KM: Some early readers have likened the slowing to the threat of climate change. Were you thinking about climate change during the writing of the book? If not, were you surprised by this reaction? What do you think the connection is, if any, between the two?
KTW: I didn’t specifically intend for the book to remind readers of climate change, but I’m not surprised that it does. One of the big challenges of writing this book was to figure out how people would react to a catastrophe like the slowing, which is almost too large to comprehend and which unfolds at a relatively slow rate. I was always trying to learn from parallel situations in our real world, and climate change was definitely one of those.
As I wrote this book, I also began to realize that one of the hidden pleasures of these kinds of stories is the way they can remind us of the preciousness and fragility of ordinary life on planet earth. In my book, the natural world is the thing that’s most immediately under threat, so I can see why readers would be reminded of the forces that threaten our world, today.
KM: There are so many different ways people respond to the threat of disaster in this book—denial, fatalism, conspiracy theories, etc. The “real timers”—the people who continue to live by the rising and setting of the sun —are one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. How did you conceive of them?
KTW: Every community has its dissidents. Even though the specific conflict between real time and clock time is invented, it felt like a classic divide between the natural and the man-made, and also between the herd and the individual. I liked the idea that real time would attract people from the extremes of both the left and the right, from liberal environmentalists to conservative religious groups. And it was fun to explore my characters in relation to these two different versions of time.
KM: Like Julia, you grew up in southern California. How do you think growing up in a place where natural disasters are always looming affected the concept, or the writing of The Age of Miracles?
KTW: I grew up in San Diego on a cul de sac of tract houses much like the one where The Age of Miracles takes place. In most ways, California was a very pleasant place to grow up. But it could also be a little scary. I remember the way the sky would sometimes fill with smoke during fire season, the way the smoke hung in the air for days at a time, burning our throats and turning everything slightly orange. I remember the way the windows rattled at the start of every earthquake, and the way the chandelier above our dinner table would swing back and forth until the shaking stopped. I sometimes couldn’t sleep at night, worried that an earthquake or a fire would strike at night. But when I think of those years now, I realize that my novel grew partly out of my lifelong habit of imagining disaster.
If I’ve given the impression that I was constantly afraid as a child, that’s not right. In fact, one of the things I remember most vividly about living in California is the way we mostly ignored the possibility of danger. We always knew that the “big one”– the giant earthquake that scientists believe will one day hit the region–could strike at any time, but mostly, we lived as if it never would. Life often felt idyllic: we played soccer, we went swimming, we went walking on the beach. A little bit of denial is part of what it means to live in California. Then again, maybe that’s also just part of being alive. I really wanted to capture that feeling in The Age of Miracles.
KM: You wrote this book while working as an editor. Was there ever a conflict between what the writer in you and what the editor in you wanted to do with the story? Do you think your experience as an editor affected the way you write?
KTW: Working as an editor definitely made me a better writer. Over the years, the two processes, writing and editing, came to feel very closely connected. Editing is a big part of my writing process. I’m not someone who pours out five pages in a sitting. Instead, I edit every sentence as I go, rearranging the words again and again, like an editor. Being an editor is like being a professional reader, and I really feel that the better I became at reading, the better I became at writing. Editing professionally meant that I was striving to answer the same questions at my day job that I was as a writer: what makes a sentence work? What makes a story work? Who is this character? Whenever I revised a chapter of The Age of Miracles, I tried to pretend I was editing one of my authors’ books. Working as an editor also taught me never to take the reader’s attention for granted. As an editor, I was often swamped with manuscripts. The ones that really stood out were the ones that kept me turning pages, the ones I literally could not stop reading.