It Can Be Very Easy to Think That We’re Perfect: In Conversation with Claire Cameron and Elan Mastai

Claire Cameron, author of The Bear and her new novel, The Last Neanderthal, and Elan Mastai, author of his first novel, All Our Wrong Todays, visited A Different Drummer Books in Burlington, Ontario on the evening of May 15, 2017. In front of a rapt audience of readers, Claire and Elan read from their books and graciously and with good humour answered questions about their work. What follows is a condensed and edited version of the event.

Claire Cameron.  The Last Neanderthal .  Penguin Random House Canada. $29.95, 288 pp., ISBN: 9780385686785

Claire Cameron. The Last Neanderthal.  Penguin Random House Canada. $29.95, 288 pp., ISBN: 9780385686785

Dana Hansen: When Ian Elliot asked me to be part of this event, I was really excited because I enjoyed both of your books so much. But I have to admit I was also a little bit nervous because on the surface they’re extremely different, and so I wondered how I would structure this interview. When you start to actually dig into these two books, though, they’re surprisingly similar. So I want to talk about some of the similarities between your books, thematically speaking.

Both books have central characters – Girl in The Last Neanderthal, and Tom Barren in All Our Wrong Todays – who end up each on a journey of sorts following a kind of loss in both of their lives. They go on this journey and they make an attempt to return to where they came from, and they’re unsuccessful in doing so for a variety of reasons. That failure becomes the beginning of yet another journey that in some ways is the making of these two characters. Would you tell us a little bit about these two characters, about their journeys, and what these journeys mean for them.

Elan Mastai: Early in the book, Tom’s mother dies, and it’s quite sudden, and it really throws his whole life into disarray, although at the time he wouldn’t necessarily see it that way. I lost my mom when I just turned 26. She died, not as suddenly as Tom’s mother does in the book, but it still felt quite sudden because it was a sudden illness. That was 2001. At the time, I was obviously grieving, and it was a terrible time for me and for my family. But even at the time, I don’t think I understood the impact that it had on me, because I was in the experience. I didn’t see it as life changing, but I look back on it as the moment where the entire trajectory of my life changed. It was only in recent years that I felt like I wanted to write about that time of my life. Because of my personality, when I write about the loss of a parent, and dealing with grief, and what it does to you, the unexpected things it does to you, I decided to write a story about time travel and alternate realities, and jet packs, because that’s my personality, but at its core, Tom’s story is one of loss. It’s not the only loss that he has in the book, because as the book progresses he loses other things as well, but it’s a very essential and profound one.

Elan Mastai.  All Our Wrong Todays . Penguin Random House Canada. $32.00, 384 pp., ISBN: 9780385686846

Elan Mastai. All Our Wrong Todays. Penguin Random House Canada. $32.00, 384 pp., ISBN: 9780385686846

I was interested in writing about how death can affect you. Even in a world where everything seems so glittering and perfect, it doesn’t solve death. Tom is at a time of his life where he hasn’t found his place. It’s a world where everything does seem like it has its place, but he hasn’t found his place, and he feels like a disappointment. His father is incredibly successful, so much so that for him it feels like he’s never going to be as successful as his father, so why even try. I don’t think that’s a good attitude; in fact, that’s a defeatist attitude, and I knew I wanted to get Tom to a place at the end of the book, without giving anything away, where he was in a very, very different place emotionally, psychologically, in terms of his motivation, his purpose, his drive, and so I wanted to start him as far away from that as possible. In terms of the journey, I knew the kind of person, the whole person I wanted him to be, and so, as if I had my own time machine, I worked backwards to the beginning of the story and a very broken person. I wanted to write in a sometimes metaphoric and sometimes very direct way about how when you lose somebody as close to you as a parent, a spouse, or a sibling, it is like someone takes a hammer and smashes you about, and you have to figure out how to put yourself back together, and sometimes the pieces don’t all fit anymore. I could have written a much sadder book, but as sad and terrible as those times are, we all have to put those pieces back together, and I wanted to write about that in a way that was hopefully still emotionally true and at the same time had a kind of optimistic buoyancy that when we get to the end of the story, Tom is in a much better place, everybody is in a much better place, but you have to go through some dark times to get there.

Claire Cameron: That was interesting to hear, because I almost do the exact opposite.

EM: It’s almost like they knew it when they put us together.

CC: So, I start with a character who I love – this young female Neanderthal, and one of the reasons I made her female is because I kept reading about Neanderthals, and all the books and everything I read would question who Neanderthal man was, and I thought, well, one thing we know about Neanderthals is that they were at least 50% female. But there was just less written about women Neanderthals and ancient women in general, and I thought so let’s try that. So I developed a character that I absolutely loved over this series of messy drafts. She’s young, she’s just out of her adolescence, just coming of age in this vast and fairly thinly populated world, and lives in a very small family. Neanderthals were always thin on the ground, 40,000 years ago, extremely so, presumably. So I took a character that I absolutely loved, she’s strong, and ambitious in her own sort of Stone Age way, and put her through the paces, I suppose. I tried to really learn who she was by what she went through. Hers is a very traditional survival story in many ways, and it’s physical survival, but it’s really about what you need to survive in your heart. So my Neanderthals have a word called “warm”; it’s one of those glossary words at the beginning, but to them it means a sense of family and belonging. So you feel “warm” if you’re around a fire with people, but more than that it’s the security of having warm bodies next to yours. So, Girl, really, in her heart, is out in the world seeking warmth.

DH: In both books, family and connections to other people become really important, in again different ways. Can you talk a little bit about how family functions for these main characters, and not even just Girl, but potentially also Rose, the contemporary character in The Last Neanderthal. How does family and connection to others factor in to these characters’ lives?

CC: Our survival system in the modern day is about other people and having a community around. We are all very specialized now in what we do. We’re the only primates that delegate the gathering of our food, for example. Every other primate will go and get their lunch from the forest, whereas we have other people doing that for us. In my book, there’s a modern day archaeologist, Rose, who finds the bones of a Neanderthal and a modern human (a Homo sapien) together, and they’re sort of locked in an embrace, and it looks like they either died together or someone had placed them in that position. And so for Rose, this looks like evidence of a relationship or some kind of communication between the two. It’s a huge discovery, and when she makes this discovery, she’s in the very beginning of her pregnancy, so her story is about going through pregnancy, trying to manage her career and specifically the archaeological site she is in charge of. She’s very, in a way, disconnected from her body; she leads with her head, and she treats her pregnancy as sort of incidental and second to her career. Which, in some ways, I feel is pretty much what I did. And I feel critical of it in some ways, and in another way it’s also how modern women survive. You need to carry on while you’re pregnant. You need to be happy and smile and you need to keep working, and you hope there’s a job for you on the other side. My experience of that was actually feeling quite vulnerable, because I was cut off from my ability to forage and gather food. So it becomes as essential as it’s ever been, I think, to have a support structure around you as we have such high needs infants.

DH: And for Girl, it’s a matter of survival, really, isn’t it?

CC: Yeah, Rose might have access to a fridge, but for her it’s also, I would argue, a form of survival. I think a lot of young mothers who are going through care for babies, in the first years especially, feel extremely isolated. There have been quite a few articles lately around how there’s care for the child, but maybe we’re neglecting the mothers. And I think you go through huge identity shifts, especially if you’ve been working in a career as Rose has been for many years prior to having her baby. You go through a huge identity shift, and you’re supposed to go through this big change with a smile, and it’s hard. So I wanted to get into that a bit more.

DH: And for your book, Elan?

EM: Family and relationships become a very important part of All Our Wrong Todays. The book has a lot of big plot twists, you know, turns, secrets revealed, and surprising things happening. At the same time, fundamentally, the book is about a character who has to figure out what actually is important to him. He also has this romantic relationship with this woman, which also is very much part of the propulsion of the story. I wanted to write a book where a lot of big things happened, a reality shift. But at the same time, everybody’s decisions are always about really personal things. I find that in life, you know, when you look from the outside, you might see all these changes in someone’s life and these decisions they make, but usually they’re because of these very intimate, personal reasons. And so Tom has a very different version of his family in his original timeline, and he discovers a very, very different iteration of his family in this other timeline that he finds himself stranded in, in our world, and it’s very disorienting for him. A lot of his hang-ups, baggage, and bad decisions that he’s made have come from his relationship with his father, his relationship with his mother, the blame, and the lack of responsibility for his own choices. He finds himself in a very different version of his life, where his parents are very different people, and he thinks, if they’re very different people here, and I’m still making bad decisions, whose fault is it really? And so he discovers these very different versions of his family, this very different version of this woman he’s had this romantic dynamic with, and it’s a second chance, which is both a chance to make better decisions, and also a chance to make the same mistakes over and over again. So I wanted to explore, when you strip everything away, what actually gives your life purpose and meaning. What is the lens through which you decide what makes you happy? And at the same time, I wanted to throw the mirror up to the character as he attempts to grow and change. Sometimes he makes worse decisions, haltingly he starts to make better ones, but the family that surrounds him is so much a part of how he figures out who he is.

DH: There is a quote from your book, Claire, about how the important things in life are the things that don’t actually fossilize, so it’s the relationships, the love, and so forth. I think that applies in both books, in terms of the families and the relationships.

EM: Yeah. When you’re talking about it from a futuristic perspective, you’d say the most important things are the things that can’t be virtualized. We all live with all this incredible technology even now, but in my version of today it’s much more accelerated. Of course any time we write about the future we’re writing about right now. We’re writing about our anxieties, fears, hopes, ambitions, dreams of where we’re going, for better or for worse. We all have this incredible technology around us, but it doesn’t change what’s really important – sitting at a dinner table with people you love, making choices to help, support, and respect the people who are important to us. That’s what really gives our lives meaning. Technology is amazing, but it’s really just a tool, and like any tool it’s all about who’s using it.

A central idea in my book is that you have the accident. This idea that any time you invent a new technology, you also invent the accident of that technology; there’s no such thing as a car accident until you invent the car. There’s no such thing as a plane crash until you invent the plane. There’s no such thing as a nuclear meltdown until you invent the nuclear power plant. And I think a lot about that, and like a lot of people I’ve been thinking a lot about the Internet lately. This incredible resource where all of human knowledge is available at the click of a button, but at the same time as we’ve seen, has this unintended consequence – this accident – where it makes all information equal. Fact, fiction, opinion, objective truth. Everything gets kind of levelled out on the screen, and it’s like you can choose what you want from equal ideas when in fact in objective reality, not all things are created equal. And we’ve seen the effect of the accident of that technology on every element of our lives, including, obviously, our political culture. But I think the accident also applies to people. Every time you meet somebody, you introduce the unintended consequence of that person. You know, my mother walked into a coffee shop, and here I am. Any time you meet somebody, they’re going to change the trajectory of your life, maybe just a tiny bit, maybe quite a bit, and you don’t know until you meet them.

DH: Will you talk a little bit about women’s lives in your two books, because I think there are some really interesting, strong women in both books. In the case of your book, Elan, you have Tom’s mother, in Tom’s version of 2016, where he comes from. She intended to have a career as a writer and an editor, loves her books, but has decided instead to become, I think the expression in the book is “midwife to Tom’s father’s genius”. So her job is to look after him and ensure that he is comfortable and provided for in all ways. “My father was the lighthouse”, Tom says, “my mother the keeper, who wound the clockwork, polished the lenses, and swept all those rocky steps.” So she’s definitely chosen a life that is not necessarily what she intended initially. And then there’s also Penelope in Tom’s version of 2016; this is the woman that he ends up falling in love with, and she’s clearly a genius. She’s a very highly educated woman, becomes involved in Tom’s father’s experiment, and then things go pretty wrong for her, and the trajectory of her career is stopped as a result. So I’m wondering, really, why in a supposedly more advanced, sane version of the 2016 we were supposed to have, are women’s lives more reflective of a stereotypically 1950s version of the past?

EM: Well, exactly. What I tried to do was think about the version of today that people in the 1950s thought we were going to have. I don’t want to get too super nerdy, so bear with me here, but I wanted to think about it as a future that was explicitly what people in the 1950s imagined. And so there is a reductionism to that. Obviously, if you lived in the time it was more complex. I thought about the world’s fairs, you know? When I was growing up in Vancouver, Expo 86 was a really big thing for me. I spent a lot of time at the fairgrounds; it really captured my imagination, and that was very much a part of this legacy of World Fairs, like Expo 67, New York 64. It’s only recently that I was reading up on it and I realized that Expo 86 was actually that last World’s Fair that we ever hosted in North America. It’s like we stopped thinking of the future that way, this sort of like optimistic version, but it was also an intensely consumerist version of the future. It was like this incredible vision of the future, but it was populated by products that companies were going to sell you.

And so I wanted to think about this Utopia, but then have there be little undercurrents, like for example, women’s roles. Although there are a lot of opportunities, women’s roles are actually a little more stratified in this version of the world. In fact a lot of things about society are more stratified. In Tom’s version of the world, a lot of the social movements, social upheavals, cultural shifts, breakdowns, and rebuilding that happened through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, didn’t happen. And so I wanted to write characters that hopefully felt very vivid and alive, but in his version of the world, there’s kind of tendency toward stereotypes. Despite everything that’s available to Tom’s mother, she ends up essentially being an appendage to his father. Which is no different than Tom; Tom is also an appendage to his father, likewise Penelope. And when he comes and finds himself in our world, there are similarities – people aren’t completely changed, of course not – but the possibilities for them are very different, despite all the limitations and problems we still face. The women in his life actually have much more vibrancy and dynamism, and it makes him start to look back on who he was, the choices he made, and he wonders about his own kind of regressive attitudes, in a way he didn’t think about in his version of the world. And so I wanted to present both a really dazzling, optimistic version of the world, but then, as the book progressed, start to undercut that and have Tom and hopefully the reader question some of the things he takes for granted, because inevitably I’m also trying to throw a mirror up to our world. What are the things that we take for granted? What are the questions we don’t ask? What are the regressive parts of our behaviour that we don’t even notice?

DH: And for you Claire, were there any particular messages about women’s lives you were hoping to convey in your book?

CC: I wrote the ancient draft a few times, and about midway through I kept having this modern story come in, and then I’d finish one of these drafts and realize I was over my head, and I should just try and write in the past. So I would start again, and this modern story would come back, and it sort of kept popping in. Often, I find when I’m writing, my subconscious is a bit more involved – you know, there’s things in there that are just trying to come out that I haven’t realized consciously yet – and I remembered, I had quite a difficult birth with my second son. He was 10.6 pounds; he was huge! And the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck, so as I was trying to push he was being strangled, and it was just this horrible moment. And there’s this big panic, and the doctor came up to me and said, “You have one push to get this baby out,” and I’ve had enough first aid training to know what’s happening when a heart rate drops. So I had one push, but I’d just had a contraction, so the doctor said, “On the next contraction, you tell us when.” I realized it was all up to me.

So it was terrifying, and I nearly panicked, but then I had this moment where I realized how imperfect my body was, and you know we like to tell this story of human evolution where we went from primitive to perfect. But here I am with a narrow pelvis, because I walk upright, and this baby with this enormous head – the mechanics of it aren’t perfect at all. And so I had this moment where I thought I couldn’t do it, and I was sort of confronted with my death in a very rational, instinctual way, but I thought it wasn’t going to be my baby that was going to die. So I was determined, and I realized how many women had done this before me, and had survived, and their babies had survived, and I felt this very physical – probably slightly hallucinatory from pain and everything else– connection to the past. Actually our bodies haven’t changed that much in 40,000 years. So once I made that connection, that our past is really part of the present as well, I just let myself write around that. It’s a book that asks the reader to make as many connections as I do, and I hope they take place in each reader’s mind, the connections between those things as much as anything. So then I just went from personal experience, and what I see as some of the challenges for women as well. But it’s really a book that’s trying to disrupt this idea that we’ve gone from primitive to perfect, and I think it presents two worlds – some things are better now, but there are also things that are still hard.

DH: Sounds familiar, Elan.

EM: I was thinking that. It’s very easy when you’re a son to have a very simplistic idea of who your mother is, because for you, it’s just your mom, and as you get older you start to perceive complexities in the person, because as you become an adult and have a more rich internal life, it occurs to you that other people might as well. My mom died when I was 26; I wasn’t a child, but I was still very much figuring life out. I had a very good relationship with my mom when she died, much better than Tom does with his mom. I thought had my mom and I not had a couple of conversations that we had, and had the opportunity to kind of grow, I would have been where he was and I would have had a very different experience. Now I see my wife grapple with being a very successful, busy career woman, having two children, and having to make those decisions about where she’s putting her attention. I watch my daughters come of age, and figure out who they are. This is a roundabout way of answering your question, but I wanted to write about women, I wanted to write about Tom going through what I think a lot of men go through, which is to understand the complexity of the women in his life – being able to understand them, and figuring it out, and trying to see more. That’s just one part of the book, but it was an important part of the book for me. I tried to use the women in his life as a lens to see how he’s evolving.

Elan Mastai and Claire Cameron in conversation with Dana Hansen at A Different Drummer Books

Elan Mastai and Claire Cameron in conversation with Dana Hansen at A Different Drummer Books

DH: The idea of a world being not perfect, but also not terrible, is an idea that comes up in both of your stories. By the end of your books, it seems like Tom and Rose especially both come to a point where they feel, not resignation, but something like acceptance, sort of a shy optimism almost, about what their lives are going to be like now after the challenges they both experienced.

EM: I’m sort of an optimistic realist. I guess I just fundamentally believe that the only way we actually solve any problems, whether they’re in our personal life or in the greater world, is if we’re just completely honest with ourselves about what we’re dealing with. It’s very normal and human to be in denial, to be self-deluded, to look on the bright side of things and not see the full potential of things, but it’s only when we individually, as a family, or as a couple see the challenges that we face with eyes wide open that we have a chance to fix things, that we have a chance to make things better, that we have a chance to make better decisions. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to fall on our face from time to time; it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to say the wrong thing from time to time. It doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to go off the rails, or things that are out of control aren’t going to impact our lives. But really more than anything it’s about, to me, it’s about being as wide eyed as possible about what you’re facing. And then there’s the opportunity for hope, for change. My character does go through some tremendous changes in the story, and he’s a very different person at the end, a lot of the characters are, but he particularly is a different person in the end than he is in the beginning, and a big part of that is that he becomes finally honest about what he’s dealing with and then can make changes and fix things.

DH: There are some significant comments about our flawed use of technology and our attempt to control our environment in your book, Elan. Can you explain your meaning here?

EM: We have a mythology, a human mythology that the world is our garden. We’re still in this process where we’re trying to convert the world into our farm, basically. And we keep cutting down forests, keep trying to use our technology to control the world. But the world is not actually very controllable; in fact, typically speaking our attempts to control the world, just like our attempts to control our lives, often fail because the world, like life, is often unpredictable, uncontrollable. It’s when you kind of hold this tight grip, whether you’re using a wrench to do it, or your fists, or trying to control somebody in your life, the way a lot of people deal with people who are trying to control them. We often deal with politicians who are trying to control us. And so the book is really trying to convey the idea that we haven’t learned that the more we try to control, actually the worse everything keeps getting.

I love writing about the possibilities of where the technology could take us, but I also wanted to question, I mean, part of what the book is about as it progresses is: why do we think technology is going to solve our problems when it hasn’t? Inevitably, technology solves some problems, but every time we solve one problem we actually cause three other problems. Nuclear power solves tons of problems, but also causes a lot of problems, right? Cars have solved a lot of problems, but also caused many others. Every time we introduce a new technology, we solve the problem that the technology was intended to solve, and then create ten other much worse problems. And so maybe we need to think more carefully about why we think technology is going to solve all our problems.

DH: For me, that was the most timely theme in your book, Elan. What would you say, Claire, is the central takeaway for a reader from your book? In other words, why should we be reading your book now?

CC: Elan and I actually have a very similar philosophy behind our books. There’s been a new discovery of Homo naledi in South Africa, which is another species of hominid that is about 300,000 years old. It’s such an interesting one because we’ve always thought that one of the definitions of us is our large brains. This hominid is not that old; when the experts first looked at it they said 2.5 million years because of the small brain case, but it’s much more recent and it actually shows that we didn’t always have large brains. This is a small-brained hominid, but one of us. They also cache their dead. There are bodies in a place that sort of looks like a burial site. So this discovery disrupts this story that we tell that we’ve been moving from primitive to perfect. When this Homo naledi was alive, there were probably five different kinds of hominids wandering around, and we’re the ones left. And so we’re the ones that are writing history and telling the stories, and it can be very easy to think that we’re perfect – you know, a lot of our theories of evolution suggest that we’ve evolved to this perfect state. We tell stories that give us a lot of control, and we take it. And I hope, rather than any grand statement that my book is making, that in the same way that Elan’s book is, my book suggests that we need to take care with the decisions that we make.

DH: Claire, you mentioned doing research for your book, and obviously there was quite a bit. I’m assuming you did some research too, Elan. The science is a little mind boggling at times.

EM: My grandfather was a scientist, and he was the one who really introduced me to science fiction. There are a lot of sci-fi ideas in the book. But something that my grandfather used to always complain about, as much as he loved science fiction, was that the writers never took the science seriously. He would always grumble about that. He would say, “If they would just take the time to understand the real science, the stories would actually be more interesting.” And I took that to heart. There are lot of gadgets and inventions and cool technology that I introduce in this alternate timeline, and I did spend a lot of time figuring out how this stuff would work. Where the science is now, what’s missing, why can’t we build X? Why can’t we do this? In some cases, we’re not that far away; in other cases we’re quite far. But I would explore the science and see how far that would get me, and then determine what little leap I would need to make. And even with time travel, I thought a lot about time and space.

One of my pet peeves about time travel is that every movie or book I’d ever seen or read, always suggests you have a time machine and you open a door and you walk through and you’d be in the exact same spot 30 years ago, but of course we all know that the Earth is constantly moving. We’re spinning right now as we sit here at around 700 miles an hour, and the Earth is spinning around the sun at about 65,000 miles an hour, and the sun is moving through the solar system at about 1.3 million miles an hour. So if we were to go back to yesterday, the Earth would be like a million miles away. We would be out in the empty vacuum of space. So I spent a bunch of time researching orbital mechanics, trying to figure out a model of time travel that actually factored in the movement of the Earth. Don’t worry, that’s like one paragraph in the book.

CC: I like that paragraph.

EM: It’s a good paragraph. It’s not a lot of science. I feel like my job is to understand how all this stuff works.

CC: Well, it’s really good because it sort of makes a case for your book right up front.

EM: I wanted, I think similar to Claire, to understand the science, so that you can open the book and ask “How would this work?” and I’d say, “Okay, let me explain to you how this technology would work, where we are now, what we need to invent to get there.” There are places where you make a little jump, right? But my job is to make it all as plausible as possible. My job is not to burden the reader with all of my research; it’s just to include the most interesting stuff.

DH: Have you read each other’s books? If so, what is one thing that the other does really well that you wish you could do in your own writing?

CC: I love that – can I go first?

EM: Sure, sure.

CC: So I think the setup of Elan’s book is just brilliant. From the little brief foray into film I’ve had, the process is quite backwards from how I write a novel, in that you do a treatment first, you sketch out an idea that you’re pitching, and you really have the end and the beginning, and then you fill it in. To me, I really feel that discipline at the beginning of this book. It’s so sharp, and if you haven’t had a chance to read it, the playing with tenses is just brilliant, to the point where the narrator is sort of deciding what tense he going to tell this story in – first person or third person – and he has a little debate with himself. It’s just a beautiful play on language, but also an idea that you feel like the writer – you have full confidence in the beginning, and it’s a beautiful start to a book.

EM: Thanks! For me, Claire has an amazing way with language, but also shows you different perspectives through language. To use the language sort of like she’s building a house, and that house is somebody else’s way of seeing the world, and you stand outside the house and you think to yourself well I could never live in that house, it seems so off to me, it’s so different, but she builds this house and when you go inside it, it’s like you never want to leave. You want to move in. And so I think she has an incredibly elegant but also robust way of using language, to kind of word-by-word build a whole other point of view. In the case of The Bear, it’s a five-year-old’s perspective on this horrific and also kind of transcendently beautiful experience. In The Last Neanderthal, she builds this world, this frame, this point of view, this lens of seeing just a very different perspective on a world through language, and that’s what literature is for. The whole point of books is obviously to entertain and delight us, but it’s like a form of telepathy where you get to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and Claire does that on like a double level because we’re seeing through Claire’s eyes but then she also quite remarkably builds a lens inside of the book to see it from a very different perspective, to see the world in a different way. So I like your discipline, but also the power of the language is really remarkable.

DH: What’s next for you two? What are you working on now?

CC: Well, I’ve been touring quite a bit. And I’m studying; I’m reading about quantum gravity because there are quite a few good, accessible books at the moment. I’ve also been reading different versions of Beowulf. I might write in this area a little bit more, not like a sequel to The Last Neanderthal, but I feel like I’ve got all of this research, and I kind of can’t stop, so you know. I have a feeling that might be what comes. But I could never write a treatment ahead. I start writing and then I start to see it, and then it comes out. It’s more like improvisation or something for me, at first.

EM: I keep the story in my head; I work on it in my head for a while until I feel like I have the whole thing in my head, and that’s when I start writing it. If I want the reader to be able to keep it all in their head, it’s my job to have the whole story in my head before I start writing. And so I spend a lot of time kind of thinking. It may look like I’m not doing anything, but I’m totally doing stuff. I’m super totally writing. I kind of work a lot of stuff out mentally before I sit down. So I’m working on the movie version of All Our Wrong Todays, and then I’m about halfway through a new novel. I’m hoping to have the new book, at least a good draft of it, done by the end of the summer, depending on how nice the weather is.