News & Reviews
Interview with Karen Dionne, author of 'Freezing Point'
Karen Dionne established Backspace,
a literary website and message board that has expanded to
include one of the book scene’s most anticipated yearly conferences, in
2004. The Minnesota author shared her thoughts with WORD'N'BASS.com
Editor BPM Smith
environment, the nature of human faults, and thrillers as her debut
novel "Freezing Point"
launched this month with Penguin imprint Berkley.
WORD'N'BASS.com: Well Karen, we've
known each other four years now and I always hoped we'd do an interview
about your debut as a novelist. Congrats. Has it sunk in yet?
Dionne: Thanks for having
me, Bryan, and thanks for the congrats. No, the reality hasn't sunk in
yet, and in a way, I hope it never does. Having my first novel hit the
shelves is an amazing experience. What began as an idea is now a
physical object. You can see it, touch it, smell it - sleep with it
under your pillow if you want to. It's magic.
jump into the novel. Freezing Point has several contemporary issues at
stake. A well-intentioned engineer Ben Maki is your protagonist. He
wants to use solar energy to solve clean drinking water issues by
melting icebergs. It doesn't go so well, does it?
Dionne: No, it doesn't.
Of course, it's a given that things will go wrong in a thriller, but
I've noticed a similar theme showing up in all of my writing: a
well-intentioned but short-sighted protagonist ends up mucking things
up worse than they were before they started.
own boss wants to sabotage it by blasting off a huge chunk of the
iceberg. So we've got a potential Apocalypse driven by human faults. Is
that pretty much like the real world?
Dionne: I think so. I
believe people are basically good, but they're also flawed. And while
ignorance is a factor, I do think greed is at the root of the current
WORD'N'BASS.com: It's an
eerie premise if you're concerned with how we're jacking up the
environment. It doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to see these
types of things happening in real life.
Dionne: That's true. Of
course, this has been going on for a long time - it's just that we're
finally understanding how fragile the environment is, and how
intricately it all works together. Unfortunately, knowing and doing are
two different things. In the real world, selfishness can so easily
trump altruism, and that's how events play out in my book.
interested in how you came up with this idea for a novel. Are there any
real-world events that acted as a catalyst for you?
Dionne: I got the idea
for Freezing Point when I read an item in the newspaper about a 1,000
square-mile section of the Larson Ice Shelf that had broken off due to
global warming. The image of that giant iceberg intrigued me. What if a
researcher had been there when the ice shelf disintegrated? What if
they were stranded on the newly formed berg? What if the disaster was
their fault? (cue theme music) I added in a variation of the greatest
April Fool's hoax in Discover Magazine's history, and ended up with a
story about an environmental disaster in Antarctica and a grand
philanthropic scheme that goes horribly wrong.
around the iceberg start dying. Can readers expect panic and chaos to
ensue? Are the characters going crazy on each other?
definitely panic, but it's not anarchy; it's more of an inevitable and
gradually building chaos that results from a series of bad decisions.
Years ago, I read about a man who was using gasoline to clean his tools
and started a fire in his garage. The fire got away from him, and so he
ran into his house to warn his family - this was an attached, two-car
garage - and they all ran out the back door. Unfortunately, his actions
drew the fire INTO the house, and the family lost everything. Their
tragedy really stuck with me. How many times have we done something
just as thoughtless that could have turned out badly? So in my book,
pretty much everyone does something wrong and ends up paying for it.
chose Antarctica as a setting - is it true there's no law there and if
so, what's to stop any of the characters from annihilating everyone?
Dionne: Yes, it's true,
there is no law in Antarctica. Nations have made land claims, but
because no one owns their particular piece of the continent, there's no
government, and no authority - nothing to stop the characters from
doing anything they want to except their own moral compass. And if that
happens to be a little skewed...
that say about human nature, and how is this expressed in Freezing
Dionne: I think in some
respects, villains and heroes aren't all that different. We all have
wants, and depending on the severity of our desires, are willing to go
to extraordinary measures to get them. There's a scene near the end of
Freezing Point where both the villain and the hero realize they could
contrive an accident for the other, and no one would be the wiser. To
me, that's a crucial moment. No one is completely good, and I think
it's important to depict that, even in a novel.
alert: when you and I first met you were launching Backspace back in
'04. Did you expect then that four years later Backspace would have
more than 850 members and you'd be launching a novel?
Dionne: You know, it
might sound egotistical to say it, but the answer to both questions is
yes. When my business partner Chris
Graham and I started Backspace, we did expect it to become the
best site for writers on the web, and I did intend to publish a novel.
After all, there's not much point in striving for mediocrity. At the
time, Chris and I were both aspiring writers, and we had this idea that
if we surrounded ourselves with the people who could help our careers,
not only would we benefit, so would everyone else.
The Backspace membership today is mainly writers, but we also have a
dozen literary agent members, and we have regular guest speaker
question and answer visits from editors, best-selling authors,
publicists, and other industry players. We're all there because we want
to help one another get published, and it's working - in 2007, members
came out with 73 non-fiction books and novels, and four of those hit
the New York Times list. That's an amazing success rate, but of course
Chris and I don't take credit. We view ourselves as facilitators only.
It's the members who make the organization what it is.
become quite a bit more than a literary message board, huh?
Dionne: Yes, it has. The
online interaction has forged genuine friendships, and is the reason we
began holding our annual writers conference in New York - members
wanted to meet and hang out in person. They're also invested in each
other's success, turning each other's books face out at bookstores,
promoting them on their blogs, buying them for themselves and for their
friends. If there's one thing Backspace has taught me about the writing
community, it's that it's much less cutthroat than the stereotypes
portray. Writers aren't in competition with each other. The more
successful we are individually, the better the industry does as a
Backspace project is pretty well known, but Ami Greko over at Folio
this week told me you have a side project that I never heard about: The
Book Promotion Network. What is this?
Dionne: A few months
before Freezing Point's release, I decided I was going to use the
Internet to promote my novel as much as possible. From talking to other
writers, I knew there were plenty of promotional opportunities
available - blog tours, online book clubs, book review sites, video
sharing, and social network sites where people who might be interested
in the topic of my book gathered. I heard words like "Authorbuzz" and
"LibraryThing" and "Shelfari," but didn't know what they meant, or how
these sites and services could help promote my book. I looked for a
resource that would explain it all, and that had all of the Internet
promotional opportunities listed in one place, and when I couldn't find
one, Chris and I decided to make our own.
WORD'N'BASS.com: When did
this launch and what are the plans for it going forward?
Dionne: Currently the
Backspace Book Promotion Network has listings for 2,456 Internet book
promotion services and opportunities, and 73 articles that explain how
to use them. But really, we're just getting started. The Internet is a
big place, and it's constantly evolving. Our goal is to catalog and
organize all that promotional information in order to make it
WORD'N'BASS.com: And what
about your writing, Karen? I know you're just now launching Freezing
point but I always like to ask authors what novel is next.
Dionne: I'm working on a
literate, clue-oriented thriller that my agent (Editor's note: Jeff Kleinman of Folio
Literary Management) and I both love. The story takes place
4,000 years, and blends some really cool science with some fascinating
history. All I can say about the plot is I hope my readers like spiders
. . .
WORD'N'BASS.com: Are you
going to continue writing eco-thrillers or do you see yourself
branching out over the long term?
Dionne: I don't plan to
write only eco-thrillers, but I'd like to stay under the science
thriller umbrella. I love science, and I love taking a plausible, `what
if' scientific scenario and pushing the story to its limits, so for me,
science thrillers are a perfect fit.
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