Today, I am interviewing research scientist, climate change activist, and novelist, P.L. Tavormina. Among many things, she is passionate about education, the environment, and climate change. Read her interview below to learn more about this remarkable researcher as well as her solution to climate change and the meaning of life.
WHAT, IF ANY, CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE WHEN SWITCHING FROM NON-FICTION TO FICTION?
First, thanks for the opportunity. I love talking with other writers and thinking through the reasons why we’re doing this crazy thing of writing.
My nonfiction was technical. Journal articles about medical projects, Earth science, basic academic research. With technical writing, you report the facts and fit them into what’s already known.
A lot of the basic approach actually carries over to fiction. You know, like writing is actually work, whether its nonfiction or fiction. And a piece needs to make sense, redrafting might be needed to bring in clarity or punch up something that’s weak. Independent feedback helps. Those parts carried over from my years writing nonfiction.
The challenge of fiction writing has been to add feelings. A good novel makes us laugh or cry or shake our fist at the world. Using words emotionally has been my biggest challenge. I’ve loved grappling with it.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WRITING PROCESS? DO YOU PLOT, PANTS, OR “PLANTS”?
So, stories have a structure to them, a journey the characters follow, determined by events and choices. A lot of great writers can write ‘by the seat of their pants’ and end up with a beautiful piece. Not me. If I try to pants a story I end up with characters running around doing a lot of nonsensical things.
I plot. I use outlines and spreadsheets and beat sheets … I use math.
But after I plot the outline and write a first draft, I rewrite the story. In this draft I let the characters breathe and play. I ask them to make choices, and I ask them to surprise me. Sometimes key plot points gwt changed. In a sense, I bring in a little pantsing. Does that make me a plantser? I think I’m a plotter.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF BEING AN AUTHOR?
There’s so much to enjoy—meeting writers, creating stories, using social media and sharing ideas. I suppose one challenge is that it takes a long time to write a story. A short story can take me six months. A novel takes years, for me. I suppose a second challenge is that in the trade publishing world, finding representation is a long shot. The trade path is narrow, but we’re fortunate to live in a time where other paths exist.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO READ?
I love stories where I fall into the protagonist’s head on page one. My favorite genres are contemporary fiction, science fiction and historical fiction, but for a book to grab me, I need to fall into the protagonist’s world right away.
I’m re-reading some of Anne Rice’s vampire books. Her stories are one example of the writing I mean. She’s great at showing what the characters are going through, from deep within their viewpoint. Matt Haig writes in very different style, but it’s the same effect—in both cases I’m ‘in’ the story right away.
DO YOU HAVE PASSIONS OUTSIDE OF WRITING?
Education. Raising kind children. The environment. Helping people who are in a bad place. I think everyone wonders why we’re here, the meaning of life, and to me it’s about growing, every year. By caring for people and the world around us we give our lives meaning. And these additional passions also bring peace, because we’re helping others.
OUT OF THE VARIOUS TOPICS YOU HAVE RESEARCHED, WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?
Biodiversity, baby. Did you know there are deep-sea creatures that can detect a single photon of light? There are fish that change from female to male. There’s a nautilus that basically has a detachable penis (it detaches and swims after the females. I kid you not.). There’s a fungus in Michigan as old as Socrates weighing more than four hundred tons. There are insects that freeze solid and then start crawling around again when they thaw.
And don’t even get me started on symbiotic relationships. Those are wild.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SPENDING QUARANTINE?
I’ve been protesting climate change through letters to our representatives and newspapers and through virtual protests. One of the thin silver linings of 2020 is that global emissions are down eight percent over 2019. It’s the largest drop in emissions in history. We have an opportunity to shift onto green energy, which will be crucial to meet the 2030 targets.
I’ve also been writing. In addition to getting the sequel to Aerovoyant into decent shape this year, I’ve contributed a short story to an anthology. It’s called Writers in Lockdown, on Amazon.
And I’ve been gardening and cooking. We had garden pesto last night, yum.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE?
We all care about this now, which is such a positive change from thirty years ago. Most people understand the climate threat—and the solution stems from that. People understand the problem and do what they can to help. Whether that means driving a more fuel-efficient car or putting better insulation on their house or choosing adoption over reproduction. There are so many ways to fight climate change, and in the end, the solution boils down to simple math. We must sink more carbon than we emit. That’s it. That means protecting our carbon sinks—forests and oceans—and burning way less carbon that’s stored in the ground. No more fossil fuels. None. That carbon is sunk. Keep it sunk.
Some people want a technological solution to pull CO2 out of the air, because that would let us continue burning fuel. There are ideas about it, like ocean fertilization, geoengineering the atmosphere, artificial trees. Those are great to explore and develop, but we mustn’t allow an idea to be an excuse to burn more oil. We’ve been tossing around technological fixes for a long time, and either they come with their own risk, like the downstream effects of ocean fertilization, or they’re not technologically feasible.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE TO DO, BUT HAVE NEVER DONE?
I’d love to see remote places like Antarctica, the Galapagos, parts of Africa. I’d love to see some of the beautiful, unique animals that live in isolated regions, like platypuses and penguins. It won’t happen, because I’ve given up air travel, but if they make a solar airplane it could happen, I guess. ☺ I love this planet.
For more information on P.L. Tavormina’s work, check out her social media at the links below and don’t forget to support her by purchasing her works.