What Is Worth Writing (Fighting) For?
William A. Liggett — Oct 15, 2016
I’m a new author, just completing my first novel, Watermelon Snow. Other than the joy of “making stuff up” and sharing in the lives of my characters, I wonder why I’m doing this. What purpose does my writing serve? After all, getting up at 5:00 a.m. to write every day for two-plus years takes some commitment. Let me try to articulate the larger purpose I hope to achieve.
Taking place in the present, Watermelon Snow revolves around global warming and fits within a new genre called cli-fi (climate fiction). The setting is a mountain glacier, one of the fastest changing environments on earth due to rising temperatures and diminished snowfall. The glacier is literally disappearing before the eyes of Kate, one of the two main characters. With a PhD in atmospheric science, she has become intimately familiar with the Blue Glacier in western Washington. There, she collected data for her degree and now leads graduate student research teams every summer.
Through Kate we experience loss and the threat of further loss. The raw beauty of this planet—the mountain peaks of bare rock with rivers of ice thousands of years old flowing down the side, the meadows below dotted with wildflowers and lush vegetation, the hundreds of animals that have made a home there, and the majestic forests of evergreens and ferns in the valleys. Someone she lost in her childhood inspired Kate’s love of nature, and because she sees this beauty threatened, she devotes her life to doing what she can to preserve it.
So my writing is an attempt to make some of the losses we face from global warming real and personal. I spent three months as a young adult working on the Blue Glacier and want to give voice to my concern about our planet with Kate as my spokesperson.
Watermelon Snow is also the story of courage. Grant, a behavioral scientist and second main character, has experienced painful personal loss, which haunts him daily. Convinced his timidity and fear of adventure led to this tragedy, he arranges to observe Kate’s research team on the treacherous Blue Glacier to face his demons.
So now we have global warming, loss, danger, and courage all wrapped up in a complex plot. Add in some interpersonal and team dynamics, as well as an exciting but threatening scientific discovery that must be kept secret, and the story gets intense.
Most cli-fi novels paint a dark, dystopian world, but Watermelon Snow is more hopeful. In my novel, people struggle with changes produced by global warming, along with the usual human challenges. It is possible to learn how to survive. It is possible to cope. But we can’t do it alone. We need to be open to the well-meaning, but sometimes misdirected, efforts of outsiders to help us. If we face this reality with courage and commitment, we may be able to survive the extremes of a planet that is changing rapidly in no small part because of our unwitting actions.
If you’re an author, what is “worth writing for” in your life? What difference might fiction about climate change make?
Bill Liggett writes fiction that blends behavioral and earth sciences in the new literary genre “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. In Watermelon Snow, his first novel, a long-frozen virus melts from a glacier, threatening a pandemic. His second novel, Panic Peak, (in process) entails a plot to geoengineer the earth’s climate. The planned third novel in the trilogy paints a hopeful future, based on solutions to global warming.