Today's guest is author HN Deeb, a TV writer who also writes young adult climate fiction or cli-fi. His path was a winding one to Hollywood, where he noticed California's water crisis and wanted to write something that both warned and entertained.
Deeb and I discuss why he switched careers from law to writing, and how he's helping to change sci-fi from its sexist past. Along the way, we talk about the real root cause of much conflict around the world: water and access to it.
A few highlights from our interview
On How Water Issues Affect Our Lives
As we know with the rising oceans, there are places in the world where tens of millions of people are already being flooded out. And when that happens, migrations happen. And when migrations happen, conflicts happen. And, yeah, I think it's definitely should be something the news focuses more and more on. I think it's just long past the time when all of us need to have this on our radars, whatever our political or religious or any other outlooks are.
On Watershed‘s Message
Much of the book is about society and what it looks like when things start to fall apart or have fallen apart and how do we treat each other socially and politically and morally. So the environmental stuff is a very real trajectory, a grounded trajectory about where we could be headed. But we always live in a moment of morality and politics where we can act and I think that's really what it's about. What do we do together now.
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Listen to My Interview with H. N. Deeb
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard: I'm Howard Lovy and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. I'm a writer, editor and multimedia manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors. And every week I interview a member of ALLi who has done something remarkable and inspiring This is the only show in our AskAlli series that does not focus on the business side of self-publishing. My guests talk about their writing and what inspires them and why they are inspiring to other authors. Today's guest is HN Deeb who writes climate science fiction or cli-fi for young adults.
HN Deeb: My name is Hadi Nicholas Deeb, I write my books under HN Deeb, my initials, a little shorter and I just published in May my first novel, a young adult climate fiction novel called Watershed and also, by profession, a screenwriter. So I live in Los Angeles right now. I work for television and this season I'm working called How to Get Away with Murder, a show on ABC that stars Viola Davis
Howard: But first, let's backtrack because the road Hadi took to screenwriting, then cli-fi was a winding one and it started with an early career as a lawyer.
HN Deeb: I did mostly international corporate law and worked with some really great people, actually. It was a firm called Cleary Gottlieb in Manhattan and there are some really fantastic people there and actually got to work on one very exciting deal was I joined the firm just as the United States had gone to war with Iraq, which was not exciting, but the new government of Iraq needed to restructure a lot of debt and our law firm happened to have the expert in doing that for countries. So he brought me on the team. So for a few years we got to do some, you know, good and and often exciting, often very lawyer paperworky work, but really kind of interesting things. At the end of the day I just sort of realized that in the balance of things, the law and I think also sort of living in the concrete jungle in New York wasn't really for me.
Fiction Writing Bug
Howard: Hadi discovered that his real fascination was with different cultures. So he said goodbye to the law and went back to grad school to get a degree in linguistic anthropology. That brought him to UCLA. There, he looked around and saw the way language was being used and reused by authors and Hollywood. This appealed to him on both a legal and artistic level.
HN Deeb: I pretty much caught the fiction writing bug and I started to work on something with a friend and then put it aside so I could complete my grad school work. And then towards the end of grad school as I started to work on my dissertation. I actually ended up studying the notion of authorship on three levels, on the linguistic level, a cultural level and a lawyer level, like for Intellectual Property Law for example, like copyright law, which a lot of authors of course are familiar with or need to be familiar with. And so I started just studying storytellers in Hollywood and how they think about authorship and ownership, especially as people start remixing their work or there's fan fiction and all sorts of ways in which the old idea of an author being the sole genius with full control is being eroded by new technologies and new ways of doing things. And as I followed these professional storytellers around, I started to think again, “Well, I want to do this.”
Howard: So after he got his PhD, he applied for a Warner Brothers workshop for television writers. And from there his career took off. Meanwhile, he took a look around him at the California environment and the seeds of Watershed were born.
Water as the Root of Conflict
HN Deeb: Once I moved to California, I mean, you cannot live in southern California and not be affected and see all around you just how precarious and delicate everything rests on the water table. You know, the drought function, the charts we all watch, the wildfire seasons that are just getting worse and worse. So I just really started to think about what it could look like when that happens, if it happens.
Howard: Now if you look at many conflicts around the world, especially in the Middle East, it is too easy to dismiss them as being all about religion. In fact, many conflicts are about one thing you don't read about in the news, water. That, Hadi said, is what the news should be focusing on.
HN Deeb: All of these issues with human-caused climate change should be focused more on. I know it's so easy on the news to just focus on whatever is the easiest thing to grab onto or the loudest thing of the day. But the Pacific Institute, for example, which Dr Peter Gleick is involved with and he's one of our foremost, maybe the foremost water expert. It has this really startling chart about water conflicts in the world and the graph just spiked in the past few years. It's happening everywhere. You know, in some places it's too much water. As we know with the rising oceans, there are places in the world where tens of millions of people are already being flooded out. And when that happens, migrations happen. And when migrations happen, conflicts happen. And, yeah, I think it's definitely should be something the news focuses more and more on. I think it's just long past the time when all of us need to have this on our radars, whatever our political or religious or any other outlooks are. This is something that's coming for all of us in one form or another. And I think it's sort of a common cause kind of moment.
About the Book
Howard: Okay. So now that we know about HN Deeb and about the importance of our water resources, let's hear more about his book, Watershed.
HN Deeb: Watershed is a story that's set in a nearish future when the water finally runs out in the American west and the main protagonist is Cassie, who's a 16 year old water thief in Los Angeles. The city itself is under martial law because years of water wars have torn apart the whole country. So the whole United States has changed at that point. And she's on a job one night stealing water when it goes sideways. And the water cops, who I call the dousers, almost capture her. So she flees for her life and she ends up being taken in by this wandering caravan full of strange people who call themselves The Transcendents.
HN Deeb: So she starts to get to know them and as she figures out, tries to figure out a way back home, she's drawn further and further into their own plans and finds out there's more to them than meets the eye. And the story is told from other points of view as well, mostly women and each of them has their own agenda. So the strands sort of all come together where Cassie's disappearance and what these Transcendents are up to and what some of the other characters are up to kind of all weave together into a big plot that has repercussions for the entire country as well as for Cassie's own life.
Why Young Adult Climate Fiction
Howard: Although Watershed is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, Hadi chose to target young adults for a number of reasons, including one very personal reason.
HN Deeb: In the first instance I started thinking about myself and especially my older sister who was really the one who held my hand and guided me through learning to love to read when I was younger and so many great young adult writers that we grew up with. And you know, one of my all time favorites is someone like Madeleine L'Engle who, I feel, wrote for young people but never wrote down to young people. And that was something that was really important to me. So I really, I did write it as a young adult book, but it is in a sense for adults of all ages, adults who still love young adult literature as well. I don't know if young adults are more interested in climate fiction than older adults. I think we are seeing more and more with people like the activist Greta Thunberg in Sweden, the Sunrise movement, and others around the world. There was just a big conference in Miami that young people are realizing that it is very much their future on the line and if adults aren't going to handle it, they're going to have to step up and do it. And they're doing it with so much dedication and tenacity and smarts. It's really very impressive. So I don't know that I set out necessarily to write in a way targeted towards that, but I did set out to write about a world that a young person today might live to know. And so you know, in a sense it comes together in way.
Strong Female Protagonists
Howard: And there's one thing you should know about Hadi's writing and about Watershed in particular. Science fiction used to and to some extent still does suffer from severe sexism, but HN Deen writes about smart, sharp female protagonists.
HN Deeb: I think there were two sources of it for me. One is just the way I grew up. I grew up with a mom and an older sister who are brilliant and tenacious and we all knew it. And the women in my family over generations have been strong and held the family together through a lot of things, a lot of various kinds of crises. And I grew up around a lot of women who are doctors and scientists as well. So in a sense it was just normal to me, but of course I'm not unaware of what you said, that there has often been, in our literature, a bad history in terms of representation. So it was important to me just to address that in a way. And some of the authors of science fiction that I love the most are women who write about women.
HN Deeb: I mentioned Madeleine L'Engle before who, you know, writes amazing science fiction and fantasy. Ursula Gwynn. I've been reading some Octavia Butler and I'm actually just right now reading the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, which is, in a way, kind of climate fiction as well. And it has, you know, the women in it are leaders and scientists or otherwise. And also, you know, I know there's some times people who don't like the phrase “strong women” anymore because it sort of sounds like why do you have to qualify? And I get that too. And I hope that the women that I wrote, they are complicated. They have agendas of their own, some that are noble, some that are not necessarily, some that are depend on the situation and context. They're just people, you know, they're people who happen to be in whatever situation they're in and are dealing with a context of the best way that they can for themselves.
The Moral of Young Adult Climate Fiction
Howard: So that is HN Deeb with a great many aspects to his career, life and philosophy, all meeting in one book called Watershed. But dystopia and climate fiction, like most subgenres of science fiction, isn't really about the future at all. It is a warning for the present
HN Deeb: Science fiction is really about reflecting on our own circumstances. And I see climate fiction, whether it's its own genre or a subgenre, I sort of see it the same way. And if there's any message in Watershed, to me it's a message about what we can still do together now. Much of the book coming from the other parts of my background than the creative writing itself is about society and what it looks like when things start to fall apart or have fallen apart and how do we treat each other socially and politically and morally. So the environmental stuff is a very real trajectory, a grounded trajectory about where we could be headed. But we always live in a moment of morality and politics where we can act and I think that's really what it's about. What do we do together now.
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