I haven’t posted a blog entry since the North Texas Book Festival entry of April 7, an unnervingly long time to go dark. However, the seed of darkness came the day of the April 9 festival itself; in order to pass the time between hordes of onlookers ignoring my Sortmind Press / Class Act Books / Double Dragon Publishing book display, I read my draft EPUB of the 2010 version of my novel Sortmind and, despite a longstanding vow to leave that novel in its current finished-but-unsatisfactory state, I was struck by a long-gestating vision of how I could reboot it.
I’ve liked that phrase “reboot the franchise” ever since hearing it applied to the newer Star Trek movies. It implies vast structural overhaul and the will to interpret old verities with startling new insight. It also implies being unhindered by ties to the past and allowing yourself to have fun.
The original Sortmind posited:
- A public library-created Telepathic Database delivering the answer to any question in an instant, yet Mindwiping countless citizens in its quest to acquire endless, unfathomable data.
- An absurd political war between one set of architecturally obsessed terrorists who seek to dynamite tiny triangles off every building in the city, and another group so committed to defending these triangles as spiritual necessities that they bring in tanks, helicopters, and armies of thugs for combat in the streets.
- Amid this escalating chaos, a major focus on Oliver and Sam, two art institute students as they struggle to define themselves against their fathers, leaders of the reviled, fascist Citizens Against Triangles.
- The concept of two opposing species of aliens on this planet–one trying to save humanity from extinction, the other merely wishing to track the progress of the coming apocalypse.
The 2010 manuscript, now called Draft 6, was a decent pulling together of Drafts 4 and 5 from late 2005 to early 2010, during which time I briefly tried to consider the novel as a trilogy, thinking it might market better as three short novels. But that was wishful thinking; this is one long Bildungsroman, not a dystopian YA trilogy. Drafts 4-6 were not too much removed from the original Drafts 1-3 of the previous century and the resulting manuscript I shopped around in pre-Internet days to no success.
But I’d been truly proud of that first manuscript, of having brought a lengthy, funny, coherent (in spite of all those things above mixing together), and psychologically accurate (to me) novel into the world. But years after shelving any attempt to publish Sortmind, I could see it just wasn’t holding up for numerous reasons, not least of which were the immense technological changes over the past twenty years. Overall there’s a disturbing sense of deliberately engineered failure to the existing Sortmind. I can’t really explain it. Insightful passages, especially about my core interest in the teenagers and their relationships, swirl together with tedious, repetitious political and science fiction rumination. Unfortunately–and I can now say this with a sigh of relief at having at least seen through some of my own delusion–there was much in Sortmind from its inception through 2010 which I knew didn’t work but uneasily rationalized as nevertheless “necessary.”
It used to be that if I wrote something with a solid story and I somehow managed to avoid engineering some problematic BS into it, I thanked the writing gods and moved on, not understanding that I was entirely capable of wrecking the next book with some fresh deluded disaster. It does seem that I’ve finally figured out that if a novel isn’t high energy all the way through, I have the ability to confront that directly and change the novel any way that’s needed and fun. But even as late as 2010 I had attachments to the original Sortmind I just could not see around.
One of these was the fact that I named my 1999 website sortmind.com! That definitely added pressure to keep worshipping the existing novel as somehow finished and perfect.
So on April 9, reading the high energy parts that worked, I said let’s go for it! There’s a moment when you irrevocably commit to a project and it’s no longer just one of the many plans you might get to one day. So I committed. But as I continued to read the EPUB of 2010 Sortmind, I would then gag at the structurally crappy parts and think, wow, what am I getting myself into, this thing is like some rundown 1930’s apartment complex they want me to tart up! Maybe I should just tear the mother down instead! Then I’d be back to a good chapter and think, well, maybe this could work … warily understanding that no matter whether I was reading the good or the bad, I’d already committed …
So the challenge has been to write the good story in this book. I suppose after I’ve trashed Sortmind so thoroughly in this post anyone reading this would steer clear of it forever, but I’m convinced there’s been something waiting for me in the original book for quite a while.
In 2011, the year after the 2010 manuscript and at a time when I was sobering up about the writing profession with the publication of The First Twenty Steps and The Martian Marauders, I began making some notes which I added to every few months, positing the elimination of the library in favor of a software company, thus driving an entirely new structure. The notes became the guiding force behind this new revision. So a lot of energy I’ve carried since 2011 just happened to open up on April 9 in the middle of the North Texas Book Festival.
This revision has to be the oddest writing I’ve ever done. At times it feels as if I’m writing fan fiction, making up zany new events for someone else’s characters. And sometimes I feel I’ve been handed an assignment to write a new screenplay for a very old TV series that some entertainment mogul contracted me to reboot.
I’ve written/edited two hundred pages of Sortmind Draft 7 and I’m about one-third through. I started at an overweight 175,000 words and am currently at 153,000, with a lot more ahead I can see to cut. The most basic change is getting rid of the silly triangles controversy and making the focal point of the conflict a controversial new telepathic app called Sortmind, created by the Trantor Group, a business, thus no longer pushing a library as a setting or librarians as characters. This removes a major attachment to the original book and forces rethinking of every chapter and character.
The book is already structurally mangled from 65 chapters to 49, leaving the unrevised two-thirds in total chaos and constantly inviting me to expand and alter. Much is starting to jell, but overall I’m still not sure if this will wind up being a publishable novel. Yet the experiment needs to be made, and I’m eager to press on despite some surprisingly difficult and uncertain work at the beginning. Some parts are total rough draft, others are major restructuring, a few places just need lighter revision. It’s time to bull forward and make a mess out of Sortmind 2016 and see what actually develops. While I’m concerned I could still allow old consciousness/phrasing/ideas, even against my deeper judgment, somehow I know that the stuff won’t survive.
copyright 2016 by Michael D. Smith