Monday, June 27, 2011

What I Am Working On--Part 2

I’ll tell you as much about my novel-in-progress as I dare.

There must be at least a few good reasons to say nothing about one’s current project. I’m not sure if all of them are legit. Some are surely superstitions.

(By the way, confession is a powerful practice, especially for someone raised old-school Catholic like me. In my May 19 post, I confessed to having two stubborn superstitions. One of them was feeling compelled to read the entire Help Wanted section in the local paper each Sunday so that I never have to apply for a job again. The following Sunday morning, I sat down with my 20-oz., 4-shot Americano and a copy of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner at the coffee shop and realized how stupid the whole Help Wanted ritual was. I didn’t feel the need to read it then, and didn’t, and I haven’t read it since. Just like that, another flea crushed.)

(As for my last remaining superstition, I have no desire to reveal or eliminate it. It’s rather homey and sweet.)

When someone asks me (and I think this holds true for other authors) what I’m working on, I usually reply in very broad terms, such as, “on my third novel,” or “on my latest science fiction novel.” I avoid detail. I never reveal the plot.

I do this for these reasons:

  1. When I talk about a work-in-progress, the talking seems to dissipate the story’s energy, leaving not enough juice for the difficult work of getting it down on paper.
  2. Fear of having my ideas ripped off by revealing too much.
  3. Even small details can give too much away.
  4. Talking about something like a plot or character can “lock it in,” sometimes too soon.
  5. At some point the whole project might implode and I stop working on it (it’s happened). Wouldn’t exactly like to do this live online.
  6. It’s bad luck.

In my May post, I brought you up to Nov. 2010. What have I been doing since?

I have been working on a novel that pretty much combines the essences of most of my recent “failed” projects. Fresh from the composting heap of my mind to yours.

There is a working title, but it gives too much away, and I can’t say it.

I can say that it’s my first Alaskan novel. It seems impossible to me, but I’m fast approaching my 40th anniversary as an Alaskan. I guess I’m gaining a long view of the place. You’d be surprised at the variety of stories you can collect about a place over a course of 40 years. And it’s about time I get some of that down on paper. About time I laid claim to this wild territory in my memory. So I’m setting the story in a very special corner of Alaska, a place I’m going to visit in about ten days--the largest National Park in America. (more on that later)

It’s also my first E.T. story ever. I’ve never published a story with an alien character. As one who sides with the great, late Mundane SF movement, I dismissed alien contact as improbable and thus not mundane enough to write about. That’s why I never invented an alien character, only posthuman clones and sentient AIs.

These days I think, why the hell not? Aliens are fun, and they have traditionally served a number of purposes in SF fiction (more on that later), one of which is: Alien as Foil. That is, through interaction with non-human sentients, we gain insight into what qualities make us human.

This seems especially fitting, since a major theme of this book is . . .

. . . the neurological basis of Faith. I have not given up my desire to explore in fiction a cool idea I have about religious faith. What better way to speak to that issue than aliens in the Alaskan bush? (more on that later too, I guess).

S and T Palin may or may not play a role in this book. Probably only a cameo. I don’t know. Maybe they provide the plot a McGuffin.

Although I’ve been working on this book since Dec. 2010, and despite about 400 longhand pages of a first draft and 120 pages of notes, much of the story is still obscured in the mist of possibility. I simply do not know what happens. Every day or so, another puzzle is solved, and a rush of invention follows. At this point I have a good idea where the story is headed, but I don’t know how it gets there, and am making everything up as I go along. When I get stuck and can’t proceed, sometimes it means that I’ve gone off track, and I have to back up to firmer ground. I delete whole chapters or entire characters or story threads. I go back to the last sure text and restart from there. This is the way I seem to work, rather than outlining the whole story before beginning to write.

What else do I dare reveal? Here’s one. There’s a dog character, a mixed German shepherd named Crissy Lou. Her owners, in Glennallen, Alaska, were high bidders in a fundraising auction for 49 Writers last year. For their winning bid, Crissy Lou gets to do a cameo part in the novel. Well, she’s in there already, and it looks like she may possibly play a plot-driving role. Maybe a heroic part like Lassie. I don’t know, but it could very well happen.

stay tuned for more--


David S. said...

Sounds good to me, keep typing!

Transcendant said...

David, conjuring an alien presence while pondering the neurological basis of faith will definitely lead to some stunning revelations. Might this next book take place in the same "world" as that of Counting Heads? It isn't just your superior writing style that mesmerizes me; it's the way you weave ideas, concepts and events, with entertaining complexity and wit, that makes me dwell in high anticipation for your next book to come out. Sure hope it's closer to 1,000 pages!!!