Real problems explored in fictional worlds
The Tucson Festival of Books is in town for another year of guest authors, community building and the celebration of writing and reading. Every year brings new authors and new perspectives from all genres. This year, one of those new faces is Kristen Simmons.
Simmons is a novelist who specializes in young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her work consists of novels that embrace the dystopian aesthetic. From her first published work, the “Article 5” trilogy, Simmons has explored hardship and struggle on an individual and worldwide scale through her fiction.
“The dystopian lens just fit really well for a lot of the things I didn’t really know how to process,” Simmons said. “Everything from seeing people who were struggling or seeing people who were mistreated, to things that have happened politically. Fiction has always been there for me in that respect.”
Besides the “Article 5” trilogy, Simmons has written “The Glass Arrow,” “Metaltown” and “Pacifica,” the last of which will be released on March 6. In each of them, Simmons explores different social issues through her dystopian worlds.
“Pacifica” begins a couple hundred years into the future in a world where the polar ice caps have melted. The world is at war over the receding shorelines and limited resources as disease, water and trash overrun the planet. In this harsh world, there are pirates that live amongst the man-made trash islands. One of them strikes a deal with a high-class boy looking for his lost friend.
The pirate thinks she has kidnapped the boy, while the boy believes he hired the outlaw, and adventure ensues.
While Simmons has clearly crafted a story addressing climate change, much of the story within this dystopian world is based on family stories and experiences that Simmons has heard over time.
“My great grandmother was in interned during WWII, so a lot of the turmoil between the people is based on stories that I grew up with,” Simmons said. “The riots and all the racial profiling that takes place are all based on her stories to me.”
Simmons has been writing for as long as she can remember and started her first novel — which would eventually become “Article 5” — when she was in college. The book wasn’t actually published until about 10 years later, during which Simmons helped survivors of abuse and trauma as a mental health therapist.
She has since transitioned to writing full-time, and her novels reflect her love of the written word.
“I think the truth is people do their best writing when they get to a really vulnerable place,” Simmons said. “I think the best thing writers can do is look at themselves — what hurts them, what excites them, what pain they’ve had in their past, all of those things that make you unique as a writer — and writing from that place of vulnerability is what makes us all strong writers.”
Simmons will be participating in two panels, "Is the Future Dystopian?" on Saturday, March 10 at 2:20 p.m. in the Integrated Learning Center Room 150 and "Science Fiction and Society" on Sunday, Mar 11, at 2:30 p.m. in the Integrated Learning Center Room 130.
“I’m excited to come to this festival, and I’m excited to have ‘Pacifica’ out there for people to read,” Simmons said. “I kind of feel like it’s my family story so it’s going to be cool to get that out there.”
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