Today's Eleven Up interview is with Angie Smibert, whose first novel, Memento Nora, came out last month from Marshall Cavendish to excited reviews from the School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.
Nora, the popular girl and happy consumer, witnesses a horrific bombing on a shopping trip with her mother. In Nora’s near-future world, terrorism is so commonplace that she can pop one little white pill to forget and go on like nothing ever happened. However, when Nora makes her first trip to a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic, she learns what her mother, a frequent forgetter, has been frequently forgetting. Nora secretly spits out the pill and holds on to her memories. The memory of the bombing as well as her mother’s secret and her
budding awareness of the world outside her little clique make it increasingly difficult for Nora to cope. She turns to two new friends, each with their own reasons to remember, and together they share their experiences with their classmates through an underground comic. They soon learn, though, they can’t get
away with remembering.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Angie about Memento Nora, her future projects, and delicious, apocalyptic, world-shaking dystopias, and here's what she had to say...
Was there a particular seed for this book? What got you writing this book of all books?
Memento Nora started out with an idea. Actually a theme. I was writing a short story for Odyssey, a teen / tween science and science fiction magazine. The theme for that particular issue was memory, and I've always been fascinated with the concepts of memory and identity. So I was reading some research on PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and ran across some new studies on a drug or drugs to help lessen the stranglehold of traumatic memories on PTSD sufferers' brains. I thought why not have the drug erase traumatic memories. Memory erasure is not exactly a new concept, but I had this vision of little coffee shop / frozen yogurt style places on every corner selling the pill and giving out frequent flyer (forgetting) points for every visit. The story grew out of that.
Can you give us a brief overview of your road to publication?
The short story I mentioned above came out in the May/June 2008 issue of Odyssey. Over the next year or so, I expanded (continued) the story into a novel. After workshopping it a few places, I went to a SCBWI regional conference in Northern Virginia. When I got home, I submitted Memento Nora to 3 of the 4 editors on one of the panel sessions. A few months later I heard from my current editor at Marshall Cavendish. (Then I scrambled to find an agent.)
There’s a real juxtaposition in MEMENTO NORA between written or personally created objects – the bombing is of a bookstore, and Nora, Micah, and Winter use comics as activism – and consumerism, shopping, things: One’s presented as engaging much more with the world as it really is than the other. Can you talk about that difference a little?
Good question. My idea in Memento Nora wasn't so much that handcrafted (so to speak) objects were a more authentic experience of the world than were mass-market things. (I'm not saying they aren't.) But in the face of a society that is even more consumer-driven than our own--one that just wants you to work and shop and forget anything bad--a DIY mentality might be the ultimate rebellion.
Memento Nora has nods to all sorts of dystopian fiction and the tradition thereof. What’s your favourite dystopia, and why?
My favorite is probably Lois Lowry's The Giver. I've read it a couple times. I love her deceptively simple, yet so powerful use of language and her economy of style.
What’s next for you, now that the book’s hit shelves?
I'm working on the sequel, The Forgetting Curve, which will be coming out from Marshall Cavendish next spring.
We at the Apocalypsies have a bit of a thing about the end of the world! So: What one thing would you like to have with you if the apocalypse hit tomorrow?
Assuming my loved ones and critters are there with me, I might need some cigarettes. No, I don't smoke My friend has this theory that smokes would be the currency of the apocalypse. Just like in prison. Or so I'm told.