Finding Sci-Fi Romance Off the Grid
Off the Grid exists largely thanks to the Mayans—yes, those Mayans. Rather, thanks to the end of the world “prophecy” attributed to them a few years back. While many people awaited December 2012 with a mix of derision and “maybe I should stock up on canned beans,” I was pretty certain some diligent Mayan calendar designer saying, “Eh, I’ll come back and start 2013 later on” didn’t mean the world was going to end. But it did activate the “what if” centers of my brain: what would people do if the apocalypse struck? How would they survive? This line of questions sparked the image of two best friends, vegging on the couch when the electricity suddenly goes out…and never comes back on. And that, kids, is how Radio Silence, and the Off the Grid trilogy, was born.
I’ve always been a bit of a survivalist. My mom tells stories of having to check my bed for the “weapons” I slept with to protect my family if a burglar broke in. (One time, I almost took out my dad with a gift shop slingshot when he came home later than usual. After that, I only received keychains and non-lethal mementos from their parental trips.) While a bit extreme, the basic drive behind my childhood idiosyncrasies formed the seed of the series for me, and especially book one, Radio Silence. The idea of an apocalypse is scary: not having food, water, or help from trained authorities. But what’s even scarier about a world without laws or oversight? The harm that can come to you is frightening, but I think the horror of worrying about those you love trumps that.
Radio Silence, Signal Boost, and Mixed Signals cover an apocalypse, of sorts, and the recovery from it. But, although they each have action sequences, suspense, and tension (and sex!), the stories are driven not only by the characters’ desire to survive but also by the ties of family and friendship. And also by the idea that love in a time of fear and despair can help carry us through. Because of this, and because this is sci-fi romance, the focus of the series is very tight. The stories revolves around Arden Highmore (heroine of Radio Silence) and the Seong family: John (her best friend and hero of Signal Boost), Gabriel (oldest brother and hero of Radio Silence), and Maggie (youngest sister and heroine of Mixed Signals). Although the wider world is discussed and speculated on, most of the story is set in upstate New York. The majority of the first book takes place in a cabin! That doesn’t mean there isn’t world building, of course—I did lots of research for these books and tried to provide enough info for readers to draw their own conclusions, especially in Signal Boost and Mixed Signals. Keeping the scope tight simply means that I had to be very selective about what details were relevant to each romance and gave readers an idea of what was going on in the world at large.
I really enjoyed writing romance set in a post-apocalyptic world because the stakes are really high when you don’t know if you’ll survive to get to a third date. It makes the romance that much more intense when you have to figure out whether your feelings are real or driven by fear, and whether someone is worth sharing your rations with: rations of food and emotion.
Although the overall themes are common for any book with a hero(ine)’s journey (discovering a sense of self and one’s place in the world at large), the books also deal with things like coming to terms with illness and grief, dealing with depression, exploring one’s sexuality, and the fact that the world just isn’t fair sometimes. It was also important to me that people who aren’t commonly viewed as heroes, but in reality do heroic stuff all the time (women, people of color, nerds, gay men) get their opportunity to be shown as badasses in their own specific ways. All of this is rolled into the story with healthy doses of banter, sexual tension, hot sex, and humor. It was really important to me that the books, which are set against an often bleak backdrop, make the readers laugh along with the characters as well as care about their survival.
With Mixed Signals out this October, it’s a little sad thinking that I’ll have to say goodbye to Arden, the Seongs, and all the friends they made along the way. But I look forward to checking in with them from time to time. One of the best parts about creating a post-apocalyptic world? The adventures awaiting your characters are limitless.