Today I am lucky enough to be participating in Simon & Schuster Canada's blog tour for The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson. I had the pleasure of asking author Nalo Hopkinson a few questions and here is what she had to say.
The Chaos is your first young adult novel. What made you decide to venture into the world of young adult fiction?
The idea just came to me with a young adult protagonist, so I went with it. Besides, I'd realised a few years ago that some of the more interesting titles I was seeing on the bookshelves were young adult titles. My first two novels (Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber) were written for an adult audience, but both of them also ended up on the New York Public Library's annual bibliography "Book for the Teen Age." That made me happy, so now I'm really pleased to have added a specifically young adult novel to my bibliography.
You are originally from the Caribbean and Scotch, the main character in The Chaos, has a similar story. How has that background influenced your writing?
I was born in Jamaica and spent most of the first 16 years of my life in the Caribbean, whereas Scotch was born in Toronto, Canada. One of her parents is black American, and one is white Jamaican. So she has some connection to both the U.S. and to Canada, but it's an indirect one. She wishes the connections were more direct, especially the Jamaican one. She thinks she'd feel more "authentic" if she could speak with a Jamaican accent (which I, by the way, cannot). But of course, she is entirely authentic just the way she is; a biracial Afro-Am Jamaican Canadian. It's just a different authenticity.
Not everyone would come up with the idea of having a volcano come out of Lake Ontario, sending Toronto in a total panic. Where did the inspiration for The Chaos come from?
There are indications that there's a fault line running through the bottom of Lake Ontario. As far as we know, it's rare for an earthquake to trigger a volcano, but people often link the two ideas in their minds. I certainly did. That got me thinking about earthquakes and volcanoes. I thought the idea of a volcano springing up instantly was completely impossible, but then I read the story of Parícutin, the Mexican village where a farmer watched a crack appear in one of his cornfields in 1943. It started spewing ash and lava that day. By the following week, it was over 500 feet high. Within ten weeks, it was over 1,000 feet high. Within a year, it had engulfed the whole village and was over 1,300 feet high. For comparison, the CN Tower in Toronto is about 1,800 feet high. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! After that, a magical instant volcano didn't seem like such a stretch at all.
Are any of the characters in The Chaos, or any of of your other books, based on or inspired by people you know?
No, almost never, unless I'm fictionalising people who actually existed, and then I'll usually name them. Even when I do that, I will often invent events in their lives so that they work with the story I'm telling. Fiction is actually pretty orderly; a writer shapes the events, the characters and the images so that they will reflect each other and hold a shape as a story. It's kind of like making a pot out of clay. You have to form the clay into a specific shape, or else all you've have is a hardened lump of clay. Real life and real people are unpredictable. They're no fun to try to use in fiction. Karen Joy Fowler, a writer and a former writing teacher of mine, once said, "Real people don't act at all in a plotworthy manner." If I wanted to write about real people, I'd write non-fiction.
How would you describe The Chaos in one sentence for people who haven't heard about it?
You should know that I completely suck at doing this, but here goes; "A sixteen year-old survivor of slut-shaming at her school loses her older brother in a Toronto turned suddenly chaotic, and goes looking for him, despite being pursued herself by a creature that's literally out of her nightmares."
Thank you Nalo Hopkinson for answering my questions!
And thanks for your questions, Emilie!
Be sure to come by again later this week to see what I thought of The Chaos!