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Writing a book (gestation)

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

What possessed me?

As a guy we can never experience pregnancy or childbirth. Ideas, though, have the potential to impregnate a mind.

So it was that Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, and the movie of the same name, awakened something big, bold, audacious and naive: to write a sequel called “Contact Ascension”.

Having read umpteen books on Physics, the conundrums of Quantum Mechanics and the promise of a “Theory of Everything”; and being of the generation that could remember the events of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 first hand; and having been disappointed that we had not yet invented the warp drive or even the hover board, I thought: “We need more flights of the imagination”. But I’ve grown a little tired of the SciFi genre being subverted by Alien monsters that invade earth, or swashbuckling astronauts seeking treasure, princesses, dispossessed princes and fighting the cosmic Nazi equivalent.

*I* needed something different. I needed something that didn’t challenge my suspension of disbelief quite so much. Maybe others did too.

After much deep and profound brain things inside my head…

I realised that the book that fitted this bill was “Contact”. It took real science, real society, real people, real history, and simply extrapolated it out to its most amazing best case scenario.

The movie? Well it stayed as true to form as possible and extrapolated it a little further, at a different time. But just like the book it left something open. While the book closed with exploration of transcendental PI, the movie had a seed too: Noise.

It was this seed that grew and flowered in my mind. I honestly believe that the amazing story that took root, grew, and fed upon the imaginary planet where myriad books and Wiki articles had decomposed and evolved into its own symbiotic, fertile and evolving humus and loam, is not of my own volition. My mind had been impregnated.

For me the gestation of a book has gone through several phases:

  1. What if ? This is where a good story ends and another starts.  Hungry for more? Unfinished and waiting for a sequel?

  2. Has anyone else thought of this? (check the internet, superficially nothing yet, start now and keep tabs)

  3. Visualise it as a movie: (so hard to step beyond this media)

  4. First endeavour: A screenplay using “Plotbot” (a collaborative screenplay tool). This was good to string ideas together and prod them about. Aborted this idea as no collaboration was forthcoming.

  5. Sketch ideas out in the train: Used my Android tablet, some basic scribble pad type tools and Evernote. This was good to restructure the whole chronology, the fundamental concepts and the ‘rules for my universe’ to adhere to. These had to be cross correlated with fact (remember – ‘suspension of disbelief’ – Thank the cloud for Wikipedia).

  6. Choices: Away on a conference in a distant city do I watch TV or write a book? The latter seemed the nobler endeavour and is really when it began in earnest. Spontaneous, with a strange compelling conviction, and a feeling I could see the sculpture in the stone.  I became Michelangelo, and I needed to uncover it.

  7. Technology: Even though it began on a desktop Word Processor I wanted a document accessible from anywhere, so I moved it to “the cloud”. I tried Dropbox, but then moved to Google Docs because I could have my wife proofreading while simultaneously writing and doing rework on any device. (Tip: use a table of contents to do navigation).

  8. Research, write, research, rewrite, peer/friend reviews, rewrite: The fun part. This is where I could see it grow, and it was when I was inspired with the name.

  9. Midwifry: This is where I am as I write this, and I face a particularly interesting challenge: copyright. With the legal action against Fredrik Colting for his unauthorised and commercially published (ergo non-fan-fiction) sequel of “The Catcher in the Rye” the precedent is set against the commercial release of the novel.

So where do I go from here?

Fan fiction? OK I’m cool with that but it’s unlikely to result in publishing and it would get lost in the fluff.  Kindle Worlds would need a new world for the Carl Sagan canon Wattpad has some fan fiction but copyright rules prevail.

Forge ahead? Self publish and weather the storm (see “The Catcher in the Rye” -> “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye”)

Put it to sleep? This Ripvanwinkle idea would extend it till 1996 + 50 (or 70)= 2046 (if the copyright hasn’t passed to his wife and co-author Anne Druyen). “Post mortem auctoris” would make the book irrelevant.

Change the names? OK, I may as well rewrite the original “Contact” novel. Not as silly as it sounds; SETI has moved on, and actual first contact could be different enough. Could we really tell it any better than what Carl did? It would insult him and any pretentious author attempting it. No, I have written a sequel, maybe not nearly as eloquently as Carl and Anne could, but perhaps worthy of the name.

Find a way to have it published with the blessing of the copyright holders. This leads me to my next Blog: Writing a Book (midwifry)

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