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

author event II           PSX_20171229_132728          Seattle author event

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].

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

 

Preorder your copy of Sea of a Thousand Words

The book is finished at last! I am eagerly anticipating the official email that it’s available through Amazon, Ingram and Smashwords in print and e-publication. While I wait, I am working on a print of Monk the raven.

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Author’s artwork. 4/21/2017

If you would like to own a signed copy of my book and receive a free 6×9″ original hand-cut block print of Monk, please click this paypal link and pre-order yours today.

Print copy–$16.00 plus 4.00 shipping USD

And remember, $1 from every hard copy and e-reader purchase goes to water.org  efforts to provide clean drinking water across the world. So, with every copy ordered, you are helping to find a solution.

 

This novel is a special project for me and I hope that you’ll not only enjoy the cast of characters, but will find inspiration from the story. I look forward to your feedback–(please write a review)!  I depend on you all to spread the word about the book to others. Avid readers and fans are the best marketing platform any author could ask for.

Thanks in advance for your purchase–and happy reading!

07c8c25e-2e38-4388-9946-e232dd5be43f   ~ Chris

*(For purchases after the pre-order deadline, I’ll soon be posting links for where to find the book. Author event schedule is forthcoming).

A Good Omen

1-Front-CoverSeveral months ago, I entered Sea of a Thousand Words into an international book-to-script competition. Earlier this week, I received judges’ feedback. I’m quite pleased that out of thousands of entries, my novel made it into the top 100 candidates for adapting to screen.

Read what the judges said about Sea of a Thousand Words:

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Sea of a Thousand Words

There is a very interesting premise at the heart of this piece, one that seems on par within current industry trends by approaching the subject of immigration through the futuristic lens of climate change and the effects of a world-wide crisis. Set in the very near future, the world’s rapidly changing climate has resulted in one of the largest earthquakes in history, altering the Pacific Northwest coastline and dramatically increasing the numbers of climate refugees pouring into the U.S. and Canada. As a result, HighTower Security is hired to enforce strict border regulations and eventually their leaders go down a dark road and make plans to release a weaponized enzyme into concentrated refugee populations and eliminate the problem once and for all, unless our heroine (Dot) is able to stop them in time.
Considering the originality of the premise and the fact that the subject matter is incredibly relevant to today’s issues and sensitivities, this is a very strong candidate for adaptation. The writing style too, felt very well-defined with vivid, cinematic strokes in the exposition. The only real drawback to the piece is perhaps the familiar dynamic of an unextraordinary heroine who faces off against a superior foe, which is usually some kind of corporation. Still, the story felt fresh and timely in its design and the themes it projects, which could add weight to its adaptation potential. 
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And now, with publication only days away, I am very much looking forward to hearing back from readers. Please remember to send my your feedback once you’ve read the book–and help spread the word.
Thank you.
                   ~Chris
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turning words into action

The final galley arrived a few days ago, minor tweaks have been made and the novel looks great.Chris and book

As I wait for the e-reader conversion to wrap up, I’ve been thinking about all the necessities of publishing… what to price the book, how best to market it and when to schedule launches, etc., etc…

…And that’s when it occurred to me: Sea of a Thousand Words is a story that speaks to our times, and although it is set 15 years into our future, the crises are very much now.

Global Warming, climate refugees, diminishing water and food… countries closing their borders, depleted oceans and a century-in-the-making earthquake that reshapes an entire coastline. Throw a little genetic-enzyme weapon into the mix and you’ve got the makings of real millennial mayhem.

Because the topics in this story are so important to me, I wanted to do more than just get the book into as many hands as possible–and yeah, that of course would be nice–but I also really hope to make a difference.

So, to that end, I’m now a proud supporter of water.org and will donate $1.00 from every copy of Sea of a Thousand Words sold to their foundation.

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Here’s a little information about Water.org:

663 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water; 2.4 billion people – 1 in 3 – lack access to a toilet. Water.org is dedicated to changing this. Through sustainable solutions and financing models such as WaterCredit, we can provide safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all.

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Founded by Gary White and Matt Damon, Water.org pioneers innovative, community-driven and market-based solutions to provide access to safe water and sanitation — giving women hope, children health and communities a future. To date, Water.org has positively transformed millions of lives around the world, ensuring a better life for generations ahead.

 

I am preparing the pre-order announcement and this week and will post another update on how you can purchase your copy of the book. I am truly grateful to the folks who’ve been so persistent about wanting a signed copy and to those who’ve made the creation of this novel possible. I’m including the acknowledgements section below–take a look at the talented group of people I’ve had the pleasure to work with!

                                                              Acknowledgements

My profound thanks to the following individuals and organizations for their invaluable help in shaping the world of my novel:

George Dyson, author and historian, for sharing his unique sail design for Inuit baidarkas. The stories, photographs and nautical charts of his adventures in Alaska and the Inside Passage provided great insight into my heroes’ journey.

Julie Ross-Buckmaster, Sehome high-school biology teacher, who instilled a passion for the physical sciences in my youngest daughter and helped me to better understand the CRISPR-CAS-9 enzyme—setting me on the path toward Kim Chen’s frightening discovery.

Dr. Chris Goldfinger, Marine geologist and sub-marine seismologist at Oregon State University, who (patiently) answered my many questions about the Cascadia-subduction zone mega-quake. (Our conversations convinced me to research all possible evacuation routes before visiting the Pacific Northwest Coast ever again).

John Gossman, technology architect, for his sage advice on all things computer and technology based—and for an astonishing ability to make a mean Old Fashioned.

Paul R. Peterson, CEO of Volta Volare’ and Executive Director of the EViation Center at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, for taking the time to explain drone technology and the future of flight to a curious writer. Thanks for the personal tour and resources.

Gary Gero, Animal Consultant and bird trainer, whose friendship, support and advice on corvids helped me bring Monk the raven to life.

The language facilitators at Sealaska Heritage Institute, Ketchikan Indian Community and the Museum of Anthropology for editing the phrases used by, and the spirit behind, my Haida characters.

My editors, Mary Gillilan and Norman L. Green, and fellow authors at Independent Writers’ Studio, for their advice and encouragement.

And to Jeffery, for never doubting me.

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Here’s a short video from water.org

…and we’re off!

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Sea of a Thousand Words manuscript is now in the hands of the publisher; being converted into an e-reader and the hard copy format. The graphic designer has conceived a beautiful cover and is arranging the blurb and recommendation  text on the back side. What an immense relief and thrill–but also a feeling of “what do I do with myself now?” I’ve spent the last 13 months with these characters and this world. Now they won’t be just mine alone but others as well, and while I am delighted to share them, I am also a tad nervous and possessive about the thought of it.

Nevertheless, it’s high time to shift over to marketing-mode. After all, if I don’t spread the word about this novel, I shan’t need to worry about sharing them.

Stay tuned for news about the release date of Sea of a Thousand Words. I will be offering a discounted pre-purchase rate and donating a portion of each sale to the following organizations: ACLU and Water.org .

Fair winds friends,

~Chris

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