My new novel, “Letters to an Android,” is now out on Kindle. I’m very happy with it. Click on the title below and it will take you to the Amazon Kindle page.
Some very nice people have asked me to discuss my writing process on it, and I’m delighted.
Just over six months ago I wrote a tiny little story for an online challenge with the theme of New Year’s Eve. I wrote a glimpse of a far-future setting and two characters, an android and a star-traveler, Cobalt and Liyan, who’d become long-distance friends over many years and were meeting once again.
From there, everything took off. A tiny little scene written on a boring wintry afternoon suddenly blasted my brain with both characters’ entire back story and I knew instantly the novel that I next needed to write. I also knew immediately that I would employ, for about 80 percent of the text, the literary device of letters to convey a long and loyal friendship between two people whose lives take them in very opposite directions.
I wanted the sweeping vistas of far-flung, future science fiction landscapes, star-boats, and outer space for the backdrop. But my real story would be in the details of character and feeling, the poetry of wonder, the allure of longing, love and the unknown.
I often look to poetry for inspiration in my fiction. I have a tremendous backlog of my own and often use lines from it as “prompts.” I also love to read the poetry of others, at random, sometimes online and sometimes from old books I’ve collected over the years. Any combination of reading like this will get my mind burning with visions. But also, looking at pictures and art can prompt me. In this case, I wanted to reclaim inside myself that old, yearning feeling I used to get from childhood when I would look at the cover of a science fiction book and see an airless alien landscape with giant moons or Saturns in a midnight sky. Or a vast cityscape with spaceships shooting away toward the void. I wanted windows to the future. I wanted glossy ships but it was okay if they had rocket fins, too. I wanted that nostalgic combination of a past pulpy feel with a streamlined future.
The endless pages of pictures I found online filled me up. I would gaze at them and write lists of poetic chapter headings. I’d combine two or more images or scenes and decide: I want my character to go there. And there. And there. Suddenly I had lists of planets and places where my star-man, Liyan, would travel. He could write descriptions of these place to his land-trapped friend, Cobalt, and the book took off.
One of my friends asked, upon reading in the book about a place called Tower Probable, "Who thinks of names like this?" Well, I told her, with Tower Probable I needed a name quickly. I knew my characters were going to a tower but that is all. So I opened one of my more recent poetry journals at random and stabbed my finger to the middle of the page and decided I'd name the tower whatever word my fingertip touched. It was "probable."
She also asked about my reference to Azelfafage wine. Well, a lot of stuff like that and the star systems I mention (like where the star-mail package to Cobalt has traveled) are real (not all, but a lot.) All I did was Google star names and there are lists and lists and lists, endless. I don't know who gets to name stars, but there are real strange and wonderful names of the mapped skies. Azelfafage is a real star. I loved it so I used it. (Notice I didn’t even get past the A’s.) At another point in the novel, the character of Lark is wearing a t-shirt that supposedly says in an alien language, "Be bold, not boring." This is from a Facebook post that just popped up...the kind where people post quotes and sayings but don’t even give a credit. I was writing that very scene and I just clicked over to FB for some reason and there it was and onto the t-shirt it went.
The Robot Cliffs of Is: I saw a picture on Googleimages that had an image of a line of robots on a cliff. But I could never find it again. Did I imagine it? Searching the net, I found a landscape I remembered with a few sculptures (not robots) on alien cliffs and decided my own subconscious had embellished that one and made up what I thought I saw until I became convinced it was a real piece of art I'd seen. This happened to me over and over.
I don’t write from outlines. I write from notes. I write linearly (usually) but my notes are pure chaos. You should see my journal scribbles! In addition to lists of chapters, (out of order,) I’ll have lists like:
three winged ships
pink peach clouds
the disks and the green moon
view of the black sun
speed of light
speed of space
I’ll have little scribbles that say: The indifference of the universe—the desolation of ecstasy and terror. The indifference of the android, the terror of his desolation, the ecstasy of an unlikely friendship.
I have a quote from (god knows why and never used) Homer: “Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so I will endure…”
And on and on the note pages go. I wrote haiku from Liyan that was never used. And some that was. I hand-wrote some scenes in my journal while I was traveling for my business and too lazy to turn to my laptop.
This is my messy, ornery subconscious mind at work, with my conscious mind giving way to blind trust. For me, over the years I have found if I really over-think something too much I lose my way. If I find that happening when writing, I turn once again to my poems, writing new ones, remembering to try to capture the flavor, scent and feel of the wonder, the beauty, the vision I want. Before I wrote a pivotal scene that comes toward the end of the book, I actually wrote it in poem free-verse form first.
And now I wish to thank all my lovely readers. I hope you enjoy “Letters to an Android” as much as I enjoyed writing it!