Congratulations on your latest book The Innocence Treatment.
I have read a lot of books set in the future and none of them offer a pleasant look as to where humans are going. Much like in The Innocence Treatment, the future is often quite different because of some sort of natural disaster, often involving climate change, and a government that has gone way past Big Brother. Do you see think our future is that bleak? Why? Why not? What can we do about it?
A. When I was writing The Innocence Treatment I thought it was a pretty pessimistic take on 2031 (the year when most of the book takes place). Now, though, I’m not so sure. Sitting here in 2017, we had a summer of wild fires and hurricanes, both of which are the direct result of global warming. Last year the U.S. elected a president who has quickly popularized the use of ‘alternative facts,’ and occasionally declared that the free press is the real enemy. Recently, it was announced that the personal information of more than 100 million Americans were stolen this year. In this context The Innocence Treatment doesn’t so much seem dystopian, as a conservative portrayal of the United States, circa 2031.
As for what we can do about it, I think there are two trends that make the future of The Innocent Treatment so bleak: global warming and income inequality. I think it may be too late to stop global warming altogether, but I think there’s plenty we can do to limit the harm it does. And income inequality has gotten worse in large part because of political decisions – given the political will, it could just as easily be reversed.
Q. Where did you get your idea for The Innocence Treatment?
A. I heard a news story on the radio about a high school student with a mental disability that required her to be constantly surveilled to avoid anyone taking advantage of her. That got me thinking about the nature of trust and mental disability and control / surveillance. I wondered what would happen if that student somehow gained mental capability. I wrote something that turned into Lauren’s first journal entry
Q. Why did you decide to write this book?
A. I really loved Lauren’s character – both in her initial naivete, and in her later toughness. She was really fun to write.
Q. Why did you decide to write it in the form that you did (journal entries with footnotes as well as therapy transcripts)?
A. I wanted to play with the different perceptions of different characters, especially given how unreliable of a narrator Lauren is at certain points. The use of journal entries, therapy transcripts and footnotes, meant there are really three viewpoint characters, but the different forms allowed their narratives to combine in a seamless way. It also allowed me to set up and prolong one of the central mysteries of the book: just how paranoid is Lauren?
I also really had fun with the footnotes and such that were written by Lauren’s sister. She’s an academic, and as someone who has read a ton of academic publications, I had a good time making up the names of her academic sources and publications.
Q. What did you find difficult in writing about a dystopian society? Easy?
Hmm. It was mostly pretty easy. I just tried to imagine Bethesda, Maryland, 15 years in the future. I have a brother and sister who live in Bethesda, so I know that part of the world pretty well. I asked myself: what would happen in the U.S. after one really big disaster? What would it be like to be upper middle class in a world where the middle class was quickly shrinking, and everyone who wasn’t in the top one per cent was increasingly hard up for education, health care and all the other things that the middle class of the last few generations has pretty much been able to take for granted?
Q. Do you like writing this type of book? Will you write a dystopian book again?
A. I really liked writing The Innocent Treatment, but I have no plans to write another dystopian book in the near future. It seems to me like the real world is dystopian enough.
Q. What lessons do you hope people will take away from this book?
A. There’s a moment in the book where Lauren realizes that she’s capable of taking care of herself… that she’s a powerful individual. It’s a pivotal moment for Lauren and the plot of the novel. I hope that readers identify with that theme of self reliance and responsibility.
Q. You are the author of the award-winning children’s book The Path of Names as well as a number of short stories. Which type of writing do you like best? What are the differences between writing for children and young adults?
A. I really enjoy writing for both audiences. Lately, I’ve been focusing on writing young adult fiction, but I love writing middle grade, and I definitely intend to continue writing both, as well as the occasional short story for adults.
I think the main differences have to do with the main character of your story is, as well as the themes that the story tends to address. I’m probably the wrong person to ask, though. I thought The Path of Names was young adult while I was writing it, but my editor was able to clearly see that it worked better as middle grade.
Q. Where do your ideas come from?
A. The usual witches’ brew of lived experience, day dreams, news stories, reading, half-remembered dreams and so on. Sometimes it’s more clear than others. Books especially tend to come from multiple sources, because they’re so long, while short stories might just have one source that I can clearly articulate.
Q. How do you know if your idea is a short story or a full-length novel?
A. I think this largely has to do with the main character. How much do they have to say? How clearly do I understand them. The more fully I can imagine and understand a main character, the more they interest me, the easier they are to write a book about. Short stories rely a lot less on a compelling character; you can have a great short story with almost no character if there’s some compelling idea in it.
Q. What do you like most about writing and the writing process?
A. like the moments when I lose myself in the ‘flow’ of writing; when I’m not thinking about plot structure and logic, but just writing. That’s pretty great.
Q. I noticed on your bio you teach research methods at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. What is that? What do you like about teaching?
A. I teach students about statistics and other ways of knowing about the world. I think it’s important in this age of ‘alternative facts’ that we equip students to differentiate between truth and lies. My favorite part of teaching is that it’s a chance to share these skills (which I think are very important) with my students.
Q. You have had many jobs – writer, researcher, urban planner, camp counselor, stay-at-home dad. What was your favourite job? What is your dream job?
A. My dream job would be some combination of writing, teaching and being at home with my children before they get too old to want me at home with them. I’m still trying to find that perfect balance!
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. A few months ago, I finished another YA fantasy book, which my agent is sending to editors as we speak. I’m in the midst of (very slowly) writing the first draft of another book, which I think is a YA book about time travel and the end of the world.
Q. What are you doing to promote The Innocence Treatment? What do you like most about promoting your books?
I’m doing a bunch of interviews like this one. I’ll be doing a blog tour in October. I’m in a panel at the Vancouver Writer’s festival, which your readers can read about here. We’re going to have a book launch at the Chapters in the Metrotown Mall on the evening of Friday, Oct. 27, and a reading at the Book Warehouse on Main Street Tuesday, Nov. 21.I’ve also done a series of GoodReads giveaways, the last one of which should be starting in the beginning of October. If your readers want to keep in touch they can find me at www.arigoelman.com or follow me on Twitter @agoelman
Why are books about the future always so depressing?
While it’s easy to blame today’s society of shootings and climate change for thinking the future will be terrifying, I remember being a public school and someone wrote a speech about what they thought the future – today – would look like including eating our food in a pill form. I remember, at the time, feeling really sad and scared.
While the year 2031, when The Innocence Treatment is set, has us eating real food, future farmers had to give up growing decorative crops, such as pumpkins for carving Jack-O-Lanterns, and were forced by The Department, or the new United States government, to grow fuel and food crops only. The Department also arrests, detains, tortures and makes disappear people without reason – or reasons they dictate is wrong such as people speaking out against said Department.
The Innocence Treatment ($24.99, Raincoast Books, Roaring Brook Press, FierceReads) revolves around 16-year-old Lauren Fielding who has a disorder that makes her believe everything people tell her. Her innocence puts her at constant risk so she jumps at a chance to have an operation that corrects her condition. Post-surgery, Lauren quickly becomes a different person.
“Is she a paranoid lunatic with violent tendencies? Or a clear-eyed observer of the world who does what needs to be done?”
The book is told through Lauren’s journal entries, compiled by her older sister about a decade after the events takes place, as well as therapy session transcripts.
The book was a good read, albeit a scary look at a future that is possible.
A copy of this book was provided by Raincoast Books for an honest review. The opinions are my own.