Write Around the Corner

S3 E7 | FULL EPISODE

Write Around the Corner-K. E. Lanning

We’ll talk with science fiction writer K. E. Lanning about The Melt Trilogy which explores humanity and the future.

AIRED: January 14, 2020 | 0:27:50
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[♪♪♪]

♪ Every day every day

♪ Every day every day

♪ Every day

♪ Every day I write the book

- Welcome. I'm Rose Martin,

and we are Write Around The Corner

in Lexington, Virginia

with science fiction writer and geophysicist, K.E. Lanning.

HerMelt Trilogy are speculative science fiction books

with an eco-fiction spent.

Now let me tell you a little bit about them.

A Spider Sat Beside Her , The Sting Of The Bee ,

and, Listen To The Birds ,

they question who we are as humans

and our relationship and impact with the earth.

Think about this for a minute.

What if the ice caps really melted during one generation

or during our lifespan?

Something to think about.

Well, K.E, welcome to the show. - Thank you.

ROSE: We're so happy to have you here,

and as a geophysicist and now writing science fiction,

and I should say speculative science fiction,

I have to say when I read these,

and we'll get into them a little bit later,

I thought if someone's going to speculate

about the way the earth is

and what might be happening in the future,

you would be the person to do that.

- Well, thank you.

Yes, it's something that I was interested in

and what I was looking at again, you know,

what if something like the ice caps

melted in one human lifespan?

I mean, that's such a catastrophic event.

What would happen to us socially?

You know, you would have people migrating.

And the clash of cultures that would happen

if you had people trying to escape from the sea-level rise.

And the other thing that would happen in that case

would be the political power grabs that would be happening

with people trying to take advantage of this chaos.

- And that's all throughout your book.

So even though they're set in the future,

you definitely still have that political chaos,

and that-that human interaction

and all of those things that happen.

Take me back to you as a young girl

growing up in Houston.

Was that "What if?" always part of your nature

that you're wondering what's happening next

or what might happen?

- Yeah, I was always very curious,

and we lived actually near NASA, relatively near NASA,

and-- but we lived on, you know, several acres.

And so, as a young child, I would go out into the woods

and listen to the birds and try to catch rabbits

and things like that. [laughs]

- [Rose chuckles] - So, it was always something

of real interest to me.

And then as I grew older,

I got really interested in politics,

actually, even as a fairly young child.

You know, just, you know, how people interact.

- How about your family? Were they scientists?

Were they writers?

- My dad was a chemist.

My mom was a nurse.

But, you know, and my dad was very educated and we--

that family had a lot of travel

and different things that they did.

You know, his family from way back. So--

- So, did they instill in you the science?

The writing? What did you-- what did you gain

most from that? - Not writing.

They-- more the science background, but, you know,

as a speculative fiction writer/science fiction writer,

it's always an investigation

and any kind of writer, you know,

if you're doing something,

there's a lot of research that actually goes

to put together a book

that makes sense and that people will buy into,

especially science fiction.

You have to have a premise that somebody will get into.

- Did you read those kinds of books as a child?

- Yes. - Were you interested?

What were some of your favorites?

- I read a lot of Asimov, Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke,

and the visualizations of all that,

and the imagination really is pretty incredible,

these people that spun these tales.

And then, you know, the Heinlein, as I got older,

I read more of his... social commentary,

Stranger in a Strange Land , that type of thing.

And that really intrigued me.

And that goes into more the speculative fiction,

which is kind of talking about the human condition,

like Margaret Atwood and her writings.

And, you know, that's-- and that really intrigued me

because there's so much about politics

and social things that affect us,

especially when you're talking about near-future type fiction.

- Well, and when you-- when you add that word

'near future', it really resonates

because you read that and you think,

that's not that far out that you're speculating.

You know, that's not that far out

that you're saying, if we're not careful,

and we don't make some changes,

that these things are more probable

than they are perhaps in the future things to happen.

You mentioned Margaret Atwood a minute ago

and I-- I wrote down because when you interviewed her

and I watched an interview

you did with her-- - Yeah.

ROSE: I liked a couple of things.

First of all, she made the statement to you,

"Writers go into the dark and illuminate what's there."

And I thought, "Oh,-- K.E. LANNING: Yeah.

- --that is so, you know,

intuitive to think about that." - Yeah.

- And do you approach writing the same way?

- Yeah, I think so.

Probably not to the degree that Margaret does, but--

'cause I-- one of the things that I'm interested in is,

so you put a pebble on a slope, where does it go?

And that's kind of how I approached it.

It's like, "Okay, I'm putting together this scenario,

what would happen?"

And I really tried to think through,

"Okay, well, if this happens,

then that would happen, then that would happen."

And that's part of how you build the story

and then you try to put interesting characters

in that story because that's a lot of it.

You want to have somebody you-- you can in effect "talk to".

And you experience the events through them.

And so, if you don't sort of identify

with these protagonists, you won't get into the book.

- Hmm. So, if you think about your influences

when-- when you're-- when you're writing,

I mean, you've got this huge rich background,

being a geophysicist anyway.

And so, I can see, as you talk about how you plan

and you talk about the investigation,

that scientific background comes-- comes through

so that you're very careful with details, right?

- Yeah. Yeah. ROSE: To make sure

you're doing that.

But when you look at a literary influence, are they sci-,

are they strictly science fiction?

Or do you rely on or get inspired by other writers also?

- No, I mean, I've read

quite a lot of literary fiction as well

and I really approach these

from a literary fiction point of view

with having social commentary,

developing characters that have an arc to them.

You know, the-- where they change as you go.

And they learn as they go through the story.

I do also have strong plot--

action plot in there because I wanted to have people--

people are revealed when you put them into action.

You know, just as we judge people

and get to know people through their actions,

that's the other thing-- - That's really interesting.

People are revealed-- - Hmm-mm.

- --through their actions. So, positive or negative?

- Yeah. - Or just through their actions

as a blanket? - No, no. Both ways.

- Okay. - Yeah, both ways.

- And how are they revealed?

- Well, I mean, how does somebody react

in a conflict, you know?

Do they fight? Do they give up?

Do they-- what-- what do they do when they're facing--

like in the first book, you know, the--

Lowry is facing a situation where she--

her life could be ruined by this person

if she tells the truth. ROSE: Hmm-mm.

- And yet she decides,

no, I've got to tell the truth, you know?

I mean, for my sake, if nothing else.

And so, that's the type of action

that you want to show how somebody would react to that.

So, I mean, and, you know,

wanting to have the literary side of it because you--

to me, I enjoy a book that does have a point of view.

ROSE: Hmm-mm.

- And does have--

make some social commentary 'cause I think it's important.

You know, some science fiction, that's not the case,

but that's what I'm interested in.

- So, when you're starting

and you're looking at that character development,

and you mentioned Lowry, and do you give her a sense of--

in your head or on paper, right and wrong ahead of time?

And you plan out how her reactions are going to be?

Or does a story unfold in a way

that then the characters reveal themselves

and you get it on paper?

How does that unfold for you? - You know, yeah, I--

the way I do it is sort of get a general sense

of what the character is, and a general sense of the plot.

But I really like to let things, you know,

see what happens, you know, as I'm writing,

and kind of go back and forth.

'Cause it-- I mean, it's fun, I think,

for the writers to sort of go,

"Well, what's going to happen next?" You know?

- Right, right. Yeah. - And-- and that's--

that's sort of what we like to do.

- And, you know, I was reading your blog post

and you had some really interesting takes

on a couple of things.

First of all, again, with Margaret Atwood,

when she talked about wonder tales,

things taught that may not happen in real life.

So I guess when you are writing,

do you feel that things may or may not happen in real life?

Because when you-- we think about

speculative science fiction that you're doing

and yet your strong science background,

are you kind of projecting us into saying,

"Watch out," yes?

Or "I'm just-- I'm creating this in my mind"?

- There's a thread that goes through

all theMelt Trilogy books

of our relationship with the earth.

And particularly the last book is somewhat of--

if we don't change,

this is something that is only going to get worse.

And to try to understand

why we do the things we do as human beings.

And some of the things that are honestly baked in--

- Like what?

- Uh... just our fears of sort of open spa-,

we like open spaces.

We don't like maybe the thought

that there's a panther behind a bush.

I mean, we want to have a lawn

cleared out around the house.

I mean, those are instinctual things

that, you know, from the beginning

when we were hunter/gatherers that are still with us.

And one of the points

that I have a prologue in the last book

and it talks about, you know, we are the gods of old.

You know, we have now gotten to the point

where we are so powerful that, you know,

we can destroy entire eco areas just like that. And--

- And that's scary. - It is scary.

And we're not thinking about it, you know?

We are just doing it.

We're not kind of planning out.

And one of the things that I was interested in is,

is there a way to sort of-- if you have nature,

if you have Mother Earth as a constituent, if they--

if she has somehow a political point of view

that is listened to, then maybe we could think through

if we're going to have a development somewhere,

can we think through how to best do that?

Or, do we need to do it?

Or maybe we can change the location.

- And I've heard--

and I've read-- read or heard that you say that the earth

is constantly communicating with us.

K.E. LANNING: Hmm-mm. - And yet we may or may not

be listening, and our actions therefore

are having sometimes intended

and sometimes unintended consequences.

- Right. ROSE: So where are we missing

the mark with what we're--

we should be learning from our natural surroundings

on the earth? - Yeah. Well, I think that

we are not, like I said, taking into account when you--

perhaps even just farming somewhere, over fertilizing.

For example, the red tide in Florida,

that's apparently coming from fertilizers

and I was speaking with somebody and apparently they are--

they've opened up farming into the Okeechobee--

I'm saying that-- if I'm saying that right--

Lake down there

and there is so much more fertilizer running off

into the ocean down there.

I mean, it's just little things like that.

- So, you're saying, "Look, right now,

the earth is speaking to us." - Right. Right.

- And it's giving very clear signals--

- Right. Yeah. Yeah. - Of what we need to be doing

and not doing.

The same thing with clearcutting probably, right?

And-and seeing water runoff and those things.

So, I-I have to know,

how did you bridge interest in science,

being a geophysicist, doing the mapping that you do,

to writing novels?

- I've always been a creative person.

I've actually done photography and different things and--

- And you had an art gallery, right?

- Yeah, I had a art gallery. - Okay.

- And really loved supporting the artists.

ROSE: Hmm-mm. - And--

I just-- and you know, I always had that side of me.

I read voraciously as a kid.

And it's like once I-I-I--

you know, you just get this itch.

- Hmm-mm.

- And you just go, "I-I want to do this.

This is something I'm interested in doing it."

And I really love it. I mean even--

it's kind of odd,

even the editing process is interesting.

- You love the editing? Yeah. - Yeah, because you know,

you're like flipping around and it's--

- Hmm-mm. - It's a little puzzle,

that-that you work on and try to make it flow.

So even that part of it, which can be difficult at times,

but that's even interesting.

- How long does it take for you to complete each book?

Or were you working kind of on these simultaneously

with different outlines,

and knowing where they were going to go?

- Somewhat simultaneously.

I mean, the first book probably took over ten years to--

to really come to fruition.

And I actually had started writing pieces

ofThe Sting Of The Bee before the other books,

but I wanted to do A Spider Sat Beside Her as--

I-I called it a prequel for a while there.

And then I wind up just putting them all together.

But they were sort of simultaneous

but finished one after another.

- And I've heard other writers say that,

you know, it-it makes you a little vulnerable

to put your work out into the world

when you've-you've had that baby for ten years

and you've been working, and it's close.

Who's your first read or the one that tells you,

you know, "Hey K, we-- look, pull back on this."

Or, "I don't really see where you're--

where you're keeping this together?"

- Editing. You really have to have good editors.

And you have to--

the-the best ones really are ones,

honestly, you pay for, because you don't know--

- Not your husband, right? - No. No.

- Not your family members.

- No. Because you really,

you don't want necessarily, a friend to do it.

ROSE: Right.

- It's more someone who is just going to be mean as a snake.

- Hmm-mm.

- And you know, tell you to change this

or "Why did you do that?" [laughs]

- Hmm-mm. Well, and that's true, right?

Because you want the best product out there.

So, you want someone that's going to mark it up--

K.E. LANNING: Yeah.

- And then send it back to you because having that cold read,

or someone who's not as close to it.

You know-- K.E. LANNING: Yeah. Yeah.

- It's probably really, really helpful.

- Yeah. And I tried to--

I found people who were professional editors

and I had a developmental editor,

which they sort of do the big picture

and you know, tell you where you might have plot things

you need to change or--

characters, you need to, you know,

adjust and things like that.

And then you go through a copy editor phase,

and it's better if you have a separate person for that.

And then, you know, I do have some writer friends

that have been kind enough to-to read--

- And that network is important.

So, let's get to the books. K.E. LANNING: Yeah.

- So, theMelt Trilogy .

We've got climate change,

we've got catastrophic climate change first.

And then, your main character Lowry is-is in space.

So, let's start there with-- andA Spider Sat Beside Her ,

your titles were very interesting for each of these.

- Yeah, thank you. ROSE: And I have to say

as I've gone through, I've tabbed all my books.

The one-liners or the sentences that make you stop and think,

and you can tell like I--

"Ooh, she's got a message right here

and she wants us all to pause."

K.E. LANNING: Yeah. - "Right here."

And I'm guessing that was really deliberate?

- Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I really--

and sometimes, it's really kind of doing the punches--

- Yeah. Yeah. We felt it.

[laughter]

You got it. You got it.

[laughter]

- Yeah. So, the-the title actually,

A Spider Sat Beside Her, is a metaphor.

And the spider represents the political puppet masters.

And the-- her, in this case, is both the main character,

Lowry Walker, and Mother Earth herself.

ROSE: Hmm-mm.

- And people who take advantage and manipulate things.

And, you know, most of us are-are down here

just sort of, you know, fixing dinner,

and surviving day to day.

And yet, you have these, you know, few people

who are making an incredible amount of decisions

for all of us that we aren't even aware of.

- And I love the technology.

So, from having the robot drones to having the dogs, to having--

- Yeah. - All of those things

in book one, particularly the false gravity,

I found that really fascinating.

That-- - Yeah.

- They come into the space station

and then gradually there's a false gravity.

So as you worked all of that into it,

I could actually visualize myself

thinking what that might be like,

that they would just fly there and back.

- Yeah.

ROSE: But what a strong female character Lowry was.

- Oh, well, thank you. Yeah. - And what strength of,

you know, fortitude for her to-- - Yeah.

- To have to-- and choose to tell the truth.

- Right. Yeah.

- Even when it wasn't the popular option.

And there's a twist at the end.

I'm not going to give it away, but that was--

I did not see that coming. - [K.E. Lanning laughs]

ROSE: I will have to say.

Carol, our co-producer. - Well, good.

- She read it before me.

She goes, "I can't tell you because you're not there yet,

so we can't talk about this until you're done."

[laughter]

- Which was awesome. - Yeah. Yeah.

- And then in book two-- - Thank you.

ROSE: Set it up for us. So, it's about ten years later?

K.E. LANNING: Yes, yes.

And so, Lowry Walker is again, one of the main characters,

but I introduce a new main character, John Barrous.

And at this point, this... ten years after the first book,

the UN has decided they're going to open up

the now bare, de-iced continent of Antarctica to homesteading.

And maybe a-a little unwisely,

they've decided to have this big PR event and do it

like an Oklahoma style land rush.

Mad Max, you know? That type of thing.

And so, he's--

John Barrous is in the merged country of Amerada,

which is when America and Canada have--

- Which was a fascinating-- - Have merged, yeah.

- Yeah. Yeah, that was fascinating.

The same thing when I read, you know,

there used to be a place called Florida, right?

- Yeah, yeah. [laughs] ROSE: Yeah.

And they're-- and we're moving monuments

and people are sailing around them.

So, then the-the land rush to visualize that, that we--

you know, I-I was right there while they're on those things,

go with their hovers going through there,

trying to stake their land. - [K.E. Lanning laughs]

- So really, really visual,

but also frightening where you talk about

how the land isn't what it used to be

and what a loss for civilization,

because of the impact of human decisions--

- Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. - --on that, right?

And then, how about the third book?

K.E. LANNING: Yeah. So, the third book,

John Barrous, who had tried to escape from politics

and sort of the corporate, social world,

gets very reluctantly thrown into the presidency.

And it-it really kind of talks about

and-and ties a bow around these--

the-- basically the relationship between nature and humans.

And is an effort to try to create a balanced society.

ROSE: Hmm-mm.

- And yet, on every side, you know, he is--

he's having to deal with all this politics and craziness

and this treason that has filtered up

from his own inner circle. So it's--

- And at the same time, you've woven a love story into--

- Yes.

- Look at what's happening to the earth

and this is happening in the future,

a hundred years out.

So, when we look at that, that's not--

when we look at speculative science fiction

and the impact on our world,

and the impact on-on the human condition,

it was really fascinating-- - Yeah.

- --to be able to go through those

and see what you were doing

and the worlds that you were creating in each of those.

- Yeah. ROSE: In each of those books.

- Yeah. And I-I did a lot of research

as far as what type of plants would be on Antarctica,

things like that.

But it is real important to have a love story

and have relationships in there because those really--

they carry the story.

ROSE: Mm-hmm. - And that's really what--

what people are-are interested in.

And so, the plot and the characters

have to sort of be together and make sense,

but have people that, people fall in love with.

- And you were bringing them to us as we know now.

But then you also had

the technological advances of the robots

and building a house in one day

for each of those homesteaders, right?

- Yeah. Yeah. - And how they did their plans.

So, that technology, was that something you created?

The-the words that you have for the different robots

and the dog, even the horse that had,

you know, covered with-- - Yeah. Yeah.

- Covered with hair? - Yeah, I mean,

I-- again, I tried to sort of visualize--

we're, you know, a hundred years out at this point

in the second book particularly.

And you're-- what are you going to have, you know?

And-and how do you create, particularly farming

that doesn't have fertilizers?

Doesn't have, you know,

have to have chemical weed-eater type things.

And you have something

where you have a robot that does that.

- And you know, that gets right back to your 'what if'?

- Yeah, exactly. Yeah. - 'What if'?

Would you be willing to read for us?

- Sure, sure.

- And why don't you set it up?

What did you choose? - Yeah.

So, this is a-a-a scene out of A Spider Sat Beside Her .

And Lowry Walker is in a situation

where she is being pushed to basically testify

against an Intuit leader

who the nefarious administration of Amerada

is trying to disenfranchise from all their land.

And so, this is Elliot Halder

who is a really nasty attorney general.

And he's again trying to force her to testify in his way.

"Halder pivoted toward her.

"He stood motionless,

"staring at her with callous eyes

"like someone accelerating toward a squirrel in the road.

"Then, with his lips clamped into a fixed smile,

"he approached her chair with deliberate steps

"and leaned over her shoulder, placing his hand on the table.

"He began to speak,

"and Lowry flinched against his breath

"caressing her cheek.

"'You see, Lowry, life just isn't fair.

"The settlers are moving into the land to the North

"just like the European settlers did

"when this continent was first colonized.'

"His voice had dropped to a whisper

"and the hair rose on the back of Lowry's neck.

"'It's as simple as this.

"The people of Amerada want that land

"and the people will get it.'

"He smiled down at her with teeth, perfect and white,

"'And there's not a rat's ass thing

"you or I can do about it.

It's the human way.'"

- And that human way-- wow.

You've given us so much insight into things that we need to do,

and I hope that people will pick up the books

and-and read them.

- Thank you. - Do you have a message

for your viewers, for the-- for your fans?

What would you like them to know about you?

- That really think about what you're doing.

You know, when you--

even, you know, trying to recycle

and things like that. I mean, it is--

we really need to think about where do we want to be

in a hundred years?

And let's put that out there.

Where do we want to be,

and then figure out how to get there.

- Hmm. It's been great meeting you.

- Thank you. - Thank you so much.

- Thank you.

- Special thanks to K.E. Lanning

for inviting us here into her home

to share her work and thisMelt Trilogy ,

these wonderful speculative science fiction novels.

If you'd like to know more about K.E,

the work that she does,

her background as a geophysicist,

you can check out her website.

Or how about more of our extended interview online?

Because we've got a lot more to talk about.

I'm Rose Martin,

and I hope to see you next time Write Around The Corner .

[♪♪♪]

♪ Every day every day

♪ Every day every day

♪ Every day

♪ Every day I write the book

[♪♪♪]

♪ Every day every day

♪ Every day

♪ Every day I write the book

♪ Every day every day

♪ Every day

♪ Every day I write the book

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