How the Countdown Began

El Castillo at Chichen Itza, Mexico


That’s what the bid poster on the convention wall announced. The year was 1995, and John and I were on our honeymoon attending “Intersection,” the World Science Fiction Convention held in Glasgow, Scotland.

What? You didn’t plan your wedding date around Worldcon? Well, we did. We even went back to Scotland for our 10th anniversary in 2005.

But I digress. Back to the main topic of this week’s post. 1995 was an interesting year. When I grew up, the year 2000 was far ahead in the future. Back in the 1970’s, I remember my parents saying, “I don’t know if we’ll live to see the year 2000, but you kids probably will.”

Then suddenly it was 1995, and that upcoming year with a triple zero was looming practically right in front of us. In Ye Olde Times, the superstitious amongst us might have gone up to a hilltop to await the end of the world. However, we were sophisticated Twentieth Century people, completely unaffected by any fears that came with significant date changes.

Except for Y2K. Remember Y2K? It was that pesky little concern with double-digits that threatened to crash our planes and empty our bank accounts at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000. Looking back after 20 years, the whole thing seems rather amusing, but at the time, it added to our instinctive uneasiness about the upcoming new millenium. (And yes, I remember the debates about whether the new millennium started in 2000 or 2001.)

Which brings me back to the “bid” poster for Chichen Itza in 2012. For those of you unfamiliar with Worldcon, the location of the convention changes every year. Each year, different locations submit bids to hold a future convention. Because the selection between competing bids is made by vote, the bidding locations campaign with posters, room parties, give aways, etc.

Chichen Itza in 2012, of course, was a joke, playing on the end of the ancient Mayan calendar. With the year 2000 looming just ahead, the “End-of-the-Worldcon” at Chichen Itza in 2012 was especially funny.

I laughed when I saw the poster on the wall and then moved on to other parts of the convention, but the idea stayed in my mind. I began to speculate on what it might be like to live in a world where the calendar was ending, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen.

Those of you who have read 60th Hour probably know where I am going with this blog post. The idea sparked by that bid poster eventually led John and me to write a fantasy novel about a group of people who go up on a hilltop to await the end of the world. True, the novel contains a lot of other elements — magic, political intrigue, personal confrontation, etc. — but, at its heart, it began with that instinctive fear of the unknown future. What happens when the countdown toward the end of time begins, but no one knows how it ends?

So, that is the secret origin story for 60th Hour.

Susan 6/12/20

(As a footnote, I should mention that not only did my parents live to see the year 2000, but they are both still alive in 2020.)

Here’s a Secret About 60th Hour

The secret is: 60th Hour was not the original title of the book. The working title was “Final Night.” Because the main focus of the book involved the events leading up to the end of the calendar on Final Night and what happened to the main characters on that night, the title made sense.

So why change the title? The reason involves what happened when Emerald Cove published its first themed anthology Kidnapped! back in 2018. I had contributed the short story Lord Larrin’s Daughter. That story was my first published piece of fiction, and I was very excited. When the ebook went live in April 2018, I couldn’t wait to see it on Amazon. I went to the Amazon book section, typed in Kidnapped!…

…and got Robert Louis Stevenson.

Yep, that Robert Louis Stevenson. Mr. Treasure Island himself. I probably had heard once that he also wrote a book called Kidnapped, but I had not read the book. Not only was his book the lead novel on Amazon’s list of books with that name, there were pages full of different editions of his book to buy. If Emerald Cove’s anthology was listed among them, I did not see it.

So I next did a search for my own name on Amazon. Still no success — there are too many other Ruffs out there and lots of them apparently wrote books. I finally found the right ebook by typing in Jefferson Swycaffer’s name. (As far as I know, there has only ever been one Jefferson Putnam Swycaffer in the entire universe.)

Then last year, Emerald Cove published its next themed anthology: Stolen! The anthology included my second short story Lord Larrin’s Trophy. This time Emerald Cove’s book title was not competing with Robert Louis Stevenson, so I had high hopes for finding it. Once again, I hurried to Amazon after the ebook went live and typed in the title. I can’t remember how many pages of books I saw with the title Stolen or some variation of that word. I don’t even remember if the new Emerald Cove anthology was one of those many books or if I had to search for Swycaffer again.

So when John and I decided to self-publish our first full-length novel, I did not want to complete with anyone else on Amazon. If people searched for our novel by title, I wanted them to find our novel. The manuscript was complete and ready to go, but before we published, I looked up the name Final Night on Amazon and on Google. Not only were there already existing books with that title, there had also apparently been a major comic book plotline with that title a few years ago.

Not again! I thought. So I wracked my brain to develop a title that would represent the “countdown” nature of the book, but still be original. I came up with 59th Hour, which I liked, because it had that “11th hour” feel to it. When I suggested it to John, he pointed out that the 60th hour was actually the last hour of each day in Kenarin, not the 59th hour. The 60th hour was therefore the final hour of the calendar, when all the plotlines in the novel converged.

With trembling fingers, I checked 60th Hour on Amazon and Google. Nothing! Just a few greeting cards for 60th birthdays and similar items. Finally, we had a title that was entirely ours!

And that was how the book became 60th Hour.

-Susan 5/8/2020