Living on Dirt

So. I have news.

I waited until after the last second – sixteen hours after the last second, to be precise – to post this column because I was hoping something scheduled to happen sometime this week would happen before I did. It hasn’t. (But when it does, I’ll edit to add a link.)

First, four bits of context. (And no, I’m not burying the lede. When the link is up it’ll be at the top of the column and all this framing information will be a footnote.)

First, as somewhere between 42% and 63% of you know, the many-faceted relationships between differing races and cultures – in general, of course, but more often the interactions between individuals of different races and cultures as each copes with the mysterious “other” – is a subject that fascinates me. I have been half of an interracial partnership for thirty-four years and the father of people proud of their blended heritage for thirty-two to twenty-four years, depending on the individual. (And, for a bit over two years, grandfather of a dynamic young lady whose self image has not yet expanded beyond certainty she’s the center of a loving universe.)

I first met Liane and the other founders of Novel Spaces in a romance writers’ group because my wife wanted (still wants) me to write interracial romances. If nothing else were going on, I’d have written this month’s column about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness , which I taught decades ago, and the recent what-in-God’s-name-were-they-thinking travesty of A Birthday Cake for George Washington. Second, science fiction is my core genre. I love mystery, historical, fantasy, and enjoy sweet-to-‘R’-romances, westerns, and contemporary, but my reader’s heart imprinted on science fiction before I understood the concept of genres. More specifically, while I love Golden Age raygun-and-tentacle scifi and what are probably more properly called science fantasies (like Star Trek), alternate histories are at the center of my scifi addiction.

What would have happened if: …there had been no pandemic to wipe out 92% of North America’s population two years before the Pilgrims arrived? …Emperor Constantine had never converted to Christianity? …Alexander the Great had lived another thirty years?

Many years ago I posited a world in which FDR decided against federal funding for research into the atom bomb and chose not to run for a third term (both of which almost happened). As an exercise in world building I tracked the consequences of FDR’s third and fourth term decisions, as well as those of his VP and successor Harry Truman, and explored how events would have unfolded differently.

In my alternate world James Byrnes is elected President and the Dixiecrats – the 1940s Democratic progenitors of today’s Republican Tea Party – become the dominant political party.

Without nuclear weapons WWII in the Pacific would have lasted at least a year longer, with much of Japan razed by the Allied invasion. And the economically pragmatic Byrnes, not distracted by the idea of weapons, would have funded nuclear research that led to the cheap, clean nuclear power plants envisioned by writers of the 1940s and the Golden Age mainstay of planetary exploration, “fusion rockets” (the warp drive of their era). Everyday reality would include practically free energy, efficient nationwide mass transit, and colonies on the Moon and Mars by 1980.

But the politically paranoid Dixiecrats and their successors would also have instituted tighter government control over communications, information, and technology as a defense against communism and other anti-American forces. Jim Crow laws would have lasted for decades longer and the Civil Rights Movement would not have made significant progress until the 1990s.

Through all of this I had an amorphous idea for a novel about that delayed struggle for equality that never quite crystallized into a solid plot.

I’m a fan of young adult fiction and a big believer in the power of the genre. (As evidenced by this column from 2012: Juvenile Fiction.) Not only is YA the gateway through which most young people become readers, the clarity with which they (the good ones) address complex personal and social issues make them accessible to adults who are not normally readers (i.e. Harry Potter and Hunger Games). From Ann of Green Gables to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, YA is my go-to genre for relaxation.

A few years ago I was invited to submit a story to a young adult sf anthology on pretty short notice. I floundered for nearly thirty seconds before thinking of my alternative history continually in progress. I wrote a story about a girl born and raised on a space station being required to visit her cousins on ‘dirt’ – which is what the hyper-elitist white folk in the Space Service called Earth (the Earth folk are ‘dirts’). Things are worse, better, and generally completely different from what she’d been raised to expect. The story wasn’t accepted, but the YA approach to my civil rights in the twenty-first century concept felt right.

Over the next year, I developed the narrative outline for a novel about a hyper elitist teen space girl so freaked out by being on dirt she’s afraid to touch anything, her egalitarian dirt cousin, and her dirt cousin’s best friend, a young woman who is gifted, black, and determined to break the Space Service’s color barrier. It took me another year to actually write the novel. (Actually, the writing was impossible until I let go of the idea that everyone’s problems could be solved in one novel and set 2/3 of what I had aside for later volumes.)

Finally, I am not a publisher. I did want to be, did intend to be. I attended every training and webinar on publishing I could find. With the help of a SCORE mentor, I work out a solid business model. I did, in fact, form Kvaad Press in 2011. But, as evidenced by a forty-year career in human services, including education, personal care, and mental health, I do not have the heart of a business person. Nor did I know any business-minded people who were willing and able to invest the knowledge, time, and money to keep Kvaad Press going.

I’ve been writing professionally for a decade and a half. I have novels, anthologies, websites, even a coffee table book to my credit. But all of my work has been in media tie-in. Everything I’ve sold has been linked to a television show, movie, or game – intellectual properties that I do not own. Figuring out what to do with something that was mine, that I wholly owned, was uncharted territory for me.

I knew I didn’t want to go with a major house, where I’d be an anonymous cog, and I knew I had neither the skills nor the temperament to succeed as a total indie, which left…. what?

I began searching for a small press that treated writers like partners, or at least team members. Found a lot of predators but found a remarkable number of good people, too. One such outfit is Evolved Publishing. With whom I’ve signed a three book contract.

The first volume in my Dirt and Stars series will be hitting the streets in July.

 

This post first appeared on Novel Spaces.

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