The Big Idea: Michael Mammay
We view ourselves in a certain way, because we live with ourselves on a daily basis. What happens when people see us differently, and can those differences fuel the plot of a book? This is one of the questions Michael Mammay asked himself for his novel, Colonyside.
The concept of a Big Idea can have a lot of different applications when it comes to writing a series when compared to a single book. Almost certainly there was a big idea that kicked off the series, but when you’re on book three, as I am with Colonyside, it’s different. For some writers, it’s probably less important, as perhaps they had the big idea for the series figured out ahead of time. My series wasn’t originally a trilogy, so every book has its own big idea. So for me, I’d argue that in book three, the big idea is actually more important than it was in book one. I say that because before I ever started writing the third book, I already had the characters, and I had a lot of the world building. Readers had already gone through two full novels with Carl Butler and seen him change. For the third book to be interesting, I had to have something new.
For Colonyside, I came up with the whole thing starting with only a big idea. After all, I was on a two book deal, and to sell book three, I had to sell that big idea to the publisher. For those who haven’t read the first two books, without spoilers, I’ll provide a bit of context. In book one, Planetside, a big thing happens, and as you would expect, the main character is in the middle of it. Book two, Spaceside, is his reaction to that thing—how he deals with it, and how he tries to change from it. In Colonyside, the third book, he has moved past that phase and is into acceptance. The things in the past have happened, and he has mostly come to grips with them. But not everybody sees him the same way he sees himself.
And that’s the big idea behind Colonyside. What happens when things have happened in your past and you see yourself one way, having learned from those things and moved forward, but others see you only how they know you from that past incident? And I think it’s a timely subject. In our current environment, we see things pop up from people’s pasts—usually bad things—and there comes a public reckoning. And in that discourse, inevitably questions arise as to how much we should hold something against someone from their past.
And I’m not going to dwell on that here, because everyone has to come to their own decision about that on a case-by-case basis. Make your own call and forgive or don’t. But that’s what makes it interesting to me as a fictional situation—the fact that people can see it very differently, and more than one of those opinions can be valid.
But regardless of an outsider’s opinion, the almost universal truth in it is that the person who did the thing in the past sees themself differently than other people see them. Because assuming that person is honest with themself, they have the best possible information on how they’ve truly changed or haven’t. Others can’t always see that change, as their information is often filtered through the media or public relations. So there’s an inherent conflict in that. A person who has changed sees themself one way and other people see them another.
And that’s the story of Colonyside. Carl Butler has changed from the person he was in the first book, but those book one events were very public, and his change has come mostly in private. Let me be clear: Carl Butler is not a victim. He was a willing participant in the bad things that happened in Planetside, and he deserves all the ire of people who still hold it against him. He struggled with that in book two, trying to find redemption. But by book three he’s past that. He has come to accept that it is what it is. He’s both the person who did those things in the past, and he’s also the person who has changed. Other people see him however they see him, but he no longer lets their opinions define him.
And that becomes the conflict of the book. When other people expect him to act as the person he was in the past, it clashes with the person that he actually is in the present.