Anna North: How My Novel Was Created

Anna North’s “America Pacifica” publishes this week and in celebration we will feature five days of posts from Anna, about how she wrote her novel.  “America Pacifica” is the story of an 18-year-old girl named Darcy, who is searching for her missing mother on an isolated tropical island that is one of the last habitable places on earth, after North America has succumbed to a second Ice Age. 

I’d been obsessed with the end of the world for a long time, but I was really inspired to write the book by a show at the St. Louis Museum of Art called Remote Viewing: Invented Worlds in Painting and Drawing. The show included text by Ben Marcus that chronicled a person’s investigation of his own movements in a sort of post-apocalyptic landscape. This passage in particular got to me: “It is possible I was collecting samples.  I would not rule it out.  It would explain the long clear jars I found stored in my clothing that day when I woke.  But it would not explain why those jars were empty.” I decided I really wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story about a woman investigating her own disappearance. Later the book became about Darcy’s mother’s disappearance, obviously, but the germ of the story was there.

I circled around the topic for a while, writing a lot of scenes that eventually had to be cut (an old man living on a subterranean lake with a wound in his side, a bionic sword that plugged into the nerves of the wearer’s hand, a woman with pterodactyl wings). It was actually when I went to the University of Iowa and started reading a lot of noir fiction in Jonathan Ames’s class that the plot really got going. I wrote the bulk of the book out longhand in the Java House in Iowa City, and then slowly transcribed my stack of notebooks using Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software (I don’t type much due to a repetitive stress injury sustained through too much typing in high school and college). I remember reading once that Haruki Murakami doesn’t plan anything before he writes a book, and that’s pretty much how I operated. I knew I wanted to create a certain kind of melancholy and fear, and I did have an ending in mind, but I pretty much just let events follow from each other and strung a plot from that. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I had to rewrite the whole last third because I got into this blind alley where everyone on the island was actually going insane and they were all victims of some sort of ancestral curse that involved colonization. But I did manage to get a decent draft ready for Samantha Chang to read right at the end of my time at Iowa. She had some really key ideas, and I spent the final summer before I left Iowa City at more coffee shops (I switched to Tspoons), scrawling corrections in the margins of the manuscript. Then I moved to New York, went through another couple of rounds of (also really key) edits with my agent Julie Barer, sold the book to Little, Brown, and did another pass through the manuscript with my editors Reagan Arthur and Andrea Walker, whose smart suggestions brought the book into its current, finished (as it’ll ever be) form.—Anna North

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