The best blog from the best author you've never heard of. Assorted thoughts ranging from comic books to politics. Sometimes I even talk about writing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beyond the Present

For no reason I can recall, my title for the comic book at the foundation of Book Number One was going to be Beyond. I have no idea what this could have meant; it almost certainly wasn't the notion clumsily put into words in the title above. In any case, that single word became my shorthand for the project forever after. Any time I started a file that was to be the manuscript, it was labeled "Beyond." And, in fact, Book Number Two is saved on my computer as "Beyond 2."

But rather than use this entry's title to discuss inside reasons for names of text files, I mean instead to look at the world building for a future society. As a fan of speculative fiction myself, I love learning the details about the world my imagination is going to inhabit while I digest the narrative. How much is explained outright? How much is hinted at? Does the story take place near enough in time that you can see the connecting threads between then and now, or is it centuries in the future with only vagaries explaining the time just after our own? I'm not sure which is harder, really--distant future or near future. Near future needs to follow logically from the present day (even if the exact time is not specified), but it can also be peppered with immediately relate-able touchstones. The far future beckons with greater freedom to invent, but it fights against a lack of quick recognition and understanding.

For Book Number One, and the story that may well follow it in Book Number Two, I present a near future setting. That was always to be the case. The most fanciful idea (the national identity of my international antagonist) I ultimately replaced with something that is--hopefully--more easily believable. The fact that history itself is littered with unexpected turning points and events opens the willing mind up to unpredictable circumstances, but I also felt I shouldn't push my luck; I already had my share of big leaps, and I was wary of drifting into the borderline bizarre. So, knowing what my future world looks like (and remember that some of these details had been rattling around my head for almost two decades), the question became: How do I reveal it?

Obviously much is revealed, especially about the immediate present, as my characters move through the landscape. But how a thing becomes what it is is often as interesting as the end result. Of course none of the characters would be believable standing around discussing the recent history behind a dilapidated New York City (assuming New York City was dilapidated). After all, when was the last time you and another person discussed the differences between airport security in the years 1995 and 2013 in such a manner that a person transplanted from 1996 would know why there are differences? It's been a while, I'd wager.

So I chose periodic snippets of information--excerpts from my own future history. Such a tool is hardly new or novel (please ignore the ill-chosen pun); I encountered plays on this theme in my own recent reading: the slightly classic prequel to the yet more classic Foundation books, Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and the fun jaunt through the Halo universe, Glasslands by Karen Traviss. If I can stumble on two examples in two months, you can imagine how common a technique this is. Even so, it lets me, with a few sentences, or even a paragraph, preemptively answer a reader's possible question and tantalize his or her imagination by pulling back the curtain, hopefully in as seductive a manner as a Victorian era lady showing a little ankle.

As I wait for that pesky editorial evaluation to be sent my way, it's the world building aspect of the book that I am most interested in an opinion about.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Still to Come...

So Book Number One is busy being evaluated by an editing team; I'm waiting to find out if the plots, characters and themes work out quite like I think they do. While I wait, there seems little else to do but consider and write what may be Book Number Two someday. I have to say I face a slight handicap in comparison.

Book Number One is, at its core, a story that I've been carrying around since well before high school. It began life when I and a friend, both of us comic book enthusiasts, decided to try our hand at the medium. Whatever our good intentions, there was little hope that a couple of teenagers would possess both the talent and wherewithal to make that work. And, indeed, very little of consequence came from the endeavor. The one exception--at least for me--was an idea I had for a non super hero book; in planning this comic book, a finite series, I developed the same characters, story points and themes that ultimately made their way into the final version. It won't give away much to say the premise was one rooted in science fiction, and it takes place in a not-too-distant but unspecified future. I even planned to wink at the lack of temporal specificity with my version of Max Hedrom's "23 minutes into the future"; the narrated phrase--and the intended only narration within the book--"Still to come..." would start each issue.

The comic book effort was abandoned, but the idea remained. It existed only in that nebulous way ideas do, and in the years immediately after it never forced itself on me; the first two books I tried to write--high school efforts, both--were as unrelated to that nagging kernel as a hockey puck is to a beach. It may be fitting, in a way, that neither of those first two efforts produced anything that I consider viable today.

Finally it was in college, in the midst of the kind of profound angst that only college can generate, that at once I knew this stubborn idea needed to be put to paper. And so I wrote. And where previous efforts to take the idea somewhere--anywhere--had resulted in failure after a page or two, this new effort saw the first chapter done in a couple hours. Over the next four or five months, the very first draft of what may some time soon be my first book was finished. I revised and revised and revised. I threw myself into trying to publish the traditional way. But, as no progress was made on that front, I was distracted by the daily grind of college and life, and the manuscript was set aside; I will never know quite why, but I ignored that manuscript for a long time.

Revisiting it years later, I found I loathed the style and composition of the manuscript; I could very well understand why it had never been published. So I did the only sensible thing: I started over. The ideas remained, but the words needed to be replaced. Except where that first chapter had come so easily once upon a time, now nothing came easily. I moved on to other prospects.

It was a dream of all things--a nightmare--that made this book happen. Once again I started from scratch. The idea, the characters, the themes all remained.The nightmare, which in fact makes a guest appearance in the book and is arguably the inciting incident--at least for one of the characters--had crystallized in my eyes, for maybe the first time, what I wanted this book to mean. The writing was slower than I'd have preferred; not currently making my living writing books, it was too easily to get distracted by what I am making my living at--and, of course, ever-present life.

And now I sit looking toward the follow-up to a book that may have written itself in my head twenty years ago. And while the most basic concept is based on what would have been the title to the sequel finite series in the comic book medium, it is imbued with none of the personal history that its predecessor is; I haven't spent a decade or two working out details, and the prologue did not come courtesy of a nightmare. I can only hope Book Number Two proves as interesting when its ride is over.