It’s a special kind of idea that sticks enough to motivate a book. I got stuck, while chatting at work one day, with the idea of daily life in a generation ship.
It’s been done before but….
Spaceships that take generations to travel anywhere is not a novel idea, but I hope my story will be. The theme of it has attracted me since I was a kid.
Sometime in high school I started imagining we all might be living virtual lives as entertainment, while in stasis in space, and that when we “died” we’d wake up and remember who we really were. Now I’m writing about people on a life boat entangled in a power struggle that’s corrupted their values. There is a connection there, but it’s subtle.
History of my ten thousand hours… err maybe four.
Fourteen years ago I thought to give fiction writing a serious try. I had some money saved, cheap rent, no job, and a lot of free time. I wrote but it was a struggle to fill those hours. I didn’t have it in me to put in anything close to an eight hour day. I was also isolating myself and generally bitter about happy people. It was rather pathetic and my writing reflected that.
Also at the time, writers were still expected to get an agent, and then a publisher. It seemed like all the agents were in New York and didn’t much care for Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Plus what the Internet was going to become was well hinted at. Any industry based on data, especially books seem poised for radical change. Like salt in the wind from a future flood, something the publishing industry is deep in now.
My mom calls. It’s early and I don’t understand what she’s saying until I turn on the news. She wants me to come home, to leave the city. She thinks Portland could be bombed. I reassure her and bang on my roommates’ doors.
I say what everyone says, “It’s like a movie.”
NaNoWriMo what? A novel in a month.
So that happened and I woke up from my Bohemian art fantasy and went back to the daily slog. Years past and I kept at it a bit. I wrote a lot when I lived in Japan for a year, but it was more therapeutic than serious.
Then the November after I came back to the States, I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). “Try to write a novel from beginning to end within the month of November with a minimum of fifty thousand words.” This was explained to me by a coworker writing with graphite wrapped in wood upon a stack of yellow paper spiraled together at the top with what looked like a stretched out spring.
I typed my first story when I was maybe nine, on a black screen with green type. It was something along the lines of an apprentice wizard embracing magic. I remember the sound when I sped up, tapping that special creative place where it pours out. It’s a rush I associated with rapid clicking. And it’s stuck with me to this day, enough that I’ve dropped the cash for a mechanical keyboard to replace my perfectly functional membrane keyboard.
My coworker’s notepad was a stark reminder that I was out of Japan and back in the country of Portland. I went home and poured some storytelling into a computer. The whole idea of NaNoWriMa isn’t to write perfectly, or even well. It’s just about writing, with faith that other things will follow.
Writer’s block? Just write the first thing that comes into your head, then the second, and so on and so on. It’s a brain enema.
I didn’t finish that first year. It turns out, if I procrastinate writing a novel the same thing happens as when I procrastinated writing my senior paper in college. It doesn’t get done in time. The November novel writing website kept repeating to not stress failing to finish, that the important thing was I tried. That was key. I perceived a slight condescending tone for failures like me.
The next year and every year since until this last November I got it done. I wrote a crappy book quickly, and I felt good doing it. Though that faded after spending the next three or fourth months trying to edit it into something readable.
The Novel begins, titled Destiny’s Hand.
The conversation about a bunch of people volunteering to die in space was fun. I imagined a crew leaving Earth with no stasis technology, traveling at a mere fraction of the speed of light. They would be committing themselves to something only their distant descendants might see. The original crew couldn’t even properly be called colonists. They’d just be the ones who left their home to die between stars.
I got to thinking about the sort of planing it would take, and the sort of changes that would inevitably happen to the culture of the crew as the decades and centuries passed. And I saw a ship design in a National Geographic article that captured my imagination. A vehicle powered by antimatter engines that needed a heat sink hundreds of miles long.
It stuck with me, bouncing around. Then Last November I tried it out as a setting and found I wanted to take my time. I slowed to a crawl and only typed a little that month, but didn’t feel like I failed.
I shared what I wrote to a few friends who judged it harshly enough that I scrapped it and rewrote and then rewrote again. I had gotten used to editing, but rewriting was new. I get stuck on my words. I don’t mind changing a few around, but cutting out whole sections was beyond me until this novel.
I’ve kept at it. Pecking away, reminding myself that the apprentice wizard is still alive somewhere inside me. I’ve learned that I’ve developed bad habits, bad grammar, and a superiority complex.
They value truth, I should too.
The core group I’m sending into space believe in truth above all other things. That is, truth in themselves, in their relationships to each other, and with the world around them. In the spirit of my charges and a genuine interest in justifying my ego I have been chipping away at my acquired barriers.
74,031 down, thirty some thousand to go.
I’ve paid some attention to what’s expected of a book, specifically a Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel in the current market. For example while a murder mystery can get by with seventy or eighty thousand words, my book needs to be at least a hundred thousand and probably no more than a hundred and ten. Checking my Google Doc now, I currently have 74,031.
Being well past halfway is exciting for me. So, time to make some commitments:
- I will have a completed readable rough draft by my birthday in a few months, August 24th.
- I will have a final publishable copy by this next Black Friday.
- By Thanksgiving I will have at least one editorially minded person read the whole of my book and say two things:
- It was great.
- I wouldn’t change a thing.
With this book I grab destiny in hand. I’m turning thirty eight this summer, if I don’t hold on tight it will look like a mid life crisis.
The novel begins, as it has to, with a hook.
His hand is shaking. The body isn’t moving. He doesn’t know what he did. He can’t remember.
The first five or six thousand words I’ll publish on this site when I’m closer to a final draft. I expect to publish Destiny’s Hand on Smashwords at a charge of two bucks ($1.99). Smashwords doesn’t restrict and will give me seventy percent. Amazon’s deals aren’t nearly as good.
Ten thousand fans, or bust.
I’ve heard that an artist can live off of ten thousand fans. I will be ecstatic to get this many. I’m gambling that a reasonably priced e-book, that is more Hard Sci-Fi philosophic adventure and less Post-Apocalyptic special powered seventeen-year-olds entangled in love triangles, will appeal enough. If not, then it’s been a particularly long NaNoWriYear therapy session.
Wish me creativity, commitment, and continuity.