Friday, March 10, 2017

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with 'The Heatstroke Line' Edward L. Rubin

Edward Rubin is University Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University.  He specializes in administrative law, constitutional law and legal theory. He is the author of Soul, Self and Society:  The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford, 2015); Beyond Camelot:  Rethinking Politics and Law for the Modern State (Princeton, 2005) and two books with Malcolm Feeley, Federalism:  Political Identity and Tragic Compromise (Michigan, 2011) and Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State:  How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons (Cambridge, 1998).  In addition, he is the author of two casebooks, The Regulatory State (with Lisa Bressman and Kevin Stack) (2nd ed., 2013); The Payments System (with Robert Cooter) (West, 1990), three edited volumes (one forthcoming) and The Heatstroke Line (Sunbury, 2015) a science fiction novel about the fate of the United States if climate change is not brought under control. Professor Rubin joined Vanderbilt Law School as Dean and the first John Wade–Kent Syverud Professor of Law in July 2005, serving a four-year term that ended in June 2009. Previously, he taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1998 to 2005, and at the Berkeley School of Law from 1982 to 1998, where he served as an associate dean. Professor Rubin has been chair of the Association of American Law Schools' sections on Administrative Law and Socioeconomics and of its Committee on the Curriculum. He has served as a consultant to the People's Republic of China on administrative law and to the Russian Federation on payments law. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton and his law degree from Yale.
He has published four books, three edited volumes, two casebooks, and more than one hundred articles about various aspects of law and political theory. The Heatstroke Line is his first novel.

Website & Social Links:


About the Book:

Nothing has been done to prevent climate change, and the United States has spun into decline.   Storm surges have made coastal cities uninhabitable, blistering heat waves afflict the interior and, in
the South (below the Heatstroke Line), life is barely possible.  Under the stress of these events and an ensuing civil war, the nation has broken up into three smaller successor states and tens of tiny principalities.  When the flesh-eating bugs that inhabit the South show up in one of the successor states, Daniel Danten is assigned to venture below the Heatstroke Line and investigate the source of the invasion.  The bizarre and brutal people he encounters, and the disasters that they trigger, reveal the real horror climate change has inflicted on America.

Amazon | Sunbury Press  | Walmart | B&N

Before you started writing your book, what kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?

I didn't do any research before I started writing.  The inspiration for the book was what I already knew about climate change and the disastrous effects it would have on our country.   I had learned about the subject from having seen Al Gore's original presentation (An Inconvenient Truth), read some of the leading non-fiction books about it, and taught about it in several of my classes at Vanderbilt.  Once I started writing, I realized that I needed to learn more about the particular predictions that scientists are making about the extent and timing of the problem.  I read some of the more detailed books, checked out several websites such as Climate Central and Glacier Hub, and talked to my colleagues at Vanderbilt who specialize in this area.  The central plot device in my book is an infestation of two-inch long flesh eating insects, which I used as an embodiment of the miseries that climate change will inflict on us.  That required further research about entomology, a subject that I knew very little about (and in fact had avoided).  Most of that information came from the internet, and from the Larousse Encyclopedia of the Animal World.

Did you pursue publishers or did you opt to self-pub?

Neither.  After I finished writing the book, I wrote a piece for Salon about climate change and the unwillingness of the American public confront the “inconvenient truth.”  In it, I observed that the current public seems to have an enormous appetite for disaster stories -- books like Earth Abides, Oryx and Crake, The Road, and Station Eleven, or movies such as Max Mad, The Postman, Planet of the Apes, and Waterworld.  Why then, I asked, are we so averse to thinking about the real disaster that awaits us.  My speculation was that these post-apocalyptic books and movies, good as many of them are, use the disaster they envision to clear away the government control and technological complexity of the modern world so they can tell an adventure story with long journeys by foot and hand to hand combat.  They don’t deal with the reality of a disaster like climate change that will degrade our lives and destroy our hopes without freeing us from the intricacies of modern existence.  A few days after the blog appeared, I received an email from Dan Bloom, who invented the term “cli-fi” and runs a blog about the subject.  “Why don’t you write a novel of the kind you tell us isn’t being written,” Dan wrote.  I wrote back and said “I have” and Dan wrote back and said “Send it to me.”  He read it, liked it a lot, and got it published two weeks later with Sunbury Press.

If published by a publisher, what was your deciding factor in going with them?

Dan Bloom (see above) placed it for me.

If published by a publisher, are you happy with the price they chose?

Yes, very happy.  Both the paperback and the Kindle version are quite inexpensive.  I just published an academic book (about law) with Cambridge University Press.  True, it's about three times as long as The Heatstroke Line but they are charging more than ten times as much ($177!) so I appreciate Sunbury's reasonable pricing.

Did you purposefully choose a distinct month to release your book?  Why?

No.  I guess I should have released it during the summer, preferably during a hot spell, but I finished editing it in September, and didn't want to wait until the following summer to release it.  

How did you choose your cover?

The cover depicts part of the book’s climax, where the main character has to walk more than a mile in the part of the U.S. “below the heatstroke line” and in fact suffers from heatstroke.  He is walking alongside young girl with a blood-covered leg, but I won’t give away that part of the story.  What I can tell you is that the reason the buildings along the street where they are walking look so dilapidated is that this part of the country (it’s Birmingham, in the former state of Alabama) has become so hot that only a fraction of its former population remains, and they have been reduced to poverty.  The drawing was done by Emma Podietz, a highly talented friend.  She had already done the cover for an academic book I edited, and was about to do a second; both designs received raves from my co-editors and from the publisher, Cambridge University Press.  I came up with the basic idea for The Heatstroke Line cover and Emma did a wonderful job of bringing it to life.  Just before the book went to press, I traveled down to Birmingham to make sure my descriptions of the setting were accurate. I called Emma from the street where I envisioned the scene on the cover taking place and described it to her over the phone.  She got it exactly right.

Did you write your book, then revise or revise as you went?

Both.  I tried to write the book straight through, thinking I would revise it later, but I found the characters and situations developing in ways I didn't expect when I began, so I needed to go back and change some of my previous writing to match the new developments.  Once I finished, I revised the whole book so everything would fit together and the pacing would be what I wanted. Then I revised it again to get the prose right.

Did you come up with special swag for your book and how are you using it to help get the word out about your book? 

No, it didn't occur to me.

Did you consider making or hiring someone to make a book trailer for your book?  If so, what’s the link?


What’s your opinion on giving your book away to sell other copies of your book?

I'm glad to do it.  I'd be delighted to make millions on the book, of course, but my main goal is to send a message, in an engaging and entertaining form, about the need to deal with climate change.  So I'd like to get the book into the hands of as many people as possible.

Do you have a long term plan with your book?

I'm writing a second science fiction book for the same publisher.  It will also fall into the cli-fi category, but it doesn't deal with the current situation as directly.  The story takes place on a distant planet that has been colonized from Earth.  It is governed as a democracy, but the two main parties are focused on a long-standing dispute about cultural issues, and oblivious to an oncoming public health disaster.   The main character runs a French restaurant in the planet's main city and his sister happens to have become the dictator of a smaller, neighboring planet that is threatening an invasion. 

What would you like to say to your readers and fans about your book?

I hope you find the book enjoyable and the two main characters engaging.  I wrote it to be entertaining, as any novel should be.  I particularly hope that you will bond with the main character; the story is told through his eyes, and centers on what happens to him, what he learns and what he feels. But I also hope The Heatstroke Line motivates you to think seriously about climate change and about what we need to do to prevent it from ruining the lives of our grandchildren and the generations that come after them.  It is a difficult issue to deal with because the truly serious results will occur in the future, not in our lifetimes, but our lifetimes may be the last times when we can take action that will prevent disaster.  That why I chose to write a novel describing, to people in the present, what life in our country might be like in the future if we fail to deal with this enormous threat.

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