Interview with Shift Author, Charlotte Agell
(from Henry Holt 2008 Fall Sampler)

Discuss your inspiration for writing Shift. Were you influenced by other futuristic dystopian novels? If so, which ones?

My inspiration for writing Shift came from two very disparate sources. First and foremost was the political climate in the United States after 9/11. Was this really my country bombing its way to peace? Wiretapping its citizens to protect their freedoms? As someone who chose American citizenship on purpose, as an adult, I felt such a sense of betrayal. My country had been hijacked by a fear-mongering regime: ours. The whole thing had a surreal quality to it. Writing Shift was my way of coping with the lunacy, a way of channeling my outrage.

There was also an evening under a wild aurora borealis by a lake near a mountain in Maine. Wearing a jacket I had found by the door of a borrowed camp, I walked out under the swirling sky. The plaid wool jacket smelled like someone else’s life, not mine, although it kept me warm. I started thinking about identity – and how people sometimes must step into new boots, as Adrian literally does. I started wondering about the solar wind and if it could ever be harnessed. These thoughts stuck in my head, even after the trip.

Is the world in Shift unrealistic or is it a world that you think could someday be upon us?

The world in Shift is unrealistic. Let’s hope that it is never upon us. That said, there’s a great deal in both today’s world and in the past that provokes incredulity. Truth can be stranger than fiction. Yet, thanks to the efforts of regular people, things can and do change for the better. Apartheid is over. The Berlin Wall has come down. This gives me hope. In Shift, a 15-year-old kid from Atro City changes the world. Why not?

What motivates Adrian to take action? What do you hope readers will take from Adrian’s actions?

Adrian more or less blunders into his role. He heads north because he has a vague sense of foreboding and a crush on an assistant zookeeper with mad schemes of her own. On the way, he becomes a hero because there’s nobody else available for that particular mission. The message, I suppose, is: rise to your occasions.

Talk about the revision process for Shift. How did the story change from the first draft to the final?

This book was my long walk in a toxic wilderness. It took many, many drafts. There are characters no longer even in the book who were instrumental in “telling me” the plot. The voices that speak in Shift are a mix of characters who were with me from the beginning (Adrian, Hod and Tom) and relative newcomers (the irrepressible Shriek!).

Did your experience writing Shift differ from your previous novel, Welcome Home or Someplace Like It?

Welcome Home or Someplace Like It was much more autobiographical, in that it is the story of a young girl who moves a lot and must figure out who she is. It was about bravery too, but on a much more personal level. As for Shift, it’s a more sinister tale. A friend said, “I can’t believe you wrote something that dark!” Neither can I, really.

I’ve heard it said that an optimist is one who is able to look into the dark pit, but choose to carry on. I consider myself an optimistic person. With Shift, I spent a long time staring into that darkness.

What message about government and/or religion do you want your readers to contemplate?

Shift explores the relationship between religion and science. Lenora, the assistant zookeeper, speaks one of my favorite lines: “God wants us to think.” Strangely, both in the book and in our world, this is a controversial statement.

I’d like the reader to contemplate what Einstein put so well: Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

You have a natural way of weaving humor into a very intense, hard-hitting novel. Was this a challenge?

Without humor, the exploration of personal freedom, or lack thereof, under a rigidly religious regime would be only so much preaching – and wouldn’t that be oxymoronic?

Discuss the scientific significance of the title.

Shift is a symbolic title on many levels. Not only does the book take on personal and societal shift, but the plot centers around the End Shift/Polar Shift. Google this concept and you will end up on many freaky sites. In a nutshell, there are people who sincerely believe in polar shift – that the crust of the earth will suddenly and cataclysmically slide. We would go from day to night in no time, if we survived the resultant earthquakes and fires. Shift is basically the Apocalypse, although there are those who argue that it has happened before, during the Mayan Empire, for example.

All ages have their imminent End of the World prophecies. What is unique about our time is that we could actually cause it ourselves, whether slowly, by pollution, or all at once, in a rain of nuclear explosions. Shift is the story of a small band of people who wish to stave off this sort of end.