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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Raab

The Story of My Story

My current work in progress is based on a project that I started about 25 years ago. It was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic story that would end on a note of the beginning of a utopia. The premise was that a spaceship would crash-land on a planet, so there’s your post-apocalypse. The spaceship was a government run, science research vessel that was recently merged with a science crew from a commercial corporation. Drama would ensue. Then they would find themselves near this “uninhabited planet” and then they’d crash. Then the survivors would be lost to the civilization that they had been connected with because of a civil war between the corporations and the government and other entities. Then on the planet, they’d form their own society. Many generations later they’d forget that they were ever from anywhere else. A society of form, and that would be the opening of the story.

It was from the point-of-view of an emerging adult who was from a lower-ranked aristocrat of sorts. So, there would be some comedy of manners and an examination of class structure and traditions.

I was in my mid-twenties and a sci-fi geek. I was steeped in the morality of the utopian worlds of Star Trek Next Generation and such. I was convinced that we could be better, if we only tried harder and gave more of ourselves. Or something. I’m not sure what I was smoking at the time. Well, I know what I was smoking. I was smoking the morality of the mid-1990s. I was a mixed race liberal steeped in color-blindness and 1990s feminism. I was told by people I admired that we had beat racism and sexism. That our society was on the mend. I looked for evidence of that. Every time another racist or sexist was called to task, I celebrated because that proved to me that our society was being cleansed of the ills of injustice. I did not know about system racism, sexism, homophobia, or intersectional injustice. I didn’t have the theoretical framework for it. I didn’t have the vocabulary for it. I closed my mind to learning anything new, because I thought it was finished. I didn’t realize that the discomfort which I currently feel daily is necessary to deal with systemic problems. I remember, though, feeling dissatisfaction with the answers that I was not finding in exploring the questions that I was asking. I felt like a tire caught in the mud, just spinning, spinning, spinning and not going anywhere. Eventually, I shelved the project.

Part of the reason that I shelved the project was that I lacked the craft tools to create a novel. But really, that’s a lie that I tell myself now. I must’ve had 20 to 30 craft books. I read them all. Books on setting. Books on dialogue. Books on description. Books on character creation. Books on plot. I remember reading three or four of them. I have even re-shelved my library with some of them I got rid of and have since replaced. I joined writer’s workshops and writer’s groups. In the early days of the internet, I was part of a critique group called Critters or something where we’d read and critique each other’s groups. I was a voracious reader of writer’s magazines. I was even gearing myself up to go to MFA school in writing. In part so that I could be a teacher to pay my bills, but also so that I could hone my craft. But it’s a lie for me to say that I didn’t have the skills then to write this book. I did. I was a good, decent writer then. I was in my mid-twenties. I’m fifty now. So, I was less mature. Obviously. But I was skilled. No. A lack of skills wasn’t it. It wasn’t even a lack of willingness to dig deep. I was willing to do that. It was really because I felt like I was spinning, spinning, spinning, and going nowhere. Despite my naivete and I was naïve, I knew I couldn’t answer the questions because I knew I didn’t even know what the questions should be. It came down to I didn’t have the framework to ask the questions. I vaguely knew that the questions should be asked, but I didn’t know how to ask them. At this point in my life, I know that whatever question I ask now will have to be revised ten times before the day is done, because of the nuanced complexity of the conversations that are necessary for things like racism and sexism and homophobia and Islamophobia and anti-Semitism to name a few. Systemic injustice mutates because it is a wily survivor. I did not know that. But now I do. I hope that I never forget.

So, the story went from this naïve hopeful triology of the birth of a utopia to what it is now, an exploration of a dystopia.

It has asked me what inspired the change in tone of the story, like in my interview with Holly Lyne (podcast link). Is it based on recent events? Like I said in the interview, yes and no. It’s based somewhat on current events, but also historical ones. I based some of the crazy etiquette and social consequences of not adhering to those social rules on the Louis XIV court. This is all to say that the change in the tone is that my understanding of injustice has changed. My celebration of culling our society of sexists was fueled by a misunderstanding that sexism was driven my individuals who were sexist and not by sexist systems that were in place to benefit sexists (and replace racist or what have you for sexist). I realize that yes, there are bad apples, but there is a system that favors bad apples. Bad apples will continue to thrive because of the system. You can’t get rid of injustice until you change the system. This injustice that is so imbedded in the fabric of our society is what I am exploring in my book. Do I have any more answers than I did at 25? Probably not. But I have better questions. But a deeper understanding of the world isn’t the only reason for the change in the story's tone.

The world scares me more, especially since I’ve become a mom. I’m a 50-year-old of a preschooler, so a late breeder. I have a deeper understanding of how injustice works in our society than I did when I was 25, but I understand why people do what they do less and that scares me. The change in the tone wasn’t that I lost hope. I still hope for the future, because I hope my child will live a great life. He is my hope. I think that the change in tone is that I am more willing to look at what scares me more than I was when I was younger. And that really is the difference.

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