Back in Part One of this series I described how the germ of the idea for AONO came from a misprediction of what the great secret of The Matrix was all about. But it wasn't for quite some time — almost twenty years — before I actually did anything with the idea.
I spent much of 2015 neck-deep in a project I'd tentatively titled The Palace Of The Red Desert. It was, and still is to some degree, an homage to one of my favorite novels of all time, Yasushi Inoue's Tun-Huang. But when I finished outlining it, I realized to my dismay I didn't have anything but homage. I had characters in it, but they had no character; I had a plot, but no story. In short, I didn't have a book, just an idea.
Frustrated, I set Desert aside and poked through some of the ideas I'd shelved. The "Matrix-mistake idea" was one of them; when I poked it, it fell off its top shelf and fairly clouted me on the head. And now that I had picked it up and dusted it off, I saw it had changed greatly in the time since.
For one, it had become far more specific. The central idea now went something like this: There are those among us who can see the movements of time and space around us, but not casually. They require a catalyst to do so. That catalyst is danger. In other words, if you threaten them with violence — bodily harm, financial troubles — they can see a way out of it. But as soon as the danger evaporates, so do the visions.
All right, I asked myself. First off, what kinds of people would be most likely to exploit such a thing, especially in a way that lent itself to a strong story? The answer seemed simple enough: Criminals. And after some thought, I even had a good in-universe justification for how that could be almost exclusively the case (although you'll have to read the book to find out what that is, sorry).
What happened next was in many ways the reverse of my experience with Desert. The real undercurrent of the story suggested itself very quickly, as did its characters (more on them later), a possible plot, and the ultimate moral and emotional arc of the goings-on. This last was crucial: if I start a story, one of the things I need to know right from the git-go is how the reader feels about the whole thing once they're done.
From that point on the project came together with shocking speed and ease. Within a couple of weeks I had a cast and a skeleton outline. Within a month I'd written a draft of an opening chapter.
I said to myself, "I think we're on our way."
In the next installment, I'll talk about the other influences apart from The Matrix that went into this project. Those influences, and what each specifically contributed, may be as surprising to you as they were to me.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind