To answer that its probably best to go back to its beginnings. My daughter is the first major catalyst in its genesis. It’s my own fault, I could have continued in my stultifying ignorance but I insisted she listened to NPR, the BBC, Ted Talks and several smart scientific buffs who wander in and out of our house and she made me take notice of what they were saying. Appalled by the fate of the polar bear and shocked to discover we could go the way of the dinosaurs without having the cold comfort of a comet to blame, she demanded that I do something.
Another catalyst was an evolving conversation I had over several years with a group of young, talented female athletes who constantly despaired that no book would ever contain a protagonist that they felt was born of the crucible they had to survive. Most made it out of this fire to become incredible, successful women, but none made it unscathed. And eventually, sadly, inevitably, one didn’t. When that happened, I knew Nettie had to be written, even if only for purely selfish cathartic reasons.
I never considered it to be a book for females, and still don’t, but from the beginning I've been warned by experienced professionals in the publishing arena that such a female protagonist may temper its readership and bottom-line. I recall telling my daughter this, who after a couple of beats of bemused silence stated “but she’s a girl dad”. And of course, in her eleven-year-old wisdom, unencumbered by the weary world of adulthood, hit it on the head. Nettie is as female as Harry was male. She just is. So, I politely declined their well intended offers to walk with Nettie down a road less traveled.
What is the story's theme?
In a world where the beginning is in our ending, our hope is to defy our nature and evolve from predator into protector. This is our resurrection. Our only hope is this rebirth. 'Nettie's' world is twisting in the torments of death and the only way to survive the calamity is to harvest all that is good in the human condition. Failure to do this will result in a peculiar version of divine right that has at its heart a doctrine of blind Social Darwinism, that insists we can rule creation until it is used up. I hope there is drama but no melodrama. Even the darkest characters wrestle with choices. Nothing is sure. Everything is open. I am afraid I don’t have the courage to write absolutes. I have my beliefs and thoughts on many things, but I think very things in life are absolute. Even if like Nettie, we have the chance to remake our future, there is no guarantee we will have the courage to make the choices necessary to succeed.
What are the literary influnces on 'Nettie'?
Its magical realism connects with those who graduated from Hogwarts. Its adventure also has the essence of a romantic fantasy of Fennimore Cooper. Its bedrock includes Tolkien, Boulle and Clarke, which gives it an epic fantasy foundation with walls constructed of the social questioning conscience of early science fiction. The novel's inhabitants include an emblematic post-modern protagonist, who is forced from her safe, although restrictive childhood, to discover and navigate a brave new world that she never sought, invented or built, but is her inheritance. Much like all new generations have to inherit the calamitous state of the world their parents bequeath them. I never considered it to be a book for female readers, and still don’t, but from the beginning I was warned by experienced professionals in publishing that such a female protagonist may temper its readership and bottom-line. When I was first asked if I would be willing to change Nettie's gender I recall telling my daughter, who after a bemused silence stated “but she’s a girl”. And of course her eleven-year-old wisdom, unencumbered by the weary world of adulthood, hit it on the head. Nettie is as female as Harry Potter was male. She just is. So, I politely declined their well meaning advice andI walked with Nettie down a road less traveled.
What is the Great Library?
Its inspiration comes from the Great Library in ancient Alexandria, where the city perceived the pursuit of knowledge as a vigorous civic duty, ambitiously seeking to hold a copy of every book in the world. The nobility of their goal was undermined by an insatiable appetite that meant in reality texts were often violently liberated from their original owners. Not surprising, considering this was a city imbued with its founder’s ambition although it also resonated with Alexander's all-inclusive pragmatic vision where knowledge and wisdom were legal tender. In this unique city great minds of women and men wrestled with understanding the human condition whilst math and science labored to produce hitherto almost inconceivable thoughts.. Of course, it is easy to pine for a utopia lost, and although as a culture it produced its own poisonous barbs, it is easy to forget and forgive those when you know the Library and its citizens’ fate under the Christian Bishop Cyril. A fate made, more poignant today as we are still beset by such dogma and practices that persecute all things different and would mutilate the world’s art, deface its science and turn love into hate. Perhaps it has always been thus. Perhaps it will ever be thus. But as this bigotry knows no bounds and is carried like a sickness in the belly of every culture around the world today, it’s time for those who believe in love, in wisdom, in the great democracy of letters to speak out. Actually as I wrote 'Nettie', I realized how angry I had become. As I was finishing the book and word came out about Khaled al-Asaad’s martyrdom, I knew I wanted what I wrote to be at least a paltry tribute to his and those like him who make the ultimate sacrifice. The paltry divisions between liberal and conservative should not muffle this call to arms, it has nothing to do with God or the Devil or any religion, it is quite simply a struggle between civilization and the abyss. A pit dug by man made evil that would bury the divine. I tried to raise this issues in the nature of the Paran and their city of Kedros.
How was the dramatic structure of 'Nettie' formed?
Before the advent of a well made play and the late 20th Century’s rocky love affair with evolution and revolution, cause and effect, nature and nurture and absurd realism 'Nettie' could not exist. Its plot's dramatic arc is in the style of a well-made play, while the kickers to the chapters offer movie-like glimpses into the context of the world and the seemingly minor arbitrary choices we all make that define our individual and civilizations lives. This mixture of characters’ choices and events threatening to overtake their lives are constant reminders of the terrors we all face in our lives. They constantly threaten to unhinge its dramatic balance and conflict. 'Nettie's' leitmotifs of time and space reflect the fact that despite our knowledge and newfound comprehension of the physics of the universe, we are still capable of behaving like an ignorant primate. This ignorance champions and actively supports the destruction of what makes us human, where art, intellect and the imagination are hounded by fear, suspicion and dogma. The dramatic structure of the narrative has an organic cinematic development borne of the characters’ development. Its style and structure weaves in elements to its sense of chaotic harmony, the truth that although nothing appears connected, everything is connected. There are no coincidences.
What is the role of fantasy?
Fantasy reflects our fears. No matter how outrageous the story it is about being human and although nothing can prepare us for the known and unknowns that will happen, great writers touch the nerves of what it is to be human..The nature of fantasy means conflicts and characters are taken to extremes, but they are still reflect every day struggles and conflict points.
Is Global Warming such a threat?
Whether it is or isn’t, I can't convince you here. If you think not, then I hope you will just consider it a literary convention, something akin to an HG Wells futuristic catastrophe that can still be useful metaphor. Whatever our outlook, our children will know which scientists were right and which were paid off.
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