Tuesday, July 20, 2004

About a Book (Turned Into: Crocodile Man: A Postmortem)

Wolf asked what The Crocodile Man is about, and I realized that I don't think I've really ever shared anything about the book, so here goes.
I started working on The Crocodile Man in late 2002; before September 11th, I had been working on a novel that was, in some ways, a political satire, mostly dealing with the ineffectual nature of a missile defense shield that our government seemed bound and determined to waste billions on (speaking of, whatever did happen to that?)  After September 11th, I put that aside - although I have a feeling some of the scenes and/or premises from that book will make their way into a future novel - because it no longer seemed timely.  I wrote a few stories, one of them even got published online, but didn't really start working on a novel until more than a year later.  And then, I took a fresh start; I'd hooked up with an RPG website to do a monthly column with them, in addition to a lot of the work I was doing on local news rags and mags at the time.  They asked me to do some fiction, too, so I said, sure, I'll do twelve 10000-word installments of a serial novel, and that became The Crocodile Man
I didn't even have a title for it for about the first 30,000 words, and I'll admit, the title is still pretty arbitrary.  The only goals I set out for myself were to create a science fiction novel with a strong female lead; I had finished M.K. Wren's A Gift Upon the Shore and was lamenting the lack of good female leads in SF, especially post-apocalyptic fiction.  I did an independent study of PA literature in college, so I was very familiar with the genre, and I figured I might give it a shot, so I set Crocodile in a near-future where there hasn't been one, large collapse, but a series of smaller ones collectively called "The Fall," so resources are scarce and there's little to no infrastructure, but still quite a few people around, all trying to pick up the pieces.  I very strongly based the scenario off of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael series of books, and the suggestions Quinn has made about our future if our method of agriculture eventually leads to a major collapse in biostructure.
After the first three chapters, I had a lot of the typical genre-stuff - racist militias, crazy scientists, survivalist enclaves, religious whackos, and so on.  I really wasn't aiming for art when I started Crocodile - aside from actually displaying the discipline to write a book, I just wanted to add something else to a portfolio - but I also didn't want something so bland that it was doomed to languish in the bottom of my desk for the rest of my life, either.  So I started subverting the cliches - the militias aren't always bad, the survivalists aren't all good, there are uncommon acts of kindness here and there.  I think I was influenced more than a little by the TV version of Jeremiah, but I'd also like to think that there's a somewhat positive note to humanity, too.  SF, especially PA-SF, allows is to explore what people can do in extreme situations - in fact, the most extreme of situations - because it's only in those kinds of situations where our precious philosophies and moralities will stand up to the hard truths of experience.  Was it possible for a person to survive in a world like this without killing anyone?  Does the drive for power really cancel out every aspect of a person's humanity?
Reading over this, I think I'm taking myself way too seriously, which is never a good thing.  My plan for Crocodile is to put it away for about six months and then come back to it after I've completely put it out of my mind, so I can wade through and give it a really good editing.  Then, I might do that again.  Then, I might try to find an agent, or a publisher, or both. 
And in the meantime, I've already started making notes for my next little work.  I'll shoot for another 120,000 words, but this time, I'm not going to stick nearly as rigorously to form.  For some reason, the thought of 120 1000-word chapters amuses me; 240 500-word chapters seems even funnier.  Hell, I can write a 500-word chapter over my lunch break at work.  I could have another novel in less than a year if I could keep up one chapter a day.

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