Trapped by Details: an Epiphany

One of the side effects of a medication I’ve been taking for a couple of months is insomnia — serious lack of sleep. There are moments when I think this could be a good thing because the hazy state between sleeping and waking is often the source of ideas and insights — and there has been a lot of hazy state . Alas, those ideas and insights seldom carry over into the daylight hours. If I could just lie there in the dark and dictate into a recorder, who knows what marvels of novelistic fiction I could create. Well, that’s never going to happen, but once in a while, something worth pursuing does survive until morning and daylight.

A recent night was one of those frustrating on/off sleep/wake stretches that had me wanting to just get up, wander around the apartment, find something to do, and forget about sleep altogether. But I stuck it out and let my mind do the wandering. And what happened was that I had a sort of vision. I haven’t been able to write at all for the last two or three months, so part of the night’s mental meandering is often about trying to select the ongoing WIP most likely to have a chance of sucking me in and getting my fingers back on the keyboard. Gift of the Ancien is always one of those being considering — and discarded.

But last night, I saw that novel in an entirely new way. It was as if I was standing off from an actual, physical construct, and seeing it as an object independent of details like voice or characterization, and stripped of my personal interest in and attachment to it. I can’t regain much of the feelings I had about this new view, but the image itself is still fairly clear in my mind — and its meaning. Although I can’t reconstruct or explain how I came to it, the meaning of the image is that this particular novel (and several others), has been a challenging puzzle to work out, and that challenge is completely independent of the novel’s importance to me. In other words, I’ve been sucked into an ongoing attempt to solve a puzzle (or a handful of puzzles), fascinated by the challenge just as certainly as any game player. It’s the intricacies of that particular story that I’m attempting to work out, without any consideration of whether it has enough value to me to justify the time and energy I’m putting into it.

I also had brief glimpses of a couple of the other WIPs being bounced around as possible ways out of the black hole of wordlessness. Most of the insights are gone, damn it, but there was the sense, however vaguely I can see or express it now, that those WIPs had value apart from the details. Their value — their meaning — to me, personally, was more important than the puzzles they represent, or the working out of the puzzles. Ancien, on the other hand, even though it would have value as a published novel, and possibly of more value than the others, has no other value to me.

On a superficial level, this all boils down to the question of why I write: for money, or for myself. But now I can see it isn’t that at all. The real question is: is this a story I really care about, for its own sake, or is it just a container for intriguing puzzles? I turns out that anything I write for myself has a boundary far beyond me. It’s an idea or collection of ideas, that I hope will draw readers looking for more than entertainment. Of course, every novel is a series of puzzles to work out; maybe that’s a big part of the appeal for writers, especially writers who aren’t particularly successful in the fame and fortune arena.

I still haven’t settled on a WIP to drag me out of the creativity black hole, but at least I have a better basis for making that selection. Ancien, as strongly as its puzzles fascinate me, needs to be put aside where it can’t tempt and distract me. The same is true of several other WIPs in various stages of development. Maybe if I can get them shoved under the carpet and use the imagery from my vision, I’ll find the piece that will inspire me to get back to writing.



Trauma and Creativity: Off the Beaten Path

The last couple of months have been a no-writing zone, and the medical issues responsible probably aren’t going away anytime soon. The devil’s brew of meds I’m taking probably has something to do with what I perceive as a cognitive decline. Not anything so serious that I can’t function more or less normally, but certainly getting in the way of sustained work on writing projects. I’ve also come to see this non-productive period as similar to the one I went through after the apartment building fire and having to start my life over. Call it trauma, or even a mild form of PTSD. It’s a psychological shock to the system, and it’s bound to have effects on intellectual function. But what I learned last time is that it doesn’t last forever. Even the destruction of the belief in a healthy old age has to be accepted, and adapted to. Unless I want to take on the role of victim.

In spite of the cognitive decline, which includes a loss of focus for sustained work, creative insights keep coming. Since my novels tend to take at least a couple of years for development and completion, the current slowdown doesn’t seem terribly significant. What is significant is that the bursts of creativity are based, as they always have been, on input from my reading, both fiction and nonfiction, including current news. When I can’t write, I read, as always, and probably more obsessively. And there is no way to anticipate what will trigger sudden insights into an ongoing piece of work.

A Well-Educated Boy isn’t the WIP I’m currently working on (or trying to work on), but it’s the one that’s developing most actively in terms of plot and characterization. One of the interesting things that happens when a novel develops over a long period of time is that it can change significantly from my original concept. In the case of Well-Educated Boy, the emphasis has been shifting from Hart’s discovery of what lies behind the peaceful facade of his hometown, to the psychological changes he goes through over the course of the novel. The strong influence here comes from several novels that portray, to one extent or another, the development of the central character from childhood to maturity.

Both as a fictional theme, and an aspect of real life that puzzles and intrigues me, the maturation process and the possibilities of future potential are an endless source of material for the creation of complex characters capable of surprising readers. Richard Herley’s The Earth Goddess was the first book to focus my attention on this theme, and is still central to how I think about my characters. That’s followed in importance by the Phoenix Legacy trilogy by M. K. Wren, and more recently by Lion’s Blood, an alternate history by Steven Barnes. What is important is the many different paths by which a character’s temperament and life might be formed, and how the one chosen or forced on them determines the shape of the fully formed adult.

In the case of Hart Simmons, his developmental arc ignores the usual young adult trope, in which our youngster overcomes a major negative force, such as an oppressive government, and becomes something of a hero. Instead, Hart has to acknowledge a power that is ubiquitous and fully capable of swatting him aside if he attempts to face it down. The question then is how he manages to live with that understanding without succumbing to hopelessness and acquiescence.

Well-Educated Boy is dystopian science fiction as well as young adult fiction, and this is another area where I want to ignore the usual themes in favor of something more complex and realistic. So Hart will experience two kinds of dystopias, the one in which he lives, as a citizen of a corporate-owned town, and the one taking place outside that cocoon, one not very different from our current reality in many ways. Compare and contrast.

A lot of this hasn’t been worked out yet, of course, so I’m prepared to be surprised.

Theme and Variations

One of the topics currently under discussion on a writing forum is theme. The post’s author stated that she sometimes feels as if she’s writing the same book over and over again.  I can certainly relate, having recently taken note of the overwhelming presence of various kinds of oppression in my stories. You can probably make a good case for the presence of a dominant theme in the work of many writers. After all, any theme you choose — or that chooses you — can probably be explored endlessly in all its complexity and variability.

My particular concern, when looking over my published work, with an eye to writing projects still in process, is whether I am, unconsciously, telling the same story over and over, merely changing the settings and the names of the characters. I can see that I concentrate on the character suffering oppression, whether as a prisoner, a slave, or someone caught up in the gears of a society suffering the strains of unanticipated and extreme changes.

But what about the people or the social forces responsible for the oppression? They are the source of the novel’s necessary conflict, but I think a closer examination of my published work might show that I sometimes allow them to remain shadowy figures that aren’t fully developed. The source of conflict in a novel can’t be an abstraction; the protagonist must be doing more than punching the air against a mysterious figure that fails to reveal itself.

There are many ways to approach theme, and that includes discovering it after you’ve written the first draft, and then developing it more fully. Chuck Wendig, bless his foul-mouthed heart, offered some valuable views of theme in an old post. Go there.

Dipping into Young Adult — Divergent

Divergent has not been on my TBR list. In fact, I fully intended to never read it. Why? Because when I read the description and some reviews, the basic premise seemed just as ludicrous as the premise of Hunger Games. I did read Hunger Games a couple of years ago, out of curiosity, but that curiosity was more than satisfied with the first volume. So when Divergent came along, it was a big unh uh for me.

But when I had the chance to buy it for a measly dime a few weeks ago, I thought I might as well give it a try. It’s still ludicrous, and I still have little sympathy (if that’s the right word) with the trend (if it’s still a trend) of pumping ordinary kids up into unbelievable heroes in order to make teens and young adults feel good. So it’s a girl. Yay! And she soldiers on with a bullet in her shoulder. Yay! But this kind of book isn’t about realism, so that’s just my take.

However… I’m glad I read it. Since the action, at least, is somewhat closer to reality than Hunger Games, and it’s well-written, for the most part, it gave me some insights about the development of A Well-Educated Boy. For one, it reminded me that my writing is still too barebones, and that Boy is likely to suffer from that fault. Almost any book will benefit by a richly described world, and deep diving into the main character’s inner life, but I think young adult science fiction really demands it. Until very recently, I wasn’t even thinking about Boy as young adult, so there’s that transition to get through.

Another insight is about titles. While I love A Well-Educated Boy, and it conveys the theme of the plot, it’s meant to be ironic, which isn’t apparent until you’re well into the novel. Plus, doubt that most younger readers will even catch it. Even worse, it sounds like the title of an essay on education. Not exactly a hook for curious minds. So, from now until the book is actually finished, I’ll be tossing around more catchy titles. At the moment, a better one seems like an impossibility, but maybe that’s because I’ve lived with this one for so long that it’s embedded in my brain.

One Thing Leads to Another — Sometimes a Sequel

When I wrote Hidden Boundaries, it was intended to be a complete novel–no cliffhangers, no unanswered questions. But it turns out that unless you’re writing a story in which there’s  a specific goal, and that goal is achieved, then there’s always more that can be said. Because, just like real life, the story doesn’t always end with The End. So I wound up writing Crossing Boundaries.

Now, several years down the line, I’ve been working on a novel that’s intended to end with The End. The only problem is that The End of A Well-Educated Boy doesn’t want to come into focus. It shifts, recedes out of sight, comes back looking pretty good, and then disappears again. There are two ways to look at this. I simply can’t make up my mind how I want the story to end because I don’t know Hart, my protagonist quite as well as I should by now. So he can’t make up his mind about what he wants to do.

Or… There’s a story beyond this story, and its existence means that the first story has to lead into it. Hart’s decision about what he’s going to do next depends on that story. Hart’s story is originally the story of his town:

Growing up and going to school in a company-owned town isn’t something Hart Simmons thought about much. He didn’t have any reason to. Until his best friend disappeared. Came back. Killed himself. Hart was always a bit of a trouble maker, the kind of kid who shoved back at rules, just because they’re rules. But he didn’t really know what he was shoving against. Zach’s death woke him up. And then his troubles started.

Burgundy is a nice town. Almost idyllic. Clean. No crime. Good jobs. But Hart doesn’t live in Burgundy anymore, and he probably can’t ever go back. Because he knows where Zach disappeared to and why he killed himself.

Dystopias can hide in plain sight. Right under your nose.

Where is Hart when the story ends, and what is he going to do now? The feeling that the story is about more than Hart’s life in Burgundy has been getting stronger lately, but that didn’t break through until just yesterday, when a new story idea popped into my head. It didn’t actually pop; it evolved out of an old idea that I was looking over and nudging here and there to see if it was ready for a little more development. And it turned out to be the answer to the big questions Hart has about Burgundy, and what direction his life might take. A sequel, durn it.

What it looks like so far:

Privatization had taken over many cities. particularly in one state. A group of owner corporations agrees to cooperate in a “utopian” plan, which includes testing for desirable qualities. The “failures,” those who don’t measure up, are trained to do unskilled and semi-skilled work. The “elite” are educated to enhance their abilities and are treated almost as a separate species of human.

Starts as a humanitarian project to ensure the survival of desirable traits and to benefit the human race in a time of extreme instability, but becomes a more far-reaching enterprise as corporations and later, governments, realize the advantages of controlling a population trained to obedience and a work ethic.

This concept is still sketchy, but it both answers questions that are hanging right now, and adds a complication. How do I end the first novel without leaving readers hanging? It needs to point to where it might go, but not with a frustrating cliffhanger.

Turning Dry into Drama – Bentham’s Dream

This is an unplanned followup to yesterday’s post. It may be somewhat disorganized, even a little incoherent, since I’m thinking with my fingers. Bentham’s Dream was originally intended to be part of a short story collection about prisons, from about the early 19th century to the 2060s or thereabout. Somehow, Bentham’s Dream took over and shoved the other stories out of sight. Credit the last few years of research about the death penalty, solitary confinement, and other aspects of criminal justice. The story has grown, from some 8,000 words to 26,000 words and is still a long way from being finished.

I think it was at about 25,000 words that I realized I had a problem and needed to do some very deep thinking about where the story was going. More important, and I think yesterday’s question about why anyone would want to read it was a trigger, the problems coalesced into one question: how do I turn a somewhat dry subject and two talking heads into a story that will fascinate rather than send readers off into slumberland.

This might serve as a metaphor for any subject that might grab a writer, but seems to have little potential for attracting readers. Fortunately, science fiction allows a lot of latitude in topics, and any serious sf reader probably has fond memories of books dealing with subjects that they never would have considered worth their time. This is worth thinking about in this age of formula writing. How many Hunger Games clones can you bear to read? How many zombie novels or post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world reruns?

There are thousands of possible topics waiting for the science fiction writer with some imagination, someone who’s willing to take some risks and walk away from the clones and clichés. But it won’t be easy. It’s probably been well over a year since I started writing Bentham’s Dream. My original concept was fairly limited, but turned out to be nothing more than the skeleton from which to hang something much more complex and, I hope, more dramatic. Something I discovered about my writing is that I tend to place my characters in very restricted circumstances. Well, there’s nothing more restrictive than a prison where there is zero chance of prisoners causing any problems for the staff. So, no riots, no murders. None of the clichés that we associate with prison stories. Just two people wandering around the prison, observing the prisoners, and talking about it. How in the world can I introduce action and drama into such a setting?

Originally, the main protag, an inspector for the region’s penal system, does his job and then leaves, trying to decide how he wants to slant his report. He and the warden have had an interesting and enlightening discussion, but never touched base with each other as human beings. Dull, dull, dull. After much backing and forthing about POV, I’m writing the story in first person, from the point of view of Jerry Stanton, the inspector. This puts us closer to him than third person would be, but also limits what we can know about Chandler, the prison warden. Since Chandler starts off as an efficient bureaucrat, Jerry’s point of view is important if we want to see him as a human being, possibly with doubts about his job.

As the story evolved, Chandler turned out to be the key to the drama, and to a very different ending than I had planned, one that will be, if I do it right, a shocker.

Major Change in November Plans

My regular readers know how often I change my mind, so this will probably be no surprise. NaNoWriMo 2016 is back on the calendar. How did that happen? Well, it was one of those things I’m sure everyone is familiar with in your own lives — suddenly seeing something so obvious that you could kick yourself for being — again– terminally stupid. It’s true that this isn’t a good time to be starting anything brand new, but what about the book I’ll be working on once Camp Expendable is out of the way? (Not to forget Set Me Free, which runs alongside of whatever is highest priority at the moment.)

The development of A Well-Educated Boy is well along in my head and has plenty of supporting notes that only need to be organized. There’s also about 8,500 words of text, which will have to be abandoned for NaNo, but they’ve set the tone that I want the book to convey, so that is one thing I won’t have to agonize over.

Having only a little over two and a half months to pull it all together is a bit of a rush, but considering how long this story has been churning away, that might not be a big problem. What I want to do is move much more to the “planner” side than my usual mix of planner/pantser. And that means figuring out how to make use of Scrivener’s outline feature, which I’ve never bothered with. As always, during NaNo, the more completely the story is laid out, the less stressful it is to get it written in 30 days or less.

In fact, as I’ve done before, I plan to keep working on another book during NaNo. This year, it will be Set Me Free. I may do less than I normally would in a month, but at least the work won’t stop altogether.

Of course, everything depends on my being able to stick to plans for Expendable, which means editing at least two chapters a day, getting the details of the last chapter written, running the whole thing through ProWritingAid, and then learning how to format it with Sigil.

It probably won’t be too long before I’m beginning to feel that time is running out and the wolves of failure are gaining on me. But what’s life without challenges?


Odds and Ends — Reading and Writing

This isn’t what I was going to start with, but Amazon is, at this very moment, updating my Kindle software. Not an unusual occurrence except for one thing–I had it set on airplane mode. So this means that Amazon can turn it on any time they want, for any purpose? Call me paranoid, but I find that slightly alarming. And now that the update is complete, it’s showing me my main page and it’s still in airplane mode. Any comments?

Another odd–or end–I’m writing this in WordPress’s quick draft mode which I just discovered this morning. The first thing I learned is that you can’t format anything while you’re in it. The second thing? Wait a minute while I save it and see where it takes me when I click on it again. Okay, it takes me to the normal “new post” page. Is there any advantage to using it? Yes. The last three drafts are listed on the dashboard now that it’s activated, so I don’t have to click over to the “all posts” page and then click on the draft to finish writing a post that I’ve left for later. So that’s a very minor, but nice feature.

Scrivener — There’s always something new to learn. Someone mentioned templates the other day, and I decided: Okay, why not give it a try? I always start a new project with a blank page, but since I set up all my fiction projects the same way, it doesn’t make sense to hassle with filling in all the binder settings every time. It was easy as pie, in case anyone is wondering. Open a blank project, set up your binder the way you want it, and Save as Template. That template will be listed with all of Scrivener’s templates. What I’m particularly happy about is that “Journal” is now always at the top of the binder. This is something Alicia suggested, but if I don’t have some kind of reminder right in front of me, I’ll forget all about it.

I’ve been in more or less of a sulk for the last two days, frustrated with Camp Expendable, and not feeling well physically. Maybe I needed a mini-vacation because the brain seems to be coming back online today. So — I’m having a sitdown with Casey, not an interview as Audrey Kalman suggested, though that may still happen. I haven’t gotten too far into it yet, but I’ve already found an aspect of Casey’s relationship with Jake that I’d never thought about.

Currently reading — Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, by K. M. Weiland

I’m only about a quarter of the way through, but I’m finding it helpful, to some extent. I doubt that I’ll ever be an adherent of any of the formal structures, whether it’s three or four or however many “acts” are considered vital. Just breaking my chapters into scenes was a bear because there’s rarely any action or clear demarcation that lets me draw a line between “this” and “that.” I’ll probably write a short review when I’m finished.

End of Odds.

Down to the Wire, and Raising the Stakes

I’m trying to finish and publish Camp Expendable by the end of the month, and it’s going to be tight. I’ve picked and poked my way through 16 chapters, sometimes with major revisions. Half of them have been through ProWritingAid, and will go through one more time before I’m finished. I’m down to the last chapter, which I’d never finished writing. If all goes well, meaning fatigue and headaches don’t pull a sneak attack, I’ll complete it today. Once that’s out of the way, the whole thing goes through another round of editing before a final proofreading. I’m not going to kill myself getting it all done, including compiling the epub (if I can figure how to do that without tearing out my hair), and putting a cover together. I will try not to let it drag on past the first week of April. My fingers are crossed.

Raising the stakes means taking on a blogging series that should nudge me in the direction of continuing to write A Well-Educated Boy. I plan to devote April and possibly May to Set Me Free, so Boy would serve more or less as breaks from that intensely difficult book. Nonfiction is much harder to write than fiction, and requires an entirely different frame of mind that’s difficult to sustain for long. Breaks are an absolute necessity.

The plan is to use the development of Boy as a way of showing what goes into creating one of my “grand” works. Just comparing before and after sections can get pretty boring for readers, especially those who aren’t writers themselves. I have a tentative list of what will go into the posts, including: the graphic for the cover, and possibly the cover in development, figuring out where the story will go and how it will end, how it’s set up in Scrivener, general notes, real-life sources of inspiration, excerpts. And possibly the short, initial first draft.

Since Boy won’t be top priority for quite a while, the posts won’t appear on a regular basis. To make the whole thing easier to follow, each post will have links to the previous ones. This is basically an experiment. I hope it will be interesting for other writers, and different from the normal practice of serializing an entire book on a blog. I also hope it will encourage me to keep working on the story and get it finished.

The Joy of Editing and Revision

The joy? I know the very idea of editing and revision being anything but agony will be a foreign concept to some of my readers. But. Yes, it can be agony, but it has such a vital part to play in turning ideas into a novel that the process sometimes seems like a kind of magic. NaNoWriMo and other little interruptions made it necessary to put Gift of the Ancien aside for longer than I really wanted to. But the time away has allowed the dust of forgetfulness to settle on the novel. Now that I’ve come back to it and blown the dust away, what I see is both flawed and slightly unfamiliar.

My big problem is that I pick at the little things needing correcting, and lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is what I’m looking at now, reading the novel from the first chapter to the very end, trying to keep that nit picky editor in its place. Gift is going to require the most massive and difficult process of revision I’ve had to face so far. In addition to the base story, I wrote a series of “interludes,” short pieces that read like short stories, and that were intended to serve as a kind of fictional backstory. That’s complicated enough, right. Fictional backstory for a novel.

Then I decided to continue the story into a slightly distant future, using part of what had originally been a stand-alone spinoff novel. The result could be, and was threatening to be, clutter. Massive clutter. So the revision process has been focused on how to draw all these wildly different parts together into a coherent whole.

An additional complication, thanks to a friend’s insightful critique,  has been moving the original central protagonist somewhat to the side, and ramping up the importance of others. It would be accurate to say that the original novel has turned into a gigantic mess. But it would not be accurate to say that I should just give up on it. Because, shining through the clutter and complications is the novel I hoped to write — exciting and original.

My way of going through the process of editing and revision isn’t one I’d advise anyone to imitate, but it works for me. I don’t create multiple drafts. Bad, bad, bad writer. Multiple drafts allow you to look back at where you started, and rescue parts that you initially thought should be discarded. Instead, I commit surgery and mayhem on the one and only original draft. I may save small chunks in a separate file for possible future use, but very rarely. The original draft rolls along, shedding detritus, picking up new material, slowly evolving into a brand-new creature.

I suppose that way of writing comes from a psychological quirk that prefers to leave the past in the past rather than dwelling on it. The idea of trying to find my way back through four or five drafts, or more, has a nightmarish quality that just makes me want to back away as quickly as possible. The horror! The horror! Not to mention the clutter.

So Gift of the Ancien is now under the gaze of the distant, objective god that created it. I highlight here and there, and make occasional notes in Scrivener’s floating notepad, but mainly, I’m just reading, getting back into the big picture. I never imagined that it would become such a huge picture.

Another Point of View

I tend to write my novels from the point of view of a single character and Camp Expendable started out that way. So it’s interesting to think about why, almost halfway into the story, I thought it might be a good idea to add another point of view. There are parts that are a drudge to get written, usually the ones that help move the plot from one dramatic point to the next. They aren’t all boring to write, and I certainly hope none of them will be boring to read, but some days, it’s definitely a hard slog.

Maybe that was the factor that entered into considering whether I could bring in another point of view and make it an organic part of how the story develops. There were two characters whose point of view could potentially liven things up. I didn’t want both of them, so I had to examine what each one could bring to the novel. Of course, it would involve going back to previous chapters and finding the spots where inserting the new POV would work. It didn’t hurt that I would automatically be adding new chunks of material to my word count. Maybe that was even an unconscious motive that drove me to think about a second POV.

But here’s what became apparent as I thought about it. By adding the point of view, I’d be creating  a more fully rounded character, and I suddenly saw how important that would be for the end of the book. Because what he eventually does could sideline his career in the military or even get him court martialed. Why would he be willing to do that? Without his point of view, his actions seem to come almost out of nowhere. Sure, I can, and will, let him explain it, but that’s a last-minute thing. Because we don’t know him very well, there’s no gradual buildup to that point, and the potential drama of his action is lost. Without that, he’s little more than a deus ex machina dragged in to “save” the hero.

So what was my real motivation in adding the second POV? Well, that’s one of the mysteries of creativity, isn’t it?


When Inspiration Strikes, Grab It!

If I seem to be busting out with blog posts lately, you can blame it on NaNoWriMo. Anticipation always makes me antsy and I have to vent the restlessness somewhere. But don’t expect me to keep it up once November starts. All my energy will be going into getting Camp Expendable written. Maybe even completed. I’ll still be blogging, but I won’t be doing boring daily NaNo updates. If you’re not participating in NaNo, you probably don’t care how many words I’ve written, or whether I’m suffering from writer’s block, brain burnout, or finger fatigue.

Because I’m concentrating so intensely on prep work for the novel, all kinds of unexpected goodies keep popping up that apply to writing fiction, whether you are or aren’t doing NaNo, whether you’re an experienced writer or a beginner. Today’s delight (at least it was a delight to me) is about inspiration and how it can create drastic changes in a story.

It’s kind of hard to end on an upbeat note when your protagonist has just been shot and you don’t know whether he lives or dies. But I intended to make a stab at it. I hoped to make it clear that it was everything that came before that was important and essentially upbeat in circumstances that should lead to hopelessness. What happens to Casey over the course of the story leads him to be in a position to be shot, and he has accepted the possibility of his death as relatively unimportant. I was satisfied with that ending and didn’t have any plans to change it.

And then inspiration struck. It was something I was reading, that had absolutely no point of connection to my plot, a blog post by John Michael Greer, the Archdruid. In The Patience of the Sea, he was talking about the meaning of life and whether it’s important that you be remembered. He’s always looking ahead to the distant future, and he recognizes that even the things and people we think will remain in humanity’s memory forever are just tiny blips that will disappear in the hundreds and thousands of years of the earth’s future history.

That took my concept of Casey’s life and possible death way beyond any consideration of what it means for that moment in time. If I let Casey live, it allows the significance of his gesture to extend outward and have some real effect on the world. He’s been transformed from the apathetic man we see at the start, into someone who can make a difference. His death, however brave it might be, would end his story right there. If I let him live, it also gives the novel one last dramatic uptick, as well as a more upbeat feeling combined with the open-endedness that tells us his story isn’t finished yet, even if we don’t know how it will turn out.