A solar electromagnetic pulse fried the U.S. grid fourteen months ago. Everything’s gone: power, cars, running water, communications, all governing control and help—gone. Now northern lights have started in Texas—3,000 miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms.
All that’s left for Keno, his family and neighbours are farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s still reeling from the death of his pregnant sister. His beloved Nana is ill, Grandpa’s always brandishing weapons, and water is far too scarce. Desperate thieves are hemming them in, yet he can’t convince his uncle and other adults to take action against the threat.
Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him at every turn, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If he can’t protect Alma and their unborn child, it will be the end of Keno’s world.
IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.
FROM CHAPTER 5:
“These northern lights bug the crap out of me,” I tell Alma. “What are they doing here? They’re supposed to be tied to magnetic poles. I saw this show a couple years ago that said the north pole was drifting north, not south. So how did they end up here? The poles can’t drift around randomly. That’s impossible.”
“I don’t know, baby. They worry me, too, but we need to be quiet.”
“They make me feel like something bad is gonna happen. What do you call that? Fore-something.”
“That’s it. I’ll be quiet, now, and just stew in my foreboding.”
“Silly.” Alma reaches up and ruffles my hair.
When we patrol and we can’t cuddle on account of guns, Alma and I could talk all night. It’s not a good idea for us to talk much when we’re patrolling, though. We get all involved and forget to listen for anyone who might be sneaking around, hunting for food or water, or worse: getting ready to kill us for it.
We walk along with our rifles in the night. It’s cool out here, but not cold…
Alma stops and raises her gun.
“Hear that?” she whispers.
“No, what?” I’ve got my gun up, too, and I’m pivoting around, searching. I want to hide Alma, but she would never let me.
“Over there.” She points at the corner by the park. And I hear a jangly noise, like car keys. No one drives cars now, though…
I love Chocolate Swirl, but nowadays they call it Chocolate Syrup. The name’s not so classy, but it tastes just as good. Pistachio and Butter Pecan are also great.
Which mythological creature are you most like?
I’m like the old woman who lives in the woods in a house full of secret potions and healing salves. I could tell your fortune, staunch your wounds, and give you cryptic advice. Some might call me a witch, but I would be magical. Not a creature so much, but iconic and mythical nonetheless.
The first book you remember making an indelible impression on you.
Pippi Longstocking and all the Little House on the Prairie books. Little girls relate to stories about little girls. As a teen and young adult, I moved on to Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Heinlein, Herman Hesse, and Lord of the Rings.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
Most of the time, the idea comes as a package—a certain kind of character or group of characters in a particular situation. I like to take ordinary people, put them in peril, and let their inborn heroic nature grow. After I think on it for a while, I usually have ideas for a few things I want to happen in a certain order, and then I just write. I’m not good with outlining in advance, which causes me a lot of rewriting, I think. I actually have an outline for my next book. I work on deepening the characters and their arcs as I revise. I pay particular attention to character emotions and their realism, and I try to make the dialogue real and unique.
Describe your writing space.
I work in a remodeled garage that’s actually quite nice. We added lots of power plugs, better lighting, a split-system air-conditioner/heater, a new power door with two rows of windows, and we epoxied the floor. The room is full of computers, desks, laptops, monitors, printers, bookcases, and a big smart TV on the wall. It also has seating and TV trays for hanging out, a wardrobe and dresser, plastic drawers full of supplies. The walls are marigold yellow, the doors and shelves are deep maroon, and the trim is white. I have inexpensive art on the walls and stacks of book-size shipping boxes crammed into the corners. There’s a giant file cabinet partly hidden by an easy chair, and a standing screen to hide the kitty littler box, a shelf full of tax files, and some of the hubby’s tools. The best thing about the room is the windows and the view of green treetops. The worst is that my feet are always frozen on the cement floor.
Brenda Marie Smith lived off the grid for many years in a farming collective where her sons were delivered by midwives. She’s been a community activist, managed student housing co-ops, produced concerts to raise money for causes, done massive quantities of bookkeeping, and raised a small herd of teenage boys.
Brenda is attracted to stories where everyday characters transcend their own limitations to find their inner heroism. She and her husband reside in a grid-connected, solar-powered home in South Austin, Texas. They have more grown kids and grandkids than they can count.
Her first novel, Something Radiates, is a paranormal romantic thriller; If Darkness Takes Us and its sequel, If the Light Escapes are post-apocalyptic science fiction.