Thursday, September 14, 2023

Q&A with Julianne MacLean




Julianne MacLean is the author of the new novel A Storm of Infinite Beauty. Her many other books include These Tangled Vines. She lives on the east coast of Canada.


Q: What inspired you to write A Storm of Infinite Beauty, and how did you create your characters Valerie and Gwen?


A: I had a hankering to write a story about a true natural disaster because I enjoy researching settings and historical events. While casting about for topics, I stumbled across a book called The Great Quake, How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet, by Henry Fountain. I hadn’t known anything about the Alaskan earthquake, and I was fascinated by what happened.


From there, additional research gave me plot and scene ideas. I then created the characters of Valerie and Gwen and gave them the right kind of personal baggage and goals to navigate through that fateful event. 


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read a number of books about Alaska in general and searched for every piece of information I could get my hands on about the earthquake. I also made good use of the Valdez Museum website which provided an abundance of articles and photographs. To top it all off, I took a two-week trip to Alaska just to get my feet on the ground and get a sense of the place.

What surprised me most from my research was the strength of the earthquake and how the entire Valdez waterfront collapsed into the sea in a matter of minutes. What I read about that was astonishing.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title came from a passage in a nonfiction book called Travels in Alaska, written by John Muir, a naturalist. I loved the passage, so I used it as an epigraph in the novel, which has a theme of seeing the beauty in life. My editor thought it would make a great title, with a slight variation. 


Here it is: “When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dew drop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew how the story would end because I always plot out the whole story before I begin writing. But sometimes things do change from my initial outline, and I end up writing a different ending for a book. But this one stayed true to my original vision. It’s pretty close to the synopsis.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m almost finished the first draft of my next book which is due in a few months. It’s set on Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, my home province. It’s another dual timeline novel.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just that I hope readers enjoy the book! And thank you for having me.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb