Dystopia, Genre, and Finishing the First Draft

You may find yourself asking, where has Joe been? He hasn't been posting three times a day. That's night like you.

You may also find yourself living in a shotgun shack. You may find yourself in another part of the world.

If it's the former, December is when I have to work. And not just show up at the office, but actually work. If the latter, you have a beautiful wife, so congratulations!

So what's been going on with you? With me? On Friday I finished JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. On Sunday I began revising. I am into chapter 4 of 39 (technically 38 with an epilogue, but that's pretty much the same). I decided on voice (HUCKLEBERRY FINN is in first person, which is why its voice works when it bleeds over into the narration). I have to align later chapters with early chapters in that certain resources (like glass) were referenced early and then effectively removed due to their scarcity. At two chapters a day, I should be done in just over two weeks. Of course, Christmas is in there. But then, I hope I can manage more than two chapters a day. That might be difficult with the voice clean up, though. Lots of weres need to be changed to wases.

With all luck, by the time it's done, sent to beta readers, and revised again, I'll have an agent and won't need to query. But if I DO have to query (boooooo), I'll need to list the genre. And that's awesome because this work's genre is well timed.

Dystopian fiction is a thing right now. Because it's such a new subgenre1, there is still some debate over just what does and what doesn't qualify as distopian2. Here's the general breakdown

A dystopia is considered the opposite of a utopia, an oppressed existence usually caused by an overbearing state. Think 1984 or the United States in 20043. ;)

In JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, it began as a conceptualized post-apocalyptic world, but I reduced the scope because the main character had no reason or need to know what happened to the Asian coastal cities when the oceans rose, the ice age-like temperatures that killed Europe, the draught that killed the United States, or the middle east that killed itself. He knows the Nation, 53 avenues east to west. 53 states north to south. That is his world. It's a violent world with a lot of rules, none of them documented, all of them reinforced by the barrel of a gun.

Some might say that the absence of a government precludes the story from being dystopian, but I disagree. In fact, the utopia/dystopia comparison is overtly made by the existence of a platform city above the Nation. These are the people that drop a provisions box 10x20 once a week full of food, medicine, clothes, weapons, and ammunition. The urban jungle environment is propagated by the utopian society supposedly helping the refugees that live below it.

I enjoy this kind of dystopia more. There's some irony of the situation going on in that the character is oblivious to the larger menace of the regular insertion of firearms and ammunition in a limited-resource environment. His enemies are rival gangs, the Lawrence Park Jayhawks or the Manhattan Park Mongrels. Up Above doesn't really factor into it. The drop box has been the drop box his entire life. What cause does he have to question the positive or negative effects it has on his society?

If I spelled it all out, JH would be a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, alternate-history science fiction. Here's the trouble with that. Too many genres look like you don't know what you're writing. What is it? If you boiled it down to its essence, what is the genre of your book? With modern writing blending genres, it's easy to tell an agent you've written a young adult, dystopian, sci-fi thriller. But you look dumb when you do. Make a pie chart and pick the biggest piece of pie.

1 Sure dystopian stories have been around for a long time, but we've never segmented publishing into specific metadata for easy online searchability like we do now, so the subgenre is itself new.

2 Yeah right because age has anything to do with it. Epic fantasy is still being debated and it's been around for decades!

3 Yeah, I went there. I'm such a hippie4

4 Although in 2004, I was called a pinko commie because I didn't believe we should have invaded Iraq, so...yeah, I'm a contradiction.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

In my last semester of college, I participated in one of the most influential classes of my university career: Senior Theatre Capstone. It was a discussion course required to graduate with a theatre degree (every arts degree had one: I took something similar for my English degree). It was lead by the department head and a person I considered a mentor, and for the first time in the department, I got to express myself fully as an adult and as a theatre person.

Now, this being college theatre, there was no greater crime than selling out. Cats was just about to wrap its run on Broadway and it was the constant example of what theatre should not be. I'm not going to go back down that road, at least not today. There was a day in that capstone class where we went out to enjoy the sun. We sat in a circle and the professor asked, "You're about to finish school and head out into the theatre world. What is your biggest fear?"

Mine? "I want to be famous, and I don't know if it's wrong to want it."

The answer (which was obvious): Will you write if you're not famouse? (Of course.) Then it's not a bad thing.

Jennifer Hiller posted the inverse question over on Killer Chicks:

What's your writing dream?

Mine? I want a sub-genre. Sure success and movies and merchandising would be awesome. But that's all short-term. I want a subgenre.

Who made epic fantasy? Tolkien1

Who made sword & sorcery? Howard

Who made ______? Selby

That's what I want. I don't know what _______ is yet, but I call dibs.

1 Whether Tolkien actually created epic fantasy, he is the popular answer to the question.

Stuart Greenman has the right of it

Livia Blackburne tipped me off to Stuart Greenman's entry into the Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest. In one sentence (and pay attention, it really is one sentence), Stuart Greenman shows everything that drives me nuts about fantasy:

A quest is not to be undertaken lightly--or at all!--pondered Hlothgar of the Western Boglands, son of Glothar, nephew of Garthol, known far and wide as Skull Dunker, as he wielded his chesty stallion through the ever-darkening Thlargwood, beyond which, if he survived its horrors and if the royal spittle reader spoke true, his destiny awaited--all this though his years numbered but fourteen.

Let that soak in a little.

50,000 words

If not for a dead battery, I would have passed 50,000 words yesterday in my WIP. I instead passed it this morning. Making a similar comment on Twitter yesterday, I pondered why I put so much stock in 50,000 words. Certainly it doesn't represent the end point of the manuscript nor the midpoint. I have never written a 100,000 word manuscript coming under or over that mark. I wouldn't have to do with NaNo because I do not participate. So what then?

And then I remembered why. Before--and before I mean when I would try to write but never finish--no matter how good a story was, no matter how clearly I could visualize it, no matter how much work I put into it, I would always quit before passing 50,000 words. The closest I ever came was with CAUSE AND CONVICTION, the first book of the Third World. That topped out just over 40,000 words. Then I wrote BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE and hit 110,000 words. Since that first success, I have been able to work to completion on any novel that passes 10,000 words (with the exception of THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE, which I will be doing over once I finish JEHOVAH'S HITLIST).

Now, when I pass 50,000 words, it's a reminder that this isn't a fantasy. It isn't a dream. There are no excuses. This is what I do and I can see it through to the end. It's an incredibly satisfying accomplishment, one I have now accomplished four times in the last 20 months.

So, yay for 50,000 words!