Researching my post-apocalypto, Burn Down the Sky, began, insofar as the book was concerned, with Jessie’s appearance. She was the first character to step forward (thank you, Jess). I had the image of her immediately. I knew she was tall, dark haired, lean – but then again, everyone in this world is lean because of the overwhelming scarcity – and that she was a wildlife biologist. I didn’t have to think about her profession. It was there a priori, and only as I began to write the novel did I realize why: Jessie could make astute observations of the planet’s decline because of her studies.
I’ve often said that if I had to do it all over again, I would have become a wildlife biologist, but to be honest, and why not, it’s a blog – what else is it for? – being an author with a protagonist who’s a wildlife biologist is even better. I didn’t have to take statistical analysis or a host of other classes that just aren’t nearly as interesting as living in the future with the likes of Jessie while she does all the heavy lifting, scientifically speaking.
But I have, as you might presume, quite a bit of interest in the sciences, especially the environmental sciences, which is a rather all-inclusive category, I realize. I’ve been following climate change science and coverage for quite a number of years. I even have a blog devoted to posting summaries and links to the biggest climate change stories of the day: www.postingfromthepostapocalypse.com. And the environment has been a player in each of my novels, forming subtext in Hush and Search Angel, and the major theme in Primitive, which climateprogress.org (named by Time magazine as “The Web’s most influential climate change blogger.”) called one of the best novels on climate change (believe it or not, there are a lot of them out there). In fact, Burn Down the Sky is a continuation, thematically, of the material in Primitive. Not the same characters, not the same plot, but it’s the theme writ large.
So research into climate change was, and remains, a daily part of my life. I don’t feel I’ve ever chosen to write a book so much as the book has chosen me to write it. I don’t mean that in any metaphysical way, either. In my experience, my own passions, no matter how dark, have steered me to the tales I tell.
Because I’ve been keeping up on climate change, and environmental themes have found their way into my books, it seems a natural outgrowth that they eventually found their way into the future because it’s not possible, it seems to me, to consider climate change without thinking of the future. Voila‘! Post-apocalypto!
I found a lot of freedom in writing Burn Down the Sky. The world, as I envisioned it in the latter part of this century, was a bit of the proverbial empty canvas, although clearly not empty enough, given the grievous threats my characters found. It allowed me to play with the idea of human devolution, socially speaking. I was first engaged by that idea in Jane Jacobs’s last book, Dark Age Ahead. Her marvelous work put to rest any intractably sanguine notions I had of unimpeded human progress. Hey, the fact is we have had huge reversals in the past. Jared Diamond, for whom I have enormous regard, wrote another book that influenced me greatly, Collapse. But I should note that in both cases I read the books years before Burn Down the Sky came to me. Likewise a small gem by Gwynne Dyer called Climate Wars.
When I’ve written about art therapists or sculptors, I spent months researching those topics, and interviewed extensively. When I sat down to write the novel that became Burn Down the Sky, I’d already done most of the research. All I had to do was keep up with latest studies and, of course, keep up my characters as they reacted to where the world, plausibly enough, is headed.
Nine randomly chosen winners will receive a copy of James Jaros’ Burn Down the Sky. Comment to win. Giveaway ends May 31, 2011.
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Comment to win: (Don’t forget to include your email address) Answer the questions: With recessions, climate changes, Mayan calendars, wars, tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes it might seem we are two steps closer to apocalypse. Are you doing anything to prepare yourself? Or do you think it is just nonsense?
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