I first met novelist Kristen Tsetsi because of a hilarious video she and writer R. J. Keller made about writing from Inside the Writer Studio/Paper Rats. Of course I wanted to be in one, so I stalked them both, got to do one, and a friendship was born.
Kristin's newest novel, THE AGE OF THE CHILD, is a provocative look at reproductive rights in our culture. And it's already racking up raves:
"A masterstroke in the dystopian revival, The Age of the Child is visionary, relevant, and unnervingly plausible." Brian Felsen, founder of BookBaby
"When we are through [reading The Age of the Child], we are thinking hard about things we’ve heard many say and things we’ve thought or said ourselves about children or parenting. We’re tempted into a conversation that we’ve not had with spouses, friends, or acquaintances." Elizabeth Marro, author of Casualties
"Tsetsi tells a story that will keep you reading and wondering late into the night." James C. Moore, MSNBC political commentator and co-author of the NYT best-selling Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential
"An intriguing look at a future that feels frighteningly possible." Journal Inquirer
"Smart writing, interesting characters, and just a good story. Tsetsi gives the readers food for thought." Carol Hoenig, co-owner, Turn of the Corkscrew Books & Wine
Thank you so much for being here, Kristen!
What was haunting you when you wrote this book?
Oh, so many things... Pharmacists using religion as a reason to deny women hormonal birth control. Rick Santorum's concerns over "the dangers of contraception." People who would argue that, say, a forcibly impregnated teenager (that's the most sanitary way I can say it) should be denied the option of abortion. The politician (I don't care to look up his name, because I don't care to know it) who suggested that women who don't want to get pregnant should put an aspirin between their knees.
But also, the lack of any conversation or any real, meaningful action that spoke to a genuine concern for the quality of life of these potential humans the pro-life movement professes to care so deeply about.
It's such a wild contradiction (and so bafflingly - is that a word? - hypocritical) that it was driving me mad. Any time I heard, "Think of the children," I thought, "Yes. Could we, possibly?"
The Age of the Child thinks of the children in two different reproductive rights restrictions scenarios, both carried out under a Citizen Amendment, which the administration had, by the novel's opening, recently ratified to protect every potential citizen's right to life. The first scenario: all birth control is banned and abortion is criminalized (even miscarriages are treated as suspect); the second: as a reaction to the consequences of the birth control ban, parent licensing has been enacted and anyone hoping to be a guardian (whether adoptive or biological) must first submit to an evaluation.
Parent licensing was the initial idea for the story, but I realized before finally sitting down to start that it would be impossible to write about licensing without also writing about how we got there.
What was it like writing this novel? Did you find it different than writing your other novels, and if so, in what way?
I was more anxious about this one. The subject matter is tricky, and I wanted to do it justice without getting Ayn Rand-preachy from any angle. It was also important to not write heavy when the subject matter was already pretty heavy.
What this means (this might sound terrible) is that I got to have a lot of fun with some otherwise brutal conversations and relationship situations. As you can imagine, a relationship will be tested in a no-birth control environment when a woman who doesn't want to have children avoids having traditional intercourse with her husband. (Amazingly, the real-life male politicians endorsing blocks to birth control and abortion fail to connect those actions with the likelihood that they may be threatening their own sex lives...)
When writing The Age of the Child, I went into it with a deep appreciation for Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, both of which incorporate humor and/or the absurd to make a devastatingly serious point. My other novels are a little more straightforward.
Did you always know your ending, or did it take you by surprise?
It came as a complete and thrilling surprise.
I'd written one ending and was positive that was it. "Good!" I thought. "Done!" But after going through the draft again and reaching the last page, I thought it was unsatisfying, somehow.
It's hard to remember when the right ending came to me - maybe while walking my dog, Lenny (who has a character named after her), or maybe it was while trying really hard to listen to something my husband, Ian, was saying (I don't mean to do it, I really don't, and I swear he isn't at all boring, but when you're working on a plot problem, there's really no point in trying to control concentration, is there? It doesn't work! Ian understands).
All I know for certain is that the original ending was making my center roil in an unsettling feeling of "meh" until I was hit by what should happen. It was the only thing that made sense. It was perfectly inevitable! It was one of those relief/excitement moments that make you want to shake somebody.
What was the why now moment of writing this novel?
First, it (reproductive rights vs a child's right to quality of life) was important to me as an issue. When something is important, I think it should be addressed as immediately as possible. I don't even think the subject matter I cover is timely as much as it's our history, our present, and likely our future (by "our" I mean globally). But it had all been bothering me so obsessively, and I'd been having so many real or imagined arguments about it, that it was time.
Second, how to address the issue(s) in a novel had finally been ruminated over long enough for the ideas and characters to have built into something I could finally start with enough confidence to believe I could move from one page to at least one more.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
Trying to stay positive, because Trump.
What question didn't I ask that I should have?
The only thing I can think of, and this is only because I'm excited to share it, is that I'll be doing a book signing at the Manchester Public Library in Manchester, CT on Monday, March 12 at 7 p.m., and I'll be a guest on the Colin McEnroe Show (Connecticut Public Broadcasting/WNPR) on Wednesday, March 21, 1-2 p.m.. Listen live or stream online!