Monday, April 26, 2021

Naomi Kritzer Interview - Chaos on CatNet

Photo Credit: Sean M. Murphy/SMM Photography

NAOMI KRITZER has been making friends online since her teens, when she had to use a modem to dial up at 2400 baud. She is a writer and blogger who has published a number of short stories and novels for adults, including the Eliana's Song duology and the Dead Rivers Trilogy. Her 2015 short story “Cat Pictures Please” won the Hugo Award and Locus Award and was a finalist for the Nebula. Naomi lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family and four cats. The number of cats is subject to change without notice.

Edgar Allan Poe Award Winner

Publisher : Tor Teen (April 27, 2021)
Publication date : April 27, 2021
Language : English


“The characters offer positive, realistic LGBTQIA+ representation―especially nonbinary identities and characters still exploring their identities. Refreshingly, the characters also feel like generally-woke-but-still-imperfect humans. Wickedly funny and thrilling in turns; perfect for readers coming-of-age online.” ―Kirkus, starred review

“Kritzer’s take on a benevolent AI is both whimsical and poignant. An entertaining, heart-filled exploration of today’s online existence and privacy concerns.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Smart, sly, scary, and irrepressibly good fun, this novel has everything I’ve ever wanted from a story: it is a cerebral, funny, tender, big-idea delight. I can’t wait for you to read it.”―Kelly Barnhill, Newbery Award-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon

"An absolutely charming and incredibly gripping, superbly plotted YA thriller." ―Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother

“Kritzer’s flawless collection taps deep wells of emotion and wonder…. Her work is indisputably speculative, but it’s a perfect entry point to the genre for readers who prefer fantastical and futuristic elements to stay more in the background, with human (and robotic) feelings always at the fore. This splendid treat is not to be missed.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories 

Greatest thing you learned at school.
My teachers always encouraged me to write, and always encouraged me to dream big. The very first time I tried to write a novel, I was in 4th grade. I still have those notebooks!

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I have been telling people stories as far back as I remember. When I was little, I would walk to and from school with my little sister, and tell her stories to entertain myself as we walked; she says that she assumed for years that all older siblings told stories, that this was part of the normal “big sister” package, and was very surprised to find out that it did not come standard.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I had several books published back in the early 2000s. In 2019, I went to WorldCon and did a reading of CATFISHING ON CATNET, which wasn’t out yet. One of the women at the reading came up afterwards and asked if I could sign something for her. Out of her bag came an extremely battered copy of my very first novel. She told me that my books had gotten her through her teen years.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I think storytelling is a huge piece of how we talk about the world. It’s how we construct meaning out of all the random things that happen to us, it’s how we warn each other about dangers on the horizon, and it’s how we imagine the world we want to see before we build it together.

Can you tell us when you started CHAOS ON CATNET, how that came about?
I sat in the hotel lobby at WisCon and told my editor I wanted to write about online radicalization – the first book in the series had a lot of stuff about how great online community can be, but I wanted to write about the other directions those communities could go.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from CHAOS ON CATNET
“You made an exploding gender piƱata?”

“They were going to pay so well. I didn’t end up making it because what they wanted was going to be a massive fire hazard and I didn’t trust them to set it off safely.”

There are whole categories of human experience that I just don’t share. For example: food. It’s not that I find food weird – if you are a human, then consuming food is entirely sensible! In fact, it’s required. Please eat your food, human friends. But I don’t eat and food isn’t especially interesting to me. What is interesting is how humans talk about it and how they categorize all the different things that they could eat. Crickets, rabbits, cows, pigs, lobsters, muskrats, and snails, these are all animals that are eaten as foods and considered perfectly normal in some places, while being “gross” or “unclean” or “weird” or “just not food” in others.

I walk the rest of the way home, thinking about how this sort of thing was probably the reason why Brother Daniel always said I had the devil in me. “That one wants to know the exact rules so she can wiggle under them,” he said to my mother, not long after we first joined the Remnant. My face heats as I remember the look on my mother’s face after he said that. The disgust. She knew he was right. Wanting to stay out of trouble is not the same as wanting to be good.

This whole idea makes me nervous. When I was on the run from my father, CheshireCat hijacked a self-driving car and used it to run him over. Still, this is a small robot. Small and light enough to lift, although heavy enough to be annoying if I’m carrying it very far. I’d say “how much trouble could CheshireCat possibly cause with such a small robot” but realistically, the answer is “seriously, so much.”

  • 1. I set CHAOS ON CATNET mostly in Minneapolis. I lived in Minneapolis for seventeen years and have lived in St. Paul for almost ten. There’s a mix of real-world and made-up locations in the book.
  • 2. Can Can Wonderland, in the book, is a former can factory that’s been refurbished to have an artist-designed golf course and roller coaster and to be full of robots. In the real world, it doesn’t have the roller coaster or the robots. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s owned by perfectly nice people, not power-hungry would-be super-villains.
  • 3. Coya Knutson was a real person, the first Minnesotan woman to serve in the US House. She’d be a great person to name a school after.
  • 4. I made up a town called Lake Sadie. Minnesota has lots of lakes (it says so right on our license plates) and lots of towns named after lakes. I felt pretty pleased with having come up with a name for a town that fit so well – only to have a friend mis-hear the name as Lake City. Lake City is real but is nowhere near where I said Lake Sadie is, so she thought I’d screwed up my state geography.
  • 5. The “Fatherhold” is based loosely on the location and setup of a Girl Scout summer camp I went to as a child. It was a genuinely terrible summer camp that has since closed down. I’m pretty sure it’s for sale, so it could totally get bought and turned into a cult compound.
  • 6. I needed an explanation for why Steph’s grandmother could drive like her driving instructor was James Bond, and I asked my Facebook friends for ideas. One of my friends, an older woman, now retired, who used to be the Faith Formation director at a Catholic church, told me that she’d done drag racing in her young adulthood. I decided that was a perfectly suitable backstory for Steph’s grandmother.
  • 7. When I wrote the first draft, I talked about how due to the cold weather the school had declared a “virtual learning day,” and it was in quotation marks. When I revised it, after the pandemic started, I stared at those quotation marks for a second and then took them out. Virtual learning days, in the future, are just going to be routine, although I suspect that in many cases they’ll functionally still be snow days, as is clearly the case in the story.
  • 8. The Midtown Global Market, where Steph and Nell travel by bus and Steph later takes Rachel on a date, is 100% real and I don’t think I embellished much of anything. Anyone visiting Minneapolis should definitely go there for lunch. It’s in a former Sears warehouse. When I first moved to Minneapolis, it was empty and boarded. People argued for ten years what to do with it, and it almost got torn down. In 2005, it was redeveloped and opened – it has offices, apartments/condos, and the first floor is like a giant food court filled with tiny restaurants serving amazing food from all over the world.
  • 9. Some of the characters in the book are “Tuckerizations” – named after people who donated money to a cause I’d requested in exchange for having their names inserted.
  • 10. The science fiction bookstore in the book is based on Uncle Hugo’s. The original building burned down during the unrest of May/June 2020. The owner is working on finding a new location. In CHAOS ON CATNET, I gave him a new location right on Lake Street – that’s probably not going to happen, but I’m optimistic he’ll be able to re-open somewhere.
Meet the Characters
There are three main characters:

STEPH, who spent most of her life prior to this book being moved from town to town (and school to school) by her mother. She’s still adjusting to the somewhat more normal life she has now. Steph is smart, paranoid, loyal, and socially awkward. For a long time, her most important friendships were online, but now she has real-life friends and a girlfriend who aren’t going anywhere.

NELL, who grew up in a cult. Nell’s mother has disappeared, and Nell is convinced it’s because she was kidnapped. Nell is wary and anxious, and believes she’s fundamentally incapable of living up to the cult’s expectations of her. She’s also deeply worried about her girlfriend, who seems to have disappeared, and unhappy about having been sent to live with her father and his polycule.

CHESHIRECAT, an AI. CheshireCat is an artificial intelligence, a bodiless person who lives entirely within computer code. They are kind, helpful, and endlessly curious about humanity and the world.

Your Journey to Publication
My journey to this book actually started with a short story I wrote in 2015, “Cat Pictures Please,” about an AI who loves cat pictures and wants to help humans. That story won the Hugo Award for best short story, and I got asked if I could write a YA novel that included that AI character.

CATFISHING ON CATNET and CHAOS ON CATNET both center heavily on online community. CATFISHING focuses on the strengths of online community; in CHAOS, I wanted to explore the less-savory side, the way that online communities sometimes manipulate people or make terrible ideas feel normal and reasonable.

Writing Behind the Scenes
A lot of writers joke about our fears of the FBI looking up our search history, and I was particularly worried about this when trying to figure out what sorts of common, available-at-a-hardware-store items could be used for dangerous purposes.

Setting a novel in my own city was a lot of fun, because I could include a mix of made-up locations and real ones.

What is the first job you have had?
Depending on whether babysitting counts, either babysitting, or working at my high school cafeteria serving French fries.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
“Just five more minutes…”

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I had the opportunity to go to China in 2019. I got to go to a Chinese science fiction convention, which was pretty fascinating, and also visited the Great Wall twice – both one of the reconstructed sections (which looks like people imagine from photographs) and one of the completely unreconstructed sections (which is still identifiably a wall, and you can climb it, but you really are climbing for a lot of it.)

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
When I was 13, I spent a year living in the UK. Living in another country will make you question everything you think of as “just the normal way people do things.”

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
Sometimes I pretend I’m in a bunk on a generation ship.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
Definitely tell my mom not to get that surgery. (She died unexpectedly at 69 from complications from a surgery that was supposed to fix something that was wrong – but, she could have tried medication for it, or even just lived with it.)

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
This dream is really bonkers but absolutely terrified me at the time. I was probably five years old, and had this dream that I’d gone to a shopping mall with a friend and that friend’s mom. We had this weird pull-behind trailer with us, and the friend’s mom said something like, “well, I don’t need this old thing anymore – I have a new, modern shopping cart now.” This made the trailer angry, and it started to poop, and its poop filled the mall as we ran in terror. I was climbing up something to try to escape out a window when I woke up.

This dream made me deeply fearful of inanimate objects that seemed like they might get mad. Coming home from an evening out with my parents, when I could hear the refrigerator running when we came into the house? Terrifying.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Going through the car wash. I procrastinate on this a lot.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A fake stuffed cat made from rabbit fur that looked like a real cat that had been taxidermied. I thought it was a taxidermied pet – found out years later that it was not. It had been a gift from the person’s mother-in-law.

It takes an AI to catch an AI in Chaos on CatNet, the follow-up to Naomi Kritzer's award-winning near future YA thriller.

When a mysterious entity starts hacking into social networks and chat rooms to instigate paranoia and violence in the real world, it’s up to Steph and her new friend, Nell, to find a way to stop it—with the help of their benevolent AI friend, CheshireCat.
You can purchase Chaos on CatNet at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you NAOMI KRITZER for making this giveaway possible.
5 Winners will receive a Copy of CATFISHING ON CATNET & CHAOS ON CATNET by Naomi Kritzer
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