"Piano Tide" is "Last Frontier" cli-fi storytelling at its finest, with a strong environmental theme
An introduction to a recent interview conducted by Dan Bloom in JANUARY 2017
Alaska is different from the Lower 48 states. When tourists go there in the summer they are told by their cruise ship tour guides that they are entering a vast
''Last Frontier'' state with a different mindset in regard to nature and wildlife and the cultures of the indigenous peoples who have lived there for over 10,000 years. Oregon writer
Kathleen Dean Moorehas a cabin in southeast Alaska and flies up there every year with her husband for some cherished time away from it all.
In her novel "Piano Tide,'' Moore puts Alaska on the national literary map in a story that is heartfelt, passionate and a very good yarn as well.
It's s about nature, the environment and a cast of characters, young and old, whose lives intersect in the scenario she has created.
In a recent email interview we asked the author about the genesis of
her book and her motivations in motivations in writing it.book and her
Kathleen Dean Moore is best-known for her nonfiction books of nature-focused essays — Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water; Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World, The Pine Island Paradox, and Wild Comfort.. Her most recent publication was Great Tide Rising(Counterpoint 2016). Moore writes from a small summer cabin where two creeks and a bear trail meet a tidal cove on Chichagof Island in southeast Alaska.Do we belong to the Earth or does the Earth belong to us? That question raised by Chief Sealth almost two centuries ago continues to be the defining quandary of the wet, wild rainforests along the shores of the Pacific Northwest. It seethes below the tides of the fictional town Moore created for her novel called Good River Harbor, a little village in southeast Alaska pressed against the mountains — homeland to bears, whales, and a few weather-worn families.
In ''Piano Tide,'' the debut novel by award-winning naturalist, philosopher, activist and author Kathleen Dean Moore, we are introduced to town father Axel Hagerman, who has made a killing in this remote Alaskan harbor by selling off the spruce, the cedar, the herring and halibut. But when he decides to export the water from a salmon stream, he runs head-long into young Nora Montgomery, just arrived on the ferry with her piano and her dog. Nora has burned her bridges in the lower 48, and she aims to disappear into this new homeland, with her piano as her anchor. But when Axel's next business proposition, a bear pit, turns lethal, Nora has to act. The clash, when it comes, is a spectacular and transformative act of resistance.
DAN BLOOM: "Piano Tide" is a novel with a strong environmental theme and in addition to being an Alaskan eco-thriller, it certainly stands against the corporate plunder of the planet – the powerhouse of climate calamity. What was the genesis of the novel and what were your motivations in wanting to write it?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: For a long time, I’ve been a climate activist, writing books and speeches and harangues, pushing back against the fossil-fuel industries that are taking down the systems that sustain life on Earth –seemingly without moral or legal constraint. And I have been touring a show with a pianist that calls people to action to stop the terrible rates of extinction. But that has always been in the abstract. I wanted to think about how a person, a real person in an actual place, would “stand against the corporate plunder of the planet.” What kind of courage would that take? What kind of planning? What would be the human costs? PIANO TIDE is my imagining of the answers to those questions.
QUESTION: When does the story takes place? The present, the near future, the past?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: It takes place right now. Right now, which is when we have to take action.
QUESTION: I love the title of the novel and wonder if that was your original title when you started writing the first chapters or if the title came to you later on as you were writing or after you finished writing it? were any other titles considered and later dropped? For example?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: I struggled with the title. Do you like any of these better: ''Dog-Salmon Moon,'' ''All the Places I Have Run To?'' ''Dog-Salmon Moon'' was the working title for seven years. I don’t know why I abandoned it.
QUESTION: When people go to Alaska they sometimes frame it by saying they are "going into the country," as if Alaska is a country unto itself, huge but sparsely populated, and the 49th state of the USA. When you fly up there every summer to spend time at your rural cabin,
as the plane flies over Oregon and British Columbia and heads towards Juneau, do you have that feeling too, that you are "going into the country?"
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: I’ve always thought that John McPhee should have thought of something stronger than “into the country.” Heading into Alaska is like coming back to Earth. In the waiting area at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, you can tell you are heading into something different – people look different (bigger, beardier, more varied in ethnic heritage, garbed in clothes that would actually keep you warm, fewer women). I wonder if it’s like St. Louis in 1820, with the streets full of people headed west.
QUESTION: Your book has received wonderful praise from early readers.
Kim Stanley Robinson said:
" 'Piano Tide' joins Ken Kesey s "Sailor Song" as one of the great novels of Alaska and its convoluted coast and history. A small group of people making a life in a village by the sea: this is Kathy Moore s canvas, and she paints a really beautiful, intense, funny and lively portrait of Nora and her new neighbors. How to live in this world? Moore lets us ponder this by way of a great story, in this marvelous debut novel. ''
Bill McKibben said:
''I think Kathleen Dean Moore can do anythingincluding write a savagely funny and deeply insightful novel of the tidepool and rainforest country she knows so well!"
And Alaskan writer Nancy Lord said:
'' 'Piano Tide' captures with remarkable perception the beauty of Alaska, the environmental conflicts that tear at and unite communities, and the interconnectedness of all things. [reasders will] be swept into this world as if by a turning tide, and you will love the characters -- human and otherwise-- you find there. Moore writes from deep knowledge and empathy, with an open heart.''
With critical praise likle that to get things started, how has the reception of the novel been so far from readers around the nation and what kind of promotionl activities have you been doing for the book in terms of radio intervews, TV interviews, print interviews, book signings and general PR?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: Thank you for quoting these remarkable people, who have been so kind. Just to take the time to read the book, and then to say such thrilling things!
The book has received very few reviews from professional reviewing magazines etc. – I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s set so far from New York City.
But the reception at book events has been so much fun. In my home town here in Oregon, a couple hundred people came out to my reading, which featured banjo music by Pete Kozak. There’s so much music in my novel that I can’t imagine reading without music.
At the reading planned for Juneau (at Hearthside Books), Alaskan singer Linda Buckley is going to sing. And the great Libby Roderick will sing at my reading in Anchorage (at 49 Writers meeting). Wonderful, rollicking evenings, not your usual book reading.
QUESTION: Who is your target audience for the novel in terms of age groups? Could we call it a YA novel with a target audience of teenagers and young adults? Or is it purely an adult novel for everyone regardless of age?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: Interesting that you would ask this. I’m trying to understand. What would make this a YA novel – the fact that two of my characters are teenagers? I intended it for everybody, but maybe you are sensing that my real audience is college students. An old philosophy professor myself, I was always looking for books my students would love, books that would subtly teach them about moral theory and moral courage. Ha! I have been found out.
But tell me, what makes a novel an adult novel? Adult characters? Sophisticated philosophy? Writerly subtleties? Swear words? Incomprehensibility? I could do that, but why would I?
QUESTION: Readers in Alaska will surely identify and understand the story and the location very well, and for readers in the Lower 48, the book will be a very good introduction, via fiction, to Alaskan life in the 21st century. What kind of feedback have you been getting so far from Alaskan readers and readers far afield in the Lower 48?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: My early readers, friends in southeast Alaska, thought I got Alaska just right. That’s pretty exciting, because an outsider could get a lot of things wrong – how people think, talk, drink, smoke, cut down a tree.
QEUSTION: One reader told me: "If you like a really good novel of the Northwest, especially as it is lived in a small coastal town, I think you will like 'Piano Tide." Is the novel a message novel wtih an environmental theme or did you just want to tell a good modern yarn with an Alaskan setting?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: Both, of course. I needed a good yarn, a page-turner, a so-called “airport book” so that people would read it. And reading it, they would come away thinking, I hope, I pray, about this purported privilege of some people to destroy the material basis of a culture. What the heck is that about? How can we resist it?
QUESTION: This was your first novel, your debut novel, in a lifetime of teaching and writing nonfiction. Do you plan to write more novels and any new projects in progress?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: Two weeks ago, I would have said, I am returning to my first love, the nature essay. But I’ll be damned. A new story presented itself to me, and characters walked into my life, laughing at me. And how could I turn away from that? So I am exactly 2,345 words into a new novel. Should I call it ''North River Road'' or ''Glory, Halleluia?''
DAN BLOOM: I like "North River Road."
QUESTION: Your novel has appeared just in the new era of President Donald Trump, a period of time I call "Year 1 A.D. ("anno donaldo"). Some climate activists are saying that Trump's views on climate change and global warming will inspire more novelists to take up the pen to write new novels about climate and environmental issues, and that the next four (or eight) years of the Trump presidency will be a test for the nation. What is your feeling about all this?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: My feelings about this are strong. I believe that we are in a planetary emergency, with the future of thousands of species at stake (including H. sapiens), and now we are led (for perhaps two years) by a reckless, hateful sociopath. It is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Everyone is called to their stations, where they must do what they do best with all the power they can muster, as if their lives depended on it, which they do. And the lives of future generation. It’s a terrible terrible responsibility and we have to step up with courage and energy. If writing a novel is what a person does best, then she must do that with ferocity and determination, and it has to make a difference.
QUESTION: I can envision a very nice ensemble cast of actors in either an art film or a entertaining Hollwyood movie, with the same title. Have you received any nibbles yet from film producers?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: Dream on. But it would be good, wouldn’t it, to see people cheering for the characters who are standing up against the destruction of what is beautiful and life-sustaining. Do you know any rich producers?
DAN BLOOM: Well, just be coincidence, I just received an email from a film scout for a movie producer in New York City, and he asked me if I could recommend any good climate-themed novels or short stories that might make good film properties. I will send him this interview and tell him about "Piano Tide." I can really envision a nice ensemble cast movie made from your novel! With that title, too. The way Hollywood works, it could happen, but in ten or 15 years. Many movies start out in pre-production with just a script and then it takes 10 years or so for money to be raised, a cast assembled, locations to be decided upon and a studio to agree to distribute it. But I see this happening with your novel.
QUESTION: The Perseverance Theater in Juneau often mounts plays about life in Alaska, and some of them are adapted scripts from novels and short stories that have appeared in print nationwide. If Perseverance Theater wanted to adapt your novel into a small theater drama presentation, would you be interested in seeing this happen?
KATHLEEN DEAN MOORE: I would absolutely love it. I met Ishmael Hope long ago, when we invited him to Oregon State University. Ever since, I have been following that Juneau-based theater, fascinated and proud.
DAN BLOOM: I will send this interview to the art director at the Perseverance Theater!
Oregonian cli-fi writer and nonfiction essayist Kathleen Dean Moore’s background in environmental activism and nature writing is abundant, and her cli-fi novel Piano Tide (Counterpoint, 2017) is published now.
Kathleen is best known for her books of nature-focused essays — Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water, ;Holdfast: At Home in the Natural World, The Pine Island Paradox, Wild Comfort, and Great Tide Rising(Counterpoint, 2016).
Kathleen explained her first foray into a cli-fi novel titled Piano Tide this way:. “In a remote boardwalk town in maritime Alaska, we meet Axel Hagerman, who has made a killing by selling off the salmon, the herring, the yellow cedar, the spruce. But when he decides to sell the water from a salmon stream, he runs headlong into Nora Montgomery, just arrived on the ferry with her piano and her dog. The clash, when it comes, is a spectacular and transformative act of resistance.”
Piano Tide is her first cli-fi novel.
When asked about exploring the diversity of storytelling voices when it comes to this novels, Moore says:
For myself, I am working hard to create a new genre that I call the “Lyric Polemical.” All around me, beautiful writers are abandoning what we used to call ‘lyric prose,’ musical prose, in favor of the argumentative piece. That’s a natural response to all that is awful. But I wonder if we writers can do both: I wonder if we can write beautifully about moral outrage and clarity of thought.
“Write as if you reader were dying,” Annie Dillard advised. “What would you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” Now we must write as if the planet were dying. What would you say to a planet in a spasm of extinction? What would you say to those who are paying the costs of climate change in the currency of death? Surely, in a world dangerously slipping away, we need courageously and honestly to write a better ending to this story.
Kathleen Dean Moore reveals a refreshing thought process when it comes to writing about climate change and weaving in stories, or reflections, about the subject. The lyrical polemic seems a brilliant idea. In Orion Magazine, Kathleen wrote about those who are fighting Canadian oil sands pipelines. And in Piano Tide, the author fictionalizes similar acts of resistance as characters try to preserve natural resources in the Pacific Northwest, home to wild rainforests, endangered species, fresh water, and fish. A man named Axel Hagerman, well-known as the “town father” in the remote Alaskan village, makes his living–and more–by selling the needed resources: rainforest trees, herring, halibat, and now he wants to export fresh water from a salmon stream. Nora Montgomery, new to the village, and a woman with a piano looking for an isolated place to make her new home, clashes with him when he wants to start a bear pit.
With Kathleen’s knowledge of local culture, fauna, and flora, she builds a sometimes serious and sometimes humorous novel that is both believable and magical.