Thursday, August 05, 2021

Q&A with Lena Nguyen

From my Q&A with Lena Nguyen, author of We Have Always Been Here:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

We Have Always Been Here was actually originally titled Biophilia, which can be described as "the innate urge to affiliate with other forms of life." I read that phrase in a book somewhere and was fascinated by the wording of it. There was something very alien-sounding and eerie about both the sound of the word and its meaning, which I thought captured the themes and atmosphere of the novel very well. The book is preoccupied with questions of what "life" is, especially in the context of artificial intelligence and androids. The main character, Park, is almost inexplicably drawn to robots and is fascinated by their psychology and inner lives, while most of the other characters refuse to see their clockwork mechanisms as any kind of life at all. This forms the crux of the conflict of the novel.

However, my writing mentor at the time informed me that Biophilia is both an ugly title and too obscure to really capture reader attention or convey what the book is really about. So I changed it to We Have Always Been Here, which is something the major android character says to Park in the first chapter. She asks, "Are we here?" in that she's inquiring if they've finally reached their destination; the android, being very cryptically literal in his interpretation of questions, responds, "We have always been here." (As in, they have always existed in this plane of existence and have never left it.) I think the title is interesting and complex enough to tease out a lot of the questions the novel poses: namely, it makes you wonder who the 'we' is referring to, as well as the 'here'... Is it a state of mind, a presence, an android, an alien, all of humanity? The title...[read on]
Visit Lena Nguyen's website.

The Page 69 Test: We Have Always Been Here.

Q&A with Lena Nguyen.

--Marshal Zeringue