Hop(p)ing

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been participating in a NaNoWriMo-related Blog and Social Media Hop, hosted by blogger and author Raimey Gallant. I did the Facebook, blog, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads hops. I finished following everyone on the very last day of the follow period. I followed Facebook pages as my author page, and that seemed to protect me from being blocked the way some others were.

Otherwise, this year wasn’t a successful NaNoWriMo for me. I started out thinking I was going to do “NaNoEdMo,” and edit my WIP every day, getting it into more publishable shape, or at least a shape for which I wouldn’t get the same old same old feedback that amounted to, “you’re not following the basic genre fiction rules about reader engagement” 😦

Then the US Presidential election happened. The rise of social media, and of my participation in social media, amplified everything in a way that in retrospect I didn’t understand, and probably still don’t. In the run-up to the election I felt overwhelmed by the negativity, lies, hate, and slander being spread about all the candidates, but especially about mine, so I started trying to avoid election-related news, and even went as far as to unfollow those Facebook and blogging friends who got too political in their online postings. I was trying to stay “positive,” at least on my own Facebook wall and blog, although I sometimes went over to friends’ walls and commented there. It was hard to resist completely.

I woke up on the morning of Election Day feeling optimistic, hoping that the long political nightmare of the past year was going to end and maybe I could start watching the news again and could re-follow my Facebook friends. I even said to my son, as he got on his bike that morning for school, something like “today it will finally be over!” I held onto that hope throughout the day and into the evening when I went to a rehearsal for the Holiday Magic concert. But by the time I went to sleep–sleep that was fitful and disturbed–I had given up hope.

I gave up on my novel too, that day. I couldn’t face it anymore. It is an ecofiction novel about the year 2074, when the USA has federalized into autonomous regions and people living in flooded areas trying to save their homes are subject to government-ordered memory wipes, and/or become refugees–and that’s if they’re lucky. In the days following the election I became overwhelmed again, this time by the fear that that dystopic future, or an even worse version of it that I had been too naive to imagine, would come to pass. I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night, heart pounding with anxiety.

Then, a week and a half later, I went to my writing group. November was the month to discuss my work, a 50-page excerpt of the novel that I had sent around before Election Day. I had edited and rewritten that much, hoping to address previous concerns about plot, structure, and pacing. The first two critiques I received suggested that I had failed in that particular goal. Again. “Unless you are writing literary fiction,” said one of the readers, helpfully. “Then you don’t have to worry about this as much.” I decided then and there that yes, I was writing literary fiction. Literary SF does exist.

Then another reader joined in and said, “I don’t want to talk about this plot stuff anymore. I want to talk about the characters. That’s what I read for in fiction. I want to ask you something. Do YOU care about these characters? I just didn’t get the sense that you really cared about them or empathized with them.”

At that point, something welled up inside, and I started to cry. I began, haltingly, “I’m kind of shocked to hear that,” I said. “At this point, I expect to hear critiques about plot and pacing and structure, because I know I struggle with that, but I don’t know what to say to this. Yes, I care about these characters. I feel like I care too much about these characters! I’m terrified that this future, of the broken country and the flooding and the refugees is going to come to pass. And I feel powerless and afraid. I haven’t been able to write anything since the election.” I trailed away into a soggy mess.

A productive conversation followed. I pulled myself together at least a little bit. I talked more about the rest of the novel and where I saw it going. We all talked about our feelings–it turned out we were all a little scared–and what we could do moving forward. We agreed that writing takes courage, and is hard. I remembered in that afternoon both why I didn’t and did want to be a writer.

I’m not sure yet where I’m going from here. It’s still a work in progress. I think I finally feel ready to pick up the novel where I left off. It’s likely to be a lot darker than the theoretical cautionary tale I originally imagined. In that dark night of the soul when I came home from rehearsal on Election Night, I felt very alone. My husband was supportive, but he is German and couldn’t vote. He immigrated here and got a Green Card based on his marriage to me. This is supposed to be my country and I felt–and still feel–betrayed by it and estranged from it.

As California enters its 6th year of drought, the fate of the environment has become personal to me. It was the issue I cared most about during the election, and neither party said or did much to address it. Neither candidate thought our votes here in CA were worth campaigning for–a reasonable tactical decision, I guess, when a vote here is worth less than a third of a vote in Wyoming. And when it does come up, the discussion seems to be limited to the tired and rather useless “debate” over whether climate change is primarily caused by humans or not–as if the unlikely finding that humans were not primarily responsible for global warming would somehow let us off the hook and let us continue as before, free of consequences, with destructive and wasteful behavior.

It’s much worse to have a climate change denier leading the EPA than to not have one.  And it will not help anyone for the US to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. These developments can and should be opposed, and the current political climate makes progress more difficult than it would have been if my candidate had won. But this issue is beyond politics at this point. Barring a genetic engineering breakthrough, I probably won’t live to see the year 2074. But my children, and Ivanka’s children, will.

One thing I feel more sure of than ever: silence, avoidance, and forced optimism didn’t work very well for me. So I’ve re-followed my Facebook friends anyway, on all sides. I’ve come out as a Democrat and a Sanders and Clinton supporter (yes it’s possible to be both), and I don’t apologize for any of that. Like everyone else, no matter who you voted for, I have to try to understand and learn to live with points of view I disagree with. I have to try to figure out how to navigate this strange social media world of bubbles, conspiracy theories, and fake news. I’m hoping that one answer is more writing, more conversation, more free speech, more blogging, not less.

This is the eve of the solstice, the darkest time of the year, the time when we have only hope that the sun and spring will return. But they always do.

bunny1

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29 thoughts on “Hop(p)ing”

  1. Hopefully you are back to your writing once more! Many times it takes a jolt, a time away from our writing (to which we are intimately close) in order that we see the trajectory more clearly. And isn’t it ok that we progress in a different direction than originally anticipated? As long as we are moving forward a change in our ms’s can be good.

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  2. I relate so hard to this!!! I cried for days after the election. I could barely get out of bed. I still can’t believe that Trump is going to be our next president. I take comfort that even though the electoral college got him in the popular vote was for Clinton, meaning that the majority of American’s don’t want to embrace misogynistic, racist, hateful rhetoric!

    I just want to give you a big hug! I wrote a blog the week after the election saying very similar things, only I think I played my emotions closer to the vest. In my estimation that makes you braver than me (not that it’s a contest, just that I’m moved by your words).

    I agree that we have to reach across the aisle and come to understandings with those we disagree with. Our country is so divided by hate and fear and it’s crippling us.

    Thank you for this poignant post! I really loved it. You are very brave to share so openly your feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy, I’m so sorry. I have another friend, also named Amy, who felt similarly. She spent the whole day after the election in bed, I think. I was a little scared to write this post because I was afraid that I’d get some of the “you lost, get over it already!” crowing that I’ve seen on Facebook and elsewhere. I was even a little bit afraid to admit publicly that I voted for Clinton because of what people write and share about her on the internet (most of which I have fact-checked and believe is either blown way out of proportion or utterly false). But people have been really nice so far, and comments like yours make my day! I want to gather resources and action items, especially about the environment and climate change, that would be useful to people on both sides of the aisle. So if you find any that you would recommend, send them my way!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my, this post gave me chills. We are so much alike (except for the writing group part because I am “groupless” at the moment). I think you should write your way into the depths of hell and then back out again as a way to combat hopelessness and to instill hope for the fiture. The more dystopian the better. Could be just what the world needs right now. Every year since it was made, my husband and I watch Lord of the Rings. It was one of my favorite books as a kid and remains so today. “Never doubt that even the smallest among us can change the course of the world” or something like that.
    All we can all do is our own thing with the gifts we’ve been given. You’ve got gifts. Pull ‘me out, stack them up, decide what works on any given day and get busy. On the days you feel like crying, go to bed.
    Now go kick that novels ass!

    p.s. I’m reposting b/c it’s important and a great post. You’re awesome!👏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thanks for the repost! Your comment “write your way into the depths of hell and then back out again” is actually similar to what one of the people in my writing group said. He said, “write out how the country got to the point you are describing here in this novel. You may or may not use it, or parts of it, in this novel, but having that background will shape how you write it.” I had already done that for one of the characters: the mother in the novel, who is a 1st generation Mexican-American named Flora. She is an amateur singer and overworked nurse practitioner in the time of the novel. I wrote a whole backstory about the flooding of Manhattan and how her family’s apartment in Harlem was destroyed, how they tried to come back to it and clean it up and live there again and her father tried to rebuild his plastic surgery practice, but her younger sister got a treatable infection and died and her father couldn’t save her, and then there was another flood a year later and they couldn’t come back from it. At one point Flora as a teenager is separated from her family and walking through the chaos of a part of Manhattan island that isn’t under water, and all she wants to know is whether Carnegie Hall survived (it did). Very little of that is in the current novel, except for the remnants of her dreams to be a singer, as she sings (loudly and embarrassingly) in a church choir, and her career as an nurse practitioner, working to treat people who have preventable infectious diseases. I have scattered some of the scenes from her backstory in parts of the current novel, and people liked those and thought they worked to show Flora’s motivations and character. It’s more complicated with her husband Daniel because as the novel opens, he’s been memory-wiped but doesn’t yet know it. The false memories he has are confusing to him and he thinks he’s going crazy. I haven’t written his backstory down in as much detail as Flora’s, and I need to. He’s been to a different kind of hell and back.

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      1. The backstory sounds fabulous! Maybe Flora should be the one whose memory had been wiped and these really powerful flashbacks keeping coming to her until she finally remembers (or something). 😘

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      2. That’s what happens to Daniel. He starts getting flashbacks when he goes out geocaching/hiking in the woods. He used to do it when he was a child, as a boy scout back in New Orleans, before Hurricane Noel of 2057. He has a big flashback and a PTSD episode when they go to a lock in Lockport NY and the water starts filling up the lock. (The Erie Canal has opened up again and is in use again, with barges, in their world for commercial and industrial transport because there are many fewer cars and trucks). I hadn’t thought of Flora as being the one who was memory-wiped. That’s an interesting idea. Daniel is much more accepting of their new life in Western NY (Buffalo as tropical paradise–ha) because he doesn’t really remember the past, except as a hazy memory. Flora, on the other hand, is very upset about what she lost, and is trying desperately to get back there. New England is a sovereign federation in their world, with sustainable technology, genetic engineering, self-driving cars, TED talks, organic farms that feed everyone–or that’s how she thinks it looks from afar. But they are closed to most immigrants except for a yearly lottery and applicants with “extraordinary ability.” So she keeps entering the lottery and trying get their daughter, Hallie to apply. She’s trying to live through Hallie and Hallie is rebelling. Daniel and Hallie get along better at the beginning of the book until Daniel starts to have flashbacks and lose it. I hadn’t thought of reversing Daniel and Flora’s roles, though, it might make an interesting difference.

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  4. My NaNo novel uses climate change as a backdrop, but mine is told mostly from the point of view of crows! Did I bite off more than I can chew here? Quite possibly. I, too, found it hard to return to my keyboard after the election, but I told myself that my work was now more important than ever. Yours is, too. Keep plugging away. Your book sounds like one I definitely want to read.

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    1. Crows? Interesting! You must know about the observations of crow intelligence and problem solving. It’s fascinating neuroscience that such a small brain can do such complex things! I’d love to read your novel too. I think you’re right, ecofiction is more important than ever!

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  5. Oh Karen, what a journey you’ve been on. I get it. I’ve been so overwhelmed and frightened by everything taking place. So much damage and the presidency hasn’t even changed hands yet. BUT, on the plus side, maybe tapping into those fears is exactly what you need to bring to your characters? I could feel all of that churning in you in this post. You just need to find a way to harness it maybe?

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  6. Thank you for this post, Karen. And thank you for saying what I’ve wanted to say for a while now: after a certain point, it doesn’t bloody matter if humans are responsible for climate change or not – if we can mitigate it or ameliorate it in any way, we should try. I held off on posting about the election until after the Electoral College voted, and since that is over (and didn’t go the way I was hoping for either), I will probably address it in my blog sometime.

    As for your dystopian work in progress, I too can see how the election would affect you. Good luck with your story and I hope to read it someday.

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  7. What a raw post. I think you are so brave to put your work out there for honest critique. Hopefully what you hear makes your work better rather than discourage you. I think your premise sounds really interesting. I can understand why the election might have knocked the wind out of your sails… as it did for many of us. My husband and I are trying very hard not to let ourselves spiral too far down. There’s not much any of us can do except to make our voices heard (as long as we are still able to do so).

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    1. I think it’s doing both: discouraging me at first but, I hope, in the end making it better. I had been planning to write more than one book in this universe, and I do have a second NaNo novel that I decided to set in the same time period, but on the West Coast, in what is now California. I spent so much time and effort on the world-building that it makes sense to use it more than once. It may be that I need to write book#3, which is sort of a prequel to the other two and explains how they got there. I think it’s at least good sign that I’m thinking like that again instead of moping around like I was doing.

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  8. That sounds like a very emotional writers’ group meeting – I hope it helped. I find crying sometimes helps a lot to clear my mind and focus myself. I’m sorry you felt so hopeless – though, perhaps it’s that feeling which will push your novel to the next level.

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    1. I cry too easily, unfortunately. I always have. I was shamed for it as a child and so I have a little bit of a complex about it, still. But I think it did help to focus the writers’ group discussion on issues that were really important. The person who asked the initial question and I had a very good, ongoing, conversation afterwards. The group is relatively new, we just met online about 6 months ago and have been meeting in person once a month since then. So I think we still have a ways to go with getting to know each other and trusting each other as writers and readers. And I feel like that meeting, and the discussion, helped.

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    1. Thanks! I really do hope to get it done early in the new year. It’s told from the point of view of one family, who are living in what is now New York State. The parents escaped floods in Manhattan and New Orleans, and their daughter is growing up in the new reality. The family can’t talk to each other either, they are often at odds and talking past each other, and their lives are unraveling. I’m still working out how that mirrors the larger unraveling of the society. And how their story might point toward healing. One relationship at a time.

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  9. I guess there’s never an ideal time for writing, nor for inspiration. Life is not an indulgent teacher. November was a pretty rough month in my personal life, and more than twice I though of left my NiNoWriMo’s proyect aside, but I didn’t. Writers life isn’t easy. We have to deal with that, and with the idea that we didn’t chose writing, writing chose us. Greetings!

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