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.”

 

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

 

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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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