Finally, a distopia by someone who has actually lived in one!
Today, we have an interview with Marina Fontaine of Liberty Island, author of the new book, Chasing Freedom.
How did you come to write this book?
It all began with a flash fiction contest at Liberty Island, an online fiction magazine. A New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, had written a fictional piece sometime in late 2013 that had future U.S. over-run by zombies because the politicians defunded CDC (or something like that, anyway). Liberty Island challenged its members to “write better.” I had a good chuckle, wished my writer friends good luck and went to bed.
Overnight, I had a “vision,” if you will, of an American family packing up to move to Canada. Also, they would be transported by a horse-and-buggy arrangement. That was all I knew. Mind you, before this happened, I had never written fiction in my life, but I got curious as to how this setup might happen. Why are they leaving? Why Canada? Why horse and buggy and not a car or bus or plane?
You can probably tell where this is going. I wrote out the full flash fiction piece, and Liberty Island published it along with other entries. But I kept wanting to know more about the world. I started getting more characters, more stories, and it just kept growing until at some point I realized this could be a full novel. And so here I am, much to my surprise, being told I can no longer call myself an “aspiring” author because my book is actually out there.
How did you pick the genre?
Dystopia is a natural fit for me as it happens to be a combination of writing “what you know” and “what you read.” Having grown up in the former Soviet Union, I know first hand how an oppressive society operates—what it does to people, how the system sustains itself, but also the potential weaknesses and cracks that are invisible to the outsiders. I have brought a lot of this understanding into my writing, and it helped make it more grounded and realistic.
I have also read many dystopian novels, both classics and the more recent offerings. There were themes that I have loved, but also points of disagreement with some of the visions out there. I have tried to address some of what I thought were the pitfalls of the genre and create something that was fresh and—hopefully—exciting, even to the readers who might have been over-saturated with the dystopian literature as a whole.
Can you tell us (without too many spoilers) a little about the characters and their journey?
In short, my heroes are ordinary people who rise to the occasion, and my villains are those who do not. A big theme in my novel is individual choices, and how anyone can end up either making the world better or being led into doing evil. Thus, none of the characters are over-the-top cartoons. They are all recognizable and easy to understand.
For example, the main protagonists of my novel start out simply as teenagers posting subversive information on the Internet and end up leading the country-wide Rebellion movement. It comes at a terrible cost, but they chose that path and paid the price even though most in their position would not. There are several other protagonists as well, who mostly just wanted to live their lives, but get forced into picking a side—again, at a price.
On the flip side, the villains are more or less regular people who for various reasons become trapped in positions where they either act in despicable ways or enable others in doing so. The true villain in my novel is the system that destroys people’s souls. It is one of the themes not often addressed when talking of totalitarian societies. We tend to focus on the obvious victims, who get jailed or tortured or killed. But what of the many more who die not in body, but in soul, little by little, and often by their own choice to simply “get along”? That’s a bit of a soapbox for me, and I tried to work it quite a bit into the novel.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Here’s where it gets awkward. I have the least creative day job in the world—an accountant for a real estate company (OK, I can get pretty creative with those expense classifications, but nevertheless…) Aside from that, I am a mother of three and a pet parent to four guinea pigs. In my copious spare time, I read and review books, blog and hang out with my friends on the Internet. And before you ask, shockingly enough, my wonderful husband puts up with all of this. I have been very blessed indeed.
Is this your first book? Do you have others planned?
Chasing Freedom is my first. It is self-contained, although I might over time write a few short stories set in the same world. There is an anthology in the works called (tentatively) Right Turn Only that has accepted my submission of a short story based on the background of one of the characters in the novel.
As for completely new material, I am currently working on an idea that might become a short story or a novelette, depending on how fleshed out it becomes. One thing I’m finding out is that once inspiration strikes, you as a writer have no choice but follow, and I’m excited to discover where it ends up.
Personal Blog: Marina’s Musings
LIberty Island Creator Forum: