Books and Stories

A persistent trope among readers and writers on social media is the debate between those who prefer digital reading devices and those who prefer “real” books. In the last few years, devotees of audio books have also waded into the fray. It amuses me how partisans of each type seem convinced that their preferred format really is the best as they seek to convert or disparage the rest.

The question came up in my novel, Shadow of the Hare. The main character, Malia, is a dissident in the Recall movement and adamant in her devotion to the physically printed word. Her preference emerged in childhood:

“I spent hours not only reading but arranging and rearranging my books on the shelves in my bedroom, finding sensual pleas­ure in the feel and smell and weight of them, the hard squaredness of their corners, the colors and images on their covers, the textures of their papers. The occasional, inevitable paper cut was a blood bond.”

She and other partisans of Recall became fearful of how digital media could be too easily revised and manipulated to suit the politics of the moment. In her world, printed books had become a resource hoarded by dissidents.

They may be onto something there.

Nevertheless, I understand that digital books are much more convenient for travelers and may also have some appeal to those advocating for the trees. You don’t have to cut down any trees to produce and access books on Kindle or Apple. People of a certain age also point out the convenience of being able to create their own LARGE PRINT VERSION of whatever book they like.

My latest book, Song of All Songs, features a main character who can’t read. She belongs to a future version of humanity, people who process the world in such a way that strings of figures printed on pages resist translation into anything meaningful. (They have other remarkable capabilities that far outweigh this seeming disability.) There are people in our own time and place who share this characteristic to some extent, of course. Books read aloud definitely appeal to such individuals. Audio books also appeal to people who want to read on the fly, on the run, on the commute, or while they’re doing other things like cooking dinner or cleaning the house.

All three formats have their place. The question of what constitutes a “real” book disappears when we focus on the stories themselves. Real stories can be written down and printed on paper. They can be composed digitally and accessed through cyberspace. They can be told aloud and listened to. Stories can also be acted out in plays and movies. The stories are what matter. However you choose to produce them and consume them is up to you. Just keep enjoying the stories!

 

NOTE: Song of All Songs is currently available as either a paperback or digital book. The process of producing the audio version begins next week!

Pandemic Revisited

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about the pandemic that I wrote about in my Recall Chronicles series. I think about how my different characters reacted to it.

One of them denied their symptoms right up until the diagnosis came back. It was just stress, they said. Or the altitude. That was all.

Other characters contemplated the relevance of political action under dire circumstances.

Montagne stared out the window and said nothing, his fists shoved deep into his pockets. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with sadness. “I know,” he said. “It seems like a lot of people are going to die of this disease no matter what else happens. Except maybe for the plutocrats who are rich enough to isolate themselves.”

But what if the plutocrats are a bigger problem than any disease?

Another character finds herself thankfully immune to the virus. And that became another whole set of issues. She and her friend decide to volunteer at the hospital, offering comfort to patients:

There were only a hand­ful of [immune] people who could work without the encumbering suits and hoods and we were issued badges indi­cating our approved status. Most of the other badge-wearers came from the ranks of lower-level workers who tended to sweep­ing, cleaning and trash removal. My heart sank, realiz­ing that in another week or so they’d also be removing bodies. My task was bedside care. I gave people water and helped them with their meals and their palliative medica­tions—analgesics, anti-nausea pills, sleep aids. I held their hands and looked into their faces. They seemed grateful to be able to see mine.

And then there’s the opening to book three (Flight of the Owl), which came from someone trapped in the misery of the ongoing pandemic (you’ve been warned).

September 11, 2126—She takes another deliberate breath and stares at the rigid form, dismayed at how inexorably her friend’s life had leaked out, bit by bit, thinking about how it will feel when the same thing happens to her. And it will hap­pen. If not tomorrow, then the day after.

Breathe.

She struggles against encroaching tears. Breathing is already hard enough. She fills her lungs with the oxygen her broken blood cells refuse to carry. Not moving around helps, not robbing oxygen from failing organs.

Breathe.

She considers opening the door and running away, run­ning until she drops. Out there nothing works anymore. Everything’s broken. Out there smoke hangs in the air, smoke from the fires. Not funeral fires. There were no funerals. She doesn’t open the door. She lies still, next to her dead room­mate while her own life leaks out, bit by bit.

Breathe.

The last time she looked in the mirror, she saw how her youthful face had gone pale and gaunt. The calendar tells her she’s 107 and she searches for 107 years’ worth of memories. She finds a few. In her mind she writes letters to friends and family, the dead and dying.

Breathe.

Dear Maggie – I just want to say how sorry I am that I stole your favorite eyeliner pencil. She hasn’t heard from Maggie in years.

Breathe.

Dear Uncle Bart – Thank you for making me memorize poems. Thank you for Dylan Thomas and ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ I have no rage left.

Breathe.

Dear Jonathan – How I wish you were here to hold my hand. I’ve wished that before but I never told you. I’m remem­bering a poem I wrote in college, one where I longed for a revolution. Everyone called it anachronistic nostalgia but you said it was good. I think about what’s happened and I think it had to be deliberate. I think this is our 22nd-century revolu­tion. I didn’t think it would be like this. Is this victory? If so, whose?

“Long live the revolution,” she whispers.

Love, Kate.

Breathe.

 

Ask Questions!

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“You need to ask more questions!”

This line is in the opening scene that launches the action of both Way of the Serpent and Shadow of the Hare. It’s advice that I hope readers of my books take to heart and, to that end, I’ve included lists of questions at the conclusion of both books.

One of the things I’ve been hoping for is that one of my books might become a “book group” selection—and that has now happened! A group of professors at Lamar University read my book and then Skyped me in for a discussion last week.

It was a thoroughly delightful interchange. I learned that Way of the Serpent caused them to think more deeply about the whole question of memories, their imperfection, the importance of how we share them with others, how we invest them in the objects with which we surround ourselves. I learned that they found it reassuring to see quality human relationships surviving all the gadgets and conveniences of my hypothesized future. I learned that they found the story’s ending (over which I agonized so much in the writing) to be poignant and appropriate. They liked the excitement of the story itself as it unfolded. They also liked the artificial trees with miniaturized 3D printers producing leaves in appropriate seasonal colors!

In my new book, Shadow of the Hare, the protagonist is a novelist who muses about her own writing:

“Were my stories the kind that lured people into unrealistic delusions? I hoped not. I hoped they were, instead, the kind of stories that opened windows onto the true nature of things, shedding light, inviting fresh thinking, dispelling confusion.”

If you like asking questions, contemplating answers, I hope you’ll come to my next public reading – June 9 at Malvern Books – where we’ll have the opportunity for a Q&A session!

Here are the questions I came up with for my books. I’m sure you’ll have more!

One Is the Agent

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I needed a new cover for the re-issue of Way of the Serpent, something that could provide the basis of covers for sequels in what has now become the Recall Chronicles. I analyzed the covers of dozens of other dystopian science fiction novels. I perused photographs available online. I searched through my own considerable inventory of photographs.

I kept going back to this one painting (see above), to which I’d attached a rather complicated title, a title that was in fact a line from a Buddhist practice I did sometimes: “One is the agent, caught in the reaction of cause and effect.”

The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that this painting and my novels were coming from the same space, a space in which agency constantly grapples with conditions that are, after all, oftentimes a result of one’s own actions. We’re not puppets, but we’re never free of entanglements, never entirely free agents.

The characters in my novels are like this, valiantly battling the circumstances of their lives, circumstances that are, to a varying extent, their own fault.

If these sound like the kind of characters you’d like to read about, you’ll like Way of the Serpent and (coming soon!) Shadow of the Hare.

Whatever Became of Books

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Malia Poole, the protagonist in Shadow of the Hare (Vol. II of the Recall Chronicles), worked at a secondhand bookstore called Codex2 for nearly thirty years, during which “the story industry” was transformed by the rise of the plutocracy. It was a difficult time for a dissident author like Malia, but not an altogether unhappy time.

We worked together, conspiring with friends who shared our distaste for the society as it was, as it was becoming. There were periods of anger and frustration, but there was camaraderie in the midst of it. The further they drove us underground, the stronger our bonds became. We trusted no one but one another. We found ways of avoiding the corporate police, moving in the shadows, the interstices, doing what we needed to do without attracting too much attention. It wasn’t the most effective form of activism, but we became expert at being invisible. 

Shadow of the Hare is available for preorder.

Free download of Way of the Serpent expires at midnight, April 9.

The Encounter

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Way of the Serpent opens with Jenda Swain’s encounter with an old woman, a woman Jenda doesn’t remember. “Of course you don’t remember,” the woman says. “Nobody remembers much of anything anymore.”

Shadow of the Hare begins with the same scene, but this time the reader is seeing it from the viewpoint of the old woman, Malia Poole, a dissident author and bibliophile. Here is what happens as Malia leaves the cafe where the encounter occurred:

Tears began to fall as soon as I was out on the street. I felt betrayed. Damn these disconnected memories! I have more memories than most people these days, but there’s that one year from high school—the period when I knew Jenda best—that’s always been a blank. At least until recently. It’s cruelly ironic that now I’ve reached an age when normal memories start to fade, these submerged ones begin to wash up like shards of sea glass on a beach. I write them down, cataloging them like curios of uncertain provenance, although sometimes I wish I could hurl them back into the ocean of forgetfulness from which they came.

After I left the café, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jenda. She felt like a key to something. I may not remember a lot about her, but I do know that up-tight little prude with the pressed lapels isn’t the girl I knew in high school. I’m pretty sure that back then she was a passionate Vintagonist. Something had happened to her, something very different from what has happened to me.

Preorder Shadow of the Hare.

You haven’t read Way of the Serpent? Free download continues through April 9.

Welcome to the Recall Chronicles!

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In a 22nd-century world suffering from collective dementia despite its achievement of perpetual youth, the Recall Network schemes to restore a more natural order. But is it too late? Are the corporations too entrenched and powerful? Will Recall carry on in the face of the mounting pandemic?

The Recall Chronicles recount the stories of three very different individuals as they try to survive and make sense out of an increasingly senseless and insensitive world.

I invite you to enter the thought-provoking, dystopian world of the Recall Chronicles. Through April 9, you can download the Kindle version of Way of the Serpent for FREE. Even if you’ve already read this one, you’ll want the new one. Why? Because it includes a Discussion Guide for your book group and a brief excerpt from Shadow of the Hare – Vol. II of the Recall Chronicles, now available for preorder.

Are you connected with the world of the Recall Chronicles

Respect

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As I prepare to set off on a journey to Arizona to contextualize the Hopi character of Dextra Honanie (Recall Chronicles, Vol. III – Flight of the Owl), I must take heed of J.K. Rowling’s current tribulations in Pottermore.

Rowling is in process of attempting to construct a bridge between the world of Harry Potter and “magic in North America”.  Adrienne Keene, in her blog “Native Appropriations”, takes Rowling to task for several transgressions, beginning with the reification of something called “Native Americans”. Keene rightfully points out that this is a broad and diverse cultural category, encompassing as it does Inuit, Apache, Hopi, Iroquois, Navaho, Cherokee, and many other equally distinctive societies.

Rowling also gets into some awkward attempts to intertwine the fictional world of wizardry with some real events in American history. I fully understand the temptation of providing a Potteresque slant on the Salem witch trials, but I’m mystified by Rowling’s statement that the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) was founded in 1693, a full 83 years before the founding of the United States of America itself. Magic, I guess.

One of the most charming features of Rowling’s marvelous world of wizardry has always been its existence as a world apart from specific time and place, a world exemplified – to my mind at least – by Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Trying to link up with history and a named continent full of real people with complex, still vibrant cultures kind of messes with the magic.

My own fictional world in The Recall Chronicles is clearly linked to real places and potentially real times. And that is why I want very much to get my Hopi character right, or at least plausible enough to be acceptable to Hopi readers. I’m looking forward to my adventures in Arizona!

(More musings on fiction, fantasy, and the real world are in the works.)

Way of the Serpent is speculative fiction.

NEW Cover!

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I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it is when a novel grows into a trilogy and then has to be a whole series because you just can’t figure you’ll ever be finished writing books about this intriguing world you’ve created! This is what has happened with Way of the Serpent and The Recall Chronicles.

In preparation for the re-issue of Way of the Serpent as Volume I of The Recall Chronicles, I’ve come up with an entirely new book cover. Do you want to see it? CLICK HERE!

More news coming soon!

Have you read Way of the Serpent? Here’s a preview.