Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Charles Crittenden, author of Inhabitant.
FQ: Is Inhabitant meant as a powerful, wide-ranging metaphor for how we may proceed through life, especially in times of inner or outer crisis?
CRITTENDEN: Absolutely! I think there is a universality in what it means to search for that which we want or need in life, and I aimed to capture that sense of hope and thrill of the searching in a manner that can speak to many. Over the past couple years, a lot of people have found themselves in a position to restart and find a new direction, which is awesome. When it comes to finding a new home inside of oneself, I see similarities with the search in the book for the right planet to inhabit.
FQ: What methods did you utilize to envision the space scenery you so vividly describe?
CRITTENDEN: For me it’s all about finding the right music or playlist to draw me away from the real world and just let my mind drift. I used a lot of pieces from Max Richter to set the stage for that along with other more obscure artists and composers. Once that mindset was in place, I put myself in the traveler’s shoes and let them lead me through what they were seeing, finding descriptions to match those feelings.
FQ: What were early or later influences that drew you to compose this lengthy poetic saga – visuals something like Star Trek, or perhaps written sci-fi materials from an earlier generation?
CRITTENDEN: My parents did a great job of introducing me to a wide variety of sci-fi as I grew up. I’ve always had an interest in science fiction, but if I’m being honest, it was a lot of Star Wars. I loved reading all the books I could get my hands on. Additionally, some of my earliest movie theater memories are Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, and First Contact. I also very much enjoyed 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I saw them (even though I’m certain I didn’t understand most of what I was watching.) That looming feeling of facing insurmountable odds is one I kept with me and channeled for this work. Later, as I put the finishing touches on Inhabitant, I was heavily influenced by the atmospheres created in modern ethereal sci-fi like Interstellar, Ad Astra, Annihilation.
FQ: This appears to be a stand-alone work – but have you left an opening for a sequel detailing further journeys and observations?
CRITTENDEN: You’re right, this is intended to be a stand-alone work, but I also believe with any work there remains an opportunity to revisit the world again when the time and story is right. I have a few ideas in mind, but I also have other stories I’d like to tell first. Only time will tell!
FQ: Do you live in, or have you ever visited places with wide vistas to observe the vast star-scape, such as the western deserts?
CRITTENDEN: I live in St. Louis, Missouri where light pollution is prevalent, so the opportunities to see all that space has to offer isn’t available on a regular basis. Though as a kid when the sky would open, I’d sit on my roof for hours just to take it all in. The open sky offers a calm I find to be unmatched here on Earth. This has led to some spectacular stargazing during road trips out West, especially one night in Joshua Tree that blew me away. My most memorable nights looking at the sky have been on those trips and elsewhere further away from city lights. Those memories and experiences helped shape visions seen in the book.
FQ: There are numerous scientific references – Hubble stations for example – throughout Inhabitant; did you make a particular study of space science as part of your preparation?
CRITTENDEN: For as long as I remember, I’ve been fascinated with space! We used to rent out the big box of space books from the library when I was a kid. I would study the constellations using my star chart, watch shuttle launches, the works. Gradually that morphed into a general appreciation for all the exciting work being done by NASA and others, so much of what I’ve learned and funneled into the book has sunk in over time.
I believe the first Hubble image I saw was The Pillars of Creation, and I’m still in awe of that photo of something so gargantuan and yet peaceful. I’m very excited to see what the new Webb Telescope will show us (and couldn’t resist offering a nod to it in the book.)
FQ: What writers, either poetic or prose, influenced you to add writing to your other talents/interests in art and music?
CRITTENDEN: It may be cliché, but John Steinbeck is without a doubt my biggest inspiration when it comes to writing. The way he captures such wonder in the everyday has always stood out to me, and I can always find something new to take away when I reread his work. Practically, the biggest push I had to write more purposefully came while taking classes with David Clewell at Webster University. His passion for words, poetry, and storytelling was unrivaled, and I’ll never know someone who could find elegance so easily.
Throughout my life I’ve always found influence from a wide variety of authors and poets that all have pushed me in one way or another to be a better writer. From Billy Collins to Bob Mayer, from Philip Levine to Ta-Nehisi Coates, I’ve always found pieces of brilliance that I hold onto and help me grow as a writer no matter the source.
FQ: Inhabitant makes brief but strong statements concerning ecology and the way that humans have misused our earthly home – is this something about which you plan to write more in the future?
CRITTENDEN: As someone without a background in ecology or climate science, I haven’t fully decided how far in that direction I intend to go, but I do very much admire the people and groups working to undo damage we’ve done up to this point. I feel very strongly about how poorly we’ve treated (and continue to treat) our home; it’s one of those things where we must unlearn the habits ingrained in our society and our own everyday adventures. There are many small changes that we as individuals can make to help change the conversation and push for change, but unfortunately many of the large-scale changes needed to make a difference in the long run must come from large companies and countries making more impactful decisions that aren’t just carbon offsets.
The excitement of travel and exploration into space is amazing and something that is inevitable as the technology offers us the opportunity, but I can’t help wondering if we’re losing sight of the slim chance we and our animal family have to live a life on Earth. Overall, we’re slowly moving in the right direction, but as it’s something impacting the entire planet, it will take a planet-wide effort (and soon) to establish long-term change.