I Had to Write a Dystopian Novel

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Genre fiction fits into defined categories in order to appeal to readers who groove on that particular type of story. Fantasy, crime, science fiction, thriller, horror, and romance are popular genres.

I never thought I’d dabble in genre fiction. My other novels (Stash, Clean Break) can only be considered general fiction. Not literary enough for the highbrow, not formulaic enough to fit into a genre. No wonder readers had a hard time discovering them.

But I was comfortable in my writing lane, mainly focusing on the suburban experience and the conflicts and dilemmas that accompanied it: parenting, drugs, marriage/divorce, addiction, workplace ethics—with some criminal intent thrown in for additional plot interest. I expected to keep writing this style of novel, getting better with each one, growing my readership, until I finally wrote that elusive novel I’ve been waiting all my life to read.

That’s not exactly how things unfolded. What did happen is that I wrote a totally different kind of novel. I veered from my lane, I stepped out of my wheelhouse. This unexpected turn started after the 2016 presidential election. We all know who won that vote. There’s no need to go into the details about the political environment or the situation of our country—then or now. You either feel the foreboding or you don’t. For me, I sunk into a dark place. The dark space I had entered needed to be dealt with and the way writers deal is by writing. And so emerged The Culling.

This novel is like nothing I’ve ever written. It’s genre fiction, best described as a dystopian thriller. Dystopian fiction is a form of speculative fiction. This broad category includes fantasy (Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones), science fiction (Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land), and dystopian (The Hunger Games, 1984, Station Eleven). It speculates what a future might be like, and a dystopian future is a dark world where life is extremely difficult because of deprivation, oppression, or terror. An authoritarian government is typically in control. Technology is used against the population. There is often a loss of individualism, environmental destruction, and incessant war.

Sounds depressing and intimidating, doesn’t it? But dystopian fiction is popular, important, and usually quite entertaining. It might challenge readers to think hard about current social and political climates—and possibly take action to avoid a dystopian future. A dystopian world depicted in fiction might help us feel better about our existing society which, even if flawed, is far better. We also might identify with the heroes in the stories, who usually are brave and capable in the face of long odds and powerful forces of antagonism.

Some of the most respected literary novelists have written dystopian novels: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro has won the Novel Prize for Literature). And then there’s David Klein’s The Culling.

Here’s my one-sentence pitch for the novel:  Shirley Jackson’s iconic short story “The Lottery” meets Ridley Scott’s film “Blade Runner” in The Culling, a dystopian thriller about a woman on the run from an unjust death sentence who teams up with the mercenary assigned to hunt her so they can attempt to escape together to join the resistance against the authoritarian regime.

The dystopian world I imagined and constructed was based on a simple premise: A barbaric constitutional amendment has resulted in a lottery that culls a percentage of the population each year—all in the name of ensuring equality.

It was the most commercial, page-turning concept I could come up with that also helped me manage the dark space I’d gotten into. The novel is basically a formulaic chase story. All such stories pose one central question: Will they get away or get captured? But I also believe the characters have complexity and some depth, they have difficult moral choices to make, and readers will likely feel their conflict and root for their success.

The official launch of an eBook is coming later this summer. Until then, you can get a sneak preview of the first chapter of The Culling here and read another snippet here.

Also, if you’ve never read Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery”, you must, right here.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

Novels

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