Chroma: Calanooka is the third book in the Constructed Sanity series by Carlie Martece, who has brilliantly woven another story that plays out on multiple levels: this is not simply a book to read, but to interact with.
We follow our neurodivergent protagonists, Leandra and Cal, through the desert to a little town called Summerton. They have difficult lives, trying to survive in a world that does not care about them. They are visited by Kalakai, an alien, who tries to recruit them for cosmic battle and warns them things may get worse before they get better.
The winter her grandfather died, Cari Silvestri swapped her home town for a new life. But the past is not so easily outrun. Almost ten years on, Grandfather returns, his stolen memories repackaged by technology giant Merrywhile Industries as a slick marketing promo for their latest project: digital immortality. But when no one believes her, Cari’s search for proof and answers gradually draws her into a lawless digital underworld.
Mel Faith is also haunted by the past. Her journalistic career circling the drain, she finds herself still obsessed with the one piece she never filed – the tragic history of Michael Sommeil, grandson of Merrywhile’s founder. It’s a story with few leads and fewer prospects, but at whose heart – she’s sure – a secret still sits untold.
As their paths intertwine, the two women enter a world of masks and aliases, of mercenary hackers and corporate spies, and where, underlying it all, is the hunt for the Singularity – the point, both feared and hoped for, where AI will finally surpass human understanding, and nothing will ever again be the same.
One of my major interests is inner worlds: the subjective experience of being human. Perhaps, then, it goes without saying that I love to write the self, and I love to read the personal accounts of others. So I’ve been thinking about the different ways we choose to do this, and in particular the various methods available for presenting it. Here I share some distinctions I’ve made along the way.
Autobiography is the most ‘objective’ method for writing the self, with the aim of presenting events as they really happened. It will usually (but not always) be in chronological order and span most of a lifetime.
Memoir is a collection of memories from a specific aspect or time period of the author’s life. It is usually presented in an entertaining way, with some distance between the narrator and the subject, some hindsight, but also some intimacy of emotional context.
An Autobiographical Novel is the semi-fictionalisation of real events. It puts more distance between the narrator and the subject, and allows the use of plot devices, imagined events or characters, and heightened drama. There is an expectation that the author will do this not in an attempt to mislead, but to make the text more attractive to readers. Like memoir, autobiographical novels will usually cover a specific aspect or time period in the author’s life.
I knew this book would be for me as soon as I read the description: an experimental, poetic, flow-of-consciousness exploration of reality, fantasy and all the spaces in between. Yes please!
This is the kind of book you bring yourself to, in that you’re never 100% sure whether your experience is what the writer intended or whether you pasted your own meaning over the top of their words. There’s enough continuity, enough thread to hang onto, to make the text flow through an arc, but it also leaves a lot to interpretation.
I read this as the narrator delving into and confronting his own psyche. Perhaps it comes from knowing this was written during the first pandemic wave, when many felt isolated and helpless, but I see someone grasping desperately at straws to find meaning; someone left alone with his thoughts and falling deeper into their clutches. He picks at scabs, seeks out dark corners, obsesses over repeating motifs and patterns, and he digs.
I’ve been reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and I don’t want it to end. I’m not sure what it is that I find so spellbinding about her writing, but it was the same with M Train when I read that last year. Like a pair of comfortable boots, I’d live in them I could.
M Train begins with the line: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” And you may be fooled into thinking it is a book about nothing. Patti talks in streams about coffee, cafes, wandering, memories, books, waiting, superstition and coincidence with little linearity or focus. But in showing us what her down time looks like, she shows us the profound. Poetic vision isn’t some gift radioed in from another world; it’s in the everyday, in the gaps between ego events. Our art is in the little things we notice when we think we’re doing nothing. And sometimes there is no point, no single focus of meaning. Sometimes the only thing we need to take away from an experience is our own natural response.
“Life is at the bottom of things and belief is at the top, while the creative impulse, dwelling in the center, informs all.”
For me, M Train was itself on a trajectory of synchronicity. It was exactly a year on from writing Mind in the Gap (which has a main character called M and a string of wacky experiences on trains) that I noticed it, and I was still at a bit of a loss as to what I would do next. I’d been playing about with some ideas, redrafting an old novel, but nothing seemed to gel. Then, somewhere between the lines of Patti Smith’s nothing, I started thinking about my own nothing. And, from a stream of consciousness style notebook I kept on a trip to London, I got a good start on the novella that is to become Endless Circles. Something comes from nothing.
Micah Thomas is author of the Eudaimonia series – a unique blend of paranormal with literary fiction. In the final interview of our Writers on Lockdown series, he joined me to chat about isolation, spiritual teachers, and layers of meaning.
Hi Micah, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! How are things over there in the US, are you feeling as ‘locked down’ as us?
I have been a shut in for a few years. The isolation certainly has intensified as online friends focus on keeping themselves… I don’t know. Keeping themselves together.
Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
My creative stages have an isolation mode, where I’m heads down working. The creation place is very private and I don’t like eyes on me. However, my sharing motion needs witnesses and that is tough right now. I’m releasing so much art and writing and it’s really not a good time for it.
So you’ve released two novels so far in the Eudaimonia series, when can we expect the third?
The final novel and the final volume of short stories will both be available in April. I’m formatting Evidence of Changes vol 3 as we speak. The novel will be formatted next month. Then I’m practically done with this Eudaimonia world. Kinda.
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you talk a bit about what the Eudaimonia world is?
Michael Walters is author of The Complex, an unsettling novel about the human psyche and its relationship with strangers and virtual reality. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, Carl Jung, and the importance of subtext in creating atmosphere.
Hi Michael, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing?
I’m faring well, thank you. I’m very lucky — I have a job that I can do from home, the kids are safe, and our parents are healthy. Being at home all the time with a full-house is challenging sometimes, but some people are going through hell at the moment, so I’m not complaining.
The lockdown is definitely not isolation for me. I like being alone. Being alone is the only way I can let my mind wander. I’m an introvert, so when I have to turn on the extrovert afterburner, I do need to recover. That’s really hard at the moment.
Are you finding the opportunity to work on anything new?
I wrote a short story in January and February which I hope will get published later this year. After finishing that, I wanted to get into my next novel, then coronavirus hit. I’ve been able to flesh out some ideas — I have a map of the location in my head, some characters, a few possible scenes, a title — but I haven’t started the first draft. The momentum is building. I hope I can finish a draft by the autumn. That might be hopelessly optimistic!
I wanted to talk a little about your recent novel, The Complex, which explores the psychological effects of unfamiliar spaces, both virtual and real. Can you tell us about the premise and how you came to write on this theme?
Jonathan D Clark is author of philosophical novel Arcadia, and his short story The Video was published in our recent anthology, Vast. As part of our Writers on Lockdown series, he joined me to discuss isolation, paranoia, and the dark side of our relationship with technology.
Hi Jonathan, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks for having me as part of this series. It’s a pleasure.
How are you surviving in these crazy times, do you find isolation is a help or a hindrance to your writing process?
I’ve always been a rather reclusive individual (going to and from my day jobs throughout the years without speaking to anyone), so besides the limitations on what there is to do around town—and having to snipe for groceries—not a whole lot has changed for me due to the lockdown. Although, it did give me the chance to tell my more extroverted friends “welcome to my domain.” And as for productivity, it did witness a spike in the first week, but it has since slowed back down to its original pace.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
For the past year I’ve been working on my next novel, along with the occasional short story here and there when I feel I need a break from the grand narrative.
Canyou tell us anything about the new novel at this stage, or is it top secret?
Unlike Arcadia, my current WIP (titled False Cathedrals) will have a more contemporary setting; taking place in 2012 in the fictional town of Midtown, Vermont—as well as a few chapters taking place in the mid-to-late 90s. At the heart of the novel is Daniel Bloom, a middle-aged psychotherapist who can’t seem to escape the haunting memory of his first wife, Karen; even after fourteen years have passed since her untimely demise at the hands of a crazed shooter, now dormant. Hoping to distract himself, Daniel puts all his focus into helping a patient find lucidity after well over a decade of uncertainty. But it doesn’t help when he hears that the shooter has started a new, violent rampage.
Chris Beckett is an Arthur C Clarke award winning science fiction author. He’s published six (soon to be seven) novels and dozens of short stories, often focusing on ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’ space. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, metaphysics, and tribalism in modern society.
Hi Chris, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Is isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing process?
I’ve been having difficulty moving my writing forward this last couple of months, but this often happens – I simply dry up and can’t seem to write anything – and it may have nothing to do with the lockdown. However I do think my ability to concentrate (never brilliant to be honest) is worse than usual.
When the real world is stranger and more engrossing than usual – and I am finding it engrossing – it is perhaps harder to focus on imagined worlds?
In my life generally, I’d say I am finding the lockdown more interesting than distressing. I’m used to spending a lot of time by myself at home, and in some ways the lockdown is providing a stimulus for me to find ways of keeping more in touch with some people than I usually would, which is nice.
I have a little granddaughter – she is 13 months old – and I’m very sad not to be able to spend time with her, as the plan had been (until this happened) that I would be looking after her for one day a week.
I’ve heard from several writers that their creativity is at a low point. I wonder if being engrossed in new situations is all part of ‘refilling the well’ of inspiration. Do you think we’ll see a different kind of fiction emerge on the other side of this?
I think that’s exactly right about ‘refilling the well’. We have to stock up on life in order to have anything to write about. And none of us have had many experiences which are completely comparable to this one. (In fact a lot of writers have had pretty quiet lives generally, I suspect). I’m sure new kinds of fiction will come out of this, but I really don’t know what. This virus has changed life for everyone, but in so many different ways.
I wanted to talk in particular about your recent novel, Beneath the World, a Sea, which is full of strong, surreal imagery, questions of the unconscious and philosophy of mind. When so many science fiction writers are focused on future technology, what made you turn inwards and address the nature of consciousness?
Kenny Mooney’s books are experimental, ‘unapologetically nihilistic’ prose poems that skillfully thrust the reader into new perspectives. In the first of a new series of interviews, I caught up with him to chat about isolation, writing style, philosophical influence, and the importance of ambiguity in literature.
Hi Kenny, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thank you for having me!
So how are you faring in these strange times – is isolation beneficial to your creative process or a hindrance?
The isolation isn’t a problem for me. I’m an introverted, fairly anti-social person, so being told to stay indoors and not socialise is basically my life. I’m amused at how many people, mostly those I work with, have been going on about how they don’t know how they’re going to manage, and it’s been about a week. I imagine them already chewing their fingernails down. These will be the fucking idiots buying all the food in the supermarkets.
Isolation definitely benefits my creative process though. I’m not the kind of person who can write around other people, I need a totally separate space that I can control and manage. Not that I’ve been writing very much lately, but when I do, having somewhere away from other people is certainly required. I guess because this whole situation isn’t actually that much different to my normal life, for me, I don’t feel as compelled to take advantage of the lockdown and do something creative.
I think pressure to be productive can have a negative effect on output for creatives. Would you agree?
I would definitely agree, at least for me. Different people respond to different stimuli, but in my experience, pressure is not a great way to encourage creativity. And I think that can often be part of the problem for writers, and other artists. We put ourselves under so much pressure to reach some arbitrary level, be it a particular word count, or to be original or funny, experimental, or whatever. I think if people just relaxed and let the work be itself, to arrive in its own way, they’d be happier, and maybe more productive. But who knows. I’m wary of giving or listening to writing advice. Do whatever works for you.