Q&A with Moira Crone, Author of “The Not Yet”
The Not Yet is a dystopian novel set in the year 2121. The Heirs control society’s resources from their lavish walled city-states. Through life extension, they live hundreds of years. Outside, the poor barely survive. Malcolm de Lazarus, twenty, is a “Not Yet” — one counting on joining the elite. But when his fortune mysteriously disappears, he must sail to the chaotic New Orleans Islands for answers. On the way, he encounters the darkest side of the Heirs’ privilege, which threatens everything he knows and loves.
In The Not Yet’s dystopian setting, people live hundreds of years through life extension. You could live for hundreds of years, what would you do?
Well, it would depend on how I felt. I think that if you lived that long you would have to devote yourself to bringing something good into the world, to making yourself a part of something larger than yourself — be it art, or belief, or healing — because just staying alive and staying amused wouldn’t do it for me for hundreds of years, I don’t think. I would have to come up with a bigger meaning for life, a way to engender a better, or richer, life for others.
How do The Not Yet’s chaotic New Orleans Islands differ from the New Orleans we all know and love?
Well, first, how they are similar: The New Orleans Islands of the novel is a place where people from other parts of the US, (which is called the United Authority in the book in the year 2120) come to amuse themselves, to “walk on the wild side” and to mix with people they wouldn’t mix with in their straight-laced (and dull) lives.
Another similarity: People in the New Orleans Islands are out of the mainstream, they do things their own way, and they don’t respect all the rigid social barriers people have erected elsewhere.
Differences: The rise in the sea level has put a good portion of the city underwater permanently. Streets are canals, there is the Napoleon Trench, Lake Pontchartrain has merged with other lakes to become an inland sea, etc. You get through the city by boat, as you do in Venice.
Another difference: There is a strict caste system in place that divides the super wealthy, who are on life extension, from everyone else. Others are separated into enclaves, like tribes, with treaties, or they are outcasts, with no rights and no jobs. The whole place has a wild free for all feel like the batture does — people without wealth are squatters, surrounded by water, fending for themselves. It’s a lawless place.
Who would you choose to play Malcolm de Lazarus, the former teen actor and titular The Not Yet character in a film adaptation of your book? How about his mentor, Lazarus, his friend, Ariel, and the scientist Lydia Greenmore?
I think Emile Hirsch, who was in Into the Wild, would be a great Malcolm — ragged, torn, complicated, and beautiful. I think that James Franco would be one great star to play the part of Ariel —worldly, wise, cynical, and damaged. Franco is so versatile and intense. For Lydia — I think Cate Blanchett as she can look young and can look middle-aged, and she can be fragile or mean and strong.
What inspires you to write? Where you go in New Orleans to get inspired?
Sometimes, as in the case of The Not Yet, I write from my dreams. The book started with a dream I had about two people, a young man and a lovely woman who appeared to be about thirty-five, until a voice told me she was two hundred years old.
Sometimes, I am inspired by a place, how the landscape feels and the way I would describe it. An example is a story I wrote during the months right after Katrina, when I was living in the city and it felt so empty and abandoned — how the sky was new, because so many trees had come down.
Sometimes, I am inspired by something that I see or hear about that I cannot exactly explain, that has an uncanny quality — like one night, I was staying in a house on the Hudson River, and I saw a huge light over the water out the picture window — I never found out what caused it, but I made up a story around it.
As far as places in New Orleans to get inspired, I love to go down to the Goldmine Saloon on Thursday nights for the poetry readings and to see fellow artists in town and to confer and have fun and make plans. Reading and listening to good poetry and good stories always inspires me the most.
What books are on your nightstand?
I just got back from Italy, so I have been reading Luigi Barzini’s The Italians, which is wonderful for explaining how history shaped that country. I have spent the last twenty-four hours marveling in Let the Dead Bury the Dead, a collection of stories by Randall Kenan, an African American writer from the part of North Carolina where I grew up. Also, on my Kindle, the novel War Surf, which is by M.M. Buckner, a sci-fi writer, and The Sounds of Building Coffins, by Louis Maistros, who lives in New Orleans. I recently wrote an essay about Voodoo and Louis’s book was one I was reading.
Anything else we should know before we come to Coffee & Conversation?
I love to talk about The Not Yet. I love to hear how people are responding to it, for it has many avenues of approach — it’s about science and spirit, it’s about New Orleans, rich and poor, living and dying, and lots of other things. Hope to see everyone there.