Lister unleashes a personal apocalypse
by Tony Simmons
Inspired by the work of Cormac McCarthy, as well as a love of apocalyptic art in all its forms, local author Michael Lister has taken a break from his usual genre of murder mysteries to explore a personal response to the end of the world.
“Cataclysmos” is a serial thriller about a man — basically, Lister himself — trying to find his family members after a terrible disaster has destroyed civilization, disrupted the weather and turned his familiar world into a hellish nightmare.
“In a way, it’s the most autobiographical thing I’ve done,” Lister said. “I’m using myself, family and friends as characters to draw from who we really are.”
Lister will read from the book and discuss its origins during an event 7 p.m. Saturday at Gulf Coast State College’s Language and Literature department’s Sarzin Hall. The “Night of Murder and Music” will include readings and discussion by authors Steve King, Jayson Kretzer, Johnnie Putnam and Lynn Wallace, and musicians Aaron Beardon and Dave Lloyd.
Currently, the first “Cataclysmos” book is complete; five parts are available as ebooks, with Part 1 free on all digital platforms. Part 1 of Book 2 will be released next week.
“It’s the first time I’ve written anything serially, and I love that,” Lister said. “It’s very fulfilling. The popularity of ebooks has given serial storytelling a new life. To be able to release it almost as fast as it’sbeing written seems more dynamic, and readers feel a part of it — communicating about it between episodes.”
The story begins two months after “The End,” as the narrator reaches North Florida on a trek home from Atlanta — which is where he was when the disaster took place. Each book is like a season of television, and each part of the serial is like a TV episode, Lister explained.
“The most rewarding part of it is the creating — the making-it-up,” Lister said, adding that having himself as the main character allows him to write in a new way. “All of the main character’s thoughts, recollections and so on are pretty much as I experienced them. But it’s enabling me to reflect on life in ways I’ve not been able to do before this.”
Lister is probably best known for this two ongoing mystery series: the “Blood” series featuring modern prison chaplain John Jordan, and the 1940s noir Jimmy “Soldier” Riley series. He plans to return to them in the near future, perhaps between books 2 and 3 of “Cataclysmos.”
“Each world is so different. So are the characters who people them,” he said. “I have no trouble keeping them separate. But I also never work on more than one at a time. Each series and their characters exercise different writing muscles for me and each fulfills me as a writer in different ways.”
Stylistically, he said, “Cataclysmos” is closer to his award-winning novel “Double Exposure.”
“After ‘Double Exposure,’ I searched for a similar story to tell — a character isolated without the aid of technology or civilization,” he said. “And I always wanted to do a story like this, but I wanted it to be something different in the genre.”
Lister said the new series is allowing him to address global questions, such as why someone would remain in a war-torn region or how would regular people — not the cardboard superheroes of most apocalyptic fiction — realistically respond to a cataclysm.
“Can we hang onto our humanity in the most inhumane situations and circumstances?” he asked. “I’m also asking what we’re willing to do to survive and what we’re willing to do to save our loved ones.”
Cataclysmos is currently available only in ebook formats, but will be published in paperback and hardback editions later this summer.