Chronotrace Sequence Postmortem: Part 1
In case you missed it, my dystopian science fiction series, The Chronotrace Sequence, has just wrapped up. And now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath a bit, it seems fitting to pause and reflect on what went into bringing this three volume series to life. So here’s my postmortem on all the agony and ecstasy of this, my first ever trilogy.
So just how did this series begin? Well the first kernel of an inkling for the story that would eventually become Into the Vast came in the summer of 1995 when I was living in Central America. Life is a little slower-paced south of the border and I was a young single guy so I had quite a lot of time on my hands (scratches head, tries to remember what that felt like).
My original idea for the story was about what the world would be like if there was only one Christian left. I started scribbling down the beginnings of the story in a notebook. In the first draft the main character was called Juan and he had a hispanic background (makes sense, right? I was living in Central America). And though he had lost his memory, he didn’t know it. In fact, he was totally integrated into the “new world order” (which was not called the Collective back then). He was something like an officer or agent and his partner’s name was Sky (who got morphed into Sierra in later drafts).
Juan meets a man named Medigo who was the last Christian I was telling you about. Not only does Mendigo teach him about God, but he introduces him to the primitive society which exists outside of the civilized world. From there Mendigo asks Juan to confront a former disciple of his who had turned bad, a man named Will (short for Wilkes, as in John Wilkes Booth—bet you didn’t know that’s where his name came from). In the original plot there was time travel via “virtual reality”, which was loosely inspired by Frank Herbert’s novel, The Jesus Incident. Juan had to track down Will inside these virtual timescapes and stop him before he killed everyone from Juan’s world.
Okay, if you’ve read the series you’ll see that the elements got really jumbled up in the rewriting. Funny how that happens. As for the original story, I think some of the biggest influences on those early ideas were from films. I wasn’t really reading much science fiction at that point. Movies like Virtuosity (with a young Russell Crowe), Demolition Man (Sandra Bullock’s big screen debut, I believe), and Johnny Pneumonic (basically the Matrix before there was the Matrix). Today I don’t think I’d enjoy any of those films (Demolition Man is particularly lame) but the concepts from those films sparked some ideas in me and I took them and ran…straight into a brick wall.
There and Back Again
And that all happened right before I got married. And a short time after that we moved back to the States. And then I started grad school, got a job, had children, got involved in church, and…well, you get the picture. I was reading almost exclusively books of theology, or spiritual growth, or apologetics. I read hardly any fiction at all. In light of all this, finishing that novel was the furthest thing from my mind.
And then something unexpected happened. I started a book club. The original purpose was as an evangelistic outreach. Though it utterly failed in that regard (we never got a single non-believer to join us) and in most other respects (there were only two of us for the first year and a half—some club, right?) it exposed me to fiction again. At around the same time I think the Lord of the Rings movies had come out a few years before which also reawakened long dormant memories of the kinds of books I had read growing up.
In reading those books I stumbled upon a profound and radical realization: “All truth is God’s truth”. Most of the theological and spiritual reading I had been doing for the last 10-15 years in order to grow in my faith was teaching me the same things as I was reading about in these fiction stories, some of them from very non-Christian authors. It was astounding. God in the pages of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? He was there! God in the Count of Monte Cristo? There too. God in the Fellowship of the Ring? Most certainly. And that is when I realized the true value of stories, as a window to the truth of God and the gospel.
As C.S. Lewis put it:
“Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of romance without their knowing it.”
And what Lewis meant by “romance” is really what we would call “fiction” in the present day.
Rip Van Winkle
And so I had basically what you might call a “Rip Van Winkle” experience. I basically slept and was dead to the world of fiction for the better part of ten years. And it was reading that woke me up. I absolutely loved that book club. But as time wore on I started thinking more and more about writing. And I remembered that story I had started so long ago.
Still I’m not sure I would have ever started back up on it again if two things hadn’t happened. 1. I quit the book club (most of my free time was being spent on reading) and 2. One of the former members and I started and informal writers group. Basically he would send me his short stories and I’d give him feedback and I’d send him chapters of my book and he’d do the same.
And all the time we were writing we were also doing research about the business side of things. Where to submit short stories, what was the role of literary agents, how to format submissions, write query letters, that sort of thing.
Could I Finish It?
I read somewhere at that time that something like 95% of people who ever start a novel never finish it and that of those only about 5% ever submit it for publication. So I figured my odds were amazing. All I had to do was finish the thing and it would be a guaranteed success, right? That was my motivation back then. Could I even do it? Could I complete a novel? Could I be part of that blessed 5%? What I did not know back then is that apparently a lot of people must start writing novels, because there are an awful lot who finish and submit them or publish independently.
And yet, finish it I did. Well, sort of. You see The Chronotrace Sequence was never meant to be a series. It was just supposed to be the one book. But as I neared the end of the first draft (which ended up being around 154,000 words) I realized that there was no way I could do justice to the story with just one book. Though the first draft was written in the style I like to call “fumbling in the dark” (which basically means I knew how the story started and how it ended, but getting there involved an awful lot of groping around for the details) I had accumulated a lot of ideas and notes about the world so I knew there was a lot more going on than what was coming through in the first novel.
So I began to map out the events that would bring the story to a more satisfying resolution. But there was still a long ways to go before I ever got around to writing the rest of the series. That first book still had to get finished. And I’ll cover that and more in the next part of the series, Chronotrace Postmortem, Part 2.
(You didn’t really think I would be able to explain what went into the making of an entire trilogy in one post did you?)