Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Hi everyone

I realise it has been a while since my last post, but I have had trouble accessing this site. That's all fixed now, in time for me to participate in The Next Big Thing chain interview series. This series features creative writers answering a set of questions about their latest book projects, which are either in development or recently published. Each writer is selected by a previous participant and in turn selects further participants in the chain. I was kindly tagged by Talie Helene and you can read her interview here. Below are my answers:

1.   What is the [working] title of your book?

At the moment, the title of the novel is Phase Shift. I have always envisaged the project as being a standalone book but, as I work on the second draft, I occasionally feel the story idea may need more than one volume. If this turns out to be the case, I will have to come up with individual book titles, while keeping the series title as Phase Shift.

2.   Where did the idea come from for the book?

I have been tinkering with the concept of the Nexer for a number of years. A Nexer is someone who can access a type of mental space that permeates and unscores the reality of the universe in which the story is set. These gifted individuals are story-healers, in that while accessing nexspace they can unblock a person's story-line, so to speak, or initiate a process where the person themselves learns to unblock her/his story-line. Nexers are considered a type of magician by those who have been helped by them and as charlatans by those with a more rational bent, those whose worldview is strictly materialist. So, after years of thinking and tinkering with story ideas, I combined the Nexer concept with the theme of a universe in a state of sudden space-time decay and wrote a first draft in which many other unexpected things came to play.

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3.   What genre does your book fall under?

I like to think of the book as existential space opera, though of course that sort of tag is hard to sell to agents, publishers and stockists (both web and bricks and mortar). I do have a soft spot for that old genre title science fantasy, but again that might be a hard sell, especially as it has fallen out of favour. I could say philosophical science fiction, but in one sense all science fiction has some sort of philosophical basis, however simplistic or unconscious. In this current environment of small sound bites, I might have to stick with speculative fiction, which really doesn't give much away at all.

4.   What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

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 I don't tend to think in movie references in that way, so my answers are a little hit-and-miss. I have a young heroine, so maybe someone like Jennifer Lawrence, who played Katniss in The Hunger Games, might be a good fit. The other main characters are a middle-aged male Nexer, a young male gonzo reporter, an Indian mathematician, a late-middle-aged erg-painter, a young male spaceship pilot, and a female alien of indeterminate age. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises, might be good for the reporter, but I can't envisage anyone suitable (yet) for the others.

5.   What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I have had several while working through the first draft and what I call the interdraft, the thinking about and planning for the next draft. My current one-sentence synopsis is, A guilt-ridden young woman must become a story-healer to stop a crazed AGI, a would-be immortal dictator, and belligerent trans-dimensional aliens from destroying every universe. I'm happy with this synopsis, especially as it is exactly 25 words, which many writing textbooks and teachers recommend as the maximum for defining one's project in a single sentence. Of course, the synopsis is bound to change as I redraft the novel and refine characters, plot and setting.

6.   Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm only at the start of my second draft, so what happens about publication is still a long way off. My preference is for the traditional publishing route, but in these uncertain industry times, I'm not sure I know which avenue will offer the book's best chance, not only for publication acceptance, but for distribution, marketing, advances, royalties, etc. I am hoping things will be clearer when I finish the novel, the deadline for which is the middle of next year.

7.   How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Several years ago I participated in The Year of the Science Fiction Novel workshop at the Victorian Writers Centre, which is now Writers Victoria. Lucy Sussex convened the bi-monthly sessions in which we workshopped extracts from our projects, discussed writing techniques and approaches, and heard talks by industry professionals. I handwrote the first draft early in the year, over several months, and edited extracts for the workshopping. Subsequent to the course, I transcribed the whole draft and have been doing the interdraft work while submitting other extracts to my writing group for further feedback (Hi, Torcans). I've taken a lot of time to get to the second draft stage, mainly because I was finishing other projects, but I intend to devote myself to this book for the next few months.

8.   What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

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 Certainly there are many things that have influenced both my writing style and the themes of all my creative work. Books like Dune, Lord of Light, Moby Dick, and The Lord of the Rings. Authors and poets like Arthur C Clarke, Gordon R Dickson, Terry Dowling, Neil Gaiman, Robert Graves, Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Hermann Hesse, Robert Howard, Ted Hughes, Ursula Le Guin, H P Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Dylan Thomas, Clark Ashton Smith, JRR Tolkien, A E van Vogt, Karl Edward Wagner, W B Yeats, and Roger Zelazny. Movies like Blade Runner, Star Wars, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The philosophies of Plato and Plotinus. Celtic mythology. But as to which books my story is similar, I'm not sure I know. The philosophical themes point to Hesse (Siddhartha and The Glass-Bead Game) and Zelanzy (Lord of Light and The Chronicles of Amber), while the space opera and science fiction aspects point to Blish, Herbert, van Vogt and, again, Zelazny. As a summation, I would say my story has elements of Dune, Star Wars, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, The World of Null-A, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the Dorsai series and even E C Tubb's Dumarest books. However, I can't point to one or two specific books that contain a number of these elements. If there were one, I probably wouldn't need to write mine.

9.   Who or what inspired you to write this book?

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 As I said above, there are a number of influences on my work. As for what might have directly inspired it, I don't recall a specific moment in which the idea dropped into my consciousness. I have always liked van Vogt's Nexialists and Null-A operatives and also various psychic warriors, if they can be called that, from E E 'Doc' Smith's Lensmen to George Lucas's Jedis. What I liked about the Nexialists was their ability to be generalists and to synthesis specialist knowledge into answers to pressing problems. What I liked about the Lensmen was the sub-group known as Grey Lensmen, who were not beholding to the Lensmen hierarchy and were left to their own devices, were trusted to do things for the good of all, though their processes may not be within Lensmen 'rules'. And what I have never liked about the Jedis is the sense of their only being in the service of the prevailing order (or fighting against it to establish a new order), plus the strict separation between the Light and Dark sides of the Force. Many years ago, I came up wth the name 'Nexer' for my own generalist psychic warriors, though I still hadn't identified their specific skills. (The name was an allusion to van Vogt's Nexialist and also to the sense of a nexus, those important psychic moments in a person's life that a Nexer can read and manipulate.) I then started thinking of a story about an apparent rogue Nexer awaiting execution for helping an indigenous population defend itself against the colonising humans. (Being an Australian, I am acutely aware of the terra nullius doctrine that allowed the British to colonise the continent they had 'discovered' and displace its original inhabitants.) A newly-initiated Nexer is sent to investigate the rogue's behaviour and the first scene I envisaged is when the new Nexer arrives at the planet and is confronted by the local law enforcer, who is a member of a group that has similar talents to the Nexers, but a much narrower range of duty: to the state, only. My realisation of the potential dynamics in their confrontation--state vs individual, science vs mysticism, self vs Self, the human vs the Other--propelled me into further exploring Nexers and their universe.

10.   What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

An immature AGI that has split into two, one part wanting to destroy humanity, one part wanting to help humanity, and both crazed in different ways. A young, scarred woman needing to confront her part in the deaths of her mother, her grandmother and her brother. A young man awakened from cryo-sleep and forced to pilot a hijacked colony spaceship. A gonzo reporter hoping for the story of his career. Nano-enhanced warriors. Aliens who have bonded with the planet they crash-landed on centuries before. A portal between two universes that are each aspects of a single meta-universe, which itself is one of an infinite number of similar structures. As universes collide and destroy each other, the space fleets and the psychic emanations of humanity and the race of trans-dimensional aliens battle it out, while a reluctant female Nexer strives to understand and heal what underlies all the conflict.

One of the benefits I found in doing this interview is that in answering some of the questions I had to examine deeply the genesis and intent of the story. I discovered more about my reasons and inspirations for the novel and gained some insights into the dynamics of the story. So, thanks, Talie, for tagging me and helping me refine some of my ideas.

Now for the next stage of the chain interview process. I approached a number of writer friends and acquaintances but, given we're in the middle of the silly season, some of them haven't got back to me as yet and a couple of them who did were unable to participate for one reason or another. For the moment, then, the only writer I am tagging is E. Markham. If at a later date any of the other writers agree to being tagged, I'll let you all know.

May you have a safe, relaxing and wondrous festive season and I wish you success in all your ventures during 2013.
Happy reading and writing.



Leigh Redhead said...

Hi Earl, Phase Shift sounds amazing - can't wait to read it. Sounds like you will definitely need more than one volume though!

Elly Varrenti said...

Hi Earl, it does sound amazing and I look forward to reading it. I just hope my mere conversational standard Nexalize is up to the job. Elly.