By Anna North
I’m a fiction writer and a blogger. The first was my dream when I was a child — the second didn’t exist yet. I’ve been writing fiction in some form since before I could physically write (my aunt took dictation), but I started my novel, America Pacifica, in late 2006. I began blogging for the women’s website Jezebel in the summer of 2008. America Pacifica is about a young woman searching for her mother in a dystopian world, and at Jezebel I’ve covered books, science, and of course mothers and daughters, so the two dovetailed pretty well. But working in both a very old and a very new medium has given me something of a strange perspective — when people start talking about how the Internet is destroying book culture, I look away and bite my lip. Still, I don’t really think one of my jobs is destroying the other — my position as a double agent has, strangely, made me optimistic about both.
Working at a blog has taught me how smart, thoughtful, and funny people who work on the Internet can be, and how much effort often goes into a post, even if it’s short. It’s showed me that some things are better short. It’s revealed the power of the link to create forms of critique, commentary, and humor that are impossible with straight text. And it’s taught me that a conversational, traditionally bloggy style can complement rather than undermine a serious argument. Working for Jezebel, I’ve seen how technology makes writing better.
Writing my novel, America Pacifica, introduced me to group of people who — however dire their predictions sometimes are — still care deeply and argue hotly for the power and importance of books. It taught me how to construct a narrative, how to hold the reader in suspense, how to write a sentence that scans well and sounds good. It showed me how to play with words, how to learn new kinds of form and structure, how to take risks. It definitely made me a better blogger. It also made me more excited and less afraid of all the new ways the Internet throws words at us. Hanging out with writers and readers and doing a lot of deep thinking and talking about why we love books has convinced me that people will always want to tell and hear good stories, and that this desire will continue to shape all the means we use to communicate with each other for as long as our species persist. Writing fiction has made technology – or at least my interactions with it — better.
Like any writer, I get concerned about the state of publishing and the future of the novel. But I also know that the new forms we’ve come up with have their own worth and beauty, and they can feed novels just as novels feed them. Sometimes it’s tiring to finish my day of blogging and go straight to writing fiction, but I’m definitely a smarter novelist for being a blogger, and a more thoughtful blogger for being a novelist. And as much as people worry about our Internet-ravaged attention span, I don’t think our appetite for losing ourselves in something can be eradicated so easily, nor do I think we should be so harsh with ourselves as to assume that we will use our new tools to create things without value. So I’m not too afraid that my current job will grow to crush my childhood dream — I hold out hope that they’ll continue to inform and improve each other for many years to come.
America Pacifica is published in the United States by Little, Brown. Read an excerpt and buy the book here.