mad in pursuit notebook


Work In Progress: "Rocktropolis"

I was going to make this book a quick edit of my first novel -- change a couple names and get it published as an e-book -- if only to put all that original time spent to good work. However, when I reread it, the plot seemed strong, but some of the motivations and plot devices seemed dated, so a little rethinking was in order. Then I decided to set it 50 years hence, in the midst of a climate/weather crisis. My research became more tantalizing and the "quick edit" slowed down.

"The artist's life is frustrating not because the passage is slow, but because he imagines it to be fast." [Art and Fear]

Today's fretting about the future becomes grist for the imaginary mill. How will the collapse in people's ability to save for retirement play out? Will the Alzheimer's epidemic still be raging? Will there be guns in every pocket? I decided that the future will play out quietly and slowly. Shit happens and people get on with their lives, adjusting as needed. Instead of nuclear-family suburban homes and long commutes, crowded apartment buildings are be back, with jobs "downstairs." People are still smart and innovative; people are still idiots. Government is the usual mix of courageous brilliance and heartbreaking ineptitude. Shitopia in comediocracy?

I put all my notes into a MS OneNote notebook and wrote the introductory scenes. I give it a poke several times a week -- like turning the compost heap.

I've been feeling a little anxious that my heroic characters were both men and the women turned out to be villainous. I felt like this fed into the tired trope of the femme fatale. If I'm going to spend a lot of time on this, I should at least make an attempt to shake up the old formulas. So, I had this bright idea: make ALL the characters women. Oh, now that is interesting. Re-drafted opening:

Myra Garza watched the second and third buildings collapse into the New Brooklyn harbor, as the water taxi sped out into the dark river. 3 a.m. It's the end, she thought and might have been crying. But then an odd calm warmed her. No, it was the beginning. A quest. She had entered the forest in the darkest place except it wasn't a forest, it was the watery shoreline of New York City.

She had gotten up early to load her shipment on the water taxi to make it in time for the Upriver Barge over on the Hudson, heading for the Erie Canal and its destination at Rocktropolis. A weekly routine, she'd be back in time for coffee before the shop opened. But when the riverfront wall of her co-op dropped away without warning, she had time to stuff the papers on her desk into her messenger bag and her parrot into a small packing box before making the mad dash out the front door and into the taxi.

Now she wouldn't be returning. Her home, her business, her friendly community of waterworld pioneers... Gone.

She would continue into the night, up to Rocktropolis. “It will be a game,” she whispered to Ruby, who was making unhappy scuffling noises in the box. “You'll see. We already made it past the first test. We leveled up. We're alive.”

(What happened to the men? Do I need to know? Maybe it's just a circumstance that most of them have gone off to work in gas fields or in border wars or in drowning-coastline reconstruction projects. Or maybe women who went to Catholic girls' schools decided to claim neighborhoods as Comfort Zones, where they can live without makeup and compete on their own terms.)

Well, that's where I am on this rainy Thursday morning in July.

Jul 26, 2012