I recently exchanged a series of emails with Dan Bloom, who coined the term “cli-fi.” I’ve reproduced the interview here (with a few minor edits). It was originally published in Dan’s Polar Cities blog.
DB: In your novel, why did you choose the date 2018 as the year the polar ice cap disappears completely? All winter too, or just summer? What in the science of climate change led you to this view?
RW: When I began writing ”A Change in the Weather” in 2005, my intuition was that the ice cap would disappear much faster than people thought. Two things fueled that. I’d always noticed that an ice cube in a glass of soda seems to melt very slowly until it reaches a certain point, then the mass loss accelerates rapidly. And I grew up in Maine, so have seen the ice go out on a lake. The entire mass disappears in just a few days, or sometimes just one day, because it melts from the bottom up. Why shouldn’t the same thing happen with the ice cap, once it reaches a certain thinness?
Just summer, because the tilt of the earth’s axis means the Northern Hemisphere faces away from the sun in winter. Why 2018? At that time, it was about ten or twelve years away. Most talk was of 2050, but I was frightened it could be much sooner. That was the genesis of the book — that, and the reaction to 9/11 that gave us the Homeland Security Department, Guantanamo, and the Iraq War.
DB: Your novel has been called a cli-fi novel. Are you comfortable with this label?
RW: Every writer wants to think their work defies labels, or consciously plays with them. As far as labels go, this one is amusing and pretty apt. I think it’s still kind of arch and not meant to be taken too seriously. If it actually became codified, then I wouldn’t like it. My book is (or aspires to be) a literary thriller.
DB: The points of view of the various characters in your novel are all portrayed with a sympathy that underscores the complexity of the problems we are — and will be — facing. How were you able to do this?
RW: They are all aspects of my personality. I’m a very conflicted person, too open-minded for my own good.
It took about 3 years to write the book. I did it mostly very early in the morning, for an hour a day before my “real” job. I sat in various coffee shops, mostly a Peets in the San Francisco Ferry Building, but also a local place called Le Regency–until they began doing the floors in the morning with a pungent, eye-watering disinfectant. I wrote (and write) in longhand, then type it up over the weekend. I can edit almost anytime, but the creative part is almost always before dawn. It’s like being in a dream state. Otherwise, I’m too self-critical.