Final Countdowns, Twist Endings and Refrigerators, Composing, 07/05/2014

As part of the publicity for my upcoming sci-fi novella, Under the Trees, Eaten, I’m going to discuss a few ideas I’ve had about its composition and editing process here on the blog. We’re just in the last stages now, and my editor at Blank Space has given me a wonderful recommendation on some changes to the ending. We’re furiously working through the last few edits to the manuscript this week (while also working on our day jobs) so we can release it for this summer and I can start touring.

My promotions will take me wherever the GO Transit network or the cars of amenable friends will go. So my late-starting career as a novelist is finally taking off, at least in terms of having a product to push. I also have a philosophical essay coming out in an upcoming issue of Social Epistemology, but that’s another story.

Because of the inland, rustic setting of the story, I designed
the aliens to resemble ants. Their social practices also fit
well with the philosophical undercurrents of the narrative.
The changes we’ve been discussing don’t even affect the story’s ending itself. It just adds another wrinkle to the motivation of a central character, a wrinkle that nonetheless demonstrates the inadequacy of humans, particularly men, to understand the complex features of their world, and their otherworlds. While we’re pitching the book as a pulp story, from the start I always wanted it to be more than a pulp story, simply because I never want my work to risk being dismissed as ordinary. Ordinariness, to me, is a killer of creativity. 

You see, every project I conceive always has multiple motivations. I think it’s a side-effect of just having so many concurrent thought processes going through my mind at once. In terms of pure pulp factor, Under the Trees, Eaten is a fast read that’s an entertaining collision of Lovecraft tropes with a female protagonist designed after the fashion of Joss Whedon. But that combination of pulp and feminist characterization also contains an important ethical dimension. It was of the utmost importance for me that the protagonist Marilyn not end this story as a victim of any kind. 

Quite frankly, I’m really rather sick of stories that make women into little more than victims or pawns in the plans and machinations of male characters. I even included a reference to Women in Refrigerators in an earlier draft, but it ended up having to be cut. 

I decided on an ironclad rule for my fiction that no major
female character would be victimized for the sake of
developing the narrative or plot of a male character.
The story is about Marilyn being manipulated by the men that surround her in her life. First, she’s manipulated by her dead father. Not in a literal sense, but insofar as she finds herself on a quest defined by validating his memory, solving the mystery that consumed and eventually destroyed his life, discovering the nature of the otherworldly plane crash where his wife died. Of course, if Marilyn's father Paul were the central protagonist of this story (and he is a minor protagonist; he narrates sections of chapters two through four), his wife would be a woman victimized for the sake of his story. There’s Pierre, the mysterious fellow from the town of alien-human hybrids who has a multi-layered hidden agenda for Marilyn. And there are the hostile townsfolk who will commit whatever violence is necessary to hide their secret, who naturally want this outsider American woman crushed and jammed inside the nearest fridge. The narrative is constantly threatening Marilyn with victimization or co-optation into a man's plan. 

At the end of the day, Under the Trees, Eaten should express this fundamental ethical and moral point: for all that this capable, intelligent, and increasingly enraged woman is pressured into fulfilling the plans and goals of various men around her, she does not, and will not. The new twist we’re adding to the motivations of some of the male characters will better indicate precisely what her own ethics are, and why the efforts of the men of the story to control her will always be inadequate. Marilyn is not an instrument, and if you attempt to make her one, you will be sorry.

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