Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Highest Highs, the Lowest Lows

I hesitate even to write this, it will be so painful. Well, perhaps in the writing it and putting it out into the world it will help me, it will be a sort of therapy I suppose.
The Highest Highs
So I received another section of RoboNomics back, edited by my mentor through the Humber School for Writers Correspondence Program. You know, it's been a pretty great experience so far. My mentor has given me enough criticism for me to able to challenge myself to hit new writing heights and to make the work better, doled out with enough compliments on my work so that I don't take the constructive criticism personally. Extremely helpful. This week she told me that my latest chapter -- which takes the reader through a big, pivotal scene filled with twists and action was exciting. And that even though she's been in the business of fiction for a very long time, that it kept her guessing at what would happen next. She said that was a difficult thing to accomplish, but accomplish it I did.
It made me so, so happy to hear that. Writing a novel when I've yet to be published is a daunting thing. It is daunting for me because I have not, until now, had a real sounding board. Someone who is in the industry and knows it. All I've had is the hunch that I have talent...all I've had is the notion that I have something new and fresh to say. And so when I receive these comments, I feel a sense of validation. I may need to work on my clichéd descriptions. I may not have realistic dialogue down yet. But what I have here is a story: at least for the first half of the RoboNomics manuscript, the part that has been looked over by her thus far, I have a compelling and fresh story. I have not been toiling at it for two and a half years for nothing.
The Lowest Lows
But then something really devastating happened a few months back. I can't remember when -- there was snow on the ground still I think? But that could have been anytime between November 11th and April 30th (drrrrr). I think it was after Christmas -- that seems the most logical time for which Hollywood movie studios release teasers and trailers for the upcoming summer blockbuster season. My sister sent me a link with the note, "this reminds me so much of RoboNomics" (I had previously vocalized to her the entirety of my plot, along with the question "do you think this is a viable idea?"). Well, I got my answer. Apparently the end of my plot IS viable, is appealing. Is creditable, acceptable sci fi. Thanks, Hollywood. Thanks, Blomkamp:
This trailer was all the information I had to go on, back in the winter. I panicked. I immediately looked up when the production of the movie began, and I learned that the movie was presented to studios just about the same time that I had the first idea that spawned my novel RoboNomics: early 2011. I was distraught. I think I probably cried myself to sleep that night. I know where my talent lines. It lines in outrageous ideas that no one else would think of. It lies in building worlds and building stories that are compelling enough to suspend disbelief. But how can I do that when I've been effectively, for lack of a better term, scooped?
Over the past few months, I've had no choice but to mentally sweep the problem under the rug. I was too attached to my story. I didn't know what to do next. All I knew was that I had to keep going on my work. And so I keep working on RoboNomics, hoping against hope that the trailer was misleading and that the apparent similarities would disappear when I eventually viewed the movie.
The problems:
I have yet to see it. When it came out on the weekend, my love & I had other plans. We both are sci fi, fantasy, comic book movie nerds and we pretty much see every blockbuster in that vein in the summer (except for The Wolverine this summer. He didn't hold out too much hope of its quality. Also he went with a friend to World War Z. I can't abide zombies). So it's this weekend: the big reveal. The truth will come to light and I'll either be relieved or devastated.
But the reviews are already online. And so I don't have a total creative meltdown in a very public forum, I read one of them -- filled with spoilers. And the prospects aren't good.
1. The massive similarity is the premise of economic stratification. In Elysium, the 99% of have-nots live on a dystopian Earth while the 1% of haves live on the titular space station. In the back half of my novel, the 99% of have-nots live on a dystopian Earth while the 1% of haves live in a protected colony on a semi-terraformed Mars. Really, this is the most stunning, important similarity and the one that jumped out to both me and my sister. All other similarities are incidental.
2. The movie has impeccable world building, apparently. How much more difficult to do on paper. Months of studying how the sky on Mars is actually pink rather than blue, figuring out the best place for a human colony and problem solving how the hell would we get there in the first place...all that scene setting down the friggering drain.
3. The themes. They are very similar, as the paralleling premises would suggest. I can't tell you how a successful movie director was inspired to write a tale that obviously has something to say about the economic crisis of 2008 to the present. But mine was very much inspired by that. Namely, by my own and my family's struggle through it. We've had a long road to slog these past four or five years which is perhaps why my tale is far more character than action driven. Hey, like I said in the opener it's not as if my manuscript has no actioney pulse racing scenes and surprises, but these are tempered with quieter character-building moments as well.
The solutions:
Seriously, this entire situation makes me feel like that dude who invented the telephone at the exact same time Alexander Graham Bell did, but just didn't get to the patent office quick enough. Seriously!!! I don't even know that dude's name!!!! Meucci, apparently! I want to beat my head against the wall at all of this. This manuscript was supposed to do a lot for me. It was supposed to be a totally different take on the robotics/A.I./Frankenstein story, and would have launched me as a novelist. And to add insult to injury, apparently there are robots crawling around the world of Elysium just casually, just as a side note.
The thing is, it is all just coincidence. There's no one to blame, no one to be angry with. At times like these it is easy to be fatalistic. I wring my hands and think about how maybe I should just go back to trying my darnest to getting a teaching job and living out the rest of my life in misery and denial of destiny. Perhaps I was not meant to be a writer after all, I'll tell myself and just succumb to a life of monotony and mediocrity and let my ass spread and my soul die.
But no. I have not dedicated myself to persistence for nothing. I am too far gone, I am too far along, The dream is too close to give up because of a single set back.
1. I have the beginning of my novel. The entire first half of my manuscript is still 100% original. It is new, it is fresh, it is exciting and all that lovely stuff. It is a story, and a compelling one at that, with "chilling" (as my mentor calls them) sci fi details. If I really need to, I can scrap the entirety of my second half and do a rewrite. It is going to take a monumental effort to get rid of half a novel and open myself up to other narrative possibilities. Where else can I take these characters? But I reframe the possible death of my nascent career into something that happens to all novelists, all writers. Sometimes you just have to scrap a great idea. Sometimes you have to "kill your darlings".
2. Or I could do something else. I could ignore the whole thing. I can hope that this movie will be as talked about and remembered as....oh, I don't know, maybe 12 Monkeys (seriously, what is wrong with you people? That is an amazing movie). Maybe I should just keep on keeping on with it and try on the off chance that I can get it published and into the public eye without the 'fresh' story. And on the slim chance that that happens, I can hope against hope that no one remembers Elysium. But let's be serious, here? Someone will. The movie may fade from the public imagination, but there will always be someone on the internets who will note the similarities. And then I won't be remembered for great sci fi but for supposed plagiarism.
Let's be real here. I am jealous of my material. I don't like to expose the details of any of my stories for chance of ruining the surprise. And I just told you some of the big points of the second half of my novel. There is no way I can live in denial. So it's bye bye to Mars, I suppose. Oh, Mars, I hardly knew ya. I guess there's only one thing to do: have a ritualized ceremony in which I bury the second half of my manuscript in the bottom of a desk drawn and start thinking about what a rewrite would look like.
Sigh. At least that book trailer I made a couple months ago as a motivational tool still applies:
I just threw it together from some free stock photos, music, and the script I wrote as read out by a computer voice. If you click through to the YouTube page, you can find all the credits in the description box.
I did have a better looking splash page at the end, but I'd have to pay about $150 to use the image. Other than that I think it's pretty okay, personally. What do you think?