Nicholas Sremac-Saari, at the time a high school senior, stared at unexpected free time courtesy of COVID-19 in March of 2020, and thought about a dream he had recently experienced.

Sremac-Saari, now a sophomore mechanical engineering major at this university, took that dream about waking up to the apocalypse the morning after a party and thought, “That would make a good book.”

After the Blast, a story of young love at the end of the world, was released Jan. 1 of this year. He describes the novel as a comedic take on post-apocalyptic survival stories. The protagonist, Cole, and his companion, Natalie, trek to Washington, D.C., in search of Cole’s meet-cute.

“It’s more of a satire on apocalypse stories because most of them kind of deal with, ‘Oh, let’s survive, let’s find food, let’s find shelter,’” Sremac-Saari said. “He’s just like … ‘What am I supposed to do when I find her? Okay, let me find … maybe some roses or something.’”

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Sremac-Saari finished most of the writing during the first few months of the pandemic.

The story parallels waking up to an apocalypse and COVID-19 through a small mention in the story where the characters have trouble finding toilet paper in a store.

Sremac-Saari’s mother, nonfiction author Danielle Sremac, read the book before publication and was surprised to hear her son was writing, because she saw more of his interest in engineering and music.

“He really surprised me at the … level of the work. And the fact that it was a fiction book was amazing, because I don’t write fiction,” Sremac said. “He really made good use of his COVID isolation time.”

Sremac said writing runs through generations of the family, and she hopes that helped to make Sremac-Saari more confident in his work.

“The fact that it was a creative work of fiction, I think, makes me even more proud because I personally really value trying to say something about society or … putting your emotions out there, putting it in a fictional format, but obviously reflecting some truth about society, of what a young man might be going through,” Sremac said.

Sophomore computer science major Ritik Chopra, who has known Sremac-Saari since middle school, said he was not surprised that his friend was writing a book.

“He has always been a really creative individual, with an appreciation for good writing,” Chopra said.

Sremac-Saari sees some of himself in his main character. He tries to make the best of the bad, though not to the extreme of Cole stopping to smell the roses as monsters roam a ruined world.

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“It’s always important to try to find the best in most situations,” Sremac-Saari said. “If you don’t take advantage of those things while you have them, then you just lose them.”

Sremac sees the novel as a reflection of her son, full of motifs of his childhood ranging from Monsters, Inc. to Shakespeare, and capturing his ability to highlight every silver lining.

“You can always do something good and something productive, there’s just no point in focusing on the negative,” Sremac said. “I really like that theme of the book, without the book ever actually saying it.”

Sremac-Saari said he has a few ideas for other books, but will likely wait until he graduates to tackle a second novel. After the Blast is currently available in paperback for $10.99 via Amazon, and Sremac-Saari is planning a signing for his book this semester.