One Nation Under God

The Domino Effect for Writers

Writing a story is all about cause and effect. Every decision made, every action performed, has repercussions. This is pretty simple to understand and, generally, this is what we call plot. And when we limit it to the specific interactions of characters, it’s not difficult to control.

But when you write the kind of fiction I do, some actions can have far-reaching effects that are not always obvious, even though they’re pretty major. To be fair, it can be impossible to properly address all such repercussions without making a story much longer than it needs to be. Still, I don’t like the idea of just ignoring them.

And if you think this can become a pain in the ass, you’re absolutely right. Because cause and effect is like dominos. One thing leads to another, then another, and another, and at some point you just have to stop caring that the dominos are falling. Or else your 250 page book explodes to double its size, just because of the dominos. The trick is to determine how many dominos need to fall to make the story feel complete without being bloated.

I need to stop writing blogs when hungry.

One Nation Under God is my dystopian future novel. It was published in 2004 and is set in the years 2021 – 2030. The main character is the young daughter of the newly-elected president. One of my test readers pointed out that, while I was covering a lot of domestic social issues, I’d neglected to talk about international things, especially the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Truth is, I figured that since that conflict had no bearing on the plot of my story, I didn’t need to talk about it. However, it would be something the prez would have on his mind. But, because his daughter is the main character, I could limit mention of it to a bare minimum, as it wasn’t at all a concern of hers. But it woudln’t have been okay to ignore it completely. That would be like writing a novel set in the sixties and not mentioning Vietnam. It becomes the elephant in the room that no one’s talking about, but needs to.

Wait… There’s a war on?

And the more far-reaching the story itself is, the more extensive the repercussions of actions are likely to be. In Reckoning, the first book of the Dynamistress trilogy, it is revealed that Dynamistress is the only known individual to gain “super powers” by way of deliberate genetic manipulation. Even though it’s a far-fetched superhero story, I do try to keep things rooted in reality. Knowing that such a revelation would be a huge thing in the social and scientific communities, and wanting to avoid having to deal with that, I had this accomplishment be regarded as a rumor, rather than fact.

Kudos to you if you recognize this magazine cover.

However, an event in the forthcoming Renaissance, the final book of the trilogy, will bring her scientific achievements into the spotlight in a big way, so I’ll be exploring both public opinion and the inevitable scientific inquiries that she’ll be swamped with.

Ignoring elephants just isn’t a good idea.

‘Cuz they’re WAY bigger than you.

 

 

Posted by vmwales in Details, Plot, 0 comments

Five Facts About One Nation Under God

Part Two of the “behind the pages” peeks at my work. This installment is the 2004 dystopian future novel, One Nation Under God.

Fact #1 – People Do Judge Books by Their Covers

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, of course. After all, the purpose of having an attractive cover is so that people make the judgement to pick the thing up and look at it. But in this case, a lot of people judge it by not only the cover, but the title, too.

This cover should scare the hell out of anyone.

In my last blog, I mentioned an outrageous incident that occurred at the California State Fair some years ago. Here’s a less outrageous one. A guy sees the book and gives me two thumbs up and says something like, “One nation under god… right on, man!”

I gave a slight smile and said, “It doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means.”

“I don’t care,” he said. “Right on, man.”

Look at that cover. It’s meant to offend the shit out of people. Replacing the stars with crosses? That’s absolutely not okay, folks. But evidently, some people disagree.

Fact #2 – I Had to Change a Character’s Name

In the first draft of the book, President Christopher’s wife’s name was Laura. But then this dude who was running for the office in 2000 somehow “won” the election, and wouldn’t you know it, his wife’s name was Laura.

I didn’t model this character after Laura Bush, but this bonehead:

“Dr.” Laura – hypocritical conservative busybody.

I knew, though, that readers might make the Bush association, so I changed her name to Sarah. No, not because of Sarah Palin. At that time, I thankfully had no idea who that airhead was.

Fact #3 – It’s Clearly Not as Prescient as I’d Hoped

I’ve been asked frequently how I “predicted” some of the things in the book that eventually came to pass in the real world. My answer to that is that I didn’t “predict” anything. I just saw the writing that had been on the wall for a while, and just projected what would happen if the Prez and Congress went ultra-conservative and uber-religious. I mean, more than they were at the time.

However, there’s one thing I did not see coming whatsoever:

I just wasn’t that much of a doomsayer.

Social media wasn’t even on my radar when I was writing the book. Would it have changed the story? Well… no. Because of certain plot points, I wouldn’t have had the protagonist actually using social media, but minor characters would have, and it would have been nice to have included them, if only for more accurate setting.

Any book that’s set in the future invariably will either over- or underestimate how much technology will advance. We don’t have flying cars, yet, after all. But we have the interwebs. Sci-Fi writers of the 50s would probably be surprised by both facts. So I suppose that, even though I didn’t see social media on the near horizon, I’m still in okay company.

Fact #4 – The Book Came to Me Fully Formed

No, it didn’t come to me in a dream, but it might as well have. I was living in Utah at the time (essentially a theocracy) and was sitting at my temp job when the idea just sprang into my brain. Not just the ideas for the characters and general thrust of the story, but also the formatting, a sort of 21st Century epistolary novel, with diary entries, email exchanges, newspaper clippings, web pages, etc. I just knew this was how it needed to be told.

Ironically, it was this form that prevented me from getting agent representation. I kept being told, “Epistolary books are a tough sell.”

Because people don’t buy epistolary novels. Nor do they get made into movies.

Fact #5 – The Book is Actually a Scrapbook… and a Handbook

The format of the book is meant to reflect the scrapbook that the teenage protagonist put together, a chronological telling of her family’s story. This is why many of the aspects of the story are not examined in much detail – they are things only of passing interest to her.

But I also meant for the novel to be a sort of handbook, a very loose primer on many different unconventional ideas, many of which are near and dear to my heart. Just a few of them are: alternative communitiesalternative religionalternative educationalternative relationships, and so on.

a.k.a. Ten Years of Utter Weirdness

Educating while entertaining. That’s always been my goal.

Posted by vmwales in Five Facts, Genre, Other Writers, Setting, 0 comments

Characters Based on You

I would imagine that one of the most common questions a writer gets is, “Are any of your characters based on you?” And I imagine most writers will give answers quite similar to mine: “Yes. Almost all of them.” When you consider how complicated any single human being is, it’s not hard to take one aspect of an individual’s personality and use that facet to create any number of characters.

I see bits of myself in each of these guys.

When I was in college, writing The Book That Remains Unpublished, I had four major characters. None of them were much like me, really, but each of them was the result of deliberately taking one part of myself and blowing it up into a complete character.

And in some instances, a writer will make characters often who have a lot of things in common with themselves. How many Maine writers has Stephen King written?

Of course, I realize the questioners really want to know if there’s a character who specifically represents me, i.e., am I a character in any of my books? And the answer to that is yes. For pretty much all of my books.

If you’ve read Wish You Were Here, you know the protagonist is named Vincent. And he is and isn’t me. By that, I mean that he’s representative of who I was at seventeen. But by the end of the book, he’s experienced things I never have, so – while still being essentially the same person – we’re quite different.

In One Nation Under God, there’s a character named Jude who is definitely based on me. Jude is responsible for a website called The Voice of Reason, a secular-centric site that points out the problems with what’s going on in the government and society. This is reflective of a site I ran for many years called The Atheist Attic, which was aimed at pointing out the entanglement of church and state, among other things.

I often joke that Dynamistress is just me in drag. And it’s not that much of a joke, honestly. She’s got an awful lot of my personality traits. Her brother, Dana, is also based on me quite a lot, too.

So this gets us to the question of egotism. In truth, I equivocated for a long time about naming the protagonist of my first book after myself. But as I mentioned in my last blog, the idea for the story came as a result of years of playing Dungeons & Dragons. And after playing a character named Vincent for so many years, it would have been somehow wrong to give him a different name for the book.

So does this make me – or any writer – egotistical? Perhaps it does. I think all writers have a bit of egotism inside them, as do all entertainers and performers. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t put ourselves, or our works, out there.

So if you feel there’s a need to put “yourself” in a story, don’t be afraid to do so. Just make sure there’s a good reason for it.

 

Posted by vmwales in Characters, Inspiration, 0 comments