2. Do you plot or do you write by the seat of your pants? I may have a touch of attention deficit disorder. I need a decent out line before I can begin. I write character biographies to get to know everyone well. Then I plot out the events that I think need to happen in the story from prologue to epilogue. Then I sequence them, going through the events in my mind as if I were watching a movie. I am always open to change as I go, and usually do find that I swerve off the course occasionally. But that’s always for the better because you can’t think of everything up front.
3. What drew you to the subject of DEVOLUTION? The first version of the novel, then called PAN-DORA ISLAND, was actually one of the first novels I wrote back in the mid-70s. I was fascinated by the work of anthropologists teaching chimpanzees to use sign language. What would happen, I wondered, if chimpanzees in the wild learned human language? Would they abandon it, or would they expand upon it and pass the skill along generation to generation. If so, what would the effects be on chimpanzee society?
4. What was the name of the first novel you wrote? Did you try to publish it? The first novel I wrote was called THE THIRD WORLD, a sci-fi. I didn’t try to publish it. I don’t remember why. It probably wasn’t good enough to be published in any case. I was just learning my craft and had taken no course in creative writing. The world was saved one bomb.
5. How many rejections have you received? Don’t ask. Remember, I told you I began writing in the 1970s and did not sell my first novel until 2008. Thank God for recycling.
6. Describe your book. DEVOLUTION features sixteen-year-old Chiku Flynn. Chiku was born in the Congo rainforest to two anthropologists studying the native chimpanzees. For the first eleven years of her life, Chiku is more chimp than child. She nests with the chimpanzees, grooms them and has no qualms about sticking a leaf tool in the soil and slurping up the ants and termites she uncovers. When she is eleven, her mother is killed, and Chiku is sent back to the United States to grow into a maladjusted teenager medicated for anxiety, depression, mood disorder, hyperactivity, you name it. When her father disappears, Chiku must return to the Congo to discover her true heroic self. In Swahili, Chiku means ‘chatterbox’ but the chimpanzees of the Maiku National park, with whom she can communicate using sign language, know her simply as Talk Talk.
7. What’s your writing schedule? I set myself a semi-rigid schedule. My novels tend to range from 400 to 420 pages. I figure if I can write 5 pages a day, I can finish in under two months. I try to keep to that goal though there are days when I can’t do five, other days when I might do 10. I always finish early.
8. What authors do you admire? I have recently found Peruvian writer Mario Vargas LLosa, whose FEAST OF THE GOAT and WAR AT THE END OF THE WORLD are remarkable.
9. What’s your favorite thing about your book? I love Chiku, the chimpanzees and their relationship. I also think it is important when writing a book to try to do more than create an entertaining page-turner. I like to subtly provoke the reader to think about things they may not have thought about before. I want them to think about my novel long after they’ve gone on to their next book. In DEVOLUTION environmental activism is a vital component.
10. What is the one thing your hero would do that you wouldn’t? Chiku can do so much that I can’t. She’s braver than I am, can swing through and climb tall trees, and can speak to her chimpanzees.
I was born in Portland, Maine and went to Bowdoin College. At that point, I wanted to head to the big city, so I moved to Boston with a college roommate. I became involved with the housing movement in that city, first as a tenant organizer, then working in public housing, and finally working with community action programs that deal with the homeless or at-risk families. I currently live in Haverhill, Massachusetts and have three wonderful kids, Leah, William and Stephen.
Chiku Flynn wasn’t raised to be human. Born in the rainforest of the Congo, Chiku grows up swinging through trees and playing rough games of hide-and-go-seek and tag with her chimpanzee pals Scallion, Pan and Scopes. Things change suddenly when she witnesses the brutal killing of her mother by crocodile and she is sent back to civilization by her father. But in Brookline, Massachusetts Chiku fails to adapt. Her grades are poor, schools don’t want her, kids make fun of her behind her back. It is only when her beloved father disappears that Chiku begins to regain self-respect back in the jungle, back with her chimpanzees, back in a world that is inhabited by poachers, refugees and soldiers and assassins whose next target may be Chiku herself.