What made you write a book (Conclusion) that begins with a science fiction premise?

I’ve always read science fiction. These were among the first books I ever read, and I had this idea that I would write a book that would have a dystopian beginning but that it would evolve into an adventure story but that it would still function as a mystery.

Will there be a sequel to Conclusion?

I don’t think so. It begins and ends and doesn’t require anything else to happen beyond that point. I never intended for (my first book) Permafrost to have a sequel. I just wrote the book and put it aside for a long time. Then when I decided to write again, the most obvious thing I could think of doing was to continue Tom’s story but to move it forward a number of decades because I wanted him to be a better person. With Conclusion, I think it ends in a place where there’s not anywhere else you could go. Having said that, if Hollywood offered me a lot of money to come out with a sequel, I would somehow find a way to do that. But it’s a one-off book, and I’m very happy that it turned out that way.

Why did you decide to write about the northern Minnesota Boundary Waters?

My books usually begin with a desire to recreate a place that I find either wonderful or wonderfully weird. In the case of the Boundary Waters, I did initially want to write about it because I wanted to recreate it for people who have never been there. As I wrote, I was obviously aware that during this current administration, wilderness areas are being threatened far more than they’ve ever been threatened before. This is not a political book. I don’t have full knowledge of both sides of the argument, but I can say that there’s intense pressure to mine and to develop large parts of that area. This seems a terrible idea. My hope is that the Boundary Waters would be preserved just the way they are, so that my generation and future generations can enjoy them. So as I wrote there was a second agenda, a sense of responsibility, and a need to preserve the place.

When did you first come up with the notion of an alternate world where people would live a set number of years in good health and then expire?

I came across a short survey in the New York Times in which people were asked if they would agree to die at age seventy-five if they could have perfect health up to that point. My recollection is that young people were mostly reluctant, middle-age people were somewhat undecided, and older people were wholeheartedly behind this concept. None of these answers surprised me. I spent some time after that thinking about a world where this would happen.

The original version of Conclusion was much longer and it spent time in a kind of nostalgic NPR sort of way thinking about how this society would be. This musing took up 200 pages. I don’t think it was necessarily uninteresting, but I do think that the narrative didn’t really move at the speed I wanted it to go. It has occurred to me by now that I write mystery books that are also adventure stories. I don’t write thought-provoking nonfiction. It wasn’t awful to read; it just didn’t belong.

Why do you write?

I like to recreate places that I’ve found interesting. I also like to create places that I think I would find interesting if they existed. I’ve put a lot of myself into my books but not necessarily in the characters you might expect. But I’ve also put a lot of other people in there, too. All these things are real, and they make my books more autobiographical than many fiction writers would do or would admit to doing. I suspect that I do this because I want to preserve a record of myself and my world. There are recurring themes in my work; themes of homelessness and water. I’m not certain what they mean, but they clearly matter to me. I like to think that most of the characters in my books are optimistic. Most of them end up being mostly OK, having evolved somewhat in the narratives in ways that I hope readers find believable and interesting.

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