Initial Research & Brainstorming: The Epic Saga

After a couple of months of random travelling, various short writing projects, and a crazy amount of e-mail correspondence, not to mention the omnipresent and perilous temptations of such online distraction pits as The Facebook (dun dun duuun!), I have finally knuckled down on myself and imposed a strict writing schedule to jumpstart the revision process. At least, that's one way of looking at it... Another perspective is that my brain quite wisely insisted on a brief break from the many months of disciplined and at times desperate wordcount accumulation, and took that time to gather additional inspiration from a number of stimulating and inspiring activities, and finally signalled to me its readiness to continue working on the novel by gaining a renewed eagerness to start looking into such topics as string theory, wavefunction collapse, and ancient Greek culture.

In any event, a couple of weeks ago back up at the writing residency in Caldera I eased into the revision process by spending a couple sessions brainstorming on stumps and lake docks and other picturesque perches, and completing Brian Greene's book The Elegant Universe, which explains string theory with its many compactly curled dimensions. This awakened some new ideas in me regarding the ways that the Thinkers influence the people in their cities, and the role of the sweadies in Allyria, and some mysterious effects that water can have to keep this influence on a subconscious level (which I would have Will work to counteact in the end, encouraging the people to become conscious of it so they can better resist future attacks to their independence). I also contemplated Will's allegorical name and how it might be borne out in his character--in what way is he hesitant to act and exert his will, and how can he have this character trait without becoming contemptible to action-approving readers, and how can he overcome this hesitation and act to save his city in the end? I also got this crazy idea that people can control physical objects with their minds in various ways through some quirk of quantum physics. And thus that people leave a detectable trace of themselves on any object that they interact with... Ooh, and I thought up what it is that Yve wants Will to do--a nefarious plan that also requires the respective expertises of Denis and Kendra, thus giving them active roles in the story and narratorial reasons for having gone along with Will in the first place.

After that I read Fred Alan Wolf's book Parallel Universes, which argues against the wavefunction collapse theory put forth in the Copenhagen interpretation and instead puts forth the parallel worlds theory. I didn't find his theory particularly compelling--what I appreciated was the way he pointed out various absurdities in the wavefunction collapse model, which is the model I want to use. Those absurdities are just the sorts of details a science fiction novel can benefit from exploiting. Thinking about these absurdities gave me all sorts of crazy ideas about the world and people as a kind of network mirroring neural networks, and the physical world flickering in and out of existence in different configurations while soul particles remain constant. I also clarified the weird properties of water as being interference to the process of solidifying memories, and I worked out a model for the quantum interaction between mind and brain.

And THEN I read The World of Athens, a study of the ancient Athenian culture and environment. This book was incredibly useful for helping me to form much clearer ideas about the societies of Allyria and Damask, in addition to their geographical layout. I'm essentially setting the story in ancient Greece, except on this parallel universe (although not really in the Wolfian sense of the term) where there are these Thinkers and people can control things with their mind. I even found a mention of a little harbor that Athens once tried to take over which sounds eerily like Damask's attempted takeover of Allyria. So I now have some solid ideas about geography, climate, transportation, currency, government, city structure, job distribution, etc. And contemplation about the economic systems has sent me into deep examinations of the fundamental principles underlying the differences between the two cities, and the ways those differences can be manifested in the nature of the cities' Thinkers. I got some good names for things, too, and decided that the water that makes things subconscious does so because it passes through a Thinker's cave before washing through the city.

The periodic and incredibly helpful spurts of feedback I have been getting throughout this process as various people who requested the first draft of my novel finish it and send me their thoughts has proved quite useful, and I am greatly appreciative to all those who have taken the time to do so. Although there was so much in the first draft that I was already well aware needed work, it's great to get other people's perspectives, and see what jumps out at them, and what they don't even notice, and what they like and what doesn't make sense, and all of that. If I've sent you the draft and you haven't had a chance to read it yet, don't worry--I'm not in any rush, and if I finish the next draft before you get to the first one, lucky you! I'll send you that one and you won't have to worry about the first draft and all its underdevelopment. :-)

So, that's what I've been doing lately. I'm sorry to have kept from updating for so long, and then to drop this enormous and probably mostly incomprehensible summary into the gap, but I've been so caught up in actually doing the work that I haven't felt inclined to take the time out to record it here. I'll try to be better about that in the future--brief updates at the end of a day or two of work instead of unmanageable ramblings at the conclusion of a month. We'll see how that works out...

I've got a couple more books stacked up for research--another ancient culture book (a set of primary sources of law codes and letter and such that should be very inspiring), a book on neurobiology, and another on consciousness. I want to go find some more books on ancient Greece, specifically on architecture and some other little details. And I'd love to find more information on that specific little harbor town Athens attacked. I also sat next to a fascinating woman on the plane home from San Diego (a biologist interested in biomimicry and cooperative systems) who gave me a whole list of fabulous recommendations, including The Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, Cheating Monkeys, Citizen Bees, by Lee Allan Dugatkin, Unto Others by Sober and Wilson, and Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. And Doug recommended a book to me as well--Saint Julian by Walter Wangerin. If anyone else has any ideas for me to look into, send them my way!

My goal for myself is to spend at least ten hours a week on research and ten on brainstorming, and hopefully I'll be ready to write the second draft by the endof the summer. I actually have no idea how the timeline to reaching that state of readiness will look,and mostly I'm just going to ty to stay open to following the process wherever it leads, but I'm the kind of person (a J) who likes to have a plan, even if I know I'm going to adjust that plan accordingly as time goes on. Anyway, mainly, right now my enthusiasm for working on the novel is very strong, and the hardest thing has been making myself stop my novel work to make sure I get to the other things I need to be doing, like sleeping, eating, and researching graduate programs to apply to. I think that's a pretty good sign, don't you?


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