man’s inhumanity to man.

helplesspolarbear

I know, I know. Even tens of thousands of years ago, people thought the world was coming to an end, and those people were all wrong. But like that proverbial stopped clock, one of these days, we’re finally going to be right.

fire leopard

So I asked myself: If humans were wiped off the face of the Earth, what would happen next? That dark question led me to write WE ARE NOT ANIMALS, a cli-fi MG novel of 58,000 words.

The story is set in the 32nd century. Homo sapiens are gone, and super-evolved, self-aware animals have taken over the planet. Knowledge extracted from human texts has enabled these critters to create an idyllic, vegetarian society called the Colony. But most animals know their ancient history well enough to conclude that human beings were the worst.

Except for Cara Dyson, a twelve-year-old brown bear who has an unusual obsession with human literature.

1Reading Bear

In order to be fully inducted into the Colony, Cara must contribute some type of work in service of all animal-kind. But all she really wants is to cozy down with a stack of novels—novels written by those enigmatic, terrifying, prehistoric beasts known as Homo sapiens.

The Alphas are an elected body of powerful animals who govern the Colony and ensure balance in the ecosystem.

7Clowder of Alphas

At her Colony Induction, the Alphas allow Cara to pursue her deviant interests, but there’s a catch: instead of analyzing fiction, she must use her skill with language to determine, once and for all, the exact cause of humanity’s mysterious extinction, a subject of great debate amongst the animals.

9Gena research add prism

Standing between Cara and the disturbing secret behind the rise of the animals is a herd of outlaws who want to take animal-kind back to the good ole Law of the Jungle days. Cara must keep them from repeating humanity’s mistakes before the seventh mass extinction leaves behind nothing but plants.

That’s the gist of my MS, now about me. 🙂

In addition to writing, my other creative obsession is collaging. All the images here are original collages, which I use as an analog equivalent of a Pinterest inspiration board for writing. I have lots of other hobbies (which I actually think of not so much as hobbies, but as ingredients in a constantly evolving recipe for happiness): yoga, Zumba, water aerobics, trying to pet all of the animals, and, of course reading, reading, reading.

I don’t remember exactly when I started writing, but when I was about ten, I saw a flyer for a creative writing summer camp. Here’s me at around that age, with my brother and sister (I’m the boring-looking one on the left).

plaidkids

I asked my mom if I could enroll, but it wasn’t free, and I come from a family of artists. Almost-starving artists. There was no money for luxury items like summer camps and book fair purchases and braces (forgive my crooked teeth).

I didn’t have much contact with any of my grandparents, as a kid, due to geographic distance, but one day that spring, I got this letter from my mother’s mother Marian, a writer who’d published dozens of short stories in periodicals and anthologies in the 1960s and 70s.

IMG_2644

For the next two summers, my grandmother gave me creative writing lessons through the mail. True to her word, she even provided the SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes, for you whippersnappers), so it didn’t cost us a cent. Sadly, right around the time she was trying to get me to take the leap from writing poetry to short stories, she passed away.

I wrote on and off for the next three decades…let’s face it, mostly off. I got a B.A. in English and a Master’s in liberal arts with an emphasis on written communication, but I steered clear of long-form fiction. It was just too intimidating.

a bigger net

Then I turned 40. You hear about that sort of thing happening to other people, but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you. When it does, it doesn’t seem like it’s real. How could I possibly be 40? You think to yourself. I remember my mother when she was 40. Back then, I thought she was ancient. I’m not ancient!

Because turning 40 isn’t painful enough, as a woman turning 40, you also have to go to the doctor and let them smash your boobs under a garage door. With my typical Maria Linn-type of luck, I hit the wrong kind of jackpot on my first mammogram: breast cancer.

lynxinrain1

This beautiful soul called a Nurse Navigator talked me and my husband through the confusing intricacies of the diagnosis. At one point she said, sheepishly, that there’s something non-scientific sounding that studies have shown can help cancer patients, and that it might seem far-fetched, but I should hear her out. Now, I live in the Bible Belt, but I’m not at all religious. I braced myself, sure she was going to say something about the power of prayer.

She handed me a blank leather journal and said, “Write down your questions. Write about your treatment, or your emotions, or what makes you feel gratitude. It doesn’t matter what you write about. Just write. Journaling has been shown to have a positive impact on outcomes in breast cancer patients.”

I wanted to laugh. Here was a bona fide medical professional saying I might be able to write my way out of cancer? I could do that! My grandma said I had writing talent! I got 5’s on two AP English exams! SIGN. ME. UP.

In that moment, I shed my fears about writing and my feelings of inadequacy. Like a cicada bursting out of its exoskeleton after all those dark years underground, I crawled out into the sun and walked away from that silly, useless husk.

I wrote and wrote in that black leather journal, about the decisions, the tests, the treatments, the setbacks, the successes. When my husband saw me scribbling away furiously in it, he’d say, “Uh oh. You’re writing in the Book of Doom again.” The surgeries and radiation and medication did the heavy lifting of eradicating my cancer, which was very early detection and considered Stage Zero. But I also had that mighty pen and that Book of Doom on my side.

Olympic-Lemur

After a year or so, it was time to switch books. The Book of Doom was almost completely full, and I was cured of cancer and feeling fine. I got a new, brightly colored blank journal, called it the Book of Life, and scrawled away, filling it with silly, non-cancer-related ideas, poems, essays, and stories.

Then, thanks to the encouragement of a few wonderful people in my life, I dove into novel-writing. The major plot twist here is how much I enjoyed submersing myself in a long piece of writing day after day. It’s hard to imagine going back to shorter works now. I also love writing for a middle grade audience and having an excuse to read so many wonderful contemporary MG novels. When I was that age, books and reading helped me get through many tough times. My dream is to someday do the same for today’s kids, who are growing up in a harsher world than I could’ve imagined.

I’ve been contemplating a prequel to WE ARE NOT ANIMALS, but my current WIP is a Southern Gothic contemporary MG. With–second plot twist!–all human characters.

bear in space


4 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Idea of a World Without Humans

  1. I adore your collages! My friend is also a collage artist and has a whole room full of them. Your book’s concept is really cool and Cara sounds like a special young bear. I would be interested in reading this. Best of luck in AMM!

    ~Gretchen

    P.S. For a different take on an animal-ruled world, you might like the Upper Kingdom series by H. Leighton Dickson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Gretchen! I really enjoyed the writing and collaging. I’ll definitely check out the Upper Kingdom series. I’ve been struggling w comp titles…rented Zootopia tonight and was both thrilled and horrified at what a good comp it is for my MS. 😂

      Like

  2. Love the idea for the book and the collages! I’m also a writer/collage artist, though I don’t do as much of either as I’d like to at the moment. My stuffed bear & I want to read this book when it’s published!

    Liked by 1 person

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