Q&A With Debbie Urbanski

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Q&A With Debbie Urbanski 

I finished my last read of 2023 on December 30th titled After World by Debbie Urbanski. I was grateful that Tim O’ Connell, the editorial director at Simon & Schuster mailed me a free copy. After World is Debbie’s debut novel which is sci-fi meets post-apocalyptic with romance mixed in. Debbie has had stories and essays published in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Best American Experimental Writing, The Sun Magazine, Granata, Orion & Junior Great Books. 

Q: Where did the idea for After World come from, and how is it unique from every sci-fi & post-apocalyptic novel out there?

A: I started writing After World after spending a lot of time reading and thinking about extinction – not human extinction initially but the extinction of other species. The more reading I did, the more I knew I wanted to write something about how humans have changed – and continue to change – the planet. After I wrote this short story (essentially a backwards list of things humanity tried in order to solve the climate crisis), the idea for After World clicked into place.  

I love post-apocalyptic novels and I definitely feel like my book is in conversation with that genre. At the same time, most post-apocalyptic books feel to me like a heroic adventure. They’re fun to read, there’s excitement and danger, and, for the most part, people are trying to figure out a way to survive. I don’t imagine an apocalypse would be such a page turner, for me, anyway. I wrote After World with the goal of capturing the intensity, insolation, anger, sadness, and reality of my characters and their near-future world.  

Q: How long did it take you to write After World?

A: It took me a long time – about 8 years! I’m originally a poet so I’m admittingly not the fastest writer in the world. I also really love language at the word level and have (too much?) fun looking up words in multiple historic dictionaries. All the reading I wanted to do about the natural world and AI also took some time. (In the back of After World, I list my favorite eco / AI books for anyone who might want to read more about those topics.) 


Q: When creating the characters for After World, did you use bits and pieces of real people you know to create characters such as Sen & Storyworker?

A: A lot of my previous writing, though speculative, has been inspired by my life and my own emotional reaction to my life. But this novel is different. I didn’t start with my own emotions or experiences, and I found writing characters that were unlike me to be thrilling. Still, bits of myself and the people around me probably seeped in. My (now teenage) daughter chose Sen’s name and there may be a bit of her in Sen. Likewise, some of my struggles with depression (and being a parent while depressed) likely appear in Sen’s mothers. 

Q : What lessons do you hope readers takeaway when after reading After World?

A: My favorite books are ones that ask questions or get me to ask questions – versus books that deliver answers (or lessons). So honestly I’ll be happy with whatever conclusions and ideas readers draw from the book. That said, I’d also be totally fine if After World encouraged readers to wonder whether we are overvaluing humans – and undervaluing other species — as we try to solve the climate crisis. 

Q: Whether Hollywood snatches up the rights to After World or not, who would be your dream cast to play the characters you created in your novel?

A:I love how the audiobook of my novel turned out, so I’m going to cast the After World movie with my book’s narrators. (You can listen to a sample of the audiobook here.)

[storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc: Sura Siu (she also narrated Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro) 

Sen Anon: Emily Tremaine (she also narrated This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone) 

Wynn Zable: Cindy Kay 

Cugat Boureanu: Kevin R. Free (he narrated The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells) 


Q: What’s it like having stories and essays published in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Best American Experimental Writing, The Sun Magazine, Granta, Orion & Junior Great Books? It all sounds so impressive! What would be your advice for anyone wanting to submit their short stories & essays to those publications?

A: I’ve been writing short stories and essays for the past two decades and I’m proud of the places where my writing has eventually landed. It sure took a lot of work (and 20+ years!).  My submission advice applies to any publication: try not to take rejections personally; celebrate any personalized rejections you get; submit to a wide variety of places; and join (or start!) some kind of writing support group with other writers who have goals similar to yours. The emotional support I’ve received from various writing groups along the way has been invaluable. 

Q: Is it too early to talk about your second novel you are writing? If not, would you like to reveal a little bit about the plot? 

A: I’m not sure what my next novel will be yet! I have a long list of ideas that I’m playing around with right now. I will say that many of these ideas seem to involve the natural world.