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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

St. Albans Author Uses Fiction To Explore Realities Of Climate Change

A man holding a book
Michael Frett
St. Albans Messenger
St. Albans author Jim Stiles' book A Rough Road follows two young lovers navigating a world plagued by climate change.

The most notable thing about Tom Grady and Elaine Inoue is that they keep finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in a world riven by climate change. And St. Albans author Jim Stiles warns they are essentially us.

Stiles has written a novel about climate change called A Rough Road, featuring the two young lovers, Tom and Elaine, as they roam from place to place, trying to stay safe and finding it increasingly difficult to do so.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Jim Stiles. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity, and started with why Stiles wanted to send a warning about a real world threat through a fictional tale.

Jim Stiles: In part, it's because it's scary and in part because it's complicated. And so I felt that fiction was potentially a good way to do that. That you know, you provide characters who you can relate to and through them you can relate to the kinds of things that it looks like climate change is going to bring.

And of course it's a global problem and ultimately does require a global solution. But there's still stuff we can do at a local level that's going to make a lot of difference and can make you preserve prosperity. At this point, unless we start doing some things differently, we're going to take some hits, but we can get through them if we're smart.

Mitch Wertlieb: I'd like to know about your own interest in climate change, your own research into this. I mean, what's your background here? Why did you get interested in this topic?

Well, I mean, I've really been an environmentalist my whole life. I was one of the kids, you know, helped put together the first Earth Day. And I painted the recycling barrels as part of my contribution for the first Earth Day. And the year after that, I actually ran the Earth Day observance in my hometown. So I've been very involved for a long time.

And so this was obviously a big environmental issue. And I've kept a very active interest my whole life. And it was actually about seven years ago I decided that, well, maybe fiction might be a way to communicate this stuff.

The climate change encounters in Rough Road are told as they relate to these lovers. Everywhere they go in this novel, they find these climate-related disasters, or at least a miniature version, you know, seems to follow them.

There's a point where they cross over into Quebec and they encounter tornadoes in the vicinity of Montreal, not part of the world known for such things. But do you believe that with climate change going unchecked, that could be a reality at some point?

Well, I tried throughout the book to try to make things realistic. And in fact, I checked they do get tornadoes in Canada, and it does appear they're becoming more frequent. So just a little bit of extrapolation, and it's not far-fetched at all that you might be getting tornadoes, you know, even well north of Montreal, which is where, you know, that particular event takes place.

More from VPR: Vermont Author's New Novel Chronicles Romance & Redemption During A Global Crisis

I wonder about climate change, because as you said at the beginning here, it's not just that it's scary. It's that in some ways it's a little bit like COVID-19 in that it's not visible. You know, we can't see one thing happening. There's no one enemy in a sense to fight against.

And I'm wondering if you were trying to use this book as a way to show that these things could happen, and in a very real way that is going to impact us as people just trying to survive.

I think that gets right to the point of the book. Yes. I mean, obviously, when you read the book, the two main characters go through an awful lot. That's not entirely realistic. I mean, as is done in some other fiction, the main character's encounter is at the fringe of what's believable as to what they personally experience.

But, you know, over the course of a year, people will be experiencing all of those kinds of things. And so it's a bit of a composite that way. But the point is to make it believable, that a person really could go through these things. And it's all about the personal impacts.

And at one point in the book, I talk about how the real impact of all this stuff, it's going to be poverty.

Meaning that because of the impact of climate change, we're going to see mass migrations, we're going to see things like droughts. Things are going to really affect people on a large scale in that way in large scale.

In a large scale, but then just, you know, bringing it down to a much more personal level. I talk about how people have had their roofs blown off their houses three times in 10 years. If you have to replace your roof three times in 10 years, all of a sudden if you were prosperous, you may not be so anymore. And if you weren't prosperous, you're really hurting.

What do you hope people take away from this book? Because on some level, I think, you know, you're trying to write a good yarn. You're spinning a good tale. Which of these – maybe you don't have to choose – but how do you think readers should come away from this book?

Well, just as you say, I mean, I wanted to make a good story just because people should enjoy it. I think that's very important.

But, you know, I've also slipped in a lot of facts, and in that way I think it's a little bit like one of my favorite books, The Martian, which the main character there gets exposed to all kinds of problems, and he overcomes them. I tried to do something very similar to that here, where as long as we’re smart, and we work hard and we pay attention to reality. I think, you know, things can be just fine. But if we don't, as with The Martian, you know, well, there are consequences.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet Morning Edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb

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A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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