It’s good to go away –…

It's good to go away -- I did a fair bit of resting during the week at my parents' house, to the extent the children allowed. But it's also good to come back, especially because a week of my absence apparently means that both the yard and my e-mail have run rampant. My parents have DSL, but no WiFi; it seems that plugging into an ethernet port is enough disincentive now that I barely went online last week. If I owe you e-mail, I'm sorry. I'm actually horribly backlogged on e-mail, but my three projects for the next three weeks are simple:

  • get through masses of backlogged e-mail
  • get yard under control again (much weeding, clean-up etc.)
  • get back to writing The Stars Change
I opened up the book file again after a week away, and was reminded that I'd had a thought just before my trip, that I would not only use a university motto for my title, but also for the section headings. So, for example, the title is The Stars Change, from Sidere mens eadem mutato, the stars change but the mind remains the same. Which was undoubtedly meant to be inspiring and/or hopeful when chosen as a university motto by the University of Sydney, but in my hands, it twists to something much darker, since my book is essentially centered around racism (speciesism?), and it's bleak to think that even after humanity has gone to the stars and maybe even mostly gotten past its typical race-based prejudices, the same sorts of conflicts will erupt again, in different forms. The stars change, but the mind remains the same. In that context, that motto kind of breaks my heart.

And then the first section opens with the motto of the University of Liverpool, Haec otia fovent studia, these days of peace foster learning. Which is ironic, and again, kind of heart-breaking, I think. From a professor's point of view, that's part of what a university is supposed to be, a refuge from the troubles of the world, a place where you can put all the conflict and difficulty aside long enough to think clearly. Even if what you're choosing to think about is also full of conflict, that space for reflection is a treasure. And for so many students, we can't really offer them that, as much as we would want to. They're struggling with violence at home, or violence in the streets, or simply the violence of fighting to pay the bills every day, including paying for their books and tuition. Maybe the university was always a dream, but it's especially so in my novel, which opens with a missile streaking over the campus grounds, to crash down in the city surrounding. How much learning can you manage when your peace is shattered?

I'm about to start working on Part II, which opens with a motto from India (appropriately, since the planet is mostly settled by South Asians), from Visvesvaraya Technological University: Modalu monavanagu, above all, be human. The war in the book centers on the question of what is it to be human. Aliens are targeted, but so are humods, those humans who have been genetically engineered, before birth or after, into something not quite -- human? Different, at any rate, from what random mutation and Darwinian selection would have produced. That's another set of tensions in the book -- what does it do to a society when the rich can create inhumanly beautiful children? (To what extent do the rich already modify themselves in ways the rest of humanity can only dream of?)

I have to say, I love the way the mottoes are interacting with the text. There are at least two more sections to come, and I have mottoes for them too, but I think talking about those might give too much away. Already, I wonder if I've said too much -- I've made the book sound very depressing, I fear. It's not all grim, I promise. It's funny, often. There's lots of sex, as promised. There are at least a few faint twinkles of hope. And there's even a spark or two of true love.

I started writing this book as a bit of a lark, a way to experiment with Kickstarter, see if I could take a break from traditional publishing. But perhaps unsurprisingly, even when I try to write something fluffy and light, deeper issues barrel their way up from the depths of my brain. I'm hopeful now, that this book might be something special. I'm a little scared too.

One of the problems of going away from a book project is that you get a little distance from it; you're not immersed. And so when you come back, or at least when I do, there's an anxiety. I'm a little afraid to start again, because I'm afraid I've lost the thread, the voice. But you just have to suck it up and dive in. Hopefully, I won't ruin it.

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