Let’s get to know Kenneth better through a rousing Q&A...
Where did you find the inspiration for this novel?
The idea began with an article I read about The Gaia Hypothesis. This hypothesis, proposed by NASA scientist James Lovelock, says, in brief: “all organisms and their inorganic surroundings on Earth make up a single, self-regulating entity.” In other words, the Earth itself is a living thing. A vast, “super-organism.”
I love this idea! And when I first read about it I wondered how it might be woven into a novel. In my imagination, and in conversations with friends, I took the Gaia Hypothesis one step further. “What if Gaia (the Earth) is not simply alive,” I asked, “but also sentient?” It occurred to me that a lot of so-called primitive cultures believed this very thing. Understood it in their bones.
Then I was backpacking with my son Eli (age 9 at the time). After a few days in the wilderness, feeling more connected to the land, perhaps, I started to tell Eli the story of The Gaia Wars. He loved it. It took me about a year to write the book and refine it.
Warren Wilkes is quite the unexpected hero. Tell us about him. Is he someone you’ve met before, or is he completely fictional?
My son and his friends are all pretty outdoorsy kids. They’ve backpacked and skied and kayaked and climbed since they were really little, so Warren (a sort of feral, wilderness boy) is probably a composite of the kids I see every day.
This story’s setting is incredibly vivid. How did the Cascade Mountains influence your writing? Do you believe you could have told the same story in a different setting, or would it have been missing something otherwise?
North Cascades National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet, and I go there often. It’s easy to find inspiration in the ancient forests and high-alpine meadows of that region. I’ve also been heavily influenced by Olympic National Park, and by wild areas in Alaska, where I spent much of my childhood. The landscapes in the book contain elements of all of those places.
The Mendari aliens and their organic droids, the Fabrinels, mix-up the story in a way nothing else could have (not even the irksome Mr. Finley). How did you go about creating these other races and defining their culture and behavior?
The Mendari are fantastically advanced, technologically, but suffer from a civilization-wide melancholy. They have every device and contraption imaginable, but in the process of acquiring all this stuff, they’ve nearly destroyed their lovely planet and suffocated their own wild souls. They venture to Earth out of desperation, and with newfound humility, hoping to regain the wisdom they lost millennia ago. The Mendari race is basically the Human race in a few hundred years—if we don’t get our act together in terms of taking care of our planet.
Gaia, or Onatah, is the living embodiment of the Earth Mother. Without giving anything away, tell the readers how she fits into the story.
Gaia, the Earth Mother, represents the wild soul of the planet. She’s the wellspring of all life; the source of the DNA that animates everything from bacteria to redwood trees to homo sapiens. But we humans have reached the point where we think maybe we don’t need to be connected to this wild soul any longer. We see ourselves as separate from the natural world. I think this kind of hubris is a huge mistake, and that’s reflected in the story.
How much research did you have to do in order to learn about the Denelai people’s folklore and nature rituals? How did you find this information?
I love to learn about Native American culture, modern and ancient, and have read a lot about what North America was like prior to European contact. I’m steeped in that history, but the Denelai culture is entirely a product of my imagination—not based on any one people or tribe.
Your cast of characters has very interesting names—ones I suspect were not chosen arbitrarily. Please tell us how you came up with the names for Ina, Mirra, Uhlgoth, and the others.
I greatly admire the name-inventing abilities of authors such as Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Ursula K. LeGuin and (of course) J.R.R. Tolkien. I worked really hard to come up with names that fit the various characters in The Gaia Wars.
You leave The Gaia Wars off on a very big cliff-hanger. What made you decide to take this gutsy literary move—channeling Warren, are you?
The Gaia Wars ends at what felt to me like a natural stopping point (or at least a “pausing” point)–A slight break in the action before all hell breaks loose in Battle for Cascadia.
Battle for Cascadia picks up where the first book leaves off. What can we expect from the sequel? Are there any major ways in which the style or plot line is different than The Gaia Wars?
Battle for Cascadia is a direct and immediate continuation of The Gaia Wars. Many of the storylines begun in Gaia draw to a conclusion in Battle—but not all of them! There are a lot of mysteries left to unravel in those rugged North Cascade canyons.
You’re going to give us more Warren Wilkes, right?! Please tell us you’re planning a third book in the series, and if you can, give us some clues about what happens next.
Absolutely! Warren and company find themselves in a very dangerous place and in very perilous circumstances at the conclusion of Battle. There’s a whole lot of story left to tell.