When Writing About the Future Becomes Recent History

Speculative fiction, or “spec-fi” as the genre is sometimes called, is a unique category; technically, it is not sci-fi, but not quite narrative fiction either. The dictionary definition of speculative fiction can be wide enough to encompass fantasy, super-hero fic, horror, utopia and dystopic fiction. Add to this large umbrella, the category of climate fiction, (popularly referred to as “cli-fi”), and you’ve got yourself a real niche audience in which to cater to when crafting your story.

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Back in 2016, as I was working on Sea of a Thousand Words, I had no inkling that our global political situation would change so dramatically–and so rapidly, as it did later that same year.

img-dried-up-farmer-watering-hole-victoria-1000x600My manuscript revolved around a hypothesis that a world forced to manage shrinking resources and increasing conflict would create nationalist, isolationist movements the likes not seen since the Great War, perhaps far more extreme. To create this setting, I imagined that food was scarce due to warming oceans, over-fishing and significant loss of arable land. A wave of worldwide climate migration soon prompted nations to close their borders to the refugees, in some cases (as in North America), using mercenary tactics to prevent penetration. I took care to keep the premise rooted in a reality that was still recognizable–not too sci-fi–by moving the date only fifteen years into the future. Even so, I added the presence of AI, high-tech drones and automated vehicles as these technologies are already on the cusp of our reality. Given my fascination with the Cascadia megaquake prediction, I penned that scenario into the backstory as well, giving my heroine a poignant incitement for her handicap. Dystopian future? Perhaps, however I would counter with the fact that unless human behavior markedly alters course, most of this speculation is a forgone conclusion.

Once my novel’s world had been developed, I needed to look for a credible motivation for my main characters’ quest… mission…”thing“.  To put it in Tolkien geek-speak, I needed a ring to take to Mordor. The answer to that obstacle came in the form of my daughter’s AP Bio class. She called from school one morning and in an excited whisper confided to me that she’d located the One Ring. “It’s called the CRISPR-CAS 9 enzyme mom and it’s fricking cool!” Cut to several weeks of online research later and a pile of her classmates’ presentation papers and I was off to the races. I had my primary plot point.

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Currently, the CRISPR technology we possess is simple enough that students can create it in their highschool science labs. Scientists have successfully edited genes in fruit flies and are working on modifications to mosquitos that will impact malaria problems in significant portions of the world. At this point, the ability to perform human genome editing is very limited. The theory is there, we just haven’t quite finessed the techniques–yet. With that knowledge, I devised a scenario whereby a Chinese scientist working in a top secret laboratory was creating an aerosol disbursement method to administer the CRISPR enzyme to lung cancer patients–with the understanding that in 2033, genome editing advancements had progressed far enough to work on humans.

By the fall of 2016 I was finished with the manuscript. I spent October putting the finish touches on various accents and the languages used by some of the first Nations characters. Then came the US election. I shan’t go into my reaction in regard to that outcome. If you’ve read the book or follow me on social media, you wouldn’t need to guess. I confess that I did hesitate before submitting the manuscript to publish, wondering if I’d been too optimistic in my futurist’s world view. Shortly after the election and on the heels of the Brexit vote, I read an article about the International Scientific Community’s stance on gene editing and the negative results that could arise without oversight. Basically, they realized that, as with human cloning, just because one can do something does not mean that one should do it. Sound familiar? The fascinating detail that arose from the meeting was China’s policy toward the suggested CRISPR regulations, which amounted to a, “Yeah nah, y’all go on ahead with that but we’re good thanks.” In fact, the Chinese scientists admitted that they were already working on human embryos. This news caused me to pause and consider, have I pushed technology far enough for fifteen years into the future?

More news came to the social media forefront as my manuscript was in its final revision stage: That of refugees fleeing horrific conditions in Syria, and the less-than-welcoming reception they were being given on the world’s stage. Meanwhile, the new administration in Washington DC was doing battle against the ACLU and numerous state Attorneys Generals as to the fate of immigrants seeking residency in the United States. The travel ban on Muslim countries had begun to deepen the divide in our country into vastly differing camps and Trump’s promise to “build the wall!” had galvanized his base. Hate crimes were on the rise and white supremacists were no longer relegated to the shadows.  I recognized the specter of HighTower within the Trump White House.

My novel was released in the spring of 2017 and since publication has received critical praise and national recognition. In January of this year I traveled to Thailand, spending three months diving in the Gulf of Thailand and sailing in the Andaman Sea. While both underneath and atop the ocean surface, I was alarmed by the damage to coral reefs, coastal shorelines and fish populations. I wondered again if my speculations on the environment were too optimistic. Thailand is a beautiful country with lovely, inviting people, however their fishing industry is one of the world’s most abusive. The more I learn, the less hope I have that we’ll make it to the year 2033 before depleting our ocean food supply.

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The news isn’t all dismal though, since the conception of Sea of a Thousand Words, I’ve witnessed countless episodes of bravery and decency. The Seattle Women’s March was led by the Salish people through the streets of the city. I was quite emotional when I got to see the parade from the forefront, having been positioned some 200,000 people back in the midst of the masses with my daughter and our friends. The drums and songs from the Salish people lent a special urgency and relevancy to the women’s march that no other organization could. I imagined that Reba and Ooligan would have been at the front of that group with their fists raised high.

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The recent protest movement started by teens in the wake of the Parkland school shooting has stirred the revolutionary spirit in a lot of us jaded 70’s protesters. My faith in the youth of our country is soaring and I feel certain that, should things in real life prove as grim as my novel’s world, there would be many Dots, Taan’s and Lilu-ye’s  appearing when they were most needed.

It’s been truly wonderful and at times, surreal to watch the events and scenarios of my speculative fiction novel  occur in real time. There are periods when I feel a little like the writer Emma Thompson plays in Stranger than Fiction.

As I start building the scenes for SoaTW’s sequel, I’m highly attuned to the events I see unfolding every day and work to suppress the voices that whisper dystopia is our world’s only outcome. I search out the uplifting stories to flavor the next novel and inspire my writing and I try like hell to become more comfortable with the realization that speculative fiction–even science fiction plot devices are occurring faster than we writers can imagine them.

~ ChrisP0001

 

 

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Audiobook pre-production

Production begins on the audiobook edition of Sea of a Thousand Words. And, while preparing notes and background information for my narrator, I have revisited the casting choices of my main characters. Below are just a few–can you identify the cast members? Which ones do you agree with, or which ones differ from how you envision them? If so, in what way? (Inquiring authors want to know).

CLI-FI

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This article posted from The Atlantic  is in line with what I’ve been hearing from book sellers and librarians. “Cli-fi” is becoming one of the fastest growing genres in fiction literature. And what’s more, a large percentage of its base are those typically classified as YA readers.

Recently, a buyer from one of the libraries I’ve dealt with seemed initially lukewarm abou1-Front-Covert purchasing my novel until I mentioned it’s cli-fi genre. “Oh wow, we can’t stock enough titles in that section these days!” He pulled the title up on Ingram’s site and purchased two copies while I stood at the desk, then asked if he could personally buy a signed book directly from me.

The increasing popularity of the climate fiction trope has certainly got to give us some hope as to our national attitude. Granted, avid readers tend to fall on the progressive end of the spectrum, but with the presence of more books pertaining to the condition of our planet, does that not bode well for shaping attitudes of future generations? The mere fact that this niche of speculative fiction has become a marketable one for big publishing, I’d like to thing that there is a bigger swath of climate-aware people “out there” than we may have previously estimated, (especially after the past election).

As I work on the sequel to Sea of a Thousand Words, I’m mindful of the setting–and the impact my books, like others in the genre, will have on its readership. I shy away from the word “dystopian” when describing my novel to new readers. Aside from the tired, over-use of that description, I simply don’t want my story to be dismissed so easily; futuristic views of the world need not be dismal (all the time), nor do they need to always follow the archetype of books such as The Hunger Games. I like the way this fresh genre of “cli-fi” enables writers to depict a future that is more of a warning with sense of promise than a predilection of doom and squalor. (At least, I’ll choose to keep writing like it does).option for book cover

I’m curious, have you read a book recently that you’d categorize as climate fiction? And if so, how did you feel after finishing it–hopeful?… despondent? …fired up?

If so, please send me a message at windlinepress@gmail.com or comment below, I’d like to hear about it.

Thanks ~Chris

 

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Monk says, “Inquiring minds want to know.”

 

Author Rewards

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As I continue the author events for Sea of a Thousand Words, I’m beginning to notice the evolution of my audiences. This past summer saw the typical protocol; introducing the story’s premise, discussing the writing process and answering questions about the motivation of this or that plot device. However, these days as the novel’s readership widens, a larger percentage of audiences are comprised of ardent fans. It is a treat to be met with readers who want nothing more than to tell me how they feel connected with a certain character or how a specific storyline touched them significantly. I find myself talking much less and allowing the readers to share their thoughts and feelings.

My daughter predicted this months ago; before the manuscript was even published she told me to prepare for sharing my characters with the world. “You’re going to have to let them go soon and they’ll become special to complete strangers. Just imagine what it will be like to read fan-fictions based on your book.”

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curly hair or wavy hair?

Since then, I’ve learned the meanings of slang words like, “canon”, “ship”, “OTP,” and “AU”. I’ve heard disagreements between fans about the specific appearance of one of my main characters and I’ve leaned back in my chair to listen as one reader explained to another their personal take on the symbolism of my raven “Monk” and orca “Saka”.

Beautiful.

As I make progress toward the audiobook creation, I’m remembering these instances and taking them to heart. The familiarity that readers develop with favorite stories is intimate and not to be trifled with. (After all, this die-hard Tolkien fan was royally ticked off when Legolas showed up as a blonde in the movie). When I heard Gray Eubank narrate a passage from my book last month, I experienced the story from a reader’s perspective. It was a valuable opportunity.

I’m currently working on the structure for SoaTW’s sequel these days and this knowledge is a powerful motivator, (or heavy burden, depending on the day). I have my favorite characters… I won’t commit to them publicly as I love them all, with the exception perhaps of one or two. I’ll wrestle with their individual fates and plot development as I bear in mind the responsibility I owe not only to my characters but to the readers who’ve come to love them and their story.

This is what makes being a writer such a privilege.

Dot at Massett Bay

Do you have a personal connection with a particular character in this novel? Is there a memorable moment for you in the storyline? Is there something you’d really like to see (or definitely don’t want to happen) in the next installment?  If so, I’d love to hear about it. Just comment below or email me directly at windlinepress@gmail.com

Thanks for sharing

~ Chris

I am looking forward to the upcoming author event in Corvallis Oregon on the 2nd of November. Joining me will be a good friend and old (as in former, not aged), Oregon State Theater colleague, Gray 22281979_511050405916377_6973567643477312362_n.jpgEubank. We’ll be sharing a podium for the evening as I discuss the process of writing the novel and Gray reads a passage from one of the pivotal scenes. I’m excited to hear it read aloud–and by such a talented actor to boot. The novelty of hearing my characters voices from a seasoned stage actor such as Gray will be a real treat.

We’re recording the audiobook for SoaTW this winter, with Gray’s narration. I truly cannot wait to get started on this process.

 

For local fans of the book or those wishing to learn more about the process of writing a speculative fiction story in a fast-changing world, please join us at GRASS ROOTS BOOKS & MUSIC 227 2nd St. Corvallis Or. 97333. The event begins at 7PM and should wind down by 8:30. (Of course, since we are both old theater people, you can bet on an after-party occurring @ a nearby establishment).

[If you would like to schedule an author event for a bookstore or book club in your town, please contact me at windlinepress@gmail.com].

Author Events

Last week was the first author event for my latest book, a speculative fiction novel, Sea of a Thousand  Words. I had a great time talking about the process of writing a novel about the future in this era of such fast-paced changes in our world.

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With important topics ranging from geo-political movements, artificial intelligence, climate change and gene drive technology–not to mention global cyber and drone warfare, I often found myself wondering if I’d get the book published before all this became history!

Quite fortuitously, I relied on the experts while writing Sea of a Thousand Words, and it’s largely due to these passionate, knowledgeable people who took time to educate this curious writer, that the book feels so genuine and realistic. I owe those folks a great deal. The amusing  consistency of all my humble experts was their surprised reaction to being included in the acknowledgement section–they didn’t think their contributions were that big of a deal. If they only knew!

I spent a fair amount of my talk describing the process I went through to organize chapters and sequencing with an ensemble cast of characters in a timeline that at times, flashes back an entire decade. Bringing the storyboard and character scene-graphs really helped to illustrate how I dealt with these challenges. One of the participants noted afterward that my theater background was evident in the complex storyboarding. She may be right about that assessment.

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The author’s original storyboard in color-coded chapters.

The question and answer portion of the event was rewarding, as there were some really thoughtful inquiries. Several questions made me consider my motivation and specific choices as to settings and decisions about a few characters. As I explained why I approached certain chapters the way I did, it clarified the themes even more–and made my approach to the subject matter much easier to describe. I’ll remember these points for my upcoming talks.

Author events are a unique public speaking venue for me–a former national speaker on childbirth related subjects. I never had a problem speaking in front of a large audience, but these days, I’ve found that it’s not always easy to speak about my writing. I suppose it’s the personal nature of my art that makes me a little more self conscious about presenting. However, the supportive people who attend these events are making my jitters disappear each time I stand at a podium.

Thanks for attending these readings and for buying my book. author event II

Support booksellers wherever you live!

 

  ~ Chris

 

*Stay tuned for upcoming events (Most of which will happen in the fall when the audiobook is released). To request an author appearance at your book club or local library, please reply below or email me at windlinepress@gmail.com.

 

Buzz.

” Part imaginative dystopian future, part environmental warning, Wallace’s new book is fitting for a climate in which The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 have regained public prominence. Sea of a Thousand Words pulls off the best trick in imaginative fiction — so creative you couldn’t think of it yourself, yet so plausible that it feels a moment away.”

–Third Place Books, Seattle WA.

Ripples in the Water

After the last month, post-release of Sea of a Thousand Words, I’m settling into a normal pace once again. The whirlwind of setting up the author events and fulfilling special orders has passed and I’m now filling my days by contacting independent book sellers and establishing a (less-political) presence on social media.

The interesting thing that I’ve learned however is this: I expected that the most exciting part of finishing my book would’ve been the much-anticipated publishing-day, but that is not so. The most rewarding part of this adventure has been hearing from my readers–a diverse group of fans to be sure. Many of whom were drawn to the book because of its environmental and geo-political issues, others because of the action and adventure and still others for the science and technology aspects. I’ve also heard from much younger readers who were focused on the relationships between several of the characters. (I didn’t anticipate having a YA audience)! This very morning, I hopped on Twitter to discover that people were retweeting a recommendation for my novel–that’s an exhilarating feeling for an author, to be certain.

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Perhaps it is because much of what occurs within the plot is relative to the current–and at times–controversial events that are happening (or threatening to happen), in our own world, but quite a few readers have been sending me articles about these issues. For instance, here’s a link that I recently received in an email from a fan regarding the CRISPR enzyme. It’s on a Radio Lab podcast and is quite fascinating. It got me thinking: Even though my novel is set 15-years in the future, this technology is far closer than I envisioned. Certainly, the ethical questions are no longer hypothetical–scientists are already facing these dilemmas. Give it a listen, it’s well worth it.

The genre for Sea of a Thousand Words  has been called “speculative fiction.” I feel that is an adequate description for a novel that’s not too dystopian sci-fi/ fantasy, but not rooted completely in the present. However, as I start the research for a sequel, (which will reach even farther into the future), I doubt that the follow-up novel could even be labeled “science-fiction” any longer… more like, “science-probability or science-inevitability.”

fa40f895c52649e98f9e7d651ead0d33It is great to hear from everyone who has sent their feedback. Your cards, letters and emails have been such a treat, and to hear that my characters are loved by others is more than gratifying. It quite simply inspires me to get back to work and find more adventures in which to immerse them. (Remember, posting your comments on Sea of a Thousand Words Amazon’s page as well as sites like Goodreads helps to spread the word). I’ll continue to post more reader remarks, links and sources that I get from fans of the book. Please feel free to contact me with your insights or opinions on the subjects.

And as always, thank you for supporting this indie author!PSX_20160422_172725

~ Chris