We are no doubt being cursed by living in interesting times. Many of us readers are looking for something “interesting” to read and pass the time with. And some of us are picking up old projects to bring interesting things to the world. Mark Sampson has been a favourite writer in my library for a while. I was thrilled when I found he has a new novel coming out and he was willing to answer a few questions for me.
1) First off, could you give a bit of an overview of All The Animals on Earth?
I describe the story as a parody of a post-apocalyptic or dystopian novel. Whereas most of these tales start out with a fully populated world that sees its numbers wiped out by a plague or war or some kind of bureaucratic mismanagement, mine is the opposite. It starts out with a depopulated world, because in this reality most people just don’t feel like having kids anymore. The cratering birth rates cause all manner of social and economic calamity, and so scientists and the government come up with a process, called “pullulation,” that allows them to transform certain species of birds and mammals into humanoid form. But there is, naturally, a terrible accident that causes pullulation to spread across the globe and basically quadrupling our population overnight. Suddenly there are too many people on Earth, not too few.
These new humanoids, nicknamed “blomers,” start taking over, bringing with them very strange and unsettling rituals. These include a rather liberal approach to public sex, and a violence against a particular subset of their own kind. Through it all, my button-down protagonist, an HR manager for a mid-size insurance company named Hector Thompson, grapples with the massive change that the blomers’ existence brings to his job, marriage, friendships and the rest.
2) Was there something specific in reality that made you want to write this book? And is there a real-life inspiration for your protagonist Hector Thompson?
I got the idea for the story on my wedding day, actually. My wife (novelist and short story writer Rebecca Rosenblum) and I married at a relatively late age – I was 37; she was 34 – and I remember coming to a stark realization that day: everyone in our wedding party, bridesmaids and groomsmen – were all in their 30s and nobody (as yet) had any children. Either they had chosen to have no kids at all, or they were putting off procreating for as long as they could. This struck me as a particular trend of our generation, and so different from what came before, at least in my family. (My paternal grandmother, for example, had five kids by the time she was 27. My own mom had me at 25). And so I began to imagine what would happen if this trend just got more and more extreme as the generations went on, and the dire consequences it might bring, and how the world might try to solve those problems – and then the whole absurdist narrative began to unfold from there.
As for Hector, no, there is no real-life inspiration for him. But when I was working as a journalist in Australia 15 years ago, I did have, as my “beat,” the topic of human resources, industrial relations, and occupational health and safety. So I spent a lot of time interviewing HR managers back then, talking to them about hiring, firing, talent retention, benefits and compensation, plus awkward conversations they often need to have with staff about wardrobe choices and personal hygiene, etc. And so a lot of those conversations ended up helping to shape both Hector’s professional life and his personality.
3) Considering the current situation of the health of humanity, how do you feel about this book?
It’s weird. These are strange times, and it’s stranger still to be releasing a post-apocalyptic book during a global pandemic. A lot of people, especially here in the so-called “West,” are dealing with things they’ve never had to deal with before – not being able to go wherever they want, facing empty supermarket shelves, living with fear for their safety on a daily basis. (Others, obviously, have experienced these things every moment of their lives.) So maybe my weird little book about a rapidly transformed world will resonate on that level. Having said that, I think novelists get a bit squirrelly when reality starts to become stranger than fiction. I know I felt that way on 9/11 and when Donald Trump got elected US president, and again now, during COVID-19. Writers like Stephen King and Don DeLillo are probably thinking, “Buzz off reality. Stop stealing my moves!”
4) Normally I would be asking about a book tour at this point, but I am assuming that anything like that is on hold right now. Are you planning to increase your presence on your social media platforms now to interact with fans? If no, why not?
Yeah, no, I have nothing booked as of yet for this novel. No readings, no appearances, no events. I may try to do something online in the interim, but I’m taking a wait and see approach for now. The priority is to stay safe and do what health officials are recommending.
5) We have talked about how your writing has evolved over time. Do you sense any differences with this book compared to your previous works? Do you have any regrets or disappointments with your earlier works that you notice now?
All the Animals on Earth is much different territory for me. It’s certainly the weirdest thing I’ve ever written, and it really took me out of my comfort zone creativelye. But it’s odd how there are also some alignments with the themes in my other works. I’m very obsessed with people’s working lives. I’m very interested in how people’s inner views of themselves don’t align with how they’re perceived by others, and these themes continue to crop up even in this strange, off-kilter work. I don’t have any regrets per se about previous books, but plenty of disappointments. Like a lot of writers, I’m sad my backlist hasn’t done better, hasn’t sold more or won awards or attracted more attention. But whatever. I just keep on keeping on, trying to build a body of work I can be proud of. Mine is a small but generous readership, and I’m grateful for what I have.
6) You mentioned in a previous Q&A that you exchange thoughts and ideas with your wife, the writer Rebecca Rosenblum. Did she play a part in the creation of this book?
Yes, Rebecca read an early draft and, as usual, provided lots of wise and wonderful feedback on the manuscript. Letting her see work once I’ve gotten it to a certain point has become just another part of my process. I do pretty much the same for her, too.
7) No doubt you are working on your next work. Are there details you care to tell your fans about this next work?
After finishing a working draft of All the Animals on Earth, I switched gears and spent about 16 months working on a collection of interconnected short stories that sort of went bust. I got about five or six pieces in and realized they were all structure and no story, nothing there to hold them together, and so last fall I made the difficult decision to set the project aside. Then, almost immediately, I began work on another novel, and I’ve been having a blast with it ever since, working on it like a madman. I’m closing in on finishing a rough first draft, despite having only started it back in October. I can’t say much about it, other than it’s a horror novel set on my native Prince Edward Island.