In my second Author Q&A, I am interviewing Andy Giesler, author of The Nothing Within, a post-apocalyptic science fiction fantasy. I read the book exactly a year ago, and the story is still fresh in my mind.
Please feel free to check out my review of The Nothing Within here.
What is this book about?
*Centuries after the collapse, a young woman in what was once Amish country tries to save what’s left of humankind—and to discover who she really is.
The first three lines of the book:
My name is Root.
I was seventeen when I first heard the voice no one else could hear. I feared I might have the Nothing within me.
But by the time my village burned me alive in the Pit? By then we were all pretty sure.
Piqued your interest? Let’s get started with the interview.
1. In “The Nothing Within”, you have explored four genres – dystopia, science fiction, post-apocalypse, and Amish society. What made you write such an unusual combination?
I can give you a concrete, logical explanation and vague, squishy one.
Here’s the concrete explanation: Science fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction have always been two of my favorite genres. I grew up in Amish country and have often thought about their survival advantages in a technological collapse. Throwing Amish society into an apocalypse automatically brings the potential for a dystopian situation. Therefore: dystopia, science fiction, post-apocalypse, and Amish society.
Here’s the squishy explanation. Over the last year, some readers and reviewers have also identified elements of fantasy, action-adventure, mystery, literary, suspense, and even horror. I like so many genres! Maybe it’s hard for me to pick just one — or maybe it’s just more fun to blend genres.
I think the vague, squishy explanation is the most correct, but I’m not really sure.
2. I liked the characters of Young Root and Abraham. While Root is so inquisitive, Abraham, on the other hand, is a quiet, old man. Were they modeled on real-life characters you know? Was it a conscious decision on your part to make a precocious young girl an apprentice of a sober older man?
I knew from the start that Root would rub many other characters the wrong way. Because of that, I wanted a mentor who would stand in balance to her fire. In the end, I settled on an elderly man from a very formal society that had remained more traditionally Amish.
As for whether they’re modeled on real-life people? For Abram, I definitely had my maternal grandfather in mind. He was a man of few words, gentle humor, and infinite patience. Root was very loosely based on more than one person, but one of them was my maternal grandmother. Grandma and Grandpa were both modest, calm, understated Midwestern folks, but when somebody needed to be feisty — that was Grandma.
3. How long it took you to finish this novel? How many drafts did you write?
The seed of the idea came to me in the summer of 2012: two sentences that eventually became the first chapter. The next 550 pages evolved from trying to explain those two sentences.
In the next few years, I did some writing, but mostly I was slowly creating the world. Sometimes that was active, but often it was just letting ideas roll around in the back of my mind. I wanted to build a credible distant-future low-tech world with an Amish-descended society. Who would lead it? How would the economy work? What would they talk like? How would religion work? What kinds of animals would survive? How about literacy, weather, transportation, and geography?
I also did world-building for the time leading up to society’s collapse, including a 40-page whitepaper on the technology that’s behind the story. Most of that I never used, but I wanted to be sure it all made sense, and I wanted to draw from it to help the world feel credible.
After five years, by June of 2017, I had a world I liked but only about 25,000 words.
I started writing in earnest. By December 2017 I finished the first draft at 125,000 words. I can’t say there were a specific number of drafts. During the following months, working with a professional editor and many beta readers I pruned, rearranged, and revised. I declared it finished in December 2018 and published in June 2019.
But I also took almost a full year’s hiatus in the middle. (More about that below.)
4. What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a writer?
Believing I could write a novel. I’ve written short stories intermittently throughout my whole life, and I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since I was a child, but it took a long time to commit.
Also: Honeynock. (More about that below.)
5. What was your hardest scene to write in “The Nothing Within”?
The novel’s world has a small population in a limited geographic area, and they live in villages reasonably far apart. Given all that, research told me there would be problems with inbreeding and genetic diversity.
I also knew the people would be aware of that problem. Being a practical, agricultural people, their solution would require “human stock” to mix between villages somehow.
I decided that ritual would be called “Honeynock” — and I absolutely dreaded writing it. When I finally reached that point in the story, I just couldn’t do it. I gave up. I decided I’d never finish the book.
But the characters, especially Root, kept talking to me over the next year. She wanted to be written. So after almost a year, I decided to give it another try. I found a compromise that made Honeynock tolerable to write and — I hoped — tolerable to read, though I was deeply concerned people would hate it.
More than one reader has told me it was their favorite chapter. It’s been gratifying to hear that, but mainly I’m just relieved the book survived it.
6. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I think the tardigrade best describes my writing process. It’s not pretty, and it’s not fast, but just when you think “there’s no way it could survive this situation” you realize that somehow it’s still moving.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When Andy was ten years old, he wrote his first book.
Attack of the Dinosaurs was seventeen pages long, variously single- and double spaced, with rough cut cardboard backing and a masking tape and white yarn binding.
It was the heart-pounding tale of Alaskan scientists using nuclear bombs to prospect for gasoline and—as happens all too often—inadvertently waking frozen dinosaurs. Without giving away too much, things didn’t end well for the dinosaurs. (Things never end well for the dinosaurs.)
He fell in love with writing and promised himself that, one day, he’d write an even longer book.
Then, one evening many years later while reading bedtime stories to his daughter and son, he thought:
Hmnh. Maybe it’s time.
Andy Giesler has been a library page, dairy science programmer, teacher, technical writer, healthcare software developer, and official Corporate Philosopher. He’s schooled in computer science, philosophy, and library science, and studied artificial intelligence in grad school in the ’80s before it was cool. He grew up in Wooster, Ohio, where his father was the pastor of a small Lutheran church in Amish country. He’s a husband, father, nonprofit web consultant, and unabashed geek living in Madison, Wisconsin. This is his first novel.
Andy’s website: https://thenothingwithin.com/