I have been tagged in The Next Big Thing, a branching pyramid-of-prose where authors discuss their latest release or WIP. I was tagged by Caren Gussoff a super smart lady, a lyrical and literary speculative fiction writer.
The Scent of Memory.
By going on a long journey. A bit of madness and a lot of composting.
This novel started at Clarion Writers Workshop in 2009. I wrote a short story for week 4 that fell flat on its face, it was a novel crammed into 6,000 words. The story didn’t work, but people liked the space-otter alien protagonist. My Clarion did something that no Clarion had done before (and possibly since) and we worked on novels in week 6. In week 5 I went a bit mad and turned in two stories, one for Monday and then another one on Friday.
This meant that I had a weekend to write a novel pitch. I took my short story and radically changed the setting from a far future space station to post-contact Australia 50 years from now.
On the Monday we critiqued covering letters, Tuesday and Wednesday we did outlines, Thursday and Friday we critiqued the first 10 pages of our novels. I wrote like a maniac, figuring out the story and building the world in a desperate flurry. I wrote the opening of my novel twice and submitted both versions because I was still figuring out the voice and POV.
By the Friday night party I was an empty husk, so tired I couldn’t eat and scarcely capable of doodling on the sidewalk with a small child for company. But I had a novel outline.
A year and a half passed. I revised stories I wrote at Clarion. I wrote some new stories, received many many rejections and sold a few stories.
I decided it was time to write a novel and dusted off the outline I’d written. I explored the world, wrote scenes, struggled with POV decisions, struggled to fit in the backstory and finally realized I was telling the wrong story.
My aliens didn’t do first contact in any of the standard ways, and that was giving me a lot of trouble. I had a first contact situation that was unique and went against standard conventions… I realized that first contact was the most interesting and unique part of my world.
So I abandoned everything I had done and told the real story. On the surface of things this novel has nothing in common with its origins. If you compared the start with the finish, you wouldn’t recognize them.
Science Fiction – though I would be very happy if it could reach a general fiction audience.
This question was so hard and time consuming!
It’s an ensemble cast with many of the characters from a diverse made up country in Melanesia. The pictures cascading down the right of the page are the best I could do with a week’s notice. This question made me wish I’d seen more movies. It was cool to find out what Aaron Pederson’s been up to. He’s one of my favorite Australian actors.
Some actors I may have tried to squeeze in a little gratuitously… Sylvester McCoy isn’t the first person you might cast in the role as a senior Australian diplomat and it’s not exactly how I imagine Malcolm, but that’s the delicious indulgence of an imaginary movie.
Aliens come to earth and people determine what humanity will be and what it will become.
Once I have finished editing and fine tuning my novel I shall send it out to agencies.
It depends on your definition of first draft. I’m more of a lacquering, layering, cutting as I go kind of gal. I’ve been writing and re-writing this novel for a while now and it’s finally in a shape I can love. Taking on a novel this ambitious has been overwhelming at times.
Inspiring and drawing strength from is a kind of comparing, right?
Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson have been my comfort reading while I’ve worked on this novel. They’re both ambitious science fiction writers who explore their worlds.
Ursula Le Guin’s Science Fiction normally explores more distant futures and planets, but her bold visions and thoughtful characterization inspire me. She is elegant and accessible in the way she explores her worlds and concepts. I like to see her influence on my writing and I hope I can be part of her lineage.
Nalo Hopkinson‘s language and world building also inspires and comforts me. I feel that she treats creole/kriol languages with the respect they deserve. It’s been interesting to see the cross-overs and differences between Caribbean language systems and Austronesian languages. I love how gutsy and fun she is.
I like looking at the edges of things and I like juxtaposition, so I’d like my book to be compared with anything if it was a good conversation! Like they say for school essays, discuss, compare and contrast?
Telling this story I wanted to explore, language, complexity, resilience. I wanted diplomats to be on first contact teams!
I wanted scientists to be smart and collaborative. I wanted a first contact story that was not centered around America. I wanted the UN and multilateral agreements to play a significant role. I wanted the science to be as hard as I could make it, but MORE importantly I wanted the social sciences to play a significant role.
I wanted the world to be as diverse and interesting as it really is. I wanted to explore how we can find ways to bridge gaps of understanding and how we can make terrible presumptions when it comes to communication. It’s a story about alien-ness in all senses of the word. It’s about belonging, the human experience and how we find meaning.
During the most despairing times the thing that kept me from throwing the novel in the trash was a beautiful scene when Abua Kamsing comes home and his young son is eating custard apples under a tree. Aliens, asteroid strike, micro-tsunamis, global responses, but it was a scene of trust, love and non verbal communication that kept me loving my novel.
Humans helped me stay inspired. Many humans helped, but especially Chapters Without Borders co-working writers. Special thanks my first readers Kath Nyborg and Cat Rambo. Thankyou for believing in it and thank you Cat for getting me to finish this draft by Christmas.
The book is told from multiple human third person points of few and from the view of an alien child. If you like character driven stories I think you’ll enjoy this one.
… and look, more pictures of actors!
And now it is time to say, tag! You are it! It was really hard to pick three authors, there are so many people pursuing their passions right now. These three are some of the people helped shape my novel, way back in 2009 at this crazy 6 week workshop thing. They critiqued my short stories and beginnings of a novel, but just as importantly, they worked their guts out and let me learn from their work. Grady and Heather will answer these questions next Wednesday and you will get to experience Shauna’s blog post early in the new year: