INTERVIEW: Sarah Langan, Author of “Independence Day”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“Independence Day” is about a young girl inhabiting a world on the verge of extinction. She’s a teenager, so she’s got a lot of anger and doesn’t see clearly enough to know that the bureaucratic state is her enemy, not her father.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I was working on an homage to the musician Bruce Springsteen. I couldn’t decide on a particular song, and decided instead on what I thought was the essence of Springsteen; standing up, and fighting for what you believe in a screwed-up world.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

The story came pretty fast because I was engaged by the material. I gave it to my workshop, who helped me realize that I had an unnecessary character, but otherwise, the process came surprisingly easily.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

Unlike Springsteen, my relationship with my father is very simple. He and my mother have always been my strongest supporters. He’s also a very contrary person, who says what he thinks and accidentally makes all kinds of enemies. I like that about him, though sometimes the comedy is not immediately apparent. This story was inspired by him, and I wrote it for him.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I’ve studied a lot of environmental science and read a lot of dystopian literature, so again, this came pretty easy. I like the idea that corporations become so greedy that they first poison human lungs, then force their cheap, plastic replacements. I was also thinking a lot about health care, which is a total mess right now. We might as well have computerized doctors who scramble our brains and give us morphine. It would probably be more effective than the services we currently receive.

What is the appeal of dystopian fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

Dystopias represent the most exaggerated versions of the world be currently inhabit. They make us see the obvious more clearly. Sometimes they’re not even exaggerations. I mean, ever try to get a service from Verizon? You could spend the rest of your life on the phone with those fools, and still get no satisfaction. Or how about the air surrounding ground zero after 9-11? They reopened Wall Street and told everybody who worked down there that it was safe, because the nation couldn’t survive without the stock market. At my office, I got a crappy, Duane Reade mask to breathe through six days after I’d returned—two weeks after the towers fell. The fires were still burning, and my desk was covered with dust. We’re living in a dystopia.

What are some of your favorite examples of dystopian fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

Kafka’s The Trial, because it reads like I feel when I call Verizon, or try to get my health insurance to pay for a check-up. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep> And Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, because Philip K. Dick is the man, and he gets the human element of social collapse.  Walter Tevis’ brilliant Mockingbird, because it gets everything right, and is a perfect book in every possible way. The Handmaid’s Tale, because it is both satisfying on a narrative level, and empowering for the ladies. Hunger Games—it’s Stephen King’s Running Man, only with more heart, and joy. Finally, Fahrenheit 451, because Montag is a very good name.