Science Book a Day Interviews Ellen Klages


Special thanks to Ellen Klages for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – The Green Glass Sea

Ellen Klages was born in Ohio, and now lives in San Francisco. Her short fiction has appeared in science fiction and fantasy anthologies and magazines, both online and in print. Her story, Basement Magic, won the Best Novelette Nebula Award in 2005. Several of her other stories have been on the final ballot for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Hugo Awards, and have been reprinted in various Year’s Best volumes. She was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, and is a graduate of the Clarion South writing workshop. Her first novel, The Green Glass Sea, came out in October 2006 from Sharyn November at Viking. Her second novel, White Sands, Red Menace,was published in 2008, also from Viking. A collection of her short fiction, Portable Childhoods, came out from Tachyon Publications in 2007. – Adapted from Ellen’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for The Green Glass Sea?

I was reading a book about New Mexico, and came across a reference to the first atomic test, which was near Alamogordo, and read that the bomb had been so hot that it melted 75 acres of desert into glass. I found that fascinating, a fact that I had never stumbled upon before, and went to find out more about this atomic glass. But the glass was — scientifically anyway — just a side effect and nothing much was written about it. Every book that I looked in that mentioned the Trinity Test had one sentence about the glass. When I read about a scientist who decided to take his family down to the site for a picnic to show them what Daddy has been working on. I thought, “well, there’s a bad idea!” I tried to imagine what that picnic would have been like, and that led me to the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos.

#2 – The main characters are children. Do you think it is important to reframe historical events to a child’s perspective? What benefits do you think your readers get?

I find that writing from the point of view of children is an interesting way to view the world. In some ways it’s a lot more simple, and in other ways it’s a lot more detailed. Kids notice things that adults overlook. and children have a sense of wonder that dovetails nicely with the kind of curiosity that a good scientist has. I don’t feel like I reframed the historical events, more that I refocused the reader’s attention. I think that good historical fiction is like getting a backstage tour, getting to see what really happened, not just what made it into your high school history book.

#3 – How did you go about having real-life people in your book? Did you have to research them?

I think I probably did about three hours of research for every page in the book, which works out to about 1000 hours. So yes, I researched Oppenheimer and Feynman and other actual people in the book — there’s a LOT written about them! But I also did extensive research about the setting, the social milleu, the language, and any other aspect of the past that I thought was necessary to bring the book to life. Some big things, like the timelines of the events of World War II, and some smaller things, like what the Chef Boyardee package looked like, and what was a billboard top 10 song the beginning of April 1945. For me, it’s all about the details.

#4 – What feedback have you received from kids, teachers or adults?

I’ve gotten lots of feedback. From teachers who appreciate having a book whose main characters are girls who are interested in science. From kids who come up to me with a battered paperback and say, “this is my favorite book, ever!” (Which is lovely to hear.) I have also gotten feedback from some parents, and a few teachers, who think that my inclusion of people smoking and drinking was wrong, and that I should have bowlderized and sanitized the past before I presented it to children. My reply is that I believe that accurately presenting the social customs of the time is just as important as getting the historical facts right. (I hope that those people use my book as an opportunity to start a conversation with kids about just how much things have changed in 70 years.) I think the best feedback that I got was from a handful of people who had grown up at Los Alamos, and who said that reading my book brought back parts of their childhood, and that I got it I got it right. That made me feel pretty good.

#5 – Are you working on any books/projects at the moment you can tell us about?

Well, there is a sequel to The Green Glass SeaWhite Sands, Red Menace — — which continues the adventures of Dewey and Suze into the beginnings of the Space Age and the Cold War.

My memoir, The Scary Ham, is about to be made into a movie! There’ll be an Indegogo fundraiser starting later this month.

I’d also encourage you to check out Wakulla Springs, a novella that I co-wrote with Andy Duncan. It was nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards in 2014, and won the World Fantasy Award.

[Image Credit:×945.jpg ]


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