By Harriet Clark.
We are very happy to welcome Lily Brooks-Dalton to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release The Light Pirate, out December 6th!
Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels wreak gradual havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker, his pregnant wife, Frida, and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds in search of his children. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.
As Florida continues to unravel, Wanda grows. Moving from childhood to adulthood, adapting not only to the changing landscape, but also to the people who stayed behind in a place abandoned by civilization, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.
Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time–The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. It is a meditation on the changes we would rather not see, the future we would rather not greet, and a call back to the beauty and violence of an untamable wilderness.
Hi Lily! I first wanted to say that your novel, The Light Pirate is a highly imaginative, beautifully written novel.
Thank you so much, Harriet! I’m happy to be discussing it with you.
While the subject matter of terrifying storms and post-apocalyptic endings may throw up a feeling of threat in the reader, I did not feel anxious reading it. I think this is because your novel is so lyrical, and you have a truly compelling style of narrative. Can you tell me a bit about what led you to write this book?
I’m glad to hear that you didn’t feel anxious. It’s always tricky to write about a problem as pervasive and terrifying as climate change without tipping into hopelessness and basically tormenting the reader. I wanted to tackle it anyway because it’s something I’m thinking about every day, and I needed some kind of outlet for that. It’s a difficult thing to talk about in daily life in a way that feels useful. Most climate crisis conversations wind up feeling futile—like we all agree that this is terrifying and there is no easy solution and we as individuals have a limited amount of power to affect real change. So then what? I wanted to figure out a way to have a different kind of conversation, one that can make space for these outcomes we’re all so frightened of, but also mix in something hopeful. Some vision for a future. This book, for me, is about imagining a way forward that doesn’t gloss over the very real consequences we are facing but that imagines a way to exist and perhaps even thrive within that scenario.
The book contains many themes, a central one being our complex human relationship with the physical world. I had not really considered how much our landmarks define us, but as your novel powerfully reflects, if the future sea levels rise these landmarks will disappear and we will be plunged into a swampy, foreign land as Wanda and her family are. What is it about the environment and nature that inspires you to write?
I grew up in a very rural place and craved solitude from a young age, so I think this fascination with being alone in nature has been with me for a long time. This is something I explored a bit in my previous book, Good Morning, Midnight, as well. I’m just really curious about the ways in which human beings can be either rejected or accepted by the environment—depending on how they choose to inhabit it.
The women in your novel all show incredible tenacity and strength of spirit to work with nature not against her, despite the treacherous conditions they are in. Did you consciously set out to write about strong, resourceful female characters, or did they just evolve as you were writing?
Definitely both. When I was first envisioning the book, I knew that all my favorite characters would be powerful women, using that power in these really different ways. There are so many ways to be strong! I wanted to depict that. But of course the characters evolved on their own terms, too. Strong women are always evolving on their own terms, don’t you think?
I am interested in how you write about loneliness and loss, coupled with the fact that we are relational beings and need connection with others. Is this something you are interested in exploring in your writing?
Absolutely. This are themes I come back to again and again. When I was working on my last novel, I realized that if you’re going to write about loneliness and solitude, then you are inherently writing about connection also. You can’t really choose one extreme and not be intrinsically referring to the opposite as well. So these partnerships—loneliness and connection, solitude and presence—are for me very rich narrative spectrums to explore. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting them from one angle or another in future work as well.
It is interesting how Wanda and Phyliss are both a bit like Augustine in your novel Good Morning, Midnight. Augustine refuses to leave even when everyone else is being evacuated. What is it about the refusal to leave when everything has seemingly gone, this powerful urge to repair in human nature?
I think a lot about negative space in narrative. What can we understand a story by considering what is left out entirely? This is something I experimented with in both books—leaving certain mysteries unsolved, placing characters in environments where a lot of the external noise and infrastructure has been erased. It’s definitely a craft question, but it’s also so personal. I feel the most like myself, the most centered, when I’m alone in the woods. I understand myself best in those spaces. And so I suppose I imagine some version of that to be the case for many of my characters as well.
I loved the mysteriousness of the swamp in the final section of the novel. Did you have to do a lot of research to discover all the plants and flora in the wilderness of this place?
I did! I’m lucky to have an avid Floridian gardener for a mother, so I was able to talk to her a lot about native plants and invasive species and try to imagine what would be able to survive and what wouldn’t. She shared a lot of great resources with me. And I also spoke to an ecologist who pointed me in the direction of mangroves, which become very important to the landscape as the water rises.
Are there any other novels you would recommend for people who have really enjoyed your book?
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is an easy recommendation—one of my favorites in the post-apocalyptic nature-centric arena. And I think Weather by Jenny Offill does a magnificent job of exploring climate anxiety within a realist framework. And then of course Octavia Butler’s Parable books are absolutely brilliant.
Lily Brooks-Dalton’s first novel Good Morning, Midnight has been translated into seventeen languages and was the inspiration for the film adaptation The Midnight Sky. She is also the author of a memoir, Motorcycles I’ve Loved, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. The Light Pirate, her second novel and third book, is forthcoming in December 2022. A former writer-in-residence at The Kerouac House and The Studios of Key West, she currently lives in Los Angeles.
Lily’s instagram: @lilybrooksdalton
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