We’re so happy to have our fellow VCFA MFA graduate, author Catherine Linka, with us today! She’s here to talk about the importance of landscape in her newly released debut YA novel, A Girl Called Fearless. The novel, a romantic speculative political thriller, is set in a contemporary but historically altered Los Angles where teenage girls are a valued and restricted commodity.
Catherine: Thank you so much for inviting me to talk about landscape. People rarely ask about the setting of A Girl Called Fearless, but it was really important to me, so I love this chance to talk about it.
Sharry: So, to start off, please tell us a little about the landscape in your novel.
Catherine: A Girl Called Fearless and the sequel, A Girl Undone, are set in present day Los Angeles, but as you mentioned, I’ve altered history. Ten years before the story begins, fifty million American women died from synthetic hormones in beef. So even though LA is the landscape, it’s altered from the LA we know.
Sharry: Oh my gosh—what a chilling and intriguing premise. Could you describe the different aspects of the story’s landscape and how you used it?
Catherine: Everyone knows LA institutions like freeways, Hollywood, Malibu beach, gated communities, high end malls, paparazzi, entourages, cloudless blue skies, and the Rose Bowl.
But to me, landscape isn’t just about physical features like mountains or freeways, it’s about the cultural and psychological makeup of a community as well. LA is very focused on image and celebrity power, which translates into an intense consumption of fashion, style, entertainment media, exclusive real estate, and prestige cars.
At the same time, Los Angeles is multicultural and Pan Pacific with many Asians, South and Central Americans. Plus, it’s more gay friendly than some regions of the US and prides itself on being politically liberal.
Sharry: I love that you think about the cultural and psychological components of a community as integral parts of a landscape. It’s so true and such a potent facet of the whole idea of landscape. Tell us how you put this to use in your story.
Catherine: Even though the story takes place in LA ten years after a disaster, the sun shines almost every day, so I loved contrasting dark themes like lack of freedom of choice for women against LA’s liberal, eternally sunny setting.
Because LA is a melting pot, I felt that even though my main characters are white, the cast of characters had to be multicultural and include QUILTBAG characters.
Sharry: Okay, so I have to stop you for just a minute and ask you to explain to us what you mean by QUILTBAG characters?
Catherine: You may be more familiar with the term LGBT, but QUILTBAG expands LGBT to include other identities including Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersex, and Asexual.
Sharry: Good to know. Thank you. So as you were saying about how LA being a melting pot plays into the landscape of your story…
Catherine: I wanted to hint at the impact of the disaster on the poor versus the rich. Poor girls lacking extended families to care for them end up in state supported Orphan Ranches, while rich girls have fathers who can pay for private school and personal bodyguards.
LA’s consumerism helped reinforce the theme of society transforming girls into a high-end luxury good. We see Avie made over by a stylist in a chic mobile salon in a modified Airstream. We go with her to an upscale lingerie salon where the merchandise is designed to please the woman’s partner. These settings are beautiful and luxurious to reinforce the sense of the gilded cage which Avie is about to enter.
I used recognizable places or objects, and twisted how they are used to signify how the country had changed. A freeway soundwall, something most people don’t even think about, is built with bricks from the ashes of women whose families couldn’t afford to bury them, and it becomes a memorial called the Million Mother Wall. In this reimagined landscape, the Beverly Center shopping mall, a place where teenage girls would normally enjoy a day without adult supervision, becomes a place where girls are checked in and out with wristbands, and released only to a father or bodyguard.
Sharry: Wow—a wall built from women’s ashes? That’s a very powerful image. As is the idea of setting these dark themes against a background of sunlight and beaches. You live in LA—I’m curious what your own relationship with it is?
Catherine: I love LA, because I love being outdoors most of the year and my backyard is my sanctuary with visits from hummingbirds and flyovers by flocks of wild parrots. While I’m fascinated by LA’s cult of consumerism and celebrity, it’s not something I embrace. But I do love that I can go eat pancakes at the beach and wear flip flops 9 months out of the year.
Sharry: Catherine, thank you so much for visiting with us today!
Catherine Linka is an author, and a children’s and young adult book buyer for an independent bookstore in Southern California. She studied international politics at Georgetown University before getting a masters in business at the University of North Carolina. After years in sales, marketing and advertising, she reimagined her life and pursued a masters in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a member of SCBWI, and a recurring speaker at SCBWI-Central Cal Writer’s Day. She blogs about writing at ThroughtheTollbooth.com. Catherine is married and lives with her husband in the San Gabriel foothills. A GIRL NAMED FEARLESS is her debut novel.