Recently Katrin van Dam sat down with Rooney Harris, Stonebook High Sentinel reporter and the protagonist of van Dam’s first novel, Come November.
Katrin van Dam
Photo by Daisy Lespier
RH: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Ms. van Dam.
KvD: My pleasure, Rooney. And please call me Kat.
RH: Okay, Kat, shall I just dive right in?
KvD: Go for it.
RH: Would you consider Come November a work of science fiction? The premise has a Sci-Fi vibe.
KvD: Let me turn that question around on you: Do YOU consider it a work of science fiction?
RH: Well, no. It’s my life.
KvD: Right. I generally describe it as “realistic teen fiction.”
RH: That feels right. Except for the “fiction” part.
KvD: We may have to agree to disagree on that one.
RH: What inspired you to write this story?
KvD: I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and frustration about climate change and feeling powerless to do anything about it. Since writing is the one thing I know how to do, I decided to try to write about this issue that was upsetting me so much. And then there were two articles that I read around the same time that I couldn’t stop thinking about. One of them was a piece in The New York Times about this preacher who convinced a bunch of people that the world was about to end. And the other was an article about the collapse of civilization on Easter Island that just struck me as being a perfect microcosm of what we’re doing to the planet as a whole. I started thinking, “Is there some way you could combine these two stories?” That was really how the idea for Come November began.
RH: It sounds like journalism played a big role in the formation of that idea.
KvD: Absolutely. There was also an amazing Elizabeth Kolbert article in The New Yorker about studying core samples of glaciers in Greenland that, as you may imagine, really made an impression on me.
RH: As a writer, are you more influenced by journalism or by works of fiction?
KvD: For me, both are essential. Being an engaged citizen of the world requires coming into contact with facts – whether through newspaper articles, or longform journalism, documentary film, or even listening to the news or podcasts. But I love fiction and the places it can take you, too. So actually, I’d say it’s about balance, which really is a principle I believe in, despite the fact that the Next World Society coopted it for some pretty shady purposes.
RH: Do you think the Next World Society had anything valuable to teach?
KvD: Again, I’d be curious to hear your point of view on that.
RH: I’m probably still too close to it to be objective. But I think that part of what made Everett’s message so convincing is that he based so much of it in something that is real and really scary to a lot of people.
KvD: I agree. He and his inner circle were pretty savvy about human psychology. They were able to use that to their advantage.
RH: Do you think the NWS was a cult?
KvD: I mean… the charismatic leader, the focus on recruitment, the process of indoctrination, the secrecy around money, the belief in the end of the world… the NWS certainly has a lot of the common hallmarks of a doomsday cult.
RH: What do you think is the best way to keep someone like Everett from gaining power in society?
KvD: Oof, I wish I had an answer to that. I’ve always wanted to believe that knowledge is power – that if people just have the facts, they’ll behave in a rational way. Unfortunately, the science doesn’t bear that out. We’re complicated animals, we humans, and our emotions play a much bigger role in our decision-making than we’d like to believe. I think your mom is a perfect case in point. But I will say this: There’s a huge amount of power in being an independent thinker, not just believing whatever you’re told, but really having the courage and the smarts to question the party line, whatever it may be. And that’s a power you can find in people of any age or background. There are teens engaged in some spectacular independent thinking out there right now, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see it.
RH: Do you have a favorite character in the story?
KvD: Gosh, that’s kind of an awkward question to answer. I mean, I love all my characters. Truly…
RH: It’s Mrs. Fisher, isn’t it?
KvD: Sorry. Yeah. It is.
RH: That’s okay. I get it. So, next question: Did you enjoy writing the book?
KvD: Well… I enjoy having written it. I enjoyed editing it and shaping it. In a lot of ways I’m a more natural editor than a writer. But yes, there were moments during the writing process that were exhilarating. You just can’t expect that that’s going to be the daily reality. It’s a gift when it happens. At least, that’s my experience.
RH: You recently turned 50. Is that kind of late to be writing your first novel? Especially a young adult novel?
KvD: Um, ouch.
RH: I hope that didn’t come across as rude…
KvD: No, it’s all right. I don’t exactly disagree with you. I was just doing other stuff, and didn’t have a story I wanted to tell until this one came along. And to be fair, I started writing it when I was 43. These things take time.
RH: Sure. Why did you choose YA as a genre?
KvD: For starters, I enjoy reading YA fiction. I always say that this idea of YA as a separate category is still a pretty recent development. A lot of the books that are considered classics of American literature, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye, would be categorized as YA if they were written today. I think it makes sense for a writer to be drawn to people in their teens because that’s such a juicy time in our lives. We’re so full of emotion and ideas and passion at that age, and we’re figuring out so much about ourselves. So it’s a very rewarding time to write about. Plus, since I hoped to make a difference in the way we’re treating our planet, it made sense to speak to teens because people my age have already blown their chance. The future of the planet is in the hands of the people who are coming of age today.
RH: But no pressure or anything.
KvD: Ha! Yeah. No pressure.
RH: So what’s next for you?
KvD: Well, I’ve been working on an idea about your brother, actually.
RH: Really? That’s cool. I can’t wait to read it!
KvD: You and me both.
RH: Thanks for speaking with me.
KvD: Thank you, Rooney. It was a pleasure. Best of luck with your writing!
RH: You too.