Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tidbit Tuesdays: Fun with agriculture

Today, I am debuting my new feature, Tidbit Tuesdays.  On Tuesday of each week, I'll post an excerpt from my current work-in-progress, along with some of my thoughts about the excerpt.

So, without further ado, may I present to you an excerpt from Creators, my prequel novella to the upcoming Contributor trilogy:

They were losing the war; this much was obvious.  As he stood and surveyed the fields, Zhang Liang swallowed against the lump in his throat.  As far as the eye could see, the crops were dying.  Crouching, he grabbed a handful of earth, feeling his own impotence as it trickled through his fingers.  It was so depleted it could no longer sustain life, as evidenced by the dessicated plant stalks waving forlornly in the hot breeze.  No matter how much they tinkered with the soil, Zhang Agritech Systems had been unable to successfully replace nutrients in the soil.
Wiping his hand on his thighs, Liang stumbled over to a vivid green patch.  In a blind rage, he began yanking plants out, feeling a vicious sense of satisfaction as he tore their roots from the earth.  Still, he knew it was an empty gesture.  Though the corn and soybeans fought valiantly, they were helpless against the onslaught of the virulent pigweed, horseweed, and countless other so-called superweeds.


My thoughts: When I began working on Contributor during NaNoWriMo 2011, I thought a lot about what kind of dystopia I was creating.  Why did it exist?  What did it look like?  How did the society function?  These are all questions I tried to answer in Contributor without doing it in info dumps--which can be quite challenging.  Still, I'm happy with the end result and feel that lots of writing and editing have led to a Contributor that creates a good sense of the society it examines.

Still, I couldn't find a way of exploring the origins of the dystopia without doing some sort of info dump or faux history lesson within Contributor, and I didn't want to do that.  Then, it hit me: write a novella.  Just like that, Creators was born.

The first question I needed to answer in creating the dystopia was why did it exist in the first place.  I'm a big fan of speculative fiction, and I've read many great authors who root their dystopia in a current truth, which makes it feel all the more ominously possible.  I wanted to do the same thing, so I asked myself what might make a society grow so dependent on a certain structure and the answer I kept coming back to was food.

I'm not shy about stating right up front that food safety and security is an issue of particular importance to me.  I read everything I can about food production, and I've watched many documentaries on the subject, and all of these things have led me to this ultimate conclusion: if we don't carefully examine our current system and fix its flaws, we may back ourselves into a corner.  The population on this planet continues to grow, but this planet only has finite resources.  How can we best utilize them?

The real trick in writing Creators is writing it in a compelling way.  Though I often find reading articles about farming practices and GMO crops fascinating, I know that not everyone feels the same way.  I wanted to create a face-paced story without making readers feel like they were sitting through Crop Sciences 101.  Hopefully, with Creators, I've reached that goal.

If you're interested in the topic, here are a couple of articles I found particularly interesting:

NY Times op-ed about Congress's revamping of the farm bill 

Mother Jones article about the rise of so-called superweeds

I also suggest reading and watching the work of people such as Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan.  Though this is by no means a complete list of people who are instrumental in driving the conversation about food safety and quality, they are a good starting point.