I got my author copies of The Consuming Fire! So now I’m going to give one away! Specifically, the one behind Smudge there. Also, I will sign it and personalize it to the winner or whomever they choose.
You want it? Here’s what you have to do:
I’m thinking of a city, in North America, featured in at least one (1) song that was a hit in the United States. Name the city.
Now, the rules:
1. You may guess only one (1) city. Also (and obviously) one comment per person. Extra guesses and posts are disqualifying. When posting your comment, leave a valid email in the “email” field, otherwise I will not be able to reach you (I don’t make your email public and don’t use it otherwise). All comments other than those guessing a city will be deleted.
2. All guesses must be in by noon Eastern time on October 9, 2018.
3. In the event that more than one person guesses the city, I will tally up the number of people who correctly picked the city and ask Alexa to pick a random number between one and [number of people]. The person who corresponds to that number wins the book.
4. This contest is open to everyone around the world. I will cover shipping. However, if you live outside the US, it might take a while for the book to arrive to you. International shipping is weird.
5. I’ll pick the winner after the contest closes and contact that person by email for a shipping address. That winner will have the option for the book to be signed and personalized, to them or someone else.
And now, the hints:
1. The city currently exists and has people living in it.
2. The city’s name does not start with “X”.
3. The city is an incorporated city (or the equivalent in its country).
4. “North America” in this case can be understood to mean Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It does not include Central American or Caribbean nations (but may include cities in territories and islands possessed by Canada, the United States, and Mexico).
Think time travel is disorienting for the characters who use it? Think about the poor author who has to plot it! D.B. Jackson knows, and explains all the nitty-gritty details about it in this Big idea for Time’s Children.
Anyone who has written a time travel novel knows that they can send an author ‘round the bend. Time travel is a plotting nightmare. It creates narrative holes big enough to accommodate a truck. It acts as a virtual eraser, a do-over generator, a distributor of endless mulligans. Even the most sound, well-considered plot point can be undermined by the simple question, “Well, why can’t one of our characters go back and prevent this?” Hermione Granger’s ill-advised flirtation with Time-Turners is just the tip of the iceberg. Time travel will make an author’s brain explode.
So, naturally, I have just published the first novel in a new time travel/epic fantasy series.
In Time’s Children, volume one in my Islevale Cycle, Tobias Doljan, a fifteen-year-old time traveler – or Walker in the parlance of my created world – is sent back fourteen years to prevent a catastrophic war. Upon arriving in the past, however, he barely escapes an assassination plot that claims the lives of his sovereign, the royal court, and all of the royal family except the sovereign’s infant daughter, the princess Sofya. Tobias, with the help of his friend and love, Mara, who follows him back through time, must protect Sofya from the assassins, reestablish the royal line, and correct the dark, spiraling misfuture that his journey through time has unleashed. The book is fraught, but it’s also fun. It has action and suspense, assassins and demons, and lots of different kinds of magic. Because the time travel wasn’t complicated enough.
Those of us who write fantasy and science fiction often build into our magic or tech systems costs and limitations that limit their reach. Otherwise we risk allowing these world building devices to take over our stories. This is how I sought to keep time travel from robbing my book of all its narrative tension.
Time Walkers are rare in my world – I don’t have lots of them running around Islevale, undoing one another’s efforts. They cannot Walk without magically “Bound” devices called chronofors, which are also rare, not to mention dear. Walkers can go into the past, and then return to their original time, but they can’t explore the future. As they journey through time, Walkers must endure the “between” a harrowing, airless expanse that lengthens the farther back one travels. Walkers can only carry their chronofors when they journey – no weapons, no tools, no money, no clothing. If a Walker meets herself in the past, she might go insane.
Finally, and most significantly, for every year Walkers go back, they age that much. If a Walker is twenty, and goes back one year, she arrives as a twenty-one-year-old. And after she returns to her time, she is twenty-two. So, yes, my brief plot synopsis omitted a key detail: Tobias and Mara begin as fifteen-year-olds. When they arrive in the past, they are twenty-nine-year-olds, though their emotions and intellects remain the same. They are, essentially, children in the bodies of adults. If they make it back to their own time, they will be forty-three.
And that could easily be the big idea of the book. Adding that cost to my magic system creates tremendous narrative tension, drives a good deal of my plotting, and powers my key character arcs. Certainly, it informs elements of what I think of as the crucial themes of my book. But the central premise – the emotional core – of Time’s Children is somewhat more nuanced.
Allow me to backtrack for a moment. Early on, when I was still building my world and conceptualizing the novel, I struggled with my plotting. I usually outline novels, and this one was giving me fits. I had a conversation with a friend, and mentioned the problems I was having, and she asked me a simple question (I’m paraphrasing a bit). “What matters to you most? Not about the book, but about your life, your world. What are you most passionate about? Because,” she said, “that’s what you should be writing about.”
It took me all of two seconds to come up with an answer to her question: family. My wife and my daughters, and the love and laughter we share, mean more to me than anything. As soon as I realized this, I knew what Time’s Children and the entire Islevale Cycle are about.
It’s not just that Tobias and Mara have given up so many years of their lives, and it’s not just that they find themselves trapped in a broken past, their bodies and minds seemingly out of sync. What matters is their response to this singular circumstance. Their future is lost to them, at least for now. Sofya is dependent on them for food, for shelter, for love, for her very existence. And Tobias, before Mara finds him, is overwhelmed by the responsibility foisted upon him. I’m a parent, and I remember that feeling. I remember holding my older daughter the day she was born, and feeling both this unbelievable wave of love, and this panicked sense that I was barely more than a kid myself (even though I wasn’t that young when she was born). How on earth was I supposed to be a father?
What I soon realized was, I had a partner in this. Nancy and I had been a couple, but now we were a family, and together we would get through whatever we had to.
That’s what Tobias and Mara find. The only way they can cope with all that has gone to hell since Tobias Walked back in time, is to create a family out of ruin. In their case, the “family” begins as a deception, a way to conceal Sofya’s identity and spirit her to safety. But as this book ends, and the series goes on, their family coheres into something more powerful and more real. It continues to be a façade, but it also informs their relationships. Out of tragedy and danger and loss, they create a refuge built on love and loyalty and devotion not just to one another, but to the greater unit they have formed.
This sounds heavy, I know. Again, these really are fun books. But at root, they are about creating and relying on family under the most trying of circumstances. And that’s the big idea.
Yes, the world is a flaming dumpster, but forget that for a tenth of a second and enjoy this picture of a talented acrobat performing on silks at a renaissance festival. It’s nice to appreciate someone who is good at their work, and sharing that work with a crowd.
What thing(s) did you take a moment to appreciate in the last week? Tell folks in the comments; I think it would probably be helpful to everyone.
(And if you haven’t taken a moment to appreciate something in the last week — today is a fine day to do so.)
Today in The Big Idea,Julie E. Czerneda tackles the subjects of time, memory, intelligence, friendship.. and slime. They all have a role in her novel,Search Image.
JULIE E. CZERNEDA:
Twenty years ago, when my host, John Scalzi, started this amazing blog of his, my second novel was published by DAW Books. It concerned a character who was, well, a blob of well-intentioned blue goo, liable to explode under stress. Beholder’s Eye. What these things had in common? Two authors, each going where they hadn’t before, both to discover it was the best direction of all.
I didn’t set out to write Esen-alit-Quar, Esen for short, Es in a hurry or between dear friends. I set out to study the evolution of animal communication, starting with chemical signals and their role in the reproductive behaviour of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). Though perhaps they were a sign of what was to enter my life. After all, fathead minnows develop a mucous-secreting pad on their heads, used to rub clean a spot under a rock suitable for eggs to be laid. There they’ll wait, hoping a female approves their choice.
Slime, and its function, thus mattered early to me.
I also, as a humble grad student, had the privilege assisting my prof with his animal behaviour classes. There was the expected amount of cage scrubbing, the unexpected need to capture pigeons (at -40C) from the rooftop, and, of course, the discovery hamsters lustfully slime the sides of their enclosures, requiring more scrubbing.
A trend might have started.
Not that I noticed. By day, I was thoroughly busy with biology. By night, when I’d moments, I played with ideas. A Thousand Words for Stranger and the Clan Chronicles series came from those fathead minnows and the evolution of secondary sexual characteristics. (Really. Ask me some time.)
Esen? She came from that behaviour class. I’d taught the difference between r and k strategists: the former living short lives with many offspring, the latter few offspring with longer lives. That idea I had? I designed a species to be the ultimate k strategist. To live the longest possible life, reproducing rarely if at all.
I jotted notes. Doodled. How to do this? What if a living thing had control of its structure at the molecular level, harnessing energy to dispense with aging cellular components? Interesting. My something would need the ability to store and recall—with absolute accuracy—itself, leading me to extrapolate a biochemical memory. (This was thirty years ago, so I’m delighted by recent discoveries in that field.) Where might you find such beings evolving? Where energy was widely dispersed, but available if you had the time to travel far enough. Ergo, space. They’d be very few, and reproduce, reluctantly, by fission not sex. I fine-tuned the notions, noting almost in passing my creations didn’t have to have any one shape.
Because they could have any that they “remembered.”
All of which was fun, but hardly a story. Fine, then. What would my semi-immortal (for I wasn’t creating gods, but organic life) creatures do with their vast life span?
There’s something you need to know about me. When I was playing with these ideas, it was a time (the late 70s, need I say more?) of innumerable science fiction plots about how awful immortality would be. Star Trek, for example. Movies, TV shows, and books galore.
I didn’t buy it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d sob appropriately over, say, a vampire’s broken heart as a beloved aged and died. But beyond that? I’ve never accepted the “inevitable boredom” premise. It’s not in me. I’m not bored. I don’t get bored.
I get curious.
Thus, so would my beings. And what in the universe would fuel their curiosity? All of us. Beings whose lives were mere flickers of comparative time. Whose continuity came not from shared memory, but new life. Who saw death coming and created art and civilization in response.
My ideas were grew positively yummy. My beings would be archivists, of a sort. They’d collect information about “ephemerals” as they’d call us. Store and share it, not as objects, but as biochemical memory. Who’d collect genetic information to transform themselves into the species they observed, the better to learn every aspect. There’d be, oh, five in total, four budded from an original parent who’d be the Senior Assimilator, able to pick and choose what to share with the rest.
You’ll notice I still didn’t have a story.
Ah, but then I thought: what would bring disruption and chaos to a secret group of ancient beings, full of knowledge of living and extinct intelligences?
The unintended, unplanned arrival of number six. Esen.
Here are the first words of Esen I ever wrote.
“We would be together as long as he lived.
“And after that, I would remember Paul Ragem, my first friend, until the hearts of stars grew cold.”
I wrote her first book knowing this was how it ended. Otherwise I’d no outline or plan, only to set Esen in motion and see what happened along the way. No, that’s not entirely true. I’d two intentions by this point. One, to use Esen’s unique perspective to have as much fun as possible with real biology, the odder the better—and slime was a major goal, trust me.
Two, as you may have guessed, was to have a story about friendship.
Another thing you should know about me. I believe our deepest, most meaningful relationships are those between friends. The people we’d do anything for, who’d do anything for us. Who require no payment, no promise for their actions. Who call after a decade, and you pick up where you left off without pause. (Yes, family can be friends, but not always. Partners too. Mine is.)
I distrust stories that diminish normal, ordinary friendship. You know the ones I mean: where friends are introduced only to be sacrificed to motivate the main character to do whatever they must. I dislike stories where any friendship worth having must lead to “benefits.” Again, don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance. I just don’t want the only relationship that’s significant, that moves the story, to be the happy couple’s. We’ve far more friends than lovers. (I’m going to assume anyone for whom this isn’t true hasn’t time to read this blog. Good luck with that.)
All of which brought me Esen. I wanted a science fiction story, to please myself for only I (I thought) would ever read it, about friendship. How it grows. What it looks like. Feels like. How better than have a lonely Human try to explain it to the most alien bit of blue blob imaginable?
How better than have her try—no matter how hard–to understand what none of her kind have before?
Not that writing Esen, and her friend Paul, was difficult. In fact, I found writing her irresistible. The problems they face, and she attempts to resolve, are biological. Different sense organs. Different life cycles. Aliens who physically can’t make the leap to mutual understanding without a bit of help from someone who can. Mostly. For the other idea I’d had from the start? When Esen assumes another form, she’s still herself. A unique individual of that species, and no other. It lets me create wonderful complications for her to solve. You see, Esen means well, but she’s not always graceful or wise. Being Youngest. Writing her earnest efforts makes me laugh. More importantly they gave me the courage, as a writer, to put into words what I find silly or touching or utterly vital.
Picking up the story of Esen and Paul after writing a dozen very different books was as easy for me as breathing, and as wonderful as discovering a path down to a new river on a crisp sunny spring morning. You see, I’ve never stopped collecting weird, real, biology to inflict upon her. I’ve never lost my joy at portraying her wide-eyed curiosity about everything alive, because I share it.
And I’ve never lost sight of the importance of friendship. Into the future we go!
I’m here in town for a trade show, so unfortunately will not be doing public events, sorry. But I’m always happy to be in Minneapolis. It’s a lovely city, if twenty degree cooler than where I just left.
Living on an island means a different way of thinking about life — and death. J. Lincoln Fenn explains why, and how it made a difference for her latest novel, The Nightmarchers.
J. LINCOLN FENN:
I was driving the long, flat road from Kihei to Kahului, sugarcane fields and the distant rainforest mountains of Iao Valley to my left, listening to the public radio station and a fascinating discussion about the word ‘kanu’, which means two things in Hawaiian, ‘to bury’ (as in burying a corpse) and ‘to plant.’ When a family member was buried the spirit didn’t rise to a heaven or hell, eternally severed from the living, but remained on the island, inexorably linked to their descendants. The land and the ancestors were intertwined.
It makes sense because in many ways an island is a world unto itself. Resources are finite, and choices have consequences that can’t be mitigated. Be rude to someone at the pharmacy counter and rest assured you’ll run into their cousin at a PTA meeting. All the trash and garbage produced doesn’t go to some ‘out of sight, out of mind’ landfill—it’s a visible, ever-growing mound that everyone has to drive by. Set the sugarcane fields on fire to harvest the syrup, and ash called black snow falls on rich and poor alike. Things that can’t be changed must be accepted. “It is what it is.” Why would death be any different?
I thought about how different that is from the Western American idea of frontiers, and constant reinvention, the secrets that can be buried, the bloody conquests reframed as destiny. The idea that what we do here on Earth is ultimately irrelevant because we’re assured we’re the chosen people, with an eternal, separate paradise waiting in the sky. So not only do we think that we can dominate everything with impunity—from other cultures to genomes—we think it will have no real effect on our present, and future. We believe we can be severed from consequences and don’t have to acknowledge them.
This is our collective delusion.
Because the truth is, as one of my characters in The Nightmarchers says, “The things we bury have a way of digging their way out. They creep and clutch and bloom in our dark, shadowy places.”
We’re seeing those blooms everywhere. From institutionalized racism born of slavery, to the Western wildfires that cast smoke across the entire United States, to the gross machinations behind the Hollywood dream machine, all the things we tried to bury—mass genocide, toxins, sexism, racism and all the other ‘isms’—are growing, twisting, and cracking the foundational values of our culture.
We could very well be in for a grim harvest, at least in the short term.
But even as a horror writer I have to acknowledge another human propensity, which is our ability, in the face of great adversity, to drop ideologies and divisions with as little thought as a snake who sheds its skin. To exist in peace.
Not that it’s easy. Hawaii is one of the most culturally layered places I’ve ever lived, with a visceral pain born out of colonization, World War II, Japanese internment camps and a near continuous flow of immigration. Anger and clashes happen. But at the end of the day, if your car breaks down on the road, people will stop and help you push it out of the traffic. You’ll be an “Auntie” to children whether or not you’re related (or even know each other). One of the most poignant moments of my time there was going to an event about the struggle to reinstate Hawaii as a kingdom. It was standing room only—not many white people in attendance—and a Hawaiian teenager offered me his seat.
When I feel despair, I think of him.
And while the discussion about ‘kanu’ on the radio might have seemed like a small seed, it bloomed into this essay, and a novel that questions our fight to dominate a world that could be, if we only got out of the way, a real paradise, here and now. Whether we’re able to recognize our interconnectedness is irrelevant to the fact that we are. The world is an island, and nothing disappears into a void. Everything we bury grows, and all our ghosts linger, quietly watching.
From the movie A Star is Born, which comes out tomorrow. The song is surprisingly good — which seems like I’m damning Lady Gaga (who co-wrote it) with slight praise. I’m not meaning to minimize her talents at all (they’re pretty obvious at this point), but songs written for movies are often about something else than being a good song. This is a good song, and it seems to fit the movie. If I understand the story correctly, this is a song she wrote but Bradley Cooper’s character arranges with the intent of encouraging her to come onstage to sing it (and thus kickstart her path to stardom). Even in video you can see how that emotional interplay is working, and Gaga sells it perfectly. If the actual movie is as good as the moment the video covers, this is going to be a contender.
Somewhere archived away in a box in my house, there’s a piece of paper with scribbled notes that I wrote in 2007:
Magic Student/Street Thief
Fantasy Detectives — Magic crimes
Two brothers – thieves — HEISTS
Pacifist Warrior— Ancient order
And there it was—an idea: that I could bring together these characters, who could each tell their individual stories, but could also tell a larger story through the weaved threads of each narrative.
At the time, I hadn’t even written one novel— let alone four interconnected series—but the underlying ideas got their hooks into me too hard for me to ignore. I had to do this, no matter how daunting and wild the idea was. So I dug in, radically reorganized my life, and got serious about the work of novel writing. Over several years, those bullet points evolved into, respectively, The Thorn of Dentonhill, A Murder of Mages, The Holver Alley Crew and, now, finally, The Way of the Shield.
The process of developing these books created a paradox. In writing Thorn, Murder and Holler Alley, I had created a world with a city constabulary, bustling infrastructure, elected Parliament and city council, standing military, and in the midst of social progress. An ancient order of warriors with shields and swords seemed almost quaint.
Then I realized: that was the point. It is quaint and outdated. Here’s the Tarian Order, an organization with a deep and rich history in the culture, but with no formal authority or mandate. There were other Orders, but most of them were either disbanded or folded into modern organizations. The only reasons the Tarian Order remains are tradition and inertia. Most people only join as a path to improve their station. But Dayne, my pacifist warrior, is a true believer.
Dayne is steeped in the history, enamored of the Order, and there is nothing he wants more than to devote his life to it. Not to use the Order as a political stepping stone, and not just for mastering the physical discipline of the combat arts. Dayne truly thinks saving every single life is the most important calling he can follow. He wants to be the proud figure, standing tall with a shield, protecting the people and placing himself between them and harm.
But this changing world of modern politics rears its head again. Dayne learns that he will not be promoted to full membership in the Order. The Parliament holds the purse strings, and the Parliament gets final approval over the appointments. Dayne failed to save the nephew of a powerful member of Parliament, and that member is making Dayne pay for his mistakes.
Dayne is left adrift: he has the talent, he has the passion, but he’s got no sense of what his future is going to be if he’s not able to be a part of this thing that he’s devoted his life to. What is he going to do now, if he can’t be a Tarian?
Let me jump back to 2007, and that phrase I glided over a few paragraphs back: I radically reorganized my life. That was a crucial moment for me to reach this point. In 2007 I was working a job I hated. Hated. It gnawed at my soul, and everything about my life was degrading because of it. Finally, I said to myself, “You’re 34 years old, and what are you doing with yourself? Working this terrible job for terrible people, and hating everything. You keep saying you want to write books, but are you? No, you aren’t, and you need to.”
So I quit that job. Which, let’s be real, probably wasn’t the best plan for a thirty-something husband and father with a mortgage, but it’s what I had to do. Fortunately, my wife understood what was going on, and we came up with a new plan for our lives so we could continue on and I could also write.
Because had this idea—this mad, wild idea, at that point just a series of handwritten bullet points —and I knew I had to make it real. I had to fight with everything I had to make it happen. At the time, a lot of people called it impossible, said I wouldn’t be able to do it. No one was going to let me do it.
But yet, here we are, pushed forward with will and drive. Four interconnected series in one grand, sprawling fantastical city. With The Way of the Shield, the fourth piece clicks into place.
That’s the spirit I infused into Dayne: he has talent, he has passion, and when he’s told what he wants is impossible, he’s going to do it anyway.
I mean, the news is a trash fire pretty much every day these days. But today, there was also a rainbow by my house. So I went out and got a picture of it. Figured it would be a nice change of pace for everyone. Please enjoy, and I hope the rest of your day is a little better because of it.
What happens when Comedy goes TOO FAR (and then just keeps going)?
Supposedly some famous dude said on his death bed, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”* Nobody seems to agree on who actually said this, and whether anyone actually ever said those exact words. But in any case, this is a crock of shit. I’d way rather write comedy than be dead, and I think dying will probably be pretty fricking difficult. I fully expect that after I finish dying, I’ll have no energy left for anything else.
And I know you’re not supposed to admit this, but comedy has always come kind of easy to me. I love coming up with the most ridiculous thing that can happen in any situation, and the silliest thing someone can say or do. I grew up reading Henry Fielding and Douglas Adams and PG Wodehouse, but also watching everything from the Keystone Kops films to reruns of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. I love the moment when everything just spins out of control and vehicles are sailing off cliffs and people are throwing mashed potatoes in each other’s faces and the world is just spiraling into chaos.
Partly, I feel like those demented moments of out-of-control physical comedy are when we come closest to glimpsing the true nature of reality. In real life, everything is chaos**, nothing is ever really under control, and we’re all one banana peel away from hilarious disaster. And partly, those moments are just really, really fun to write.
So back when I started writing Rock Manning Goes For Broke, I was obsessed with physical comedy in particular, and just seeing how far I could take it on paper. And here’s what I found out: the more you take physical comedy to its furthest extreme, the more you start blurring the lines between “hilarious” and “terrifying.” Because when slapstick hijinks go really to enough of an extreme, they start to look more and more like regular violence and mayhem.
This wasn’t really that much of a surprise, to be honest. There’s a reason why Jackie Chan breaks several irreplaceable bones in every other movie he makes. And anyone who’s ever dipped into “splatstick” or the burgeoning genre of horror-comedy knows that slippery gory monstrosities can easily cross over into being hilarious. (See Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, Brian Yuzna’s Society, or dozens of other bizarro funny horror films.)
The main character of my novella, Rock Manning, is an aspiring comedy performer who wants to follow in the stumbling footsteps of Chan, along with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin, that dude from The Tall Blonde Man With One Brown Shoe, and countless others. And luckily, Rock’s best friend Sally Hamster has a video camera, an eye for great set pieces, and an almost limited reservoir of sadism. Soon, they become Famous On The Internet—just as society is crumbling and the United States is teetering on the brink of a fascist takeover.
A lot of the energy in Rock Manning Goes For Broke comes from the increasingly bizarre and high concept films that Rock and Sally are creating and posting online. Including things that honestly ought to be their own genres, like “Vacuum Cleaner Salesman vs. Roman Gladiator,” or “making an ice cream sundae on top of a hearse going 90 miles per hour.” These kids view danger and narrative consistency with equal measures of steely disdain.
But also, I got a lot of juice, storytelling-wise, from the collision between off-the-chain physical comedy and the brutality of incipient fascism. Rock and Sally’s high-school classmate, Ricky Artesian, becomes part of a brand new “militia” called the Red Bandanas, who aim to “clean up” America with a mixture of fearmongering, manipulation and extreme violence—and they want Rock to star in some propaganda films promoting their movement.
I know I started this essay by saying that comedy is way easier than that dying guy thought***, but the ugly flowering of fascism is surprisingly hard to make light of. Everyone from Chaplin (in The Great Dicatator) to Mel Brooks (in The Producers) to the makers of Hogan’s Heroes has lampooned the Nazis, but they’re still terrifying and abhorrent monsters. All the things that make a pie fight**** hilarious are also what make a swarm of real-life brownshirts pants-wettingly scary: the chaos, the indignity, the loss of control.
But when comedy goes Too Far, it not only gets closer to being a warped version of our worst night terrors—it also lets us start to ask questions about our propensity for organized violence. And that moment when the mayhem stops being funny and turns ghastly is a good preparation for the real-life moments when we witness atrocities right in our backyard, and it’s on us to do something to stop them.
* This whole fetish for saying pithy things on your deathbed always perplexes me. Why would you want to waste a clever line on a moment when nobody can possibly appreciate it? Plus to be honest, my last words are probably going to be something along the lines of “ow, this fucking hurts, you fuckers,” or possibly, “I want a discount on my hospital bill because these goddamn peas were still frozen on the inside. Let me speak to a manager. Yes, I will hold.”
** The difference between fictional chaos and real-life chaos is that you can at least sometimes enjoy fictional chaos, because it’s a lot harder to giggle with abandon when actual reality is getting torn to bits by flying doll-heads and exploding chickens and stuff. Actually living through a huge screaming mess is surprisingly not that much fun at all.
*** I feel very comfortable picking on that guy, because he’s dead, and also he could be any one of a number of dead guys, none of whom know where I live.
**** I actually organized a Ballerina Pie Fight in real life. Ask me about it sometime.
Here’s Sugar, in one of her favorite perches, above the sliding glass door in our living room. Sugar’s been spending a lot of time outdoors recently, because Smudge annoys the crap out of her, so it’s nice when she’s inside and relaxing, instead of looking at Smudge like he’s an insect.
This is what I have for you today. I spent the first half of the day writing (including finishing up a short story I will probably read on tour) and the rest of the day answering long-delayed email and other such boring stuff. As I it was totally an organization day, I hardly looked at news at all! I imagine it’s terrible; it usually is. I’ll have time to catch up… some other day. Now I’m going to have dinner with Krissy and watch movies until bed time. Wheee!
They say write what you know, and thus twins Ashley and Leslie Saunders and have written The Rule of One, a novel about twins. But there’s so much more to writing than writing what you know. Here’s how the Saunders imagined in stereo.
ASHLEY AND LESLIE SAUNDERS:
What would make a country like the United States adopt a one-child policy?
That’s the central question we asked ourselves when we started brainstorming The Rule of One. We knew we wanted to tell a story about twin sisters and we wanted it to be an adventure with high stakes. What’s higher stakes than twins being born into a world where their very existence is a crime?
Using China’s former one-child policy as inspiration, soon our minds were swimming with a future that included a planet that has reached well beyond its carrying capacity, bloated metropolises, crippling limited resources that drives the U.S.’s class system to a dangerous breaking point, and constant government surveillance with microchips implanted inside every citizen’s wrist.
We had our dystopian setting, now we needed our central theme: identity.
Our Big Idea: twins who have to pretend to be one person in order to survive.
Ashley: Our story is told from dual perspectives; being the eldest twin, I wrote all of Ava’s chapters, who is also the older sister. Ava is the one who gets the life-validating microchip implanted into her right wrist at birth. She is the identity that both sisters build their entire lives around– Ava is the only one to truly exist in a Rule of One America.
In real life as children, Leslie and I would come home from school and tell one another every single tiny detail of our days. We became such experts on each other’s lives that we could sub in for each other if someone got us confused. Pulling this from our own lives, we amplified our nightly ritual with Ava and Mira. If they aren’t perfect when it’s their “turn” above ground (the other sister must stay hidden in the basement), they will lose everything. As the first born, Ava sees it as her duty to ensure the safety of her sister– a large portion of her identity is tied up in being the designated guardian.
Writing Ava’s chapters, I always held foremost in my mind how I would react if it was me who was branded a traitor and forced to leave my childhood home, fleeing into the unknown, all while trying to protect my twin sister, the person whom I love more than anyone else in the world.
Halfway through writing the novel, Leslie and I took a pause and decided to travel the exact cross-country journey our characters take in the book. While researching a location in Palo Duro Canyon, we were stalked by a bobcat and those thought-experiments suddenly became reality. Isolated in the wilderness, I felt sheer terror, and on instinct we decided to run. I had no weapons, just like Ava, and the entire three-mile sprint back to our car the bobcat was growling, and I envisioned the animal attacking my sister. We made it (or else I wouldn’t be writing this) and drenched in sweat, I immediately wrote down every emotion I was feeling. I’ve never felt more connected to Ava as I did in that moment, because the terrifying experience revealed to me that just like Ava, I would do anything to protect my sister. And just like Ava, in that life-threatening ordeal I saw myself as the leader, the one needing to do the saving. But when I looked over, Leslie had a razor-sharp rock in her hand, ready to do her own protecting.
I knew then why it was so important for Mira to step out of Ava’s shadow to become her own woman. Free from the necessity of mirroring Ava’s identity, Mira could be the hero of her own story.
Leslie: Like Mira in our story, I am the youngest twin. I therefore took the reins writing all of her chapters, using my experience growing up as the second born, infusing my own personal experience into Mira’s desires, arguments and character arcs.
Have I ever been jealous of my twin sister, Ashley? Yes. Have I ever thought that she was better at something than me? Sure. Do I ever grow tired of being compared to her? It depends what kind of day I’m having, but let’s go ahead and say absolutely. To imagine these questions in a future world where my very existence was illegal, and I was forced to share an actual identity with my twin sister really got the wheels in my mind turning. Like at top speed.
What if I not only shared clothes, the same interests, and most importantly, identical features with my twin, but in order to have any life at all, I had to be my sister. We had to share a name, a personality. An existence. The love I have for my twin knows no words- like Ava and Mira, we are inseparable. But I am a fierce individual and I have my own identity. To infuse a character study of twin sisters with my love of high-stakes adventure was really a dream project for me. Writing the POV of a youngest twin who goes on a journey of self-discovery was both exciting and cathartic. I don’t think I’ll ever write something more personal. Yes, it’s set in a near-fi America about twins being chased by the government. But Mira feels like me: a young woman trying to discover who she is.
As Ava and Mira’s story expands beyond the first book, it’s been a fun ride shaping their individual identities while still remaining true to their inseverable bond. No matter how much they change, they will always be identical twin sisters. Two bodies, one soul.