Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011, Day 2: What? That's not the first chapter!

When I got up this morning, I started thinking about the direction in which I'd be taking my novel today.  I was really happy with what I'd written yesterday, and pretty excited because I'd received some positive feedback.

Then, I hit the panic wall, where I'm sure I have no idea what I'm going to write next.  I'm really good at psyching myself out this way, and I do it quite often.  However, this time I did my best to just rein it in and take a few deep breaths.  While I continued to get ready for the day, I just kind of let my mind wander and then, suddenly, I hit upon it: the chapter 1 I wrote yesterday really wasn't the first chapter.

After NaNoWriMo 2010, I decided that I was going to seize on the next NaNoWriMos as an opportunity to experiment with my writing.  I have written a few different types of works, so I don't think I was stuck in a rut or anything, but I have had these moments where I think about how much I'd like to write for a certain genre and then I dismiss those thoughts because I'm convinced that it's "too hard".  And then I huddle back into my comfort zone and head merrily through life.  I wasn't willing to settle for that, though.  I wanted to take some risks, try some things I've been afraid to try.  I knew it was certainly possible that I'd fail spectacularly, but I decided that my objective with each NaNoWriMo was to take risks.  The only question that remained was which genre I wanted to attempt.


When I was younger, my reading was almost exclusively mystery, a genre that I still enjoy a great deal.  Over the last several years, though, I've begun to branch out, and have discovered that I also love many types of non-fiction, historical fiction, and dystopian/speculative fiction.  I rediscovered YA fiction more or less by chance.  I'm rather obsessed with the Harry Potter series, but I hadn't really touched any fiction meant for young people since then.  A few years ago, though, I was teaching in a middle school, and I noticed that a lot of the students--and some of the teachers--were talking about The Hunger Games the way people used to talk about HP, and so I decided to give it a shot.  I read the first two books voraciously, and then had a few months to kill before Mockingjay came out.  Hungry (har har!) for more, I started looking at other titles, trying to find something to fill the hole.  That is when my love affair with the genre began.

I think I made the same mistake that many people make, which was to think that adult fiction was ever so much more sophisticated than young adult fiction.  Time and again, I was proven wrong by the many fabulous books I read.  In fact, the more I read of YA fiction, the more I realized that I was of the opinion that many young adult authors out there are far, far more talented than many adult authors, and that the YA authors were tackling some really meaty, deep issues and yet still managing to tell a rip-roaring tale while they did so.  What's not to admire about this?  As an author, I can try to entertain and inform at the same time?  Yes, please!  It was decided: I was going to try my hand at YA fiction.

Once I made that decision, I thought about what issue I would like to have central to my story.  It seemed that the best of the genre were novels that took a certain issue or aspect of society and used that as the foundation for the story.  A good dystopia doesn't just exist, it has to have grown from something, has to have evolved from some aspect of our modern life.  I thought long and hard about which issue I really wanted to explore in my dystopia, and decided on an issue about which I'm very passionate: education.

Initially, my intent was to write about teenagers in the distant future who were going through an educational system very different from the one we know.  It was my doomsday scenario for American public education, if you will.  As time passed, though, and as I read and listened to podcasts about the current state of our economy, my focus started to shift a bit, and I realized that the central question I wanted to posit in my novel was this: What if the influence of corporations spread to every corner of society?  And that is exactly what I'm attempting to explore.

However, I didn't want to let go of the educational system entirely, and felt that it was important to the development of my dystopia.  That is why I decided that chapter 1 needed to become chapter 2, so that I could use chapter 1 to offer a bit of flavor showing what schooling is like in my dystopia, as it is an integral part of the world I was building.  I hope you will enjoy.

***


I pledge to maintain the integrity of Magnum’s vision.
I pledge to always work at my peak performance.
I pledge to be dedicated and hard working.
I pledge to stay healthy and productive.
And most of all, I pledge to remain loyal to my Job Creator,
and to do all I can to ensure my Creator’s success.

Though she had spoken those words almost every day for the last fourteen of her seventeen years of life, Dara felt a frisson of excitement shoot its way up her spine.  Those words now had a depth of meaning to her that they hadn’t all those years ago, when she had first learned them.  Now she truly understood them, now that she was standing at the threshold, her entire future laid out before her.
             
As she glanced around at the other twenty-one students in her Engineering IV class, Dara saw a mixture of expressions on their faces.  Some of them looked every bit as enraptured as she did, while others looked slightly green.  She watched one boy in particular, Patrick Regan, as he swallowed convulsively and tried to surreptitiously wipe his hands on the pants of his uniform.  She wasn’t surprised.  Patrick had always struggled, had always hung on by his fingertips, and she regarded him now with some disdain.
            
Still, she couldn’t quite quell the slight churning of her stomach.  What if she had been like him?  What if she had spent every day in school struggling just to keep up, to hold on?  What if she, like him, was facing the prospect of failure, the prospect of sliding from being a Ballast to being a Core?  The prospect was so terrifying it made her shudder, and she hoped no one else noticed, lest they think she was worried about her exam tomorrow.
             
“Welcome to your last day as a prospect.  Tomorrow you will become a contributor,” Instructor Haddad told them.
            
Jonathan was unable to resist the urge to let out a slight hoot, and he cast a sideways glance at Dara as he did so.  A smile spread across her face, and the expression was mirrored on his.

Instructor Haddad leveled a grave gaze on Jonathan, but even the normally taciturn Instructor couldn’t quite repress a look of satisfaction.  The Instructor had a right to feel proud, Dara thought.  They were her most successful group of students yet—except for Patrick, that is.  Still, the Instructor had received special recognition from Magnum, an award for the services she had rendered Magnum’s youth.  It was a highly coveted prize, and there was always a lot of competition between the Instructors, each of them eager to claim the prize and solidify their position within Magnum’s educational institution.

“You have all worked very hard to get here, but let me caution you: now is not the time to rest on your laurels.  Though your education has been rigorous, expectations for you are very high.  You will not be handled gently tomorrow.  It’s very likely that your testing will prove to be far, far more difficult than it was for previous classes.  I don’t think I need to remind all of you that, now more than ever, there is a great deal at stake.”   

As she spoke, Instructor Haddad walked around the room, her hands behind her back in an almost military posture.  Each student was treated to her intensely laser-like gaze.  Years of practice allowed Dara to return the look with a steady gaze and a placid expression, but she could feel her heart speed up ever so slightly.   

Last week, the previous year’s graduates had returned to the school to sternly caution the students that, as rigorous as their schooling had been, it would seem easy in comparison to the challenges of being a contributor, but Dara still had trouble believing that anyone could be as exacting as Instructor Haddad.

A slight noise startled her, and she turned her head to see that Patrick’s face was so red it looked as though he might explode.  He turned his head and saw her staring, and his face turned even redder, though she’d hardly have thought it possible.  For the brief second that their eyes met, she could see that his were wet, and she realized the sound she had heard was him stifling a sob.  Quickly, she averted her gaze, refusing to look at him any longer.               

The tone sounding the end of the period was a relief, and Dara hastily grabbed the bag containing her reader and stylus, hurrying away from Patrick as quickly as she could.