Recently I was lucky enough to participate in a Q & A with the author of Saving the Planet and Stuff, Gail Gauthier. This comedy novel is about 16 year old Michael Racine who is spending his summer in Vermont working as an intern for a magazine called, The Earth’s Wife. Walt and Nora, 2 of his grandparents’ old friends, have run the publication since the 1960's. Michael must learn how to work and live with people who are much different than anybody he's used to in that they don’t eat meat, don’t use air conditioning and ride bikes to work.
In the following Q & A, you will get a sense of how Gail's love of the environment influenced this novel, as well as some insight into her personal story.
When someone finishes this book, what would you like them to leave thinking?
Saving the Planet & Stuff is a comedy about life choices. I hope that readers will come away with an understanding of the thought, effort, and decision-making that go into even just trying to live an environmental lifestyle. The scene in which Nora only wants free range eggs if they are packaged in something she can recycle--otherwise, she'll make do with regular eggs so long as they're packaged in cardboard and not Styrofoam--is something a lot of us can recognize. Walt and Nora are over-the-top in holding on to items others would consider garbage because they believe they can use them again and keep them out of a transfer station a while longer. But it's only a matter of degree. Other environmental types do it. In our home we have a policy of not replacing items until they are broken, which cuts down on the number of material things we go through and discard. Just this morning I got into a discussion with another family member about items that lose their functionality long before they are truly "broken." If I'm not going to wait until something breaks, how poorly does it need to function before I replace it? And then what do I do with that item that's merely functioning poorly and isn't truly broken?
What about Connecticut has been an inspiration to your writing?
I've published a number of books about children in suburban towns, attending contemporary schools. That comes from the suburban Connecticut world I've lived in as an adult. My life and my experience are a big part of my writing.
Why do you think it's important for young adults to have an understanding of the natural environment?
I lean toward stewardship. There are a great many things we need/want from the environment in order to live comfortably. If young adults hope to live lives in which they have what they need in terms of raw materials and healthy and beautiful surroundings, they need to understand that they have a part in maintaining the environment so that can happen.
Was there one moment in your life where you knew you wanted to become an author?
When I was in fifth grade in one of Vermont's last one-room schoolhouses, we had a student teacher who had us write a short story. Our regular teacher, who I'd had for a couple of years, was very strict and rigid and wasn't interested in creative work. Writing that short story for the student teacher was like being struck by lightening. From that point on, I was always involved in writing in one way or another.
Why did you write Saving the Planet and Stuff?
I originally wanted to write a humorous YA novel with a male protagonist, because my older son enjoyed reading funny YA. At the time, he found that a lot of the funny books he was reading were about girls. But simply wanting to write a funny book isn't a story idea. Walt and Nora, the committed environmentalists, came out of my personal history, growing up and going to college at a time when there was a lot of interest in things like environmentalism and feminism. Once I placed them at odds with a teenager who definitely didn't share their world view, I began to find a story that I thought I hadn't seen in YA. I also hoped that a funny environmental book would make the subject accessible. I'm not terribly fond of overtly instructive fiction.
Are there any suggestions you have for young people who would like to become authors?
Make sure you understand what you are getting into just as you would try to understand what you were getting into if you were interested in pursuing a job in health care, technology, or the trades. I think there's a feeling that just wanting to write something is enough. Things will go a lot easier for you if you learn the mechanics of writing and what goes into writing a piece of fiction or nonfiction. If you're interested in writing a specific genre, make sure you know as much as possible about that genre. Also make a point to learn about the business side of publishing. Understand the complexities of traditional and self-publishing so you can make decisions about which way to go.
For more information on Gail and her other work, please visit her website.