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!

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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.

Plutocrats for the Plutocracy!

Republican presidential candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, right, and Donald Trump both speak during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

My next book – coming out in May! – is sort of a prequel to Way of the Serpent in that the protagonist, Malia Poole, recounts her memories of what life was like during the last half of the 21st Century. Some of these memories deal with political changes during those years so I thought that now – in the midst of an especially tumultuous American election year – might be a good time to share some of Malia’s observations.

“I finished high school in our neighborhood there in Philly at what was called at the time a public school. It was, as I recall, supported by some local governing body. There were still a few local governments in the late 2020s and elections were held for various offices of the state of Pennsylvania as well as the United States of America right up to 2044. I only voted a couple of times after I became eligible in 2033. Hardly anybody voted by that time. We were resigned to the fact that the so-called governing bodies – from city councils right up to the Congress and President of the United States – were all a sham. The turnout for elections kept dwindling, and eventually almost all of those who voted were people who had been paid or otherwise obligated by their employers (that is to say, by the plutocrats) to vote for the “right” people. After the 2044 election, the plutocracy decided that their wealth would be better spent on less divisive entertainments, so elections were discontinued.”

There are also a few insights in this passage, a conversation between Malia and her friend Lio:

“You realize, Malia, that governments are on the verge of becoming obsolete,” Lio said. “Already they work only at the bidding of the plutocracy. And now more and more of those elected to government positions are themselves plutocrats. At some point they’ll stop convening the legislatures and parliaments, close the presidents’ and prime ministers’ and governors’ offices, pay the judges one last time and send them home with fat pensions. And we won’t notice the difference, because there won’t be any.”
“What will happen to people like us?” I asked.
“As long as we behave ourselves like good consumers, we’ll just keep doing our part to keep them rich and getting richer.”
“That’s not what I meant.” I scowled at Lio. “I meant people like you and me.”

People like us (this is me talking again) should be very, very concerned about this election. I don’t think we’d like the 22nd-century world I’ve imagined in my books!

Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.