By Boris Glikman
It started out inconspicuously, inauspiciously, a small pimple on the lower left of his back, something no one would ever give a second glance.
It didn’t even itch, so demanded no instinctive scratching.
a small cyst at first,
then into a larger and larger one
acquiring along the way the powers
of perception, cognition, speech, reason.
It became more and more dominant
in the running of his life ’til
there came a point
when he realised
he had become
He now was the awkward, ugly lump of shapeless, useless flesh that needed to be amputated at the soonest possible opportunity; discarded with other medical waste, or better still, pickled and preserved for eternity as a freakish anatomical occurrence–a talking, reasoning pustule that apparently possessed all the features of a well-developed human being.
He clearly saw how all this time he had deluded himself into believing he was a real person who deserved love, companionship, all the rights every member of society should possess whereas he was just a cyst that somehow grew, assuming the proportions, the attributes of a person.
BORIS GLIKMAN is a writer, poet and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia. His stories, poems and non-fiction articles have been published in various online and print publications, as well as being featured on national radio and other radio programs. He says: “Writing for me is a spiritual activity of the highest degree. Writing gives me the conduit to a world that is unreachable by any other means, a world that is populated by Eternal Truths, Ineffable Questions and Infinite Beauty. It is my hope that these stories of mine will allow the reader to also catch a glimpse of this universe.”
From the Archives – March 2017 Opal Magazine.
WITH ROBERT J SAWYER
OPAL: Can you tell us what prompted you to write Quantum Night?
Quantum Night is my twenty-third novel. Most of my previous books had been very optimistic in tone, so much so that a few people have suggested I was perhaps naïve or Pollyannaish about the future. I don’t think that criticism was justified but I decided nonetheless to write a novel asking a simple question: is there any science of evil? As soon as I started researching that, I discovered there was tons: evolutionary psychology, game theory, experimental psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and more. You see the concept of evil dealt with all the time in fantasy fiction, where it’s considered to be an elemental force or supernatural power, but rarely if ever in reality-based a science fiction, and so I decided to tackle that topic.
OPAL: Your newest novel, Quantum Night, is set in Calgary, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon. There are wonderful and completely accurate details about each; have you lived in any of these cities?
Cumulatively, over numerous trips, I’ve spent a couple of years in Calgary, and more than a year in Winnipeg. And I was writer in residence at the Canadian light source, Canada’s national synchrotron, in Saskatoon, in the summer of 2009. I fully agree that the only way to write with authority about a place that really exists is to have visited it, walked its streets, eaten in its restaurants, and talked to its denizens. I was proud to be able to showcase three cities that I love so much in this novel.
OPAL: Were you concerned that a Canadian set novel would be accepted by publishers?
Not in the least. Of course, that’s easy for me to say now, with all the awards and bestsellers under my belt. The real question is: was I deterred when writing my first novel about setting it in Canada or having Canadian characters? At that time, the late 1980s, everyone I knew cautioned me against setting my work in Canada. But I am a Canadian patriot, and I think this country has much to teach the world. And so way back then I went ahead and did it — and, in all the time since, I’ve never had any pushback from any American publisher, editor, agent, bookseller, or reader. If a Scandinavian-set novel like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can be an international bestseller, why the heck can’t a Canadian one?
OPAL: Are any of your characters based on real people that you know?
In some of my books, yes — although they’re more likely to be amalgams of several people I know. In this novel, Quantum Night, the main character Jim Marchuk is not me, but he is certainly who I’d like to be. Jim is a committed utilitarian, sacrificing even his own best interests for the collective good and eating only a vegan diet. He’s a better man than me.
OPAL: The experiments and facts about psychopathy and quantum physics in the story are fascinating and chilling. What amount of truth is there in the story – for example, are there really 3 categories of the population out there: Q1’s, Q2’s, and Q3’s?
Everything I say the novel about psychopathy and quantum physics is true and rigorously researched. As an appendix to the novel I do something very unusual: I provide a comprehensive bibliography for those who want to follow up on my research. My contribution to the discussion is the notion of the three distinct categories of consciousness. Is that actually true? I don’t know; no one knows. But I was invited to lecture on the topic at the 2016 Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson. It’s certainly a topic worthy of further investigation.
OPAL: For our authors out there, can you tell us how you outline your novel when you are writing? Do you have a preferred method?
When you begin a career as a novelist, you have no choice but to write the complete book before getting a publishing contract. Later on, a publisher will give you a contract if you provide sample chapters and an outline of the complete work. Even later — at the stage I’ve been at for more than a decade — a publisher will give you a contract pretty much just for what ever your next book is going to be without really anything much up front. So, because I’m not economically obligated to produce outlines anymore, I don’t, at least not in any great depth. The only thing I consider it crucial to know is how the book ends, and then I’m very content to take the scenic route as I write generally ambling towards that destination.
OPAL: What is next for you? Any ideas for the next novel?
Well, I’m not super-thrilled with the current state of publishing, to be honest. I was lucky enough in 2009 to have a network TV show based on one of my books, FlashForward, on ABC. And so I’ve been concentrating my energies on getting more TV projects off the ground. That said I do have a terrific idea for another novel, one in which most of the characters would be real historical figures. The challenge of that appeals to me: nobody knows Jim Marchuk or Kayla Huron, the main characters of Quantum Night, better than I do; nobody can say I wrote them incorrectly. But millions of people are familiar with the lives and work of the great twentieth- century physicists, and trying to capture their characters and distinct voices in a novel strikes me as a very interesting undertaking.
Thank you Robert!
By Kelsey Barthel, Author
I am a bad gardener. I was only ever able to make one plant grow in my entire life. I don’t like the idea that you can follow the instructions, do your best and sometimes it just won’t pan out. I hate the unpredictability of it. How so many things are out of my control. The same can be said for the gardener method of writing. Where you let the characters in your mind lead you through the story. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for fellow authors who have mastered this method, but I am completely incapable of working that way. I am an architect writer. I carefully map out every aspect of my work and that gives me a map to avoid plot-holes and dead-end story arcs. The method I have grown to love using is easy to follow and can help a writer in more ways than one.
The first step involves a simple but important tool, the bullet point list. Before I write anything, I make a full list of every plot point, character progression, character introduction, or twist that I want to happen. This is a good place to start your planning because, at this stage, it’s very mouldable. You can move things around, change points, and even cut out the fat. Plus, the act of writing your ideas down causes you to solidify them in your head. You start to see these fluttering ideas become a solid concept in your brain. You can also use this step to plan out a whole series of books with a huge overarching storyline, the sky’s the limit. To keep with the architect metaphor, think of this step as laying a solid foundation. Now you have sturdy ground to build on.
The next step is to build your framework. This step is basically making an extremely rough first draft. Just forget about grammar and flowery prose and just write what’s important to the story. This method helps you plan the progression of events and pin point important actions or dialogue in the story. If you get in your mind that this is just a framework or a roadmap, you won’t be constantly bogged down with the technical elements of writing. The steps and progression of the story is the only important thing at this stage. It’s just a personal preference of mine, but I always do this step with a simple pen and notebook. This way, you can work on it wherever you like and you don’t have the distractions of your computer pecking at your creativity. You can have fun with it and just work out the story you saw in your head in the first step.
Now, the actual first draft! Now, I know I said before that the previous step was like a rough first draft but not in the way this is. There’s a reason I do that draft with a pen and paper, it’s so I’m not tempted to take the framework step and work it to be the first real draft. The framework draft is messy because it’s supposed to be. If you do it on computer and try and change it to your first real draft, you’re going to be fixing problems in it for ages. The planning draft is supposed to be a road map for your first draft. You use it to make sure you don’t get lost in the moment and forget the points that are supposed to be important. With the architect metaphor, this part in where you put the walls up, install the figures, put in the floor. This is where you make it look like a real home. This is where you start to see your fully realized novel.
This method may take some time but, personally, I find comfort in the checks and balances it provides. I’ve used it to plan a novel, some short stories, the progression of events in my series, and the bullet point step has helped me get through some bad writers block. Give it a try and see if it helps you build a strong and sturdy story.
Read this article in the Opal Writers’ Magazine.