Eighteen-year-old Darcy lives on the island of America Pacifica--one of the last places on earth that is still habitable, after North America has succumbed to a second ice age. Education, food, and basic means of survival are the province of a chosen few, while the majority of the island residents must struggle to stay alive. The rich live in "Manhattanville" mansions made from the last pieces of wood and stone, while the poor cower in the shantytown slums of "Hell City" and "Little Los Angeles," places built out of heaped up trash that is slowly crumbling into the sea. The island is ruled by a mysterious dictator named Tyson, whose regime is plagued by charges of corruption and conspiracy.
But to Darcy, America Pacifica is simply home--the only one she's ever known. In spite of their poverty she lives contentedly with her mother, who works as a pearl diver. It's only when her mother doesn't come home one night that Darcy begins to learn about her past as a former "Mainlander," and her mother's role in the flight from frozen California to America Pacifica. Darcy embarks on a quest to find her mother, navigating the dark underbelly of the island, learning along the way the disturbing truth of Pacifica's early history, the far-reaching influence of its egomaniacal leader, and the possible plot to murder some of the island's first inhabitants--including her mother.
Author One-on-One: Anna North and Kelly Link
Kelly Link, author of Magic for Beginners, interviews Anna North about writing America Pacifica, blogging vs. writing fiction, and her favorite books.
Kelly Link: What was the starting point for America Pacifica?
Anna North: First of all, it's so exciting for me to be talking to you about writing! I was actually inspired to write America Pacifica by another writer, whose work I encountered in a sort of unlikely place. I was at an exhibit at the St. Louis Museum of Art called "Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Painting and Drawing," which included some accompanying text written by Ben Marcus. I was totally fascinated with his story of a man reading accounts of his own movements through a post-apocalyptic landscape. Recently I contacted Marcus and he sent me the text -- a story called "The Later Peril." This is the part that really stuck with me:
"I read accounts of myself ostensibly accompanying a family to the market on Saturdays. I may have been their assistant; I may have been their captor. The wording is vague. Some sentences depicted me handling the bread in an aggressive manner, as if searching for something inside it."
I was attracted to the idea of someone investigating his (or in my case, her) disappearance in an unfamiliar world, and America Pacifica started out as the story of a young woman investigating a criminal who turns out to be herself. Later I changed things around so that Darcy was looking for her mother, but I hope the feeling of piecing together clues about a half-destroyed world remains.
Kelly Link: What kind of research did you do?
Anna North: This is a really interesting question. I'm always really curious about the kinds of research people do when the world they write about isn't exactly our world.
I actually did relatively little research for America Pacifica. In some cases I drew from experience -- moving to Iowa after living in Los Angeles can be sort of like going through an Ice Age. In a few cases I had to make changes to make things more plausible -- for instance, I initially had the islanders eating a lot of krill, but a teacher told me krill were very fragile and would probably be one of the first organisms to go in any kind of environmental disaster. So I switched to jellyfish.
More than research, I did a lot of planning. I made lots of maps -- maps of the whole island, and details of neighborhoods like Little Los Angeles. I had to keep re-drawing the maps to make sure that Darcy's movements made sense. And I had to keep track of things like naming conventions -- people born on the island are more likely to be named after cold months or aspects of winter, because people started to miss the cold. But nobody on the mainland would ever have named their kid "Snow."
Kelly Link: Are you a fan of dystopian novels, or science fiction? What kinds of books do you read for pleasure?
Anna North: I love dystopian novels, though I had to declare a moratorium on them when I started writing America Pacifica, to make sure I wouldn't be overly influenced. The last one I read before I started writing was The Road, which I found really beautiful and chilling and sad, and I recently started letting myself read dystopias again, starting with Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, which I also loved. Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age was hugely influential on me when I was younger (I especially liked that it had a female hero), and my favorite novel of all time is Infinite Jest, which has a lot of dystopian elements. I used to read more straight sci-fi than I do now (I was a big fan of Arthur C. Clarke), but these days my reading is sort of all over the place. I spend a lot of time re-reading poems by Anne Carson and Li-Young Lee, and, lately, Amy Bloom stories, and I read a ton of contemporary novels -- a recent favorite is Marcy Dermansky's Bad Marie. I read a fair number of graphic novels too -- I love Fun Home, and recently I really enjoyed Leslie Stein's Eye of the Majestic Creature.
Kelly Link: As well as adult readers, I'd strongly recommend America Pacifica to young adult fans who fell for Paolo Bacigalupi's Shipbreaker, M. T. Anderson's Feed, or Carrie Ryan's zombie novels. Why do you think so much contemporary dystopic fiction is tackled from the point of view of a younger protagonist coming of age? Do you think this kind of genre is a different experience for young adults than for adult readers? (To be fair, I grew up reading John Wyndham, and later on, books like The Giver. This trend has been going on for quite some time.)
Anna North: I definitely became obsessed with the apocalypse as a young teenager, so this makes a lot of sense to me. One reason I've always been attracted to stories about the end of the world is that they provide opportunities for ordinary people to face extraordinary challenges and become heroic, and I think that's a theme that really resonates with young adults -- at least it did with me. Adolescence is a time when your character is still being formed, and it's exciting to read about young people who, by facing really extreme hardships, are formed into something great. I think the appeal of dystopian fiction for young adults is sort of similar to the appeal of survival stories -- Hatchet comes to mind. The idea of identity formation in response to great adversity can be really powerful.
Kelly Link: You're a writer for the website Jezebel.com. Do the two kinds of writing -- fiction vs. professional blogging -- feed each other?
Anna North: I'd say the two kinds of writing complement each other. Blogging allows me to be topical and timely and overtly political, and it also allows me to make jokes, which is harder for me in fiction. And fiction lets me make things up, obviously, but it also allows me to play with the kind of lyrical language I don't always have time or space for in blog posts. Often one can feel like a respite from the other -- when I get tired of reading and writing about the news, I can escape into a fictional world, and when I get stuck with my fiction it can be a relief to move back into a more regimented, earthbound form. Also, as much as spending all day on the Internet can get exhausting, I end up reading so much every day that I get a lot of inspiration. And my fiction does deal with some of the issues I write about on Jezebel -- specifically, with challenging the roles that have traditionally been assigned to women, and with exploring what it's like when girls and women do things (like going on quests, for instance) that have often been reserved for male characters. In both cases, I get to explore the things I care about in writing, which is an enormous privilege and a joy.
In her dark, page-turning debut, North tells the story of Darcy, an 18-year-old girl in a dystopian future whose mother goes missing. For as long as she can remember, Darcy has lived on America Pacifica, an isolated island nation, home to refugees from a mainland ravaged by drastic climate change. Their government is run by a Big Brother–like autocrat named Tyson whose strict social hierarchy allows the richest residents to live in luxury while most citizens live in hovels and can barely afford food. Despite these circumstances, Darcy and her mother, Sarah, are otherwise happy until one day when Sarah doesn't return from work. With no resources or leads, Darcy vows to find her mother, a mission aided by a tip from one of America Pacifica's first arrivals and the help of a dissident named Ansel. As Darcy follows a trail of clues and lands in some tense situations, North cleverly combines elements from other popular modern stories—a brave young heroine on an against-all-the-odds quest on a strange island with shocking secrets. Although the narrative and prose don't always excite with originality, the story—and the wealth of detail in a vividly imagined world—is memorable. (May)
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