After I featured Katie Henry here, I couldn’t wait to see what book she’d come up with next. LET’S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY offers an interesting lens into what it’s like to deal with anxiety, and how to figure out how live, even when the world might be ending:
There are so many ways the world could end. There could be a fire. A catastrophic flood. A super eruption that spews lakes of lava. Ellis Kimball has made note of all possible scenarios, and she is prepared for each one. What she doesn’t expect is meeting Hannah Marks in her therapist’s waiting room. Hannah calls their meeting fate. After all, Ellis is scared about the end of the world; Hannah knows when it’s going to happen.
Despite Ellis’s anxiety — about what others think of her, about what she’s doing wrong, about the safety of her loved ones — the two girls become fast friends. As Ellis tries to help Hannah decipher the details of her doomsday premonition, she learns there are secrets Hannah isn’t telling her. But with time ticking down, the search for answers only raises more questions. When does it happen? Who will believe them? How do you prepare for the end of the world when it feels like your life is just getting started?
In our last interview you said you were working on your next standalone YA contemporary novel “like there was no tomorrow.” What did you experience while working this second book that was different from other books you’ve written?
Ha! I’m so glad you remembered that line. During our last interview, I was working on LET’S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY but couldn’t yet talk about the details–hence the oblique reference to the end of the world.
It took me three years to write my debut novel, HERETICS ANONYMOUS. I was asked to write the first draft of LET’S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY in about four months. Writing under a deadline is very different than writing at your own pace, especially since now, there were expectations about my writing and my style–not just from my editor, but from readers. It was tough to block all that out, at first.
Ha! I see what you did there. And I’m glad you could block out the extra noise. I love the premise of LET’S CALL IT A DOOMSDAY. How did you know that this was a book you needed to write?
When I was about fourteen, I was obsessed with survival. I didn’t limit myself to the literal Apocalypse, like Ellis does, but that was definitely included. I had folders upon folders of printed-out Geocities website pages detailing how to survive being stranded at sea, attacked by a bear, nuclear fallout, plane crashes. I was afraid of everything and truly believed the only way to protect myself was to obsessively, anxiously research all the ways the world could kill me.
I’d had this idea–a story about a friendship between someone who fears the world ending and someone who has seen it happen–for a long time, but in the last months of 2016, I started thinking about it a lot more. For big, political reasons and small, personal reasons, I felt that same kind of certainty I had at fourteen, that the world was slowly collapsing on itself.
I’d been thinking about this story for years, in different forms and with different plots, but the only thing that’s remained constant is the theme of belief. Why do we believe what we do, who gets to determine what’s believable and what isn’t, where’s the line between belief and delusion? What ways do gender, or mental illness, or sexuality influence what we believe, especially about ourselves?
I knew I wanted to answer those questions, and I knew this book was the way I could do it.
I love when I can find those kinds of questions confronted in books (I often encounter them as a librarian too, but it’s a necessary job hazard!). What do you feel are the necessary elements of a good story?
I’m sure everyone has a different answer to this, but for me, I need great dialogue and characters with depth. I started off as a playwright, where you really only have what people say to one another to communicate so much to the audience, and that probably explains why I’m still so focused on dialogue, as a writer and a reader. I’m not the kind of reader who lingers too long on beautiful descriptions or needs a fact-paced plot, though of course every story needs descriptions and plot. But what makes a story sing for me is the people within them and the words they use to connect with each other.
Beautifully said. If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
I wrote my first YA novel when I was fourteen, and because I’m a Type A Monster who lives for research the way other people live for beach vacations, I queried a bunch of agents with it. No one offered (because it was terrible) and I was super disappointed. So if I could talk to my fourteen-year-old writer self, I’d tell her:
“Just because that first book didn’t get published doesn’t mean it was wasted effort. You learned a lot of useful things you’ve going to use later on in your career. And Katie. Oh my god. You are going to be so unspeakably glad that book didn’t get published.”
This post can also be viewed here.