12.16.2006

HH Com 73

In *The Story of Them* (a 90,000-word literary novel), a mysterious pandemic and its aftermath reduce the human population to mere millions worldwide. Along the Eastern Canada-U.S. border, ten canny survivors encounter each other while fleeing the cities, then decide to band together and pool their resources. After finding suitable shelter in the countryside and arranging informal divisions of labor, they start to tell stories about how they lived before and during the Events. Like the nobles in Boccaccio’s The Decameron, these seven women and three men – among them, a "historician" who becomes the group’s de facto leader, the Indo-Canadian medico who is his partner, a famous South African tenor caught on tour, a striking, near-mute young horseman, and a Cuban-born jill-of-all-trades – use the power of narrative to help them ride out the effects of a plague, and eventually adjust to a frighteningly changed world. They also come to realize their hidden talents and deficiencies – their own and each other’s. By story’s end, not only do we understand why these ten happened to be spared the plague, but we have a glimpse of what fresh challenges await them.



oh dear dog.
Miss Snark really is rather offended that she's not among the Elect.

You've fallen victim to using ethnicity as shorthand.

You've also described complete yawn of a plot. Surely there is a flaming coiffeured, poodle pampering difficult to live with literary agent to act as the antagonotrix somewhere in there.

And before you get all hot under the collar about that and start yapping about Chaucer, let's just remember what year this is.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

With a plot to go with the situation, I'd read this. I like the idea, although it does make me wonder if the characters are allowed to vote each other 'off the island.'

RT

Anonymous said...

How lovely. A regular melting pot. So beautifully inclusive of all races. What? No half black half Chinese lesbian rapper?

Anonymous said...

The Stand?
Also, why do people keep comparing their novels to great works? First of all, it really smacks of arrogance to compare your own to a master.
Second of all, Miss Snark is looking for fresh, so how is a regurgitation of an old story (even in part) going to fit her criteria?

Bullet said...

Literary novel?
Oh dear dog...

Anonymous said...

I thought literary novels were supposed to be character-driven. This is an interesting premise to me.
That said, I do think more emphasis should be placed on the interactions between the characters, so we aren't left with the image of a bunch of people telling stories around a campfire.

Bernita said...

Fresh challenges?
Try simple survival - outside an ivory tower.

Anonymous said...

*cough* literary novel* cough* ^^;; I'm surprised it wasn't picked on for that.

I also agree that there is the catch of the racial differentiation. You could improve it bey dropping the we form and talking about the book.

Anonymous said...

Who you calling them? Better back off jack!

the author said...

Interesting comments. Thanks. Too bad there are some misundertsandings (confusion on both ends).
1) I'm not arrogant for mentioning Boccaccio - my novel is deliberately modelled on his classic. It's like West Side Story and Romeo & Juliette; A Thousand Acres and King Lear.

2) My novel takes place in 2046. I didn't mention that because I didn't want it shelved under SF automatically. One of my themes is human self-sufficiency vs. over-reliance on technology and commerce - and I just happen to use the future to present my point. The story IS character driven - the ten do interact in various good and bad ways, mostly cooperating (not just because they must), but sometimes coming into conflict. How they do drives the story as well as the clever means they find and fix food, how they handle natural events, etc.
3) As for the racial issue: I'm sorry how that looked. I was not confusing character with ethnicity, as Miss S said, but should have predicted such a response.

4) Since the story DOES emphasize the characters interacting with each other and it is "philosophical" rather than heavy on action, I thought *literary* best sums it up. Perhaps poetic or literary types of novels do not really translate into hooks all that well. But that's *my* problem, hmm?

Anonymous said...

"Literary novel"?

Hie thee over to the SF section. Post-apocalyptic stories are a staple. Here's a list.

cm allison said...

rather reimiscent of The Stand and Survior to me also, what makes yours different? Please say, as I enjoyed The Stand, might read another similar if enough different.

the author said...

Sorry cm allison. I never watched the TV show Survivor - or other "reality" shows for that matter. Drek. I found S. KIng so badly written when I tried him years ago, I never touched him again. Call me a snob: I prefer my fiction well written as well as imaginative. ("Escapist" as a criterion is very low on list.) That said, I think I heard that The Stand is about a small band of post-apocalytic survivors - but don't they fight each other or some force? I avoided fighting in my work. The psychology of want, the miracle of adaptation, the accommodation to change, and the power of cooperation - all important realities for our social species since we came down from the trees, or earlier - these are my concerns, not "conflict" for the sake of some voyeurish reader. (The type who watches those reality shows to see who insults whom, etc.) Does that answer your question? Thanks for asking.

Sherryl said...

Actually sounds like 'Tokyo cancelled' by Rana Dasgupta - I didn't enjoy that much because most of the characters' stories weren't that interesting. You'd have to make each story stand alone in terms of strength and interest for the book to work, which is why most of these kinds of books don't.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to write this novel, folks are going to compare it to The Stand. It's inevitable--small band of post-apocalyptic survivors. You should try reading it, since that's going to be your initial audience (unless you find a better way to describe your book).

And fwiw, in The Stand, they are battling together against one man (representing Evil) and his minions. It's not like a fist fight... it's just another form of conflict.

Poohba said...

I think, as a piece of literary fiction, this could be extremely interesting. We've already seen Stephen King's take on this, now what a version that has more in common with Lord of the Flies.

That being said, the writing would have to be top-notch.

BuffySquirrel said...

If you don't want your novel labelled as SF, then don't use SF tropes. Simple, really.

Anonymous said...

The line between "sci fi" and "literary" is blurry in my experience. For instance, The Time Traveler's Wife has an sf premise (time travel) but isn't sold in that section of the bookstore for various reasons. George Saunders' stories often have futuristic settings, but their style is more literary satire, and that's how they're sold.

I think this could be interesting if at least a couple of the stories are as bawdy and funny as Boccaccio's. The hook hooks me, but it could lose some extraneous phrases, such as the one about division of labor. That may be important in the book, but it isn't in the hook.

HawkOwl said...

I really wanted to like this, but it turns out I don't. Good luck with it.

Kate Nepveu said...

Based on my experience as a reader, I created the Theorem of Science Fiction Denial:

If an artist makes a point of asserting that a creative work is not science fiction, then (1) the odds that the work is science fiction increase to a near-certainty, while (2) the odds that the work's science fiction elements (e.g., world-building, science) are _good_ decrease dramatically. Nb.: the work as a whole may still have artistic merit.

Aries said...

I'm not claiming to be a great judge of hooks but I really liked this one. It kind of reminded me of "Lost" where the characters' backgrounds and pasts (at least in season one) were just as compelling as the current action. This probably isn't what the author was going for but it's intriguing enough for me to want to read more.

anon13 said...

The story IS character driven - the ten do interact in various good and bad ways, mostly cooperating (not just because they must), but sometimes coming into conflict.

I think the point is that though your novel may be character-driven, your hook isn't. The list of characters and traits rather blurred in my head, and I came away thinking 'end of the world', not 'ooh, interesting characters!'.

Try picking a character, and expanding on the "hidden talents and deficiencies" stuff. Or focus on the mystery as to why these ten survived - that part caught my attention. I read SF, so I've seen disastrous plagues a bunch, but never anything that chose who to kill by anything more complex than age or gender. If you've got something like that, and told me about an interesting, diverse group of people, and asked me to guess what the common factor was, you'd have my read. Of course, this might not be what your novel's really about, but it's a thought. :)

Dave said...

Been there, done that.
It's called:
Last Man on Earth
Left Behind
A Canticle for Liebowitz
The Martian Chronicles
The World, the Flesh and the Devil

and many more

Ski said...

The bottom line for me is I like the premise. I like it because there are so many places you can go with it. I imagine that the personal stories would be fascinating to anyone who might survive. If you could make me believe that I was listening in to those stories, if they stayed "real," then I'd keep reading. Good Luck.

Rgds..............Ski

Anonymous said...

The hook didn't hook me, I'm afraid, but I wanted to compliment you on the gender balance in your group. Far too many ensomble books (and tv shows and movies) have the bulk of their characters be male, and the women fall into a couple of predictable categories (the young hot one; the high-powered executive; the whore). Good for you for taking another route.

the author said...

It may be too late, but I wanted to send a sincere 'thank you' to everyone who bothered enough about my little effort (and Miss Snark's reaction to it) to write anything - let alone the lengthier, really helpful comments! I hope all of you who have hooks ahead get your rewards....
As for the last one: I wish I could take credit for the gender balance (partially because I would have done something similar on my own) but as I modeled the novel on The Decameron, I took the great man's 7-gal-3-gent formula as well. Hey, as it turns out, the women more or less run the show - even if a man is the "leader" and protagonist!
Re: post-apocalyptic fiction - I highly recommend a "lost classic" called Alas, Babylon (what a title for 2006!) by Pat Frank (1961). The disaster that strikes the USA is nuclear, but the way his characters weather the aftermath of their cataclysm is uncannily similar to the way my band of 10 weather theirs. (I did not read it until I was done.)

Anonymous said...

I was positive I was writing literary fiction with a mystery framework, right up until a nice editor friend of mine explained the difference between lit-fic advances and mystery advances...

The lines between genres blur. The fact that my book's gonna be shelved as mystery doesn't mean that I had to lose one iota of the focus on character or dumb down the writing in any way.

If you're writing something with a standard science-fiction framework, which it seems like you are, then you're quite probably writing science fiction. If the characterisation is layered, complex and crucial and the writing is high-quality, then you're writing very good science fiction.

Anonymous said...

I like postapocalypyics; if you haven't read Night of the Triffids, do so immediately. The author gets to wax on and on about society rebuilding and philosophy and all kinds of social experiments while a small handful rebuilds the entire world, but they also get to deal with poisonous walking plants. That's a class act.

lauowolf said...

Everyone else has already said this, but why should I let that stop me....
This looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quakcs like a duck.
End of the world in 2046? Post-Apocalypse?
You are not only writing sci-fi, you are writing one of the primary plot lines of sci-fi.
Saying this can't be sci-fi because that isn't what you want it to be will get you nowhere.

People mentioned The Stand because it was a best seller, not because it is the best example.
If you are thinking literary novel, and wanting to transcend the genre and all that, go look at what is out there.
You've been given a couple of lists as a start.
Boccacio, Chaucer, that's nice back reading, but unless you are planning to pass around hand copied mss. of this work, you need to see what is being written now.

thraesja said...

Author, if you do not wish to be called arrogent, don't immediately trash one of the best selling authors in the world, and then set yourself up as better than everyone who watches Survivor. I find reality TV to be the bane of modern civilization, but I don't care to alienate the entire population by telling them they have inferior taste. They have different taste.

You've killed off the majority of the human race in a pandemic, and are dealing with a group of survivors, one of whom you describe as near-mute. You are going to be compared to The Stand, whether you like it or not. I suggest you read it so that you can effectively argue how your book is different without insulting Stephen King. Pissing off an industry giant is not the best way to start your career. You may loathe his style, but agents and publishers must love his profits. He doesn't often write what I like to read, but the man can write, and The Stand was an excellent book.

And, dear god, you tell me you've avoided "conflict" intentionally and expect me to be interested? You may have a beautiful, character driven story but something, somewhere, must drive a plot. Post-apocalyptic utopias might be great, but damned if I want to read about one. Include it in the hook.

And "literary novel" is a running joke on Miss Snark. It means nothing.

the author said...

Ouch!
Okay, flaunting my "highbrow" tastes is nasty. Mea culpa. I got into this whole "literary novel" thing because - as much as I need the money - I find it crass to stoop to "mere" commerce. I AM AN ARTIST ;). I am well aware that in addition to selling tons of books and making oodles of $$ for agents, publishers and himself, King has actually made readers happy. (Through scaring them, yes, but fine.) My book - even if it is ever published - is not likely to make anyone 'happy.' If it works, it will perhaps deepen appreciation for small luxuries, such as new clothes, etc., and delight a few folk with certain scenes. (Okay, maybe there's some form of satisfaction there, and that could be called happiness.) These sorts of things make me glad I read something, even if I'm crying at the end. And I guess the first thing a writer should do is write what he or she WANTS TO READ. If that's "popular" then go with it. If it's "literary" then try hard to achieve that lofty goal.
I don't know if I have to read stuff I don't like just to learn something. But I won't dismiss the suggestion to do more research right off.
As for conflict: funny you should mention that, thraesja. I was in a writing workshop in NY last year, and someone local wryly remarked that the quick cooperation amongst the first survivors is "more Canadian" than American. (I am guilty as charged.) Americans would be pulling out the rifles. In a re-write, I made the characters more wary at the onset, but no "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality emerges. (Some scientists think cooperation is actually the more natural human trait.) However, there are plenty of OTHER kinds of tension in my novel: inner turmoil; fights between characters; sexual tension; concern about the environment (e.g., weather, wild foods, more disease); plus the need for the protagonist to solve the question of why they were spared - because it might help them later on. There are many ways to keep a reader turning pages besides sex, violence, suffering, and so on. Pardon my snobbery again - but, in my opinion, respecting the reader enough to use more *subtle* kinds of conflict/tension is one way of distinguishing the literary novel from the commercial (no matter how well written each might be).
P.S. I *do* have a plot - I made a special effort in that department since I'm a published poet and have seen what kind of beautiful, plot-free novels poets tend to write. (Some become best sellers, but that's another blog.)

thraesja said...

Okay, Author. Fair enough. You're right, conflict does not have to be about the rifles. As a Canadian myself, I am somewhat reassured by the fact that in case I survive a global disaster, at least there will be significantly fewer guns floating around up here. Then again, I imagine with a lack of border guards, that wouldn't stay true for long.
Anyway, you have to show me that there is some sort of conflict for the book to come across as interesting. If you can do that in your hook, then I'd be interested in your story.
Sorry I was snippish in my last post. I've been around too many "artists" lately. Not the talented kind, which I'm sure you are. The kind that sits in expensive coffee shops in black turtlenecks discussing the existential nature of mochaccinos and telling each other how they understood everything about Origin of the Species.

Anonymous said...

As you are a Canadian, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned the literary sci-fi post apocalyptic novels "Oryx and Crake" and "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Attwood. Both novels were short-listed for the Booker Prize.