Welcome Inside the Box

Reports are rife about the waning interest in literary fiction, its last generation of snoozing readers cruising over the horizon, their novels left opened, face-down on their laps. There’s no disputing the evidence, which leaves writers like myself two choices: accept the dreary plot-line, or introduce a shift.

I’m opting for the latter. It’s time for me to recalibrate both the scope and intent of what it means to be an author, and more precisely, an author whose chosen mode is LitFic. I have to renew and expand my creative cycle.

I don’t want to change in a closet or phone booth, either. I want the new-me to emerge publicly, with a touch of panache, because there’s a case to be made for a new mindset: writing is not about writing. At this point in our cultural history, it’s also about figuring out the 21st Century psyche, and the new-age channels we can tap into with timeless themes. It’s about effectively amplifying our narrative voices in the collective conscience.

The motivational aphorism that pops into my head as I zero in on this ambition is: Think outside the box! But that trite saying doesn’t capture my meaning. Quite the opposite, it paralyzes me with the sensation of dissipating into a vast, bifurcating unknown. First I have to turn inward, get my bearings, figure out what gifts I have to offer, who to, and how.

From that perspective, ‘failure’ drops off the list of possible outcomes. I might not have time to reach all the goals I set, or even figure out the best goals to reach for, but at my age, there’s no shame in that. At 65 it’s best to say, as you’re huffing along with your load of written and imagined manuscripts, ‘Every destination is one stage in a larger journey. Keep climbing, and as far as you get will be your high point.’

In one form or another I’ve made my living as a writer for four decades now. During that time I have racked up: two published novels; one experiment in what I call Direct-to-Web publishing; two very strong manuscripts for novels that remain to be reworked and published; and a clear vision for at least four more novels.

Throw in my writing experiences as a journalist and communications manager, and you have a sketch of my writing vocation – and in every capacity I’ve considered it an innate drive, not really a career choice.

So after 40 years of writing, and remaking myself through the writing process, I’m discovering that history is indeed something we live, that cultural and social change get personal, and how we respond determines our fate… I can embrace change, experimenting with the exciting possibilities it presents; or continue doing what I’ve always done, the way I’ve always done it, enjoying my well-earned stroll into the sunset.

Perhaps, if I was a towering literary figure, the choice would be harder. The foundations of success are secure, and the furniture of fame can no longer be realistically called moveables. I, on the other hand, can go were my feet point me, without leaving too much behind.

I’ll set out in the coming months, researching and writing my next novel Eh? I?. If you’re Canadian, like me, you might smile at the homophonic reference in that working title, which in Canuck is pronounced just like the “A” and “I” in the acronym for Artificial Intelligence.

Eh? I?’s protagonist, Robi Brown, a graduate student in Computer Science and Psychology, believes he has been ‘infected’ with a nano virus that will – when triggered – transform him into an android, a mindless zombie that will help destroy the world he loves, clearing the ground and ushering in the next stage in evolution: The Robotic Age.

Serious comedy with a spiritual-existentialist twist, the story will really be a study of human spirit, seeking an answer to the emerging question: Can consciousness be ‘instantiated’ (to echo a term used by Christof Koch, Chief Scientific Officer, The Allen Institute for Brain Science) in a machine? As their tormented comrade wrestles with his binary alter ego, his alarmed lover and friends will go to extreme measures trying to save him from himself.

Readers, writers, philosophers, computer programers, even androids, anyone who cares to join in what I hope will be ‘the fun’, is invited to follow along, comment or ask questions. As much as it’s a story, Eh? I? will be a process. ‘Adopters’, ‘enactors’, experts in all sorts of fields are welcome to participate in ‘real time’, engaging in conversations about theme, structure, character and plot as my second Direct-to-Web novel unfolds.

Sound crazy? I hope so.


PS from CS: If you’ve read this far, perhaps you’d like to keep in touch…