The Story of the Story

After I became a Muslim, my writing went on hiatus. At that time I had been writing a novel about pirates called Captain Jane Ivy for at least 4 years. However, I had difficulties reconciling my faith with stories of rum-swilling, foul-mouthed scallywags (despite some earnest attempts at revisions that would settle well with me). I was afraid to ask about it, for fear that I would be told that, no, Islamically you cannot write a story about rum-swilling, foul-mouthed scallywags. So rather than inquire into the matter, I simply put my writing away. It was like taping up a dream into a box and storing it in the cellar.

And then, in 2008, Fallout 3 was released.

I don’t want to set the world on fire

A man walking down a post-apocalyptic street with a dog.
Fallout 3, Bethesda Studios

I’ve written before about how video games influenced by writing. But few did so to such a degree as Fallout 3.

Even from its early trailers, with a crackly gramophone crooning out the thematically appropriate “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” over a bombed out wasteland, caught my attention and built up anticipation for the game’s release.

That game was so engaging in its environment, storytelling and characters that it inspired me to get back into writing again. I played out narrations inside my head as I played the game, crafting stories that would only exist in my mind. I felt part of this barren, dangerous world and I loved it.

I loved it so much, in fact, that I began writing my own stories set in the Fallout world. I had never played a Fallout game before, and Fallout 3’s world-building and morality-driven karma system were the spark of creative imagination that I needed at that time. In fact, the karma system really spoke to me since accountability for your actions is a central part of Islam.

The setting was also a huge inspiration for me. The post-apocalyptic playground of the Capital Wasteland was filled with memorable environments, threatening mutated creatures and entertaining random encounters. However these were all interspersed between moments of desolate wandering and survival. Exploring the too-quiet ruins of an old school, or scouring through the remains of a bombed out home, felt like it was really me who was rummaging through a grey, apocalyptic world. Some of my shootouts with the raiders and ghouls and Super mutants of Fallout inspired scenes in my writing.

From there, I went on a post-apocalypse binge and haven’t really looked back.

Several characters from the game became key players in the Fallout fanfiction I wrote, which I set years after the events of the game. These were like prototypes of characters that would appear in The Long Walk. Hanif, in particular, was a side character in one of the fan fiction stories, and so when I decided to write my own post-apocalyptic story he became my main character.

Over the years there have been more Fallout games, and I’ve played them and enjoyed them immensely (though I don’t want to go near Fallout 76). Other post-apocalyptic games have certainly impressed me and given me more inspiration for my writing (particularly The Last of Us with its realistic setting where nature has reclaimed a lot of abandoned cities and infrastructure). But Fallout 3, for all its glitches and faults, came at the right time in my life and gave me the spark I needed to start writing again. The time I spent writing fan fiction was like breathing fresh air after holding my creative breath for so long. It sucked me into the post-apocalyptic genre, and I haven’t left since.

Faith on the edge

Apocalypse-Albert_Goodwin

After playing Fallout 3, I was eager to absorb as much post-apocalyptic media as I could. Books like Wastelands; Alas, Babylon; The Road; and Earth Abides were on my reading list. I also had keen memories of Stephen King’s epic The Stand (though the sheer size of that book has intimidated me from picking it up for a second read).

When it comes to film, I was already well-acquainted with Mad Max when I was a kid. I Am Legend was also an inspiration as well, mainly due to its setting. A character from Snowpiercer also inspired the look of Quin Choi, the second protagonist of the story. And, of course, the 2009 adaptation of The Road was just as joyous as the novel, but offered a visual bleakness (both in its cinematography and themes) that still influences me today.

However, the film that actually inspired the story for The Long Walk was 2010’s Book of Eli (which came out the same year as Fallout 3). In it, Denzel Washington plays a man walking to the west coast with the last remaining Bible, while a warlord (played with delicious ham by Gary Oldman) tries to take it from him to use as a means of controlling the population. The film was very forward with its religious themes, to the point that it becomes a bit on-the-nose towards the end. But it was an easy stepping stone into my own story by simply asking “What if that, but a Muslim on Hajj?”.

The idea of what it means to believe when all of humanity is on the brink of madness and/or extinction was fascination. As well, faith being weaponized by a dictator was a unique driving force for a villain, and even though I didn’t really explore that in the short version of The Long Walk, it has played a larger part of the novel.

Plus, I mean, come on, Denzel Washington is always a win.

Detours

Concept art of a girl walking through a post-apocalyptic city in the rain, holding a flashlight.
The Last of Us, Naughty Dog studios

I began writing the story in the summer of 2010. I didn’t really know where the story was going, I just started writing and let it evolve naturally. At one point, I was writing about Hanif and Quin walking on an empty highway toward a city. Then an unexpected moment occurred when the characters discovered a sign pointing toward an off ramp, which then led them to a convent of, basically, anti-religious nihilists—a perfect foil for a man-of-faith like Hanif, and an impressionable, inquisitive girl like Quin. It was one of those amazing moments in writing where you discover something along with the characters, as if you are on the journey with them, and you continue writing to see where they go.

The story took a huge turn from there, resulting in what you see on this blog.

It feels like I’ve been journeying with Hanif and Quin for almost a decade now, through various iterations of the story and through one-off events and scenarios that I come up with in my head. At this point, their journey is the longest it has ever been.

As I continue to read and watch and play various forms of media, the inspirations I take from all of these forms have continued to add to my well of creativity. I draw from that well when I write. And my hope is that what I write can one day be counted among the trove of post-apocalyptic fiction.

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