Debut Author Snapshot: Karen Thompson Walker

June, 2012

Karen Thompson Walker Former Simon & Schuster editor Karen Thompson Walker wrote at home every morning for an hour before heading to the office to sculpt the words of others. Now it's time for her own voice to be heard. Her debut work of speculative fiction, The Age of Miracles, follows a preteen girl who observes global upheaval when the Earth's rotation unexpectedly begins to slow down. Birds drop out of the sky, and day and night soon last twice as long as normal. Even though it may be the end of the world, the human story of young adulthood is the heart of this unusual novel: friendships, a first crush, squabbling parents.

A Southern California native, Walker now lives in Brooklyn and is working on her second novel. She shares with Goodreads some images of natural phenomena that would be impacted by the slowing of the Earth's rotation.

"As the magnetic field begins to wither, auroras like these become commonplace not only at the poles but as far south as Southern California." (Photo: Wallpaperden.com)
Goodreads: What came first in your writing process? The character of Julia or the concept of slowing down the Earth's rotation?

Karen Thompson Walker: I got the idea after reading that the 2004 earthquake in Indonesia was so massive that it affected the rotation of the Earth, shortening our 24-hour days by a few microseconds each. I found it profoundly haunting that something we take for granted—the predictable rising and setting of our sun—is actually subject to change, and I began to imagine what would happen if the change were much more significant.

But I knew before I wrote the first sentence that I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a woman looking back on her childhood. Julia's voice came to me before I knew her as a character, and then her character grew from the voice.

GR: Why did you choose to observe these global changes through the eyes of an American, middle-class, adolescent narrator?

"This gold nugget necklace, which my grandfather brought back from Alaska in the 1940s, is very similar to the one that Julia's grandfather gives her. Her grandfather, cantankerous but generous, is based partly on mine."
KTW: Although this is a story about a catastrophe that affects the whole planet, it was important to me that the book feel as intimate as possible. I wanted to focus on just a few characters, one ordinary family, and how these enormous events affect their daily lives in ways that are large as well as small. At the time of the slowing, Julia is a young girl, a sensitive only child and a natural observer, who is struggling with the everyday ups and downs of adolescence: trouble with friendships and with her parents, the beginnings of first love. Tracing the consequences of the slowing through Julia's eyes was a way of focusing on the meaning of ordinary life in a story in which ordinary life is suddenly at risk.

GR: It is a grand thought experiment: working through what would tangibly be affected by "the slowing." How did you brainstorm all the various consequences? What ideas did you discard because they turned out to be scientifically implausible?

"As a result of the slowing, it becomes impossible to predict where on Earth any and all total solar eclipses will be visible. I studied pictures like this one when writing about an eclipse that surprises Julia and her fellow Californians."
KTW: Fiction is always an illusion, of course, but it was important to me that the slowing and its effects seem as real and as vivid as possible. I did some scientific research as I wrote, and I eventually showed the book to an astrophysicist, who helped me with some of the more technical aspects of the slowing. I was relieved by how many of the slowing's consequences he felt were plausible—once you take the leap that the rotation of the Earth is mysteriously changing. As a result of his input, I changed the way the slowing affects the people's sense of gravity. I had assumed that the slower rotation would make gravity seem slightly weaker, that baseballs would begin to fly a little farther, but I learned from my astrophysicist that the opposite is actually more likely, so I reversed those references. I also lifted many of the book's other details from daily newspaper stories. I was always trying to learn from the strange things that happen in our real world, from weird weather to mysterious extinctions to sleep disorders to the onset of unexplained illnesses.

GR: Have you always been a fan of "end of the world" stories?

KTW: I guess I've always been drawn to disaster stories. Two of my favorite books are about large-scale catastrophes and how people respond to them: The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Blindness by José Saramago. I like the way disaster narratives tend to raise the stakes on life. When we're faced with any kind of major threat, whether in literature or in life, all the ordinary things begin to look extraordinary.


24 likes · like


Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Have to admit the title sounded a bit flaky for my taste, but after reading this interview I now want to read it. It's going on my 'to buy' list.

J


message 2: by Darlene (new)

Darlene Looking forward to reading your book!! It sounds very interesting where can I get a copy of it??
Darlene


message 3: by Melissa (new)

Melissa This sounds great, can't wait to get my copy!


message 4: by Darby (new)

Darby Porter I am with Darlene, where can I get a copy?


message 5: by Rudy (new)

Rudy Rodriguez Jr This looks very interesting...I like the story line!!!


message 6: by Kadiri (new)

Kadiri After reading this with intensive lok, I just wnt to kep reading more pls how can get this materials.


message 7: by Deb (new)

Deb It sounds very similar to Life as We Knew It Life as We Knew It (Last Survivors, #1) by Susan Beth Pfeffer

How does your book differ?


message 8: by Kiki (new)

Kiki The main character of this The Age of Miracles is an 11 year old girl. As much as I enjoyed Life as We Knew It, this book and Julia's voice really spoke to me in a much more personal way.


message 9: by Paola (new)

Paola great interview...i will now put it on my wish list. thank you.

paola


message 10: by Karen (new)

Karen Pottruff Is this book suitable for a 12 year-old?


message 11: by Karen (new)

Karen Pottruff Kiki wrote: "The main character of this The Age of Miracles is an 11 year old girl. As much as I enjoyed Life as We Knew It, this book and Julia's voice really spoke to me in a much more personal way."

Is this a novel for adults?


message 12: by Kiki (new)

Kiki It is categorized as a Young Adult novel, but much like The Book Thief and Life As We Know It (or even To Kill A Mockingbird!), this is one of those books that transcends a specific age group, in my personal opinion.


message 13: by Therese (new)

Therese Peregrine I finished the book the same afternoon I got it, and I highly recommend it. It is very haunting, from the first words to the last three.


message 14: by Pam (new)

Pam It is different story and I am curious to read what happens in the end.


message 15: by Carol (new)

Carol This book sounds fascinating. I just ordered a copy from my favorite book club and look forward to reading it soon.


message 16: by Meem (new)

Meem I loved The Age of Miracles! :)
What's your second novel about?


message 17: by Ramona (new)

Ramona selvage Have to admit the title sounded a bit flaky for my taste, but after reading this interview I now want to read it. It's going on my 'to buy' list.


message 18: by Wes (new)

Wes zemel It is different story and I am curious to read what happens in the end.


message 19: by Darling (new)

Darling policeman nice


Animedubbedonline excellent


message 21: by Cglaw2013 (new)

Cglaw2013 nice one


message 22: by Dreams (new)

Dreams nucleus great interview...i will now put it on my wish list. thank you.


message 23: by Spade (new)

Spade Spade This looks very interesting...I like the story line!!!


message 24: by Paul (new)

Paul Blanchard it's brilliant


message 25: by Eerstehulp (new)

Eerstehulp seo This looks very interesting...I like the story line!!!


message 26: by Feline (new)

Feline herb Thats superb...


back to top

Debut Author Snapshot
Goodreads Voice