Behind-the-scenes of Opposite Identicals

In the spring of 2013, a Florida man was suddenly and tragically swallowed up by a massive sinkhole that opened up under his bed while he was sleeping. Despite the efforts of his brother, who tried to jump into the hole and save him, his body was never recovered. The house and neighboring homes were all eventually demolished. The land remains cordoned off a decade later, because the ground is still dangerously unstable.

The idea for Opposite Identicals sprung from this most unusual and tragic event. As soon as I heard the story on the news, I knew I wanted to write about a sinkhole. I was fascinated by the concept that everything we consider safe and secure in our world – including the very ground beneath our feet – could destabilize in the blink of an eye. And that a person could be doing something as innocuous as taking a nap in their own bedroom, and suddenly be sucked down into the bowels of the earth. I started researching sinkholes and, when I discovered that they’re often caused by atypical weather conditions, the plot pieces began connecting in my brain and leading me to the angle I wanted my story to take. 

I imagined a futuristic world, gripped by a climate crisis with the resulting extreme weather conditions having disastrous effects on the planet’s food supply. And, just like the event that transpired in Florida, I imagined one sibling getting swallowed up by a sinkhole under her bedroom floor while the other sibling tries in vain to save her. I centered the story around middle-grade characters, because they’re the ones who’ll eventually be inheriting the earth and all its problems. 

As the manuscript started veering more and more into the realm of speculative fiction, I read up extensively on climate change and scientific prognostications for the future of our planet. Just over a decade ago, climate change was a relatively new and controversial subject. It’s been equally astounding and horrifying to see so many of those prognostications coming true over the course of the ten years it took to write, revise, and publish this book. Phrases like fire season, danger season, melting ice caps, and ocean warming which might have sounded like dystopian hyperbole ten years ago have become our new reality. And sadly, not so speculative after all. 

As we head into 2024, is the world nearing the point where everything we consider safe and secure might, indeed, become destabilized in the blink of an eye? It certainly feels that way when we read reports about toxic orange skies hovering over New York City and apocalyptic flood waters submerging a third of Pakistan.

“Mother Nature’s got no poker face,” explains Mr. Otis, a character in Opposite Identicals. “Always giving away her hand. The signs are all there, if you know what to look for.” 

Indeed, the signs are there. And they’re getting increasing glaring with every passing year. Hopefully, if more people start paying closer attention to them, there might still be time for a planetary plot twist. But if we continue to ignore the signs, I wouldn’t want to speculate about what might happen next. 
If I ever decide to write a sequel to Opposite Identicals, it will be about how the heroic youth of our world stepped up and saved us from ourselves. And maybe…hopefully…it won’t be a work of science fiction.

By Deborah Kerbel

In the spring of 2013, a Florida man was suddenly and tragically swallowed up by a massive sinkhole that opened[...]