When galleys of a new book are sent out to readers, editors often include a short letter from the author, telling a couple of things about how the book came into being. A couple of months ago, Greenwillow sent out ARCs of Black Hole Sun, and they asked me write a such a letter, letting the reader know how I came up with a future dystopia on Mars. The response from the letter was pretty good, so I thought I would share it:
Black Hole Sun is a novel set in a dystopian future. So of course, I’m going to tell you about the past.
It’s 1969. My big brother is watching Star Trek on my uncle’s TV. I’m hiding behind a chair. There’s a woman with green skin on the screen. Green skin scares me. Because I’m five, and no one I know has green skin.
It’s 1973. Watergate. Vietnam. Civil unrest. If you listen to my parents, the world is going to hell in a hand basket. We’re watching the news unfold on a dinky black and white set. B&W TV is hell, in my opinion. Because all my friends have color sets, and they get UHF channels. Which means they get to watch Gigantor, a Japanese cartoon about a kid who controls a giant robot. Is that cool or what? All I get to watch is John Wayne movies and spaghetti westerns. My dad’s huge for The Duke. The Horse Soldiers and The Rescuers, directed by John Ford, are his favorites. Westerns aren’t Gigantor. But they’re better than, say, watching wrestling.
It’s 1979. My dresser is chock full of tattered Star Wars ’77 t-shirts. There’s a well-used faux light saber hanging on my wall, next to a poster of Close Encounters. I’m hiding under the covers, having just had the bejesus scared out of me by a new movie called Aliens. Darth Vader’s famous line, “I am your father” is still a year away. But I already have that figured out. Science fiction and pulp novels are piled on my nightstand–Logan’s Run, Doc Savage, Dhalgren, and Starship Troopers. But my teenage self wants more. More sword fights. More stolen kisses on the Deathstar. More swashbuckling with laser blasters. More deliciously wicked villains and more teen heroes who shed the bonds of parental expectations to go off to save their little piece of the universe. So like any teenager who wants more stories, I sit down and do what seems natural. I write my own novel, typing madly on an old manual typewriter that does more to build up my finger muscles than to improve my nascent writing skills.
It’s 2003. I’m in Greensboro NC at Orson Scott Card’s writers boot camp, doing my homework. Which is to scan magazines for the small details that can make a science fiction story feel real to the reader. I find an article about bioadaptive cloth and its possible use in military situations. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines has just been released, and one evening, instead of writing, I sneak off to see it. Back at bootcamp, I write a story about sentient chiggers tunneling through Mars’ core, part of a terraforming experiment. A classmate calls it “Crabs from Space.”
It’s early 2009. I’m struggling with a follow-up to my debut novel. Ideas are leading nowhere. First drafts become dead-ends. Then I’m cleaning out the garage and find an old manuscript, yellowed and crinkled. The casualty of many moves from dorm to apartment to houses in different parts of the country. I read a few pages. The story’s lame. Completely void of inspiration. But the writing has a certain spark, and I remember the teen who wrote this. His passion. His need to see something of himself in story. His wish to make a difference somehow, even if it’s in the pages of a book.
So I email my editor a single sentence. The idea for a new novel. It’s the kind of story I tried to write in 1979 but couldn’t—a heroic but flawed teen with parental issues who stares down his monsters instead of hiding behind the furniture. She likes the idea, and it leads to the book you’re holding. I hope you enjoy it—after all, it’s forty years in the making.
And that sentence I sent? It wasn’t “Crabs from Space.” But it could have been, dear reader. It could have been.