Saturday, 10 February 2018

Diana talks to Clarke W Owens, author of 600ppm: A Novel Of Climate Change

Hi Clarke, your novel,  600ppm, A Novel of Climate Change. was life changing for me. Not only was it the first book I had reviewed at length but the subject matter was presented in such a way to make me sit up and listen. Thank you ...

Q. How old were you when you first started to write seriously?

A. This is an interesting question, because it raises the issue of what one means by “writing seriously.” I suspect that the usual connotations of this phrase would include the intention to write for publication, with one’s understanding informed by serious reading and the study of, or attention to, craft. If that’s what’s intended, I would probably say I was in my early twenties, about the time I applied for a master’s degree program in creative writing at UC Davis, or a year or two before that.

On the other hand, and perhaps you’ll laugh at this, I think one begins “writing seriously” whenever one has found reading to be a profound experience and one tries to imitate the art one admires, paying attention to what happens in the process, and trying to learn something from it. This happened to me when I was eight years old, and I tried to write a “novel,” which turned out to be a 12-chapter narrative. I’m not claiming too much for this experience, but it’s distinct in my mind from other times when, as a child, I dashed off a story to amuse a teacher, or other kids. I would say that was “not serious.”

Q. When you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?

A. I understand this to be a relatively serious question, since we have all those stories about writers who absolutely could not be disturbed by their spouses or children when writing. I remember reading something like that from Jill Faulkner about her pappy.

My family means my wife. She is also a writer, and we have an understanding not to disturb the other when the other is writing. I am less strict about this than Deborah. If she comes into my office when I’m writing, she will apologize and start to leave, and I will usually insist that she come back and tell me what was on her mind. So I guess family is more important to me. She knows not to prolong the interruption for light and transient causes, though.

When Deborah’s office doors are closed, I don’t go near. I usually don’t even announce if I go out to the store, because she is very sensitive to interruptions when in the “zone.”

In sum, the reason for the interruption governs.

Q. How much of your work is planned before you start?

A. Again, it depends on what is meant by “planned.” I do seem to recall, when I was very young, sitting down with a blank page and simply trying to come up with something out of nowhere. I can do that now, with a poem, but not with prose.

I don’t work from an outline, but for fiction there has to be some sense of what the task is, where the beginning and ending points are expected to be, or in other words a clear sense of subject and possible arc. I’ve only written and published two measly books, so I don’t want to be pretentious about this, but in both cases there was a weight of subject matter in my mind before beginning. The subject had either been percolating for some time, or (with the novel) seemed so serious and important that by the time the writing began the arc was there and the urgency was coming out in the words. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have fun; I did.

I also knew the technique I wanted, which was very short chapters. The purpose of this was to control the language, not to let it get out of control, to give punch to the phrasing and the chapter endings. I thought that if the chapter lengths were short, like a poem (I’ve had more publishing success with poems than with fiction), I could keep a watchful eye over this. Lately, I’ve been writing longer, more “normal” chapter lengths, so I guess I’ve lost some of my insecurity about this issue. Sentences are the crucial component of a novel. They have to be fresh.

Q. What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

A. Everything I read is read for pleasure, because if there is no pleasure, I put it down. Life is too short. I read mostly literary fiction, history, and poetry. Everything else in smaller doses.

About the book:

It's the year 2051, twenty-five years after the U.S. Congress, at the behest of corporate oligarchs, has deliberately stifled scientific information warning of the catastrophes of global warming which have now come to pass: flooded southern and eastern U.S. coastal cities, a desertified West, northward-migrating refugees, rationed food and water, endless distractive war. 26-year-old naif, Jeff Claymarker, watches extinct species on Wild Beast World and listens to right wing broadcasts until his best friend is wrongly convicted of murder. Unwillingly involved in the effects of a National Security plot, he must search for clues to the truth. The only one comes from a stash of flash drives belonging to Jeff's late uncle, a Washington climate scientist. 

About the author: 

Clarke W Owens writes fiction, poems and assorted prose. His work has appeared in a number of literary journals. He lives in Ohio.

You may read more at, which has buy links.

The book is also available from and

Please read my review here:

© Diana Milne 2018 © Clarke W Owens 2018


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