Mary of Eco-fiction.com recently interviewed first-time novelist Lisa Devaney about her cli-fi title In Ark: A Promise of Survival.
Your book, In Ark: A Promise of Survival, is set in a future world. How did you imagine this future scenario?
I’ve always been intrigued by what might happen in the future. What I love about the future is that it really lets your imagination run wild. As no one can be sure, you to make up anything you want. For my first ever book In Ark: A Promise of Survival (#InArk) the spark of my idea ignited in September 2009 while I was strolling along the pebble beach in Brighton, England. I got fascinated by seaweed.
I thought about how many varieties of seaweed are edible, and that’s when I got this very clear image of a group of people harvesting seaweed on the beach. Harvesting seaweed–because it was a food source for them at a time in the future when climate change has wrecked the earth and food supplies are scarce. Then I imagined that this group of people had come from a nearby eco-city, where they had to live and protect themselves from damaging environmental threats, such as dangerous sunlight and extreme storms. I then returned to London, thinking all along the way home about seaweed as a food source in the future and my imagined group of climate change survivors. At home, in East London’s Hackney, I had just recently moved into a new building that had a balcony with sweeping views toward the east where Olympic Park was being built. There it was, I thought! My imaginary eco-survivalist city of the future, was, in fact, being built just one mile from my flat! Very futuristic buildings were going up, like the velodrome and the Aquatics Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid.
I’ve also written about my inspiration in those early days here.
Climate change and other travesties seem to be a part of this world that you created. Did you know, when you were writing, that there was a climate genre? I have found that many writers may not know this but discover it later.
Ha, ha, good question. It was totally by accident, or possibly a sign from above, that I discovered the cli-fi (#clifi) genre. In November 2013, I had just finished writing and was working on the editing process of my book with Monica Wanat and finalizing the cover design with Aidana Willow Raven, and I had to take a trip to America for my grandmother’s funeral (who died at age 99!). In a US airport, I randomly picked up a copy of Wired magazine. Flipping through it, I found a column called Jargon Watch and read about cli-fi being a new literary genre for climate change fiction.
I posted a tweet about how I think I have written a cli-fi book. Shortly after, I heard from Dan Bloom on Twitter — the actual inventor of the genre and term!
He was immediately interested in my book, and incredibly supportive and helpful. Connecting with him, and the global cli-fi community, has opened up a whole new world and promising opportunities for me and my book. Being part of cli-fi even got an early, positive review of my book.
When the new year of 2014 arrived, I was preparing a strategy to launch my book. I went back and forth over deciding if I should use cli-fi or sci-fi. I wasn’t sure that anyone would understand what cli-fi meant, and was worried that I would lose exposure and sales by using it. So, I think I posted something on my website about my book being a sci-fi/cli-fi novel, and oh boy I heard from Danny very quickly! He begged me to commit to the cli-fi genre and not use sci-fi. Ha, ha, his passion for cli-fi, valued insight and total enthusiasm and support won me over.
I also thought that it would benefit my book promotions effort by giving it a kind of edge, and catch attention and curiosity about what is cli-fi?
So far I think it was the right decision to go with cli-fi. However, I had to list it on Amazon as sci-fi because there is no category for cli-fi there…YET!
At the beginning of the book we learn that the main character Mya is a digital archivist. I think this is interesting because other speculative fiction I’ve read dealing with a less than hopeful future has a common motif of preservation of people’s lives through some kind of documentation. Do you have any insights about this preservation?
Yes. Waaaaaay back in May 2005 I was at a May Day event in London and noticed that a guy was filming a group of Morris Dancers. At the time I was very fascinated with videography, citizen journalism and using YouTube (check out my channel) and so asked him what he was doing. He explained that he was “archiving for future generations.” He told me how he was saving the footage not for people of today but for the people of tomorrow, in the long distant future. That was Ron Briefel, who is, in fact, a real life digital archivist.
This idea stuck in my mind; the whole concept of a digital record that could be accessed by people of the future fascinated me. At the time I had been researching my own ancestors who come from Cornwall. I had gone back to where my descendants lived, looked for grave stones, discovered a plot of land that they actually farmed and lived on (now a slag heap of mining waste material), and I walked around in places that they may have walked. But, what I didn’t have were pictures and stories, and I really wanted to be able to see them talking to me, to hear them tell stories about their lives–I wanted to really get to know them.
It struck me that this idea of digital archiving was something very valuable for humanity. At present, we are all doing our own digital archiving online, but it is random and scattered about the Internet. That’s how I was led to imagine Mya’s life’s work and mission, that she was furiously trying to digital archive the stories of humanity before the Change destroyed the planet, and humankind.
Speaking of that, the planet is facing what is called “the Change” in your book. Is this “climate change” or something else?
In fact, this question really made me think a lot about what exactly I picture the Change being. Initially, I had in mind that it was simply climate change. And I picked that the full impact of climate change would be severe in 30 years’ time from now–2044. I picked 30 years because I’ve heard so many reports that that is when Earth will really notice and be suffering from the impacts of climate change. I also listened to Al Gore. He talked about climate change impacting Earth most severely in 30 years in his movie An Inconvenient Truth.
BUT as I am evolving my tale and planned trilogy of M‘ I am also viewing the Change as being a shift in the political and economic world order. I am imagining a future where dominant political and economic power has shifted to China, and where America has fallen into political and economic decline. You know how you hear about the longest running time of any empire being about 400 years, like the Romans? Well, I often think about this fact, and wonder if the civilization of America will someday, in 400-500 years’ time, be gone.
Already there are problems in healthcare, with economic insecurity for millions, with a handful of people getting very rich while most cannot even hope to achieve wealth. And what about how so much production of goods and services are moving away from the USA and into China, India, etc. I feel like all these factors, and more, are eroding the backbone of the USA, eroding and decaying the nation’s chance for survival. The USA may salvage the nation’s political and economic dominance in reality, but for my wild fictional dystopian story–and as part of the Change that Mya lives in–I will show over this trilogy how China rules the world in 2044 and beyond.
Did you imagine a certain year in which your novel might take place? If so, do you think that your book speculated what might actually happen in the future?
Yes. 2044. Although, ha, ha, ha, I am very bad at math and I originally thought of the year 2030. I published 2030 in all my promo materials and posted it to Amazon. Then I started adding up the years in my head and suddenly realized OMG 30 years in the future is actually 2044! I had to go back and change the year to 2044 everywhere! DUH!
As stated already, my choice of 30 years in the future is entirely due to Al Gore and him bringing home the scientists’ warnings that climate change will be an extreme threat to Earth 30 years from now. And yes, while my dystopian cli-fi tale is fiction, I think that climate change is a harsh, harsh reality that is really going to happen. Much of what I’ve speculated is based on the idea of what life will really be like with full-blown environmental catastrophe from climate change. Like, how Mya and her friends have to wear protective clothing to shield their fragile skin from the sun’s severe rays. Don’t you think that in 30 years, at the rate humanity is going, we will have destroyed the protective ozone layer surrounding our planet with the toxic waste we keep pumping into it? Even sunscreen won’t protect us in the future.
You speak of “visionaries” in the novel. They seem to be like people in our real world who predict climate change will be worse. It’s odd that such people are under attack, but that is the reality of it, so I think you hit the nail on the head. At first, these visionaries seemed pretty cool, but their descendants, maybe not so much. What are your thoughts on that?
I know a lot of visionaries, in fact, with my wild imagination, some people describe me as being visionary.
Visionaries get attacked. My grandmother was visionary in her insight toward healthy eating. Having been sick for many years, she discovered that changing her diet from junk to healthy food helped her heal. When she told her doctors about this, back in the 50s, they laughed at her. Told her she was silly and didn’t listen to her. She then devoted her whole life to educating everyone she could about the benefits of healthy eating of whole grains, protein and no refined sugar.
I also work as a PR for tech startups. Many of the founders and CEOs I have encountered are visionaries. Some have created new technologies and gone on to disrupt the marketplace, and even make millions of dollars.
Indeed, I think the people who have predicted climate change and are now sending warnings to us all about it are visionaries. I’ve turned these visionaries in my story into twisted, evil, deviant cult leaders–purely for entertainment purposes. Also, as you found in my book, I showed how these visionaries escaped the torment of dis-believers and retreated into an insular community. Well, back in the 70s when I was a baby, my mother told me a story about how an old gypsy woman that she met at a rest stop on the highway tried to take me away and do some sort of ritual blessing. My mother was terrified and clung tight to me. This scary story stuck in my head for many years–and I’ve always been wary of any sort of cultish-insular group, even if it involves well-meaning doctrine and beliefs. I’ve run into this same fear when I encounter extreme religious groups of any kind. I also imagined some of the bizarre stories about Heaven’s Gate, Waco and Charles Mason.
Hearing about how rich people have been buying up mass amounts of land in Africa–all for the purpose of being able to produce their own food, for their own survival in the future–made me think about my imaginary eco-survivalist community. I also thought, hey! It really isn’t fair that only rich people will get the resources to survive; what about the rest of us?
And, with my own observations of any kind of social clique, extreme religious belief or any group that puts itself above others, or believes that it is somehow better than anyone else and more worthy–is truly EVIL. Hey, I actually love the green movement; in fact, my husband works in sustainability and is an active member of the Green Party; he has run for office multiple times. We try to pay attention to green living–recycling food waste and everything else. And my green credentials include being a former journalist with a focus on environmental reporting. I was also an active campaigner for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) for environmental issues, such as the infamous Garbage Barge.
So, even though I subscribe to green ideas and living, I am very suspicious of it becoming like a cult group–and being something that ends up being possible for just a few, wealthy, carefully selected individuals, rather than benefiting the whole world.
As my trilogy of Mya and the Ark evolves I will tell this story more.
Your story is similar to that of Noah and the Ark, where part of humanity has to go into a safe place to ensure survival. In fact, the “Ark” is part of the title and relates directly to reclaiming civilization in the book. This is a really neat concept. Can you shed some light on how you decided to write about this place?
In fact, it was my friend and professional colleague Joan Smith who helped me shape the title of Ark. Before she came along, I was calling it “Hai はい” because I like Japanese characters, I like the word “Hai” because it is one syllable and it means a positive word of “yes.” Basically, no one had any idea what that meant and it made no sense. Eureka! When Joan called my idea as being an Ark, it all made sense. Thank you, Joan!
Speaking of that, did you see the recent movie Noah? I have not seen it yet but want to. It was touted in the media as a climate movie.
Haven’t seen it yet. But yes, plan to! Also, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t see a lot of cli-fi or fictional stories that may be similar to mine. I really, truly made this up totally from my own inspiration and my own head. I really wanted it to be original and not like anything else out there–and, hopefully, I’ve achieved that. Although, now that people are reading it and giving me feedback, they tell me what it reminds me of. Like my editor telling me it reminded her of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale for instance. BUT, until she told me that, I had never actually read that book. Now I have, and, yeah, my style and approach to a dystopian world does seem similar, but not as dark.
Did you find it difficult to write about some of the harsh rules made up by the visionary descendants in the ark?
Yes, I did. I don’t like putting my head into evil, twisted places. It is scary to go places like that. But, I did. I forced myself there, to invent the cruel aspects of this world–to show how any ideology, even well-meaning green ideology, can become twisted and controlling and dangerous.
Mya encountered a Mimosa tree and likened it to herself. Just for fun, do you have a tree that reminds you of you? 🙂
Hell yeah. I am totally a Mimosa. I used to have a Mimosa tree in my backyard in the 70s, when I lived with my family on Long Island. It was incredible. It would put out these magically pink fluffy blossoms and proudly display itself to the entire world, but then, at night, and if you touched its leaves, it would retreat–like in this video.
I am so, so, so like a Mimosa. I come across all loud, colourful and confident like a brazen peacock, like a Mimosa in bloom. But then, if anyone pokes at me or criticizes me, I shrink away, like the leaves of a Mimosa. I may appear proud and brave with all my flowers in bloom, but I actually am so sensitive that I really just want to hide away and protect myself.
So, I’m utterly terrified of when I get my first bad reviews! As I’m sure it will happen at some point. You can’t please everyone!
How have people reacted to your novel?
OMG! I am so, so surprised. I have been absolutely terrified to share my first book with the world. I thought I’d get slated, told I was crap, told I suck at writing, told it was ridiculous that I even tried to write a book, as I have no proper training to do such a thing.
BUT–so far, fingers crossed, I am getting amazing, insightful response. I’m getting 5* ratings and positive reviews. People are telling me it is a “page turner” and that they couldn’t put it down and wanted to see what would happen next. This is exactly what I wanted to achieve!
So, and time will tell how it all shakes out, I’m totally encouraged to plunge into writing book 2…and 3!
I was happy to see that the book ended on a positive note. This lets me know–and it’s true in other climate change books I’ve read–that we authors who write this speculative fiction are not all a lot of doom and gloom forecasters. Can you provide some of your thoughts about painting a bleak future but wrapping it up with hope?
I’m glad you noticed this, Mary. Indeed, I aim for the overall trilogy to emerge on a helpful note. With my work with NYPRIG and involvement with other environmental activist groups, I am always encouraged when they tell me about how all these little things we do will make a difference. It may feel like it doesn’t matter if you recycle your mayonnaise jar–but when millions of people also recycle their mayonnaise jars, it makes a difference!
I was also very encouraged by the work of Scenic Hudson and how the work they did, step-by-step, over many years, helped to totally clean up the Hudson River. You can now fish there–and fish were dead in that river. It was amazing work and shows how we can turn around how we take care of our planet.
I also have experience with the Hopi Tribe and adore and admire their approach to caring for their land and environment. As my trilogy moves along, I will tell more about Hopi and show more about Mya’s ancestors there.
Are you working on any other novels right now?
This summer I hope to kick off effort to right book 2 in my Mya and Ark series, tentatively titled Beyond Ark.
I also need to get around to writing a business book to share my experience and tips about my PR work. This is tentatively titled DIY PR for Startups and Entrepreneurs.
And I’ve got in mind another book about the topic of an older man grooming a young girl for sex. I kind of think of it like The New Lolita.
OMG! I want to write as many books and short stories as I can before I die.
I also dream of having my tombstone read “RIP Lisa Devaney ‘Transmediast'” because I’m not only interested in the medium of the printed word, but love multimedia. In fact, I’m thinking of ways I can help my M‘ series be told across multiple platforms, online. This will take some time! But I’m working on it!
Thanks so much, Lisa! Great interview and best of luck with the continued Ark series.