Sometimes life imitates art. In Karen Dionne’s new thriller novel Freezing Point, melting icebergs are viewed as both the solution to the global water crisis and the source of man-made apocalyptic horror. In reality, giant melting icebergs raise global sea levels and unleash frozen methane gases into the Earth’s atmosphere.
According to recently discovered NASA satellite data, more than 2 trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003 and have caused alarming global climate changes.
So melting icebergs are not just the stuff of fiction. Yet, one hopes that what transpires in Freezing Point (think toxic drinking water, corporate monopolies of icebergs and large-scale eco-terrorism) never becomes reality.
In our conversation, Karen Dionne, who wrote a Huffington Post column titled “Can a Novel Change the World?”, spoke with me about the power of the written word, killer rats, and environmental activism:
How did you become interested in the global water crisis?
My interest in water issues goes back pretty far. My husband and I were part of the “back to land” movement in the ‘70s. We wanted to not be so dependent on the system, so we lived in nature, grew our own food, got our water from nearby wells. I remember reading the book Silent Spring and one thing I took away from it is that there is no pristine place left on earth. I learned that DDT was showing up in bird eggs and that toxins were everywhere. For my generation, it was an awakening of how severe the problem was. So I’ve always been concerned about what man is doing to the environment.
Why a thriller novel about water?
I read an article about melting glaciers and I started imaging what it might be like to actually be there when it happened. I also became interested in water, and someone recommended to me Blue Gold [a book on corporate water privatization] and that was an eye opener for me. I had no idea how severe the world water crisis was! I don’t think the average consumer knows either, and that’s scary.
How does scientific fact play into this work of fiction?
This is a novel and it’s meant to entertain, but I did a lot of research because it is a science thriller. I spoke with many scientists and I leaned on their expertise. I spoke with a scientist who had used explosives in the Antarctic, for example. At one point I had to take out chunks of the novel because it was too much fact and I tried to keep the pace of the story. You can’t let the research overwhelm the story. Yet, in the back of my mind I hoped that the novel would raise people’s awareness of the realities of the situation.
You hosted a “Book Tour Without the Author” on your website, which includes pictures of people from around the world reading your book. How do you think the issues you write about in your book (such as eco-terrorism) relate to people around the world?
We all live on the Earth, and if the environment turns on us, we all have no place to go. In my book, the environment is turning on us because of what we’ve done to it. The novel is set in the Antarctic, which is a large part of the Earth. What happens there, like melting ice shelves, can affect the entire world’s weather. So melting ice shelves should be something that everyone should be caring about. In that way, it’s a story that anyone in the world can relate to.
Are the killer rats in the book a metaphor for something?
Around the time I started the novel, I read a Discover magazine article about killer rats. It really shocked me! Years later when I told relatives that I was including killer rats in my book, someone told me that the magazine story was a hoax! I guess every year they run an article as an April Fools joke and there are clues in the article that gave it away. I decided to keep the rats in my story because they represent man-made problems. It’s appalling what man does to the environment without even thinking, and the rats fit in with that theme.
What do you think it will take to get people to act?
I certainly hope that it doesn’t take a catastrophe to wake people up. We’ve already let the situation become grave. One woman I talked to said she watched the film An Inconvenient Truth and she said she had no idea about the situation before she saw the documentary. So I think it has to be a collective effort to raise people’s awareness. Documentary makers, scientists, environmentalists, writers, everyone has a part. I hope that while people read my novel they become engaged with the characters and I hope they take those feeling and are motivated to work towards a solution.
Who would you like to read your book?
I’d like to think that everyone reads the book. But I’ve gotten a surprising audience. I gave away free copies of the book before the official release, and I started to get a lot of requests from teenagers. I thought that maybe they wouldn’t understand the book and that the copies would be wasted. Then I realized that they were one of the biggest online supporters of my book. So that’s an audience I’d like to reach—to increase awareness of the problem. They’re the ones who will have to do something in the near future before the problem gets worse.
To read an excerpt of Freezing Point, click here.
Photo Credit: KarenDionne.net