Saturday, May 23, 2009

When a story doesn't work

Yes its me, the missing blogger. There are a lot of reasons for my lack of posts, the foremost being that I've been working on historicals lately and its hard for me to think "alien" when I'm back in another century. The other is that my Colby Hodge career has taken a beating lately. I got so far behind in my writing with my dad's illness last year that Colby kind of fell by the wayside. Then she ran out of contract right when the economy tanked. So while I have fans asking for the next books in the Star series, the publisher doesn't want to publish them. Its all about the sales. (But please Zander fans, keep asking. Let the publisher know you want his book.)

So I finished a historical, started the next one and took a look at what was going on in my career and the market. Since my publisher did not want to go with more Star books I wrote up a proposal on another series. A sci/fi heavy post apocolyptic world that would cover three books. It had mech heroes, paranormal heroines, and three different societies all struggling for control. I shopped it around to several different publishers and it got rejected at each one. There was no empathy for the characters. Quite a blow to me, who writes strong character driven stories. Also this market is just not strong enough at the moment. The fan base just is not there. The fans are hard core but the numbers don't support it. While I love the genre, my sales in historicals are four times what I sell in sci-fi.

So what does my failure to sell this series have to do with writing? Stick around for the next several weeks and you'll find out. I'm going to post the proposal, then show you what I did to revamp it for a new and rising trend in today's market.

Jericho by Cindy Holby writing as Colby Hodge

Things are not always what they seem.

Setting: A dark future

There are times in history when progress takes a great leap forward. The twentieth century was such a time. In that century, innumerable discoveries were made that changed the face of the world.

Late in the twenty-first century a synthetic was created called admanium. It was touted that this synthetic could bond with any living tissue. People with missing limbs could have new ones bonded into their skeleton and with the advent of synthetic skin no one would know the difference between the original and the replacement. Further experiments were done to see if the admanium could be used to replace failing organs such as kidneys, the liver, or even the heart but while the substance could bond, it could not replicate the purposes of those organs.

During these experiments another discovery was made… a discovery that changed everything. Admanium displayed the ability to bond with brain cells. Alzheimers and Dementia were no longer a dreaded result of the aging process. Through outside stimulus those that suffered from these diseases were able to live out their lives in a normal way and recall their loved ones.

This led to another discovery. A discovery made by a group heavily involved in researching connectomics which is the wiring of the brain. Researchers could trace the estimated 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses and the human mind became an instrument of great power. It also proved beyond any doubt that the human mind held paranormal capabilities. An International Institute for Paranormal Research was formed with scientists from around the world. They discovered that Admanium administered to subjects with paranormal tendencies could achieve mind control over those who did not possess such talents. When the discovery was made public, the general outcry was one of fear and paranoia instead of joy.

Everyone wanted the power. Nations worried that others may use it against them. Mass hysteria broke out around the world. Paranoia became the norm. War broke out and biological weapons were used. The great cities of the world were decimated and the nations of the world became isolated from each other by circumstance and by choice. The biologics also affected the weather into extremes. The far north became an artic wasteland, earthquakes destroyed everything west of the Rockies and the East coast began at the Appalachian Mountains. Islands in the Caribbean and South Pacific disappeared beneath giant waves, along with Southeast Asia and Japan.

Some people survived because of immunity to the biologics. Others were forever genetically altered. Some sought refuge in the mountains and forests. Others stayed closed to what were once the cities and did what they could to build a new society. In times such as these the strongest take control. The IPR (Institute for Paranormal Research) formed a new society in the Midwestern United States and with new technology developed from the admanium enclosed the surviving generations in a dome. All of the Dome citizens were encouraged to lead peaceful lives through subliminal messaging enhanced by the admanium.

Not everyone went inside the dome. Some of the survivors did not want to be controlled by the IIPR who felt they knew what was best for everyone. There were in the IIPR who thought they should have all the power. Then there were some who just wanted to be left alone.

The dome is run by a ruling council which oversees the administration of the PRISMs. (Paranormal Research Instruments of Subliminal Messaging or PRISMs) The PRISMs are culled from the general population by the IPR to be instruments of the government. In reality they are nothing more than tools, used for their paranormal abilities and attached to the computers that regulate every aspect of life inside the dome. The PRISMs are controlled by the governing body which then make “suggestions” to the PRISMs who in turn use subliminal messaging to keep the population under control. Everyone is happy and everyone is at peace and order is kept in society. The PRISMs have no idea of what they are doing in reality. Due to the mind control that the council holds over them, they live in a dream like state called symlife where they think they are functioning normally. In reality they are kept plugged into the computers where they eventually wither up and die. There are some who hold value and the use of muscle stimulants and intravenous feeding keeps them alive for a while and easy prey for the whims of the council.

Those who do rebel against the council suffer a worse fate. Some are executed. Some, who are deemed to have potential, are reintroduced into society with some alterations made by the admanium. They become servants and are used to work the baser tasks that keep the society running. Others are incorporated into the army after being outfitted with the admanium so that they may better serve the society that they harmed with their criminal acts. All of these have their memories and consciousness erased so that all they know is obeying the orders given to them without thought.

Edmond Swain is part of the ruling council. That is not enough for him. He thinks there should be one person in charge instead of a council. But in order to achieve that goal he needs an edge. He needs a PRISM that is stronger than the others. He begins a quiet search for someone who he can use to accomplish his goal.

Outside the dome people are just trying to survive. They have their own independent society. They till the earth and scrounge for whatever they can find to make life more livable. They have to put up with disease, the elements and the wild beasts that roam the deep forests that have reclaimed the earth. They also have to deal with the lawlessness of the Scrabbers who inhabit the mountains and only attack at night. The so called Scrabbers are descended from those who suffered genetic mutation due to the Great Biologic War.

Those who live ouside believe freedom is worth their struggle to survive. They are free of the whims of the IPR ruling council, except when the council decides their lawlessness needs to be controlled and send their mechanized army to attack and acquire workers for the dome.

Merritt and Dax live outside the dome in the place called The Real. Dax’s father is the leader of the group and hopes that Dax will take over some day. Dax doesn’t think about that now as he is in love with Merritt. He knows there is something special about her and trusts her instincts as she seems to know when trouble is coming their way.

On the day of their wedding the mechs from the dome attack. Everyone scatters from the celebration but the mechs follow only Dax and Merritt. It is as if they are being tracked as they run through the ruins of the former city. Finally they are cornered and Dax is severely injured when he tries to fight them. Merritt is taken and Dax is given over to the mechs to replace the soldier that he killed.

Swain takes Merritt as his PRISM. He alters her memory so that she thinks she is his daughter and the symlife that she lives as she is connected to the master computer is very real. Except for the dreams she has. The dreams of her past life with Dax.

Dax is enhanced with the admanium and incorporated into the mechs. They are all interconnected to each other and to the master computer. It is there that he sees flashes of his past life. His sees images from his life with Merritt and he realizes what has happened to him. His consciousness returns and he rebels and escapes with one thought.

Find Merritt.

He finds help in a Doctor who thinks Swain and the council are committing crimes against humanity. At one time he had been involved with genetic research using admanium. He realized what he was doing was wrong and went into hiding where he helps those who try to escape their fate. Meanwhile the council is after Dax because if it is known that a mech has escaped and the life chosen for him it will bring chaos down upon their society.

Dax finally finds Merritt and takes her away. But Merritt does not know if Dax is real or just a product of her dreams. She does not know which life is truly hers. The one Swain created for her or the one she lived in the Real. Only Dax’s love can bring her back to discover her true self. Then she can help him defeat Swain and the council and show the inhabitants of the Dome that really living life makes it all worth while.

Next week chapter one.


  1. (First time here.) That sounds like a really cool story.

  2. We've talked about keeping SFR afloat during the recession over at the Galaxy Express. Did you query ePublishers? Samhain, in particular, I think, loves SFR and it would keep your SFR fans happy, even it doesn't bring in the same royalties you're used to.

  3. Cindy, thanks for this post and I'm sorry to hear about your challenges.

    Your proposal has a lot of great elements, and boy, would I ever buy the book--but I'm not a publisher, so I understand the realities.

    I agree with Kimber An--submit it to Samhain. Sasha Knight seems like an editor who would "get" your story. Samhain might also let you continue with the Star series--I read they actually encourage authors with orphaned series to submit the next book to them.

    Not only is your SFR story niche, but trying to shop it in today's economic climate just multiplies the obstacles. Even Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's planned re-issues were canceled. I'm sure this is affecting a huge number of authors.

    I made a prediction on my blog last year that a breakout SFR might very well come from an epublisher. Of course, it's too soon to tell, but now I'm wondering if the whole dang genre might just break out from the digital realm.

    Science fiction romance is about the unexpected. Once this economy improves and readers have stable jobs and are financially secure, they'll be ready for what this genre can offer them.

    In the meantime, you do what you need to do, even if it isn't writing SFR.

  4. Oh, I've read an e-book with a very similar bit of worldbuilding -- the domes, armies, escapees, rebellion, ESP, -- not this background but very similar. It was a good story, but now I can't recall the title or author.

    That's an important trick, getting the title just right so when the reader remembers the story, the title pops to mind, so it can be recommended.

    As for SFR breaking out in the e-book realm, my post for tomorrow (Tuesday May 26, 2009) will be about marketing, and the paradigm I spotlight should apply directly to the problem of PNR and SFR finding a profitable niche.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg