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).

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].

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

 

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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When Art Predicts life

This has become the winter of my discontent. Made less tolerable by events that daily appear in my newsfeed.

When I began Sea of a Thousand Words last January, I started with the premise, “What if a Trump-style government ever came to power?” And because my story is set in the future (2033), I extrapolated what might occur with an isolationist administration that places nationalism above all else. The phrase “lottery of birth” became central to my theme.

The world of my novel occurs at a time when the Cascadia quake has destroyed much of the west coast. The earth’s temperature continues to rise, creating a global crisis of climate refugees. Technology has advanced as predicted, and the chasm between those with power and wealth versus the rest of the world has widened to extremes. Countries have closed their borders and hired privatized, militant contractors to oversee the perimeters.

My manuscript was complete before the November election occurred, and since then I wonder if my speculative-fiction outlook for our future is perhaps too naïve. As I witness these very events starting to occur–three weeks into the new administration–I imagine myself in Emma Thompson’s role in the movie Stranger than Fiction. It IMG_20160613_092924.jpgis a rather unnerving thought.

And yet, I am reminded that the protagonists in my novel could also be in our future. And in that case, hope is not dead. It is likely that we already have young people in our midst who will grow up to be the heroes of our story: Somewhere out there, a leader like Reba is acquiring wisdom; an Ooligan and a Kai are learning how to resist; a warrior like Adili takes a stand. Somewhere in our world, a young girl like Dot–who may not yet realize her strength, will challenge those in power, and fighting beside her will be a loyal friend like Táan.           One does not have to look to works of fiction to understand that there will always be those who will rise up against injustice.

I’m waiting for the cover art design and for proof-readers to check the accuracy of the story’s myriad of languages. As I revisit certain chapters, my excitement builds–because I realize that this isn’t so much a dystopian future as a manifesto. We will be OK just as long as there are people who possess the courage to fight.

The tagline of this novel is “Who deserves to inherit the earth?”

It is a question that, soon enough, we must all answer.

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My very first “fan art”

Less than a year has passed since I began writing my novel and I approach the finish line at last. At a final count of 145,000 words, with a new epilogue recently added, I am feeling satisfied. Sea of a Thousand Words has made the rounds of a very dedicated group of beta readers and, in its third rendition of revisions, the novel is tight and reads very well (in my humble opinion, of course).

As I wait to hear back from interested parties, I was recently surprised by a gift: My very first fan art. My daughter drew a poster of the book and presented it to me on Christmas day. It was such a trip to see my beloved characters, but through her imagination–her version… It was quite an unexpected rush and I actually broke out in tears when I unwrapped it.

Here is the poster:

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fan art for Sea of a Thousand Words by Juliet Carson

I have no idea what lies in store for this book. I’ve received some good feedback from my readers and encouraging critiques from literary agents. Should the final word-count prove too lengthy for mainstream publishing, I may opt to self publish and release a hardback as well as e-reader edition. What I am confident of however, is the timeliness and importance of this story. It rings eerily familiar, given the state of our politics and environment these days. I feel certain that readers will agree.

Stay tuned, keep your fingers crossed for the novel and I’ll let you all know what transpires soon. Thanks for your interest and support.

~Chris