By Pamme Boutselis
An award-winning author of the short-story collection “Forgetting English,” Midge Raymond’s latest book, the novel “My Last Continent,” debuts today. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, Poets & Writers and many other publications. Raymond has also published two books for writers, “Everyday Writing” and “Everyday Book Marketing.” She is co-founder of the boutique publisher Ashland Creek Press. Learn more about Raymond and her writing here.
How did the subject matter in your new book, My Last Continent, come about?
Antarctica has always been intriguing to me, and I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit in 2004. Several days into the journey, I witnessed a fellow traveler slip and fall on a patch of ice on the edge of a penguin colony. I appeared to be the only one who saw him, and fortunately he got up immediately, more embarrassed than injured. But already I’d been hearing concerns from our onboard naturalists about the dangers of accidents at the bottom of the world, I began to wonder: What if this man hadn’t gotten up? This question became the inspiration for a short story, and that story in turn grew into My Last Continent, which envisions an even larger accident in the Southern Ocean, one involving thousands rather than just one.
How much of it is derived from personal passion and experience(s)?
It’s derived from much passion, and some experience. I became somewhat obsessed with Antarctica after my visit — its vast beauty, its wildlife, its melting ice, and particularly its penguins. Two years after the trip, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a penguin census with Dee Boersma of the University of Washington [http://www.penguinstudies.org] at the Punta Tombo colony in Argentina, which Dee has been studying for thirty years. This experience gave me wonderful insights into a new species of penguins as well as the lives of scientists, which was very helpful in imagining and writing the novel. And most of all, I became even more passionate about these birds and their fate in a world that is changing around them so rapidly.
The storyline and characters — as well as the descriptive language throughout — completely draw the reader in. What process do you use in creating characters and the world they inhabit?
For me, place and character are closely connected, and in a way, Antarctica is a third character in this novel because for Deb, the continent becomes so much a part of who she is. And when it comes to Deb and Keller, it’s also a huge part of who they are as a couple. My process involves researching places (and visiting, if I can) and doing a whole lot of writing to discover who the characters are and how they fit into (or don’t fit into) the worlds they inhabit.
Did you know from the beginning where the story would end and how you would get there — or did it evolve as you were writing?
I did have a strong sense of where the story would go before I got there, though I didn’t know all the details until I got there. And even once there, I rewrote the ending many times until it felt right.
The story is not told in a solid, linear fashion, but rather goes back and forth, alluding to what transpired, but not giving the reader full disclosure until nearly the end. Did you intuitively choose to tell the story in this capacity, or did it just make sense as you were writing?
I wanted to create tension from the beginning by getting the shipwreck into the very first chapter — and at first, this was all I knew about the structure. But as Deb’s story unfolded in my own mind, I began to play with introducing bits of her past juxtaposed with the journey toward the Australis disaster and toward what happens between her and Keller, and after a great deal of writing and rewriting, I realized that this would be the most natural way to tell the story.
This story offers such visual storytelling as well as an incredible storyline. Has there been any interest at all with regard to a potential film version?
There has — and it would be great to see it as a film! But of course, there are so many things that go into getting a film into the world that it’s impossible to anticipate what might happen until it actually happens.
What do you hope the reader comes away with?
Most of all, I hope readers enjoy the journey. But of course, I also hope readers will grow to appreciate Antarctica and all its creatures — and to see that, while the continent may seem far away, it’s so closely connected to the rest of the planet, and everything we do here has consequences down south.
Tell us about the marketing process for the book’s June 21st release and in the months ahead.
I knew I would be busy getting this book out into the world, and it’s been even busier than I anticipated! I’ve been working with my fantastic publicist at Scribner on various projects, from writing essays and articles to planning events. I’ve also been keeping my website up to date, getting the word out on social media, and working on luring people to the events that we’ve scheduled. So far, I’ve got ten events in the next couple of months, with more to come in the fall, and I’m looking forward to all of them. I’ve also been invited to join a couple of book clubs, which is going to be a lot of fun. After the launch this summer and the events in the fall, I hope to keep chatting about the book for as long as people want to listen!
What’s next for you, writing wise?
I’m working on a new novel — though I haven’t had much time to actually write — and it’s been fun to be thinking about it and to let the ideas simmer. When things settle down, I’ll be eager to start writing.