Well, the past ten days have been very productive, in a lot of ways, but my NaNoWriMo novel has kind of fallen by the wayside. It’s stalled out at just over 27,000 words. I’ll probably try to bring that up over 30,000 words before the end of November (this Tuesday), just to even it out, but hitting 50,000 words is extremely unlikely now.
Part of it was the holidays, of course. But another part of it was that I was suddenly struck with a wave of ideas to salvage my YA near-future dystopian novel, Eastside-84.
Yes, I know. Our subconscious just loves to do this to us, when we’re in the middle of a project: throw great ideas for new stories at us, hoping to distract us from completing the boring story we’re currently working on. Unfortunately for Murderous Requiem (my NaNoWriMo novel), I’ve been wracking my brain for a way to save Eastside-84 for months now.
Like my YA novel about teen suicide, By That Sin Fell The Angels, Eastside-84 has been a disturbing novel to write. Once again, I’m trying to cast a spotlight on our society’s treatment of adolescent sexuality, and what I’m seeing is pretty ugly. The novel postulates a near future in which the technology exists to repress the sexual development of teenagers, basically keeping them in a sort of stasis (called Extended Childhood, in the novel) until they reach the age of twenty-one. The process is then “unlocked,” and they “catch up” to their actual sexual maturity level in a short period of time.
What’s made this book so difficult is that the people who have read parts of it (it’s about halfway done, theoretically) just haven’t been “getting” it.
The first question they ask is, “Given the possibility of implementing this, why would society do this to children?” The answer to that, I think, can be found in our current obsession with keeping children innocent. A family in the midwest, in recent years, had their two daughters taken away by the state for a year, because they took what they believed to be cute photographs of the girls — then about three and five years old — playing in the bathtub. (My own parents had photos of my brother and I like this, at about the same ages, in our family photo album.) The store developing the photos reported them to the police. The anti-masturbation and anti-sex education campaigns coming out of the religious right are part of a similar desire to keep children from growing up, in my opinion. (There’s more to it than that — a desire to regulate sexual activity, in general — but that’s a big part of it.) And parents and our society seem geniunely frightened of teenagers these days, as if the mere fact that you’re in your teens makes you a criminal. There are numerous examples of businesses putting up anti-teen devices to drive them away, as if they’re some kind of vermin.
The second question I get is, “How did this come about?” It was my initial premise that, by the time the story takes place, this technology would be nearly universal in the United States. But it’s really radical and liable to upset a lot of people. Even extrapolating on the disturbing resurgeance of religious conservatism in the recent election, it’s hard to imagine everyone in the country going along with a radical idea like this. And there were other events in the novel that simply seemed improbable, or if they did occur, it seemed unlikely that the national response would be quite what I’d predicted.
The third question I get is, “Why would your main character act so young? Even if it’s possible that his sexual development has been repressed, he would have learned something about anatomy and sex from observation.” My response to that is, clearly I haven’t written it well enough. The entire idea is that, if we can successfully prevent children from growing up sexually, they won’t grow up mentally, either. What’s necessary is for me to make it clearer that Paul, my main character, has no access to the information sources we take for granted these days. Society has been successful in preventing him from learning about sexuality.
On the other hand, there is an underlying them in the novel similar to Michael Crichten’s “Nature finds a way.” in Jurassic Park. These kids do start to experience sexual feelings, despite the best efforts of the insane adults trying to repress their natural development. But then that leads to one of the more disturbing aspects of the novel: how do you portray this without getting really creepy? Remember, their bodies still look about twelve years old. Any sexual exploration between these characters has to be extremely tame, and even then, it’s likely to be disturbing to most readers.
But Eastside-84 has continued to haunt me, even when it seemed that it just wasn’t going to work. Not all of my writing is supposed to be “important.” Quite a lot of it is simply supposed to entertain. My two recently pubished works are a good example of this. How socially relevant can a Christmas Regency be, after all? (No offense intended to other authors of Christmas Regencies.) But a few of my books seem to have something to say, and Eastside-84 is one of them.
The new ideas I came up with this week have gotten me past a number of the concerns voiced by my readers — concerns, I would like to point out, that I considered to be absolutely correct. Even if they seemed to have missed the point, at times, that was not the fault of my readers, but due to the story not being coherent. I think the new ideas will tighten up the story and make it much more understandable.
But alas for my NaNo novel. I do intend to finish it, as I think Dreamspinner Press might go for it. But it will have to wait.
In the meantime, I’ve also been working on a piece of music for my brother — the main theme for his 50s-style sci-fi film, The Atomic Attack of the Son of the Seaweed Creature! I promised it to him over a year ago, but between buying a house, getting a dog, getting married and getting published for the first time, my music and film projects have fallen by the wayside. It’s time to pick those up and get them under control. My main issue with Atomic Attack has been the inclusion of a software theremin in the theme. It sounds terrific, but it’s a bitch to use. It took two days to get a decent recording of the main motif, and I’m still mixing it in. But I hope to be finished with that later today.