We were fortunate enough to speak with Denise R. Stephenson, author of Isolation. Stephenson resides in Oceanside, CA, but she has lived in all the isolated locales of this novel at one time or another. Her publishing history is primarily academic, though as a member of Attention Deficit Drama, she has written and produced monologs and short plays. This is her first novel. To see what we thought about the book, check out our review here. Spoiler: we really enjoyed it!
Can you touch on some of the challenges and successes you found while using Kickstarter to help fund Isolation? Would you use Kickstarter again?
Such an excellent question! Honestly, I might use Kickstarter again, but it would be project dependent. Here’s what I learned and why I say that.
First, Kickstarter has great materials to help you get ready and run your campaign, from setting up each reward level to creating a web presence. In fact, the challenge to make a video, which seemed essential, was a wonderfully creative opportunity. Like the rest of Kickstarter, it was time-consuming, but engaging.
That said, I hadn’t realized most Kickstarter supporters are almost entirely people you know. Only an already well-established social media network can lead you beyond people you know and a few people who know your people. Over 90% of my campaign was made up of colleagues, friends and family, in roughly that order dollar-wise. So if you can’t imagine the money you’re asking for coming from close contacts, don’t go to the trouble.
During my 30-day Isolation campaign, I thoroughly enjoyed setting up at least one speaking engagement a week, from house-parties to public readings. It took a lot of time but led to very few backers. When it came time to start publicizing the novel, I realized I’d burned up a great deal of energy and social capital on the KS campaign leaving me wondering how I would find more of an audience for promotion.
And finally, when the Kickstarter pledges start rolling in, you see them each. This means you learn who among your friends are generous beyond belief, for which you are imensely grateful and those who seem, shall we say, less than generous. That’s an awkward social position to be in; fortunately that fades with time. Thus, while I’m imensely grateful to each of my 151 Kickstart backers, I don’t know that I’ve dive in that deep end of the pool again.
Throughout the book, the mantra “habits learned early are habits for life” is repeated often. What habits did you learn early that have carried through your life?
One of my habits is delayed gratification, especially at meal time. So if I have three types of food on my plate, the one that will linger until the end will be my favorite. I’ll finish with a resounding “Mmm” of pleasure and satisfaction.
Another habit is to retreat to find the drive for creative projects. Isolation would never have become a novel without a three-month retreat to Kapa’a, Kauai. Ideas ferment nicely at home, but retreat gives me the level of alone-ness that allows me to let the creative juices flow freely.
What kind of research did you do for Isolation? Did you change any of your habits at all?
I did a great deal of research. For the first month, I probably spent at least a couple of hours every day researching food-borne bactrial contaminants, produce recalls, genetically modified foods, and the practices of agri-business. I also read many, many dystopias, discovering intuitively how to build a world falling apart.
From sleeving the sneeze and proper ways to wash my hands, I uncovered many habits espoused by the CDC and WHO, but I have to admit, the research and writing changed few of my habits. Maybe that’s how I came to the mantra “Habits learned early are habits for life.” I realized that though the young change their habits readily, as they did following the swine-flu scare of 2009 by switching from hands to elbows to catch coughs or sneezes, those of us who are older don’t make those changes as easily. It’s not that the logic eludes us, it’s that our habits of moving hand-to-mouth at the involuntary act of coughing is deeply ingrained.
Should I change more health-related habits? Likely. Have I? Not so much.
In Isolation, there are times when sweeping legislation is enacted and enforced. If you could enact legislation and have your own enforcers to carry it out, what would it be?
That’s a wild and wonderful question. Outside the world of Isolation I’d never want enforcers to carry out any legislation because that’s one of the elements making the novel dystopic. That kind of attentiveness to rules doesn’t create freedom.
And yet, within the limited world-vision of Isolation, I’d embrace the old-style sustainable farm Michael Pollan promoted when he wrote about Polyface farm, but I’d go a step further and ensure it was organic as well. So in a manner, the enforcers’ purpose would be inverted to prevent the bacterial holocaust from arriving. That’s what I’d like to see.
There are different roles for different people in Isolation. If you had to choose, would you prefer to be a Homelander, an Enforcer, or a Sterilizer? Why?
As much as I like being alone, being a Homelander would be permanently lonely, which is horrifying. Being a Sterilizer is no better than being a drone, because the work would be numbing, both physically and emotionally. So even though I just told you I’d never want Enforcers, it surprises me to write I would choose that role if I had to live inside Isolation’s world. Though I detest the young Trevor, in the end, he has a great deal of freedom to create his own rules in the emergent situation. By then he’s been totally brainwashed and thinks in small ways which destroy, but perhaps that isn’t the only option. In every dystopia lives the hope of utopia, so it’s possible to imagine Enforcers who make different choices, better ones, once the virulent bacteria are all but eliminated.
Thanks for these engaging questions. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.
Now that you’ve made it this far, we have a giveaway for all of our followers for one ebook copy of Isolation! This includes our international readers, so be sure not to miss out!
More about Stephenson can be found here: