This guest blog by Mary Woodbury from Eco-Fiction.com, reveals books that inspired award-winning environmental writer Nancy Lord’s pH: A Novel.
Mary: Your newest work of fiction, the novel pH, involves marine scientists working in Alaska on ocean warming and acidification. Can you tell us something about the novel? How much of your real-life experiences inspired this novel?
Nancy: After writing mainly nonfiction in recent years, I decided to tackle ocean issues in what might be a more interesting and compelling way for readers. pH is a comic novel, with characters in conflict and a plot surrounding institutional corruption. I hope that it has some resonance right now, since it addresses ways of knowing, the manipulation of facts, and ethical choices. The science behind it is all real—the oceans are being affected by warming and acidification. The first section takes place on an oceanographic cruise; I spent a week on one in 2010, which provided the basis for what I describe as work on the ship. It’s hard to pick out, otherwise, what personal experience fed into my imagined world and the lives of my characters.
Mary: Who were your favorite authors growing up, and can you share how their writers particularly affected you?
Nancy: Growing up, I was drawn to stories that took me far from my own home in New Hampshire and encouraged a sense of adventure. The Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Heidi, Peter Pan. I’ve written about the influence of Peter Pan and Siddhartha on me, in two essays in my book Rock Water Wild. Later, when I was becoming a writer, I admired southern writers like Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty and essayists like E. B. White and Edward Hoagland. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek found me at a propitious time and influenced how I paid attention to the world.
Mary: Related to the two questions above, how can environmental literature appeal to readers these days, especially with the glut of global narratives coming at us in every direction–many of them having valid appeals for us to be concerned about so many issues?
Nancy: I think that environmental fiction can have great appeal these days because it can tell compelling stories without being heavy-handed with message. Readers are suffering from “bad news syndrome” right now—inclined to turn away from reading (or hearing) about every new disaster and every thing that we’d doing to damage the Earth and its creatures. Fictions that can tell humorous or inspiring stories seem much more palatable—and can still inform readers about serious issues. Some novels in this line that I admire are Ian McEwan’s Solar, Ann Pancake’s Strange As This Weather Has Been, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, and T. C. Boyle’s When the Killing’s Done. Of course, there’s still room for every kind of environmental literature, including reporting; I just think that fiction is having its day.
Mary: I think you’re spot-on with this thinking, that we need to move from the hopeless “bad news syndrome” to understanding what’s happening and the idea that we can do something about it–that we get inspired rather than paralyzed with fear. Thanks so very much, Nancy, and the best of luck with pH!
To read the full interview, please visit Mary Woodbury’s website.
In case you’re one of those readers, like me, whose eyes often glaze over when there’s too much science in a book, be assured that Lord’s prose is always accessible. The science is skillfully interwoven with a compelling plot and a cast of well-wrought characters. Complex scientific ideas are cleverly reworked into clear dialogue between a scientist and a “lay person”—often in conversations between the graduate students and other characters. Lord never “dumbs things down” but instead puts complex ideas in plain language, all within a compelling story.Brooklyn Rail