Saturday, November 20, 2010

When the woes of November come early

Do you know the feeling?  You've been dating someone for a while and that tiny runtime error occurs in the back of your brain.  Soon the message pops up: "I'm not sure if I want to marry you."
That's how I feel about my chosen NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project.  The goal is to get 50K words written before the 1st. of December.  
Right now, I'm at about 17K.  Ten days to go.  And with a holiday week ahead, I'm not optimistic.
So why the "fail?"  A few reasons.  Work has been tough, I've been exhausted, and my family feels neglected when I submerge like a submarine and write.  I also spend part of my evening on my commitment to a daily blog post on here, keeping Strange Horizons fresh and vital in the blogosphere (if it even is such.)  More than any of that, I think I just fell out of love with the project that I chose.

It began as a mash-up of many different science fiction memes: The Omega Man, Islands in the Net, Buck Rogers (the Gil Gerrard version), and Until the End of the World.  I added in bits of Raymond Carver, John Updike, and Don DeLilo for literary flavoring.  I mixed it all into a bowl then poured it into one specially chosen mold: Planet of the Apes.  Stay with me on this.

The crew of a corporate-owned spaceship returns from a ten year mission to Titan, the moon of Saturn.  About seven of those years were spent in hypersleep hibernation for the round trip.  Communication with Earth as spotty due to distance, but became lost altogether as a result of the malfeasance of the commanding officer.  The five person crew have had a fractious relationship indeed. 
After a harrowing plunge through Earth's atmosphere, they return to their landing point in Arizona.  They find the spaceport and the town around it in ruin.  They walk over metal scrap and shattered glass, past homes and schools that have been abandoned and fallen to great disrepair.  Rusting cars litter the sides of roads.  Eventually, they are accosted by raggedy men, mostly blacks, who announce their intentions of theft, rape, and murder.  The crew is rescued just in time by the U.S. military, oddly enough composed mostly of whites.
The crew is taken to a domed city called New Phoenix.  The dome shields UV rays, vents out carbon emissions (which are considerable there), and keeps the temperature at a steady 72 degrees.  There are futuristic citadels and crystalline apartment and condo complexes attached to vast shopping malls.  There are a few advanced technology cars, a few that can even fly, but most are gas guzzlers quite similar to the ones we have now.  Videoscreens line the streets, along with LCD displays and laser lights.  American flags flutter everywhere.  Only there are no stars on the flags, just a solitary white cross.
A civil war has occurred in America during the crew's absence.  Although there have been a few major land battles, the fighting has mostly been riotous clashes of individual conservative and liberal factions in the streets (think Israeli/Palestinian conflict or Belfast in the 80s.)  Washington D.C. is gone, destroyed by a nuclear detonation.  Lines have been drawn in states and communities everywhere and people who could have once cared less about politics and religion have been drawn into the thick of things, much like Yugoslavia circa 1991.  The crew are in a city run by the established U.S. government, a Christian theocracy under martial law ("for the time being," supposedly...and they're still chummy with the "good A-Rabs," the ones with the oil.)  Though treated like royalty after being found, what happens to the five crew members when the Red Staters learn that one is a Hispanic, one is an atheist, and one is homosexual?  What side of the fight will the other two crewmen fall on? 
If you're worried about this novel not being "fair and balanced," I do plan to have at least a few characters escape to a "Blue State" run area.  I envision that society being a bit disorganized with unclear leadership, organically grown medicines, defending themselves with technology rather than sheer numbers and guns, and an intolerance for religion of any kind.  And all of it funded in part by the Chinese.  My point?  Neither side would build a paradise.  Who is right and who is wrong in the civil unrest?  The answer is muddled and murky.  Just like real life.

My problem is that I don't have a clear, central conflict.  No backbone for the story.  It isn't exciting and I've just been writing segments of character development and a lot about what this new USA is like.  Guess I shouldn't be surprised.  My role-model, Planet of the Apes, is not exactly a thriller and does tend to meander.     
What will I do with this?  I have no idea.  The plan right now is to keep writing it as best I can.  When December comes, I'll secure it on multiple hard drives and let it go away for a while.  Let it gestate.  See what...if anything...will come of it.

In the meantime, I'm just flying blind and I'd hate for anybody to have to read it.


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