Michael Bunker unwittingly became the “Father of Amish Sci-Fi” when he published his first book of fiction, “The Last Pilgrims.” He thought it was a literary historical thriller, but as it turns out, it was in a genre of its own. This week, I talk to Michael Bunker about living off off-grid, fan fiction, and how he accidentally created a brand-new genre.
Michael Bunker lives off-grid on a 40-acre farm with his family as part of a plain, Christian-agrarian community in Central Texas. They have no electricity and running water, and they grow their own food. Any use of modern technology is considered and deliberate. As Michael puts it, they try to “walk lightly on the earth.”
He does, however, have a fairly high-tech writing office from which he conducts his writing and business. Naturally, it is powered by solar panels and generators.
It is this unique lifestyle that led Michael to start blogging about his off-grid journey. He was interested in illuminating the concern that total reliance and dependence on a grid system was not a good idea. Since he didn’t have electricity, he posted his story to a blog through a computer at the library.
He started receiving mail from fans requesting he get a book out on the topic. A neighbor of helped him out, leading him to KDP and CreateSpace, and in February of 2011, his first book, “Surviving Off Off-Grid,” was published.
Amish Science Fiction
Michael’s off off-grid book did well, and he was thrilled. He had a lot of nonfiction he wanted to do…but then he also got to thinking, what would things look like in 25 years if there were some sort of systemic crash? The answer to that question was his first fictional offering, “The Last Pilgrims.” He called it a literary historical thriller, but readers made it quite clear it was science fiction…Amishscience fiction at that.
At first blush, “Amish” and “science fiction” seem to be irreconcilable notions; however, they are not so different than one might think. In an interview conducted by Jason Gurley, Michael points out that “a seventeenth-century sailing ship was every bit as foreign and as fabulous to the Amish colonists who came to America as a space shuttle or a rocket ship would be to the Amish today — yet they sailed aboard them to a new world (ostensibly a new planet to them) in order to start fresh.” Science fiction is the genre of new frontiers. As it turns out, “Amish” and “science fiction” go together like zombies and apocalypses.
From that first book grew the idea for a prequel. Readers wanted to know what led up to the events of “The Last Pilgrim.” What destroyed their world?
Then, in the Fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York. A friend of Michael’s from high school, Chris Awalt, was living in Brooklyn at the time. The day after the hurricane hit, he went around Manhattan taking photos and posting them on Facebook. Michael reached out to Chris, saying he wanted to use his post-hurricane walk-around in a story… But then a week later, a nor’easter hit the same area bringing about more devastation. Then, a Russian sub was spotted off the coast of New Jersey.
These real-world events sparked a collaboration between Michael and Chris, and together they plotted to destroy the world in a series of disasters that would set the world back 500 years. Between December 2012 and November 2013, they wrote and released four episodes of the “Wick” series, as well as an omnibus edition, which tells the story of the world before “The Last Pilgrims.”
Michael wrote a short story called “Pennsylvania,” in the midst of his collaboration with Chris Awalt. It was well received by fans…enough so that Hugh Howey encouraged him to finish it out. From October 2013, to the end of January 2014, Michael knocked out the next four parts of the series, putting the “Pennsylvania Omnibus” out by April of 2014. By September 2014, it hit #19 in all of Amazon.com.
Fan Fiction and Kindle Worlds
Michael is also the author of the popular “The Silo Archipelago” trilogy set in Hugh Howey’s Wool universe, as well as “Dunes Over Danvar,” trilogy, set in Hugh Howey’s Sand universe. Although both worlds are now open to writers through Amazon’s Kindle Worlds program, Michael received personal permission from Hugh Howey directly before the program launched. He reached out to Howey about writing in the Silo world, and he said yes…something that Bunker has reciprocated to writer fans of his own work. He says there are over 20 people writing stories in the “Pennsylvania” series: he generously tells them to go ahead, have fun, sell it, and make money.
Michael’s fan fiction has proven so popular that Amazon was eager to commission more work from him. Ultimately, Kurt Vonnegut’s work was opened up on Kindle Worlds, and Michael subsequently wrote “The World of Kurt Vonnegut: Osage Two Diamonds.” The story was originally released in parts under the Kindle Serials program, then made available as a consolidated work.
Apocalypse Weird: Plan and Execute Your Very Own Apocalypse
It seems a natural progression, then, that Michael would go from creating stories in other people’s worlds to creating worlds for other people to create in. He has teamed up with Nick Cole and Tim Grahl to create “an epic multi-arc story that takes place at the end of civilization and the beginning of something terrible and very evil,” in which writers are invited to build this world together by deliberating tearing it down. It’s an extraordinary and ambitious collaborative project that promises to push the boundaries of Indie Publishing’s frontiers.
- Write what’s fun. What was notably consistent in this interview with Michael Bunker is that each success he encountered was the result of pursuing something because it was fun.
- Start building your email subscriber list TODAY. Check out MailChimp or Aweber. They’re free to start, and they’re easy to set up. Michael agrees it’s the No. 1 Thing authors need to do, and it’s how he keeps in touch with his readership.
- Consider writing fan fiction. Michael says writing in Kindle Worlds has introduced him to a readership he might not otherwise have come in contact with. He says it’s been a great experience and is a nice way to get discovery.
If you could add a new genre to Amazon’s categories, what would it be?
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