The Big Idea: Rachel Mans McKenny
Tired of reading about characters that are always perfectly optimistic and seem almost inhumanely bright and bubbly? Author Rachel Mans McKenny has a perfect main character for you in her newest novel, The Butterfly Effect.
RACHEL MANS MCKENNY:
It’s easier not to feel, right? I’d say this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve taken from living as a person in the past few years. I’ve gotten very, very good at focusing on moment-to-moment problems and ignoring the flaming garbage pile of guilt, helplessness, and fear. This realization coincided with my discovery and obsession with Star Trek for the first time in my life (I know, I know, late to the intergalactic party, but I’m here. Live long and prosper, etc.)
When I started writing The Butterfly Effect after the election in 2016, I wanted to write a character who was completely unlike me in most ways: she’s grumpy, she’s not Midwest nice, and she’s able to completely obsess over her work (which is entomology) most of the time without fear of interruption by family.
Like me, however, she is a Trekkie, and like me, she finds the character Seven of Nine compelling. If you’re not a Trek fan, Seven of Nine was a human who was assimilated into the Borg collective, basically, a robotic hive of mind-sharing militarists set to take over the galaxy. When she’s brought on board the starship Voyager, she has to relearn human communication, compassion, and even how to eat human food again. Seven is a compelling character to see develop in Voyager because of her struggle to form relationships. Ironically, viewers see that resistance to becoming fully human again is the real futility. As Seven changes, the entire crew of Voyager changes with her. (On a side note, Voyager is a great series to view during a pandemic).
To be blunt, Greta Oto, the main character in The Butterfly Effect, is a grumpy asshole. Don’t trust the bright cover to equal a happy leading character. Greta prefers to cut people from her life rather than do the hard work of rebuilding relationships. In a perfect world, Greta would be content to never speak to another human again, unless it was to obtain grant funding for expanded entomology research. Instead, her world in this novel becomes deeply imperfect after her twin has an aneurysm. In order to help him recover, she needs to rebuild the bridges she has spent years burning down. She has to relearn how to be human.
Greta’s story isn’t a perfect foil for Seven’s, but both stories express something about how easy it is to pretend to be somewhere else. As a defense mechanism, it’s easy to shut down emotions and attend to day-to-day needs.
When getting back initial edits on my novel, many things changed—the title, the entire first three chapters, and lots of dumb grammatical errors that even us English professors make sometimes. One thing that didn’t change was the Star Trek references. You don’t need to be a Trekkie to enjoy this book, but it doesn’t hurt.
I wrote this novel for the people who are sick of being told to smile when they don’t feel like it, but also for the people who long to rebuild relationships. I wrote it for people who love to read many genres, because I do, too. Reading sci-fi and fantasy and horror and romance—it all is fuel, even though I don’t write in those worlds. I wrote this novel for people that hate insects but who might be persuadable with some cool facts, and for people who love insects to feel reassured in that worldview. Mostly, I wrote it for people who needed to feel something, even if it’s frustration that Greta takes a while to forgiving and asking forgiveness.
On a final note, I tried to find an end to this that wasn’t a Borg-related pun, but resistance was futile.