September 09, 2014

Visions of the Future: A Post-Apocalyptic Blog Tour, featuring Caragh O'Brien

First of all, huge thanks to Gina Gagliano at First Second/Macmillan, who set us up with Caragh O'Brien on this blog tour--Tanita and I are both fascinated by the topic and love a good post-apocalyptic vision of the earth. (Um, in fiction only, please.) What is "Visions of the Future" all about? Macmillan Teen's website says this: "Five writers talk about what they think of the future—and why they wrote it the way they did." Five authors of recent novels that spin a rather grim view of what might happen to us in the not-so-distant future--and we are thrilled to host an essay by Caragh O'Brien, author of Birthmarked (which Tanita reviewed here).

Tanita describes the novel much more aptly and eloquently than I can do at the moment (you can blame the brain freeze on my day job), so go read the full review, in which she notes, "The post-apocalypse survival narrative is excellent, and as she gets deeper into trouble, Gaia has to make agonizing, hair-trigger decisions based on only what she feels is right." She also says, "This book is -- intense. There just aren't a lot of YA novels about midwifery, inbreeding, and hemophilia," and if that doesn't make you curious, then nothing will. So, without further delay, here is Caragh's post.

To talk about the fictional world in my Birthmarked trilogy, I must begin with a true story. A few years back, I took a road trip across the country with my family, and somewhere in Arkansas, we drove over a bridge where the river beneath was a dry gully. The next bridge spanned another dry river, and then we passed a lake that was as dry as a baseball diamond. Mile after mile the drought extended, and whenever we passed what was supposed to be water, it was another dusty, sloping void.

Until that drive, I had thought climate change was a doom that would happen in the distant future, to other generations, but it was suddenly right in my face. It freaked me out.

I began writing the Birthmarked trilogy because, in essence, I was afraid. I wanted to predict who could adapt and how they might do it. I wondered how much cutthroat self-preservation would be justified, and most of all, I wanted to believe that some of us would survive. Writing the novel let me delve in to my fear and search for something that could give me hope.

The story of Birthmarked takes place 400 years in the future on the north shore of Unlake Superior, after climate change. I take Minnesota, the state I grew up in, Land of 10,000 Lakes, and imagine all the water gone. I envision it as a wasteland that’s both beautiful and severe. I figure that certain smart, wealthy people prepare for the change by building the Enclave, a walled city with solar power, geothermal power, and deeply drilled wells. Inside the walls, they have education, technology, culture, and enough food, but they’ve miscalculated on one thing: how many people they need for diversity in their gene pool. Due to inbreeding, they’re having trouble with infertility and hemophilia. What they need is a most basic resource: more human genes.

Here’s where our heroine comes in. Gaia Stone, a young midwife, lives outside the wall in Wharfton, an impoverished community that exists in essentially medieval conditions, with no electricity or services. In exchange for rations of water and mycoprotein from the Enclave, Wharfton must surrender a quota of babies every month to the authorities inside the wall. Gaia accepts this system until the first time she helps a mother deliver a baby solo, and the mother objects to forfeiting her child. That same night, Gaia’s parents are arrested, and Gaia determines to rescue them from the Enclave.

As happens with world building, I found that the physical setting of the novel wove into the plot, and the shortage of resources underscored every choice that the characters made, individually and at a societal level. On one hand, the Enclave was lovely and thriving, but it hid the heartache of dying hemophiliacs and its citizens could stand by while a pregnant woman was hanged. I respected that people like Gaia would do almost anything to survive, and I could also grasp that the evil leader meant well when he justified his ruthless decisions. My story grounded in climate change was really about need, family, power, and fairness.

Of course, I’m still troubled by what’s happening with climate change, especially when I see that the populations that suffer the most are our poorest. Yet I also believe that we’re ingenuitive and compassionate, and our most important resource, as in my novel, is our humans. We are already the survivors.

Thank you so much, Caragh and Gina! Here's the full schedule for the Visions of the Future blog tour:

Monday, September 8
Andrew Smith

Tuesday, September 9
Caragh O’Brien
Finding Wonderland

Wednesday, September 10
Farel Dalrymple
The Book Wars

Thursday, September 11
Emmy Laybourne
Green Bean Teen Queen

Friday, September 12
Carrie Ryan
Forever YA

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