Pulp Fiction, Story Development
Follow the development of The Explorers, Book 2 in The Fundamentals Universe. New chapters drop once or twice or month. These are unfinished works, but give you a chance to follow the story development process from start to finish.
The following short story was not cut from The Fundamentals, but it is missing. This is Keith’s and Erin’s first meeting told from Keith’s point of view. When editing the final version of The Fundamentals I found that I had a few chapters told from minor character viewpoints. That was important for me to understand the story; I had to get inside their heads, but it was not important to telling the story. The result was that below scene was altered to Erin’s viewpoint. This is an interesting look into story development. Reading it two years after it was written, I am surprised how well the scene survived my final edits.
A fire consumed the ship. A fire that burned like fire on Earth. It billowed black and white smoke that stretched up, or at least away, from the ship. Tongues of orange and black flame whipped around as if caught in a strong wind, but when they stretched away from the ship they didn’t extinguish from lack of atmosphere, they bent in, clawed downward like hands to grab the Santa Maria’s hull. It looked as though the fire was eating the Santa Maria like a snake swallowing a kill.
Robert Lanigan didn’t have time for another emergency. As the Santa Maria’s Cost Engineer for the Economic Comptroller, his responsibility was to tag and track every component in the Santa Maria’s blockchain, and she had suffered enough damage. The First Expedition Crossing was supposed to be mankind’s greatest accomplishment, instead it had become one long disaster.
Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Other cultures have harvest celebrations, but the tone of an American Thanksgiving is unique to history. I drafted this essay after the September 11 terrorist attack, while the Iraq war was still young, and the Afghanistan conflict had failed to capture or kill the 911 masterminds. I meant to publish it once, on my blog, then took it down when the theme felt tired.
I have edited this work for exposition, tone, and theme annually hoping I would capture the mood of our nation as we endure this extended weekend. I rejected my work every year till this. The result is that the angst I felt over the undoing of civility the 911 attack ushered in is gone. Missing is a paragraph lamenting the loss American, Afghanistan, and Iraqi mothers must feel at wars fought over theological ideals that lack humanity. Some angst of separation is still here, hints that modern connected society lacks connection. Cleared of those old notions, the result is short, simple, and heartwarming.
When he found his dead parents, he had wished that he had been there earlier. He wished that he would have skipped school that day, would have come home earlier, not spent that extra five minutes flirting with the girls in homeroom. Ever since that day, he felt like he was just missing out, just a minute late, just a second too slow to make a difference.
Now he wished that he had missed it all. He folded the plastic bag between his fingers, so it formed a rigid edge, then used the bag to gather the red and white space dust into a pile. Making the lines were part of the ritual. His face grew flush. He shouldn’t do this.
I try not to think about theme when I am writing. Falling in that pit is the quickest way to lose a story. In a literature class you were told that theme is what the author is trying to convey, a central idea or meaning to the story. In rare exceptions, that might be true. In truth, authors have no idea what themes will manifest when they start a work. A few will pretend they had a grand design to start, but I never believed it.
I view my writing as an argument I am having with myself. I am not writing to satisfy a theme, but to find one. When I am satisfied with the argument, I know I have finished and I start editing and re-writing to strengthen the salient points.
The coronavirus pandemic makes writing without a theme difficult. Every word you write screams “you have missed the point. What about…” And that list is long, but familiar. The use of technology to control society, consumerism, the dangers of big government, individualism, and daily challenges our worldview are in every headline?
As children all we have dreams. As infants we lack income, property, and choice and we are fragile and slow to grow compared to the rest of the natural world. As soon as we achieve enough independence to think and wander on our own, society dictates we get an education, attend church or temple, or at least recognize a higher power. Unable to chart our own course, dreams are all that remain.
When I was a child, daydreaming was a sin. A protestant farming community expects the children to contribute. I suppose it is better than the alternative; running and hiding from predators. Never mind that the daydreamers created the civilization and society that now shunned them.
What life is valuable? More precisely, whose life is valuable? Is your life more valuable than mine? Does your position, title, salary, or family relationship make your contribution to this small planet more valuable than mine?
This is not a small question. We ask it in fiction yet ignore it in reality. On this globe, everyday decisions have determined that some lives are more valuable than others.
Have you been locked in an emotion or a feeling for weeks while ignoring events around you? Have you looked up to find that it is a fresh spring day, the birds are chirping, and the air is crisp against your skin, then wonder how you missed it? That is what reading The One Tree is like. It is a deep dive into the character of Linden Avery, a character who never sees the spring day, or understands the events around her because the bitterness of her past consumes her.
The One Tree—more so than the books that went before it—shows the flaw in Stephen R. Donaldson’s writing. Here, at last, I can agree with those that say there is never anything good about Donaldson’s characters. Seen primarily through the eyes of Linden Avery, her miserable past, her inability to experience joy, weighs down this epic tale.
“White trash wet dream,” I said to a friend after I started the first season of The Walking Dead. He didn’t get it. Most don’t because themes of post-apocalyptic science fiction are deeper than you assume. Science fiction, though strictly made up, has true things to say about the world. The situation of The Walking Dead is fictional, but it has something to say about 2020 America.
A white trash wet dream is a post-apocalyptic world where self-reliance and a trunk full of firearms means survival. A white trash wet dream means no government forcing you to buy a hunting license or drive on the right side of the road. A white trash wet dream has no social order asking you to respect your neighbor’s viewpoint, pay for merchandise, or judge your crimes. In a white trash wet dream, might make right, and right means not being dead.