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Interview: June 2010

Kat Falls recently spoke with Kidsreads.com’s Sarah Rachel Egelman about her debut novel, DARK LIFE, which is a classic pioneer tale set in a rather unexpected time and place --- a futuristic, dystopian undersea community inhabited by settlers who fled the Earth’s surface.

In this interview, Falls explains what prompted her to combine these seemingly contrasting elements and why she borrowed common themes and images from old westerns to create the plot of her story. She also discusses the research she performed on oceanic life, elaborates on some of her favorite genres to read, and shares details on the next book in the series.

Kidsreads.com: Was there a particular inspiration for this story?

Kat Falls: I came up with the premise for DARK LIFE during a writing exercise. I’d set myself the task of combining three things that my son loved to read about into one story --- the ocean, Old West pioneers, and the X-men. Suddenly, the world of the story took shape in my mind and the plot came together fairly easily after that.

KRC: DARK LIFE has been described as "post-apocalyptic." What do you think of that description?

KF: I’m hesitant to call DARK LIFE “post-apocalyptic” because the events that shape the story world had many causes and took place over centuries. I think of an apocalypse as a one-time catastrophic event –-- like a fast-spreading zombie plague. You could say the Topside is dystopian with its overcrowded stack-cities, but the story really takes place out on the ocean frontier, which is still a wilderness.

KRC: It could also be read as a political or ecological cautionary tale. Did you intend from the beginning to explore so many sophisticated themes in the story?

KF: No, I just wanted to write an exciting story about pioneers living on the seafloor. That seemed like a tall-enough order. I do know that my feelings on certain issues seep into my writing, but hopefully not in a finger-waggy kind of way.

KRC: In some of its themes, plotting and ideas, DARK LIFE is like a traditional western with homesteaders or farmers/ranchers, outlaws and the local saloon, the long-suffering doctor, the inept law enforcement, and the big, distant government. Was this intentional?

KF: Very much so. I love westerns and was having fun with all the genre tropes --- trying to find their oceanic equivalents. But also, I wanted to evoke the courage and vitality of the old west pioneers and the feelings of fear and wonder that they must have experienced living in the wilderness. One of the recurring themes in DARK LIFE is that the survival of the group depends on their willingness to accept one another and work together --- a theme straight out of Stagecoach.

KRC: The characters with Dark Gifts have taken on attributes or characteristics of certain marine life forms like sonar. Is there one Dark Gift you would like to have or that you think is the most interesting?

KF: Being able to emit an electric shock could be useful in certain situations…

KRC: Ty and his sister Zoe are collectors of treasure: Ty collects the artifacts of life before the world radically changed, and Zoe collects the myriad lifeforms in the ocean around her. Do their collections (or their desire to collect) have anything in common?

KF: Only in that I find collectors interesting because they are usually motivated by some joyful obsession that defies logic or a unique perception of beauty. I think so many kids have wonderful and original collections because they haven’t been influenced by adults’ notion of what is precious.

KRC: Did you have to do any research for DARK LIFE?

KF: So much so, I had to cut myself off on a regular basis. I’d pull out a book on marine life or get on the Internet to find the answer to one small question and an hour would zip by without my noticing. There’s just so much to learn about the ocean and it’s all fascinating. And if I start looking at pictures of sea creatures and future technology… I can lose an entire afternoon.

KRC: Are any of the technologies, like Liquigen or the underwater architecture, possible in reality?

KF: Because I wanted to write science fiction and not fantasy, I didn’t want to stray too far from the possible. Therefore, I tried to base all the technology in the story on some prediction or theory posed by an engineer, scientist or architect. In some cases, the science has been developed but is still in the experimental stages. For example, liquid breathing has been used to help premature babies in respiratory distress, but it is nowhere near to becoming a common practice.

KRC: What is your favorite ocean creature?

KF: I’ve always had a special affinity for whales, but I must admit, after all my research I’ve fallen in love with sea slugs. They are so varied and unbelievably beautiful, words fail me. Go --- punch “nudibranch” into your Internet browser ---you’ll see what I mean.

KRC: How did you name your characters? Were the names chosen based on sound or meaning, or something else?

KF: Ty’s character was inspired by the protagonist in OLD YELLER, a 15-year-old boy named Travis, so I wanted a name that started with “T” in homage. Zoe was named after the imaginary friend my daughter had at age three. And Gemma was just a name that I loved.

KRC: Which authors have influenced you most?

KF: Ira Levin, Ray Bradbury, Nancy Farmer and Jack Finney.

KRC: Are you a big fan of adventure stories, science fiction, or speculative fiction?

KF: All of the above. I love day-tripping in new worlds. Love speculative fiction. And anything dystopian or post-apocalyptic will always catch my eye. The first two books I read in that genre were Stephen King’s THE STAND and Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND. Both kept my imagination buzzing long after I’d finished them.

KRC: What can readers expect from the sequel to DARK LIFE?

KF: Well… Benthic Territory and Ty are still struggling to gain more independence, while Gemma is desperately trying to feel at home subsea. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally to her.