One of the biggest compliments an author can receive is a clear and urgent demand from their fans for more work. Fans of Adam Whitlatch’s post-apocalyptic novel, “The Weller,” have been clamoring for the next entry in the series for quite some time. Whitlatch, who lives in Bonaparte has given the people what they want with his new book, “The Weller: Fear of the Dark.”
The new book follows its hero from Iowa to Missouri where his quest for water continues — as does his penchant for getting into trouble. Whitlatch has a knack for action scenes and his remaking of the Midwest after a devastating war no one remembers is fascinating and frightening by turns.
Whitlatch answered questions about the new book via email.
Q: Your new book, “The Weller: Fear of the Dark,” is a continuation of your series about Matt Freeborn, a man who searches for water in a post-apocalyptic American Midwest. Tell me a little about the origin of Freeborn and the world he lives in.
A: When I was in high school, my father (to whom the book is dedicated) introduced me to Pat Frank’s “Alas, Babylon,” which was a major influence on the original Weller short story. Books like that and “Earth Abides” really helped plant the seed in my mind early on. The idea for wellers came to me one day when I had “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” playing while washing dishes, and Max encounters the man selling contaminated water at the entrance to Bartertown. I remember looking at that dirty dishwater and wondering how exactly one could ensure they were getting safe drinking water in a post-apocalyptic world. What kind of skills would one need? What kind of person would be suited for such a dangerous and important job? Slowly, Matt Freeborn began to take shape.
Matt’s world is about as harsh of a wasteland as I could dream up and still be able sustain human life. Hardly anyone is left alive who remembers The Twelve-Minute War that brought civilization to its knees. It’s a new, frightening world, but there are still pockets of history linking Matt to the strange world of his ancestors. I love writing scenes where Matt discovers relics of the pre-war world, especially when he has no idea what he’s looking at.
Q: In the first novel, “The Weller,” Matt’s adventures take place in Eastern Iowa — which is great fun for those of us who live around here. The new book takes him down to Hannibal, Missouri, — a move that inevitably calls Mark Twain to mind. And the first two characters we meet are Thomas and Jim (in a cave no less), which cements the connection. What does Twain mean to you and what was it like to play in his backyard for this story?
A: I grew up only a stone’s throw from the Iowa-Missouri border, and one of my earliest memories is touring Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal when I was 7 years old. I took my family there over the summer to re-familiarize myself with the cave, but I wound up learning more about the local history and ecology than I’d anticipated, and a lot of that found its way into “Fear of the Dark,” including the chilling and tragic tale of the daughter of the cave’s original owner, Missouri’s Mad Dr. McDowell. Twain renamed the cave “McDougal’s Cave” in his stories, and I renamed it “Clemens Cave” for mine.
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Old downtown Hannibal is a stunning time capsule of Mississippi life, and I think the idea for “Fear of the Dark” first came to me a couple years ago while we were in town for the annual steampunk festival. Seeing folks in costume browsing the colorful storefronts along the brick streets made it very easy to envision Matt doing the same.
Ever since I first read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” the cave has always fascinated me, knowing I’d actually been there and walked those rocky corridors. Originally, “Fear of the Dark” contained a lot more Twain references, but some were a little too on the nose, and I decided to dial them back a little. Originally, my favorite character in the book, Kathryn, was even named Becky.
Q: If I remember correctly, you originally thought of “The Weller” as a standalone. What made you decide to continue Matt’s adventures? Do you think there will be more? And what’s the latest on the video game?
A: Originally, “The Weller: Land of Plenty” was a standalone short story published in Crossed Genres Magazine. Writing a follow up never really crossed my mind until my dad insisted I write more. The first novel came about because S.D. Hintz at KHP Publishers demanded one. He loved “Land of Plenty” so much he wanted to publish a novel starring Matt, so I took some of the ideas I’d put together for additional short stories and wrote “The Weller.” It was my first published novel, but it was actually the third I’d written.
There’s definitely more story to tell. In fact, readers of “Fear of the Dark” will find a special preview of the third installment at the end of the book. I also have plans for a prequel story set during the aftermath of the Twelve-Minute War starring Matt’s grandfather, Gene. And believe me, as I observe the overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m taking copious notes.
At the moment, the Weller video game is on the back burner while I play catch up on writing, but I’m always on the lookout for new assets to flesh the game out. Developing the game by myself has been a learning experience, and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far, but there’s a lot of work left to do. Once I have a little more time to myself, I’ll probably be reaching out to my fans and the gaming community for help in completing the game.
Q: As a self-published author who is pretty aggressive about getting out on the convention and book event circuit, you’re facing a change to your usual approach to getting your books in front of people. What been most challenging and how are you addressing it?
A: COVID-19 has been frustrating, to say the least. This year I had events scheduled as far away as Seattle before the pandemic forced so many events to cancel or postpone. Luckily, all of the events I had scheduled this year have applied my reservations to next year, so I’m already set for 2021. At this point, all I have left is TeslaCon in November, where I’ll be a guest of honor. I guess we’ll see what happens between now and then.
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My readers have been waiting for “Fear of the Dark” for a long time (there are even “Where’s Weller 2?” t-shirts), and they’re not willing to let the pandemic stop them from getting their fix. Luckily I’ve been able to get signed books into fans’ hands through online orders. It not only helps me, but it also helps the United States Postal Service, so I consider that a win-win. The fan community has really risen to this challenge, and many of the cancelled conventions have set up “virtual vendor rooms” where fans can support writers, artists, crafters, and other vendors impacted by the pandemic.
Q: What are you working on now or next?
A: At the moment, I’m working on “War Machines,” which is a sequel to my young adult science fiction novel “Birthright.” Once things calm down and travel is safer, I plan to take a trip to New Mexico for research. While I’m in that neck of the proverbial woods, I might even take a detour for a little Weller 3 research. We’ll see.
Q: There is a robust community of Iowa indie authors of which you are a part. Are there one or two whose work you would particularly recommend for readers looking for something new to read during this strange time (after they read yours, of course)?
A: I’m a bit of a rebel, so I’ll give you three.
I cannot recommend Dennis Green enough. His “Traveler Chronicles” are an amazing blend of science fiction and good ol’ fashioned detective stories, and with the trilogy recently completed, now’s the perfect time to pick them up. Speaking of detective stories, if dark fantasy is more to your liking, check out Tamara “Tambo” Jones. If you’re looking for something more on the humorous side, though, I recommend Shannon Ryan.