“The worst storms were the ones that changed you. The ones you remembered not for how bad they objectively were, but for how much damage they did to your own world. Banners, planted in memory.”
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was one of those voracious kid readers you always hear about. Reading in the car, reading during meals, reading anything I could find. I re-read a lot – if I found a book I loved I'd read it a dozen times. I kind of miss being able to read a favorite so many times without feeling guilty about all the books I haven't read.
Was there a book that inspired you to write?
There are two. Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. The sheer beauty of it, the powerful atmosphere – there's a scene where the narrator buys new sneakers, and reading that the first time I could actually sense that rubbery new shoe smell at the back of my throat. It amazed me that Bradbury could evoke an actual, physical reaction just by using words on the page. I wanted to learn how to do that. The other is The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. This is a book designed for horse-crazy misfit teenage girls, which is exactly what I was the first time I read it. McKinley's heroines are so personable, and I identified with them so strongly, that I wanted to learn how to do that as well – write characters that people want to spend as much time with as they can.
What book/s have made you cry? What book/s have made you laugh?
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White is the first book that made me cry. I know I'm not alone when I say that Charlotte's death just wrecked me. More recently, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein pushed all my buttons – historical, women aviators, engaging characters – so that the story was pretty much guaranteed to leave me reeling.
What helps you get into the writing mood?
Music. I'm one of those writers who listens to music when I write. It quiets the part of my brain that worries if I left the stove on and makes endless to-do lists. Usually it's something instrumental and gentle, but I'll often find a particular song or style that ends up turning into a soundtrack for a specific story I'm writing. For Bannerless, I listened to Dead Can Dance's album Aion a whole lot.
Do you buy books or borrow books? How do you store your books?
Both. I frequent the local library a whole lot, because I've run out of space at home and borrowing saves me from having to decide whether to keep or get rid of books I'm probably not going to read again. When I suddenly decide I need to read all of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael Penance mysteries (this happened last year), I go to the library. I've become a big fan of e-lending. When you finish a book in a series at 11 pm and desperately need the next one? Check the online library. I love putting a hold on a book and then having it just pop up on my e-reader like a gift. That said, I have lots of books at home and always seem to be getting more somehow. I have floor to ceiling shelves on one wall in my living room. And a basement that somehow keeps filling up with boxes of books... I know where they all are, I swear.
What are you reading right now/or as the NYT says, What’s on your nightstand?
Next up is Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater, because I loved her Raven Cycle series so much and I need more.
Tell us a special memory or something special you love about San Francisco.
When I was a kid, my dad was in California for some training (he was an Air Force pilot at the time), and we went out to visit him and spent a couple weeks traveling down the coast, being tourists. We ended up in San Francisco for a few days, and I remember eating seafood right on the water by the Bay. Now, any visit to the city just doesn't seem complete until I've had some really good seafood along with really great views.
Did you conceive of this as a series? If not, how did it turn into a series? (The next one is The Wild Dead) Will there be more?
I didn't originally think of this as a series. In fact, I didn't originally think of it as a novel. About ten years ago I wrote a short story, "Amaryllis," set in this world. I started building more and more into this setting, a post-apocalyptic culture concerned with sustainability and resource management. I wrote a couple more stories in the setting, including one starring the main character, Enid. Enid took over my brain for awhile, and showed me how I could write a novel in this world: make it a murder mystery. Rather than write a typical post-apocalyptic novel, use the familiar structure of a murder mystery to show the world to the reader. Right now I just have the two novels, but I have ideas for more, when I get the time.
How likely do you feel the future will resemble the future described in your book?
If you'd asked me this when I was writing Bannerless, I'd have said I was exaggerating, playing out the worst case scenario that probably wasn't likely to happen in reality. Unfortunately, the novel has started to feel prescient. The apocalypse in Bannerless imagines a cascade effect of disasters, one after the other, until it gets to a point where civilization can't recover. Climate disasters made worse because the infrastructure has decayed, because disaster preparedness has been defunded, in an environment that hasn't been protected. Pandemics in a time when organizations set up to fight them have been defunded. . .and so on. We're closer to that future than we were even just a few years ago.