This post comes from contributing editor Ann Bracken.
Columbia resident, author, and environmental activist Ned Tillman has been unusually busy spreading the word about climate change to audiences all over Maryland. I caught up with him one morning at a local coffee shop where we talked about his new young adult novel, The Big Melt. After having a great turnout for his book launch, Ned went on to be a featured speaker at the National Science Teachers Association where 40 teachers volunteered to evaluate the book and work on getting it adopted into the local curriculum. In addition to articles about Ned and The Big Melt in numerous local papers, here’s what Publisher’s Weekly/Booklife Prize Review had to say about the book: “Ned Tillman’s The Big Melt is a fast-paced novel for young readers that advocates taking care of the environment and illustrates the possible negative impacts that might occur if humans should neglect this responsibility. Tillman’s novel is certainly inspiring and unique, melding together a firm call to action for young people to consider the environment and a young protagonist’s decision to protect his town.”
I loved the book for its powerful story, dynamic characters, and cleverly embedded humor. Thank you, Ned, for this inspiring call-to-action.
Ann Bracken (AB): After writing two successful nonfiction books that delve into the topics related to climate change and community action, what made you decide to write a novel for young adults?
Ned Tillman (NT): A number of my readers asked me to write a book for young adults. I think we all can agree that they will need to get involved as soon as they can in understanding climate change and taking action before it is too late. I think many people, teenagers and adults alike, prefer reading fiction. It is often easier to get a visceral sense of a big problem through a fictional story.
AB: When I heard the title, I thought the book was going to involve a story about rising sea levels. What inspired your idea to use extreme temperatures and melting asphalt?
NT: I wanted to come at this challenge with something fresh—not just talk about the standard icons like polar bears and floods. I wanted stories that everyone could relate to, be surprised by, and get excited about. I wanted the reader to eagerly turn the next page to see what else might happen that they had not thought about.
AB: How would you describe the main character, Marley, whom we meet just as he’s about to graduate from high school and go on to college?
NT: I think everyone can relate to Marley. Like so many young people, he wants to get on with his life, but really does not know what he wants to do. We can then follow him through one climate-change challenge after another and see how he responds. He tries to seek out creative solutions, and he works with others to help save his town. He becomes this mythic kid that wants to fix things, make them right. I hope all my readers will be engaged by his actions.
AB: What have young readers told you about the effect that the book has on them?
NT: It is really interesting to see the responses the book gets. Readers have decided to pursue careers in science, politics, teaching—all sorts of things related to preventing and adapting to climate change. They have told me that they can’t stop thinking about the characters in the book.
AB: It’s clear from reading the book that you’ve done lots of research on the causes of climate change as well as the increased pace of change we’re all experiencing now. How did you decide on what information to include?
NT: I tried to include things the reader might not have thought about, everyday things that might disrupt their lives. Most of us are numbed by watching things happen to other people all around the world. I thought the readers needed something they could relate to better.
AB: Which part of the creative process came first—the story itself or the facts and ideas that you wanted to explore?
NT: I did not start writing until a rough idea of the story came into my mind. I met a teenager one day named Marley, and he was perfect for the lead role. He may not recognize himself in the character, because I did not know him that well, but my mind just took off. The ideas just flowed as the characters appeared. Some of the characters do things that I might do, many are named or fashioned after other people that I know. The facts were the easy part. Since I am fascinated by some of the stories I included, I had a hunch that readers might also enjoy hearing about them.