Merilyn Ruth Liddell has been creating stories all her life, but didn’t pen any of them until she retired from a career as an early-years teacher. When she is not hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, working in her yard, reading, or volunteering for the local art gallery or conservation society, she writes.
Merilyn, Tomorrow is a story about people, the lives of three strangers intertwined. What fascinates you most about the people in your book?
Merilyn: A tricky question. It’s hard to talk about what’s fascinating about my own creations, the characters in my novel. What I did find fascinating was how, as I wrote, the characters took control of the narrative; how I would sit down to write a new chapter and Martha or Jake or Sophie or Annie Corrin, especially Annie Corrin, not one of the central characters, would take the story in a direction I had not consciously planned.
Tomorrow is set in a small town. What makes small towns like this resilient in a dystopian future?
Merilyn: Small town residents, in my experience, are accustomed to making do with fewer amenities than those available in larger centers. More people plant gardens or have fruit trees in their yards. They are closer to the backcountry and the foods that grow there. They know which plants are edible. They are more likely to be hunters. They are more likely than city residents to stockpile “things that just might be useful someday” in their sheds, garages and yards. They have closer access to landfill sites where they can root around for “things that just might be useful someday”.
Small town residents know their neighbors, know people they can count on in case of emergency, keep track of their neighbors—in ways that can be both maddening and heart-warming. Small towns tend to be more insular than larger communities, often a negative quality; but the inhabitants have learned to fend for themselves and for each other.
Mass death, such as in your book, tends to bring about hysteria and talk of the end of times. History gives us a great example when the Black Plague ravaged Europe in the middle ages. Many thought Armageddon had come. But, in these dark times there is also a spark of hope, a will to survive against the odds. You chose to focus on the hope. What dimension of the human spirit were you exploring?
Merilyn: Resilience. How do we pick up the pieces and rebuild our lives after incredible loss? How do we find and connect with people who will be our partners in that journey? How and where do we find hope when it is in short supply in our lives? Are the decisions we make in our recovery from loss the right ones?
The will to survive takes many forms. A key to survival is finding and leveraging strengths. Those who feel most vulnerable often seek protection, in the strength of others, as is the case with Sophie. What hidden strengths does she have which help her survive?
Merilyn: Sophie grew up desperately poor, but she was educated and loved. Family came first in her life. At all costs, family had to be protected.
If you were suddenly thrust into the world of Tomorrow, which character would you seek out first and why?
Merilyn: I would seek out none of the three protagonists, at least as they are in the early chapters of the novel. Martha is a recluse, Sophie is too desperate, Jake—though polite and friendly—is too absorbed in his own quest. I would seek out Annie Corrin, who knows everyone in town and would let me know where to go for help. She has a warm heart, a warm house, fresh bread and cats to offer comfort.
According to your bio you’ve been creating stories all your life. What stories from other books or authors do you enjoy?
Merilyn: I read a lot of fiction (from a wide variety of genres), non-fiction, and poetry. A few of my many favorites:
The Diviners – Margaret Laurence
The Giving Tree and Lafcadio the Lion – Shel Silverstein (and all of his poetry)
Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Endurance – Alfred Lansing
What the Body Remembers – Shauna Singh Baldwin
Remnant Population – Elizabeth Moon
Medicine Walk – Richard Wagamese
What’s next for Merilyn? Another book perhaps?
Merilyn: I am 60,000 words into the first draft of my second novel—not a sequel to Tomorrow.