WHAT IF WE ARE THE LAST HUMANS? by Abby Sher
Author Lee Bacon says that’s okay
These days, it’s all too easy to get swept up in predictions about the end of the world as we know it. Dire forecasts flooded the news even before COVID-19 and social distancing. But there are some extraordinary people who have taken on these foreboding prophecies and made art.
Take local Maplewoodian, Lee Bacon. “I was listening to an interview,” Bacon says, “with Yuval Noah Harari [the author of A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus] and he was asked, ‘Do you think humans will be the dominant life form on the planet in 300 years?’ And without a beat, he said, ‘No. We’ll either destroy ourselves or be surpassed by our own creation – that is, technology.’”
Bacon took that idea, ran home and started writing his wildly successful book, The Last Human, that same day. (“Rarely is it [that I get] that clear an inspiration,” he confesses.)
Bacon has put in an extraordinary amount of time and effort into finding his voice as a writer, starting when he was very young. He grew up in College Station, Texas, where his parents both worked at a university. From there, he moved up to New York City to see what he could learn in the publishing industry and did an internship at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, where he met his wife. The two of them lived in Munich while she was finishing a university degree, and it was there that Lee started focusing on children’s literature.
He calls this a “very fortunate accident,” though it sounds much more like a deliberate (and astute) sort of discipline. Bacon was new to the German language, so he started to read books in German that were written for kids because he thought that would be an easier way to learn. Pretty soon, he realized that he really enjoyed children’s literature and got a lot more out of it as an adult. So he started writing expressly for that audience, and soon landed his first book deal and literary agent for his book, Joshua Dread.
Full of supervillains and killer houseplants, Joshua Dread mixes adventure and escapism with funny characters and plot twists. Bacon started getting various awards and great responses from readers. Soon he turned Joshua Dread’s story into a four-book series. After that, he wrote another series called Legendtopia, followed by an Audible Original book called The Mystery of Alice.
Right around this time, he and his wife, now in Maplewood, became the parents of a daughter. Bacon admits that’s been a game-changer in terms of priorities. But again, his work ethic is admirable. An average day has him getting up around 4 a.m. so he can write before the baby wakes. Then after she is at daycare, he does some more writing, some errands, and on a good day will get another creative burst before dinner.
As he says, “You can’t just wait for inspiration to strike – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Bacon’s goal is just to get himself in front of the computer screen and put some words on the page each day. He’s also very mindful of how often he lets himself check social media, and appreciates how hard it can be to block out all the distractions of technology. His discipline is serving him well, too. Currently, The Last Human is being developed into a major motion picture from two of Bacon’s all-time heroes – Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) and Sony Pictures.
While The Last Human is in film production, Bacon has just launched a new Audible Original, Interview With The Robot. He delights in working in this medium because he’s reaching a lot of new readers through Audible Originals, and he gets to develop his stories in new voices and dimensions as a recorded piece.
Yet even as his plotlines have elaborated on the theme of artificial intelligence taking over the earth, it’s clear that Bacon values his human readers greatly. As he describes visiting schools and talking to kids who have read his books, his face lights up with excitement. This is clearly his favorite part of putting new ideas out there. During our chat at The Able Baker, a father comes up and thanks Bacon for his work, saying his son laughs out loud when he reads his books. Which just goes to show that whatever predictions we believe about the fate of an increasingly cybernetic world, Lee Bacon’s career is testimony to his optimistic take on being a flesh-and-blood human being.
Abby Sher is a writer and performer living in Maplewood. Her most recent book is Miss You Love You Hate You Bye, and her next book, Sanctuary, will be published in September 2020.